Archive for Change Posts

Map of Heartbreak – Loss as a Catalyst for Change

 

“What breaks your heart? The warrior knows that her heartbreak is her map. It will lead her toward her purpose, her tribe.”

– Glennon Doyle Melton, “Hurts So Good” article, O Magazine, Feb 2017

Pain as Fuel

In her article, “Hurts so Good,” author Glennon Doyle Melton wrote about a group of women in Iowa who had all lost an infant – and started an organization called “Healthy Birth Day,” with the goal of lowering the stillbirth rate in their state.

“Instead of withdrawing after their losses,” explained Melton, “or finding ways to disconnect from the magnitude of their suffering, they ran straight toward it. Their pain became their fuel. Their courage saved others from the misery they’d experienced.”

This is similar to how we chose to proceed in the aftermath of my husband, John’s, death as the result of a preventable fall at unsafe workplace. By “we,” I am referring to the police officers who started the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund and all the people who have (and/or still do) work for, volunteer with, or lend support to the Fund in some way.

In the early years, pain and anger certainly fueled our passion and guided our purpose. Nothing we did could bring John back but we all agreed that the workplace safety campaigns were better than doing nothing at all. We will never know the number of lives we have saved, or the injuries we’ve prevented…and we’re okay with that.

Would I recommend this path to others in a similar situation?

Hmmm…

Working closely with the JPMF to help raise public awareness about why and how to ensure workplaces – and the roads – are safer for everyone, including emergency responders has been my path, yes. I knew in my heart and soul, very early on, that workplace safety was an issue that I would need to tackle.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

But being a workplace safety advocate did not come without sacrifice in other areas of my life. The time, money, effort, love, and attention I put into the JPMF meant there were other areas of my life that didn’t get that. And that’s okay. I chose the path I did…every moment of every day. I have no regrets.

However, now that I have 17 years of experience behind me, I can safely say that trying to transform a tragedy into positive change so that others don’t have to experience similar suffering comes at a cost. We cannot do it all.

“Pleasant experiences make life delightful. Painful experiences lead to growth.”

– Anthony de Mello, Awareness

Thankfully, we get to choose how to respond to whatever loss we have experienced…and forge our own way forward. So regardless of whether we allow loss to be a catalyst for growth and change for ourselves and/or for others, just remember:

“Allow heartbreak to guide you at every turn.”

– Glennon Doyle Melton

When the love in your heart is your road map, you cannot go wrong.

Related blogs by Maryanne

Chick in the Road

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life

published in Aging, Book Reviews, Change, Inspiration by Maryanne | September 27, 2017 | 2 Comments

Unravelling Midlife – Collection of Essays Explore the Middle Years

 

 

“I believe we have two lives…the life we learn with and the life we live after that.”

– Glenn Close to Robert Redford in the film, The Natural

And perhaps what we call the “midlife crisis” is the dividing line between the two?

I recently had the pleasure of reading an excellent collection of essays in the book, Unravelling; Discovering Our True Selves in Midlife, compiled by Camilla Joubert. All the essays were written by women and the diversity of experiences – and perspectives – reveal there is no one way of navigating the middle years.

However, in my observation, there was one common thread that ran throughout the entire collection: the need to feel some degree of happiness on a regular basis and have a sense of purpose with how one spends one’s days – and if neither of these needs are being met, we have two choices: keep on the same path or change it in some way.

Joubert was inspired to compile this collection after experiencing an “unravelling” of sorts herself…a rather spectacular midlife crisis. After picking herself up off the floor – literally – and beginning the process of weaving together the threads of her old life (and self) along with her new life (and self), she realized she was not alone in hitting a sort of half-way point on her life path and having to accept the uncomfortable fact that to take a single step more in the direction she was heading was not an option.

Here is a passage from her essay, aptly titled “Unravelling”:

“Who had I become? I was completely lost…I would walk around having snippets of conversation, shopping, washing, feeding, cleaning but I wasn’t present. I had managed to ‘exit’ my body. It felt like my soul had decided it didn’t like being inside me! There was a massive void in my life and nothing could fill it…For a long time before feeling lost, I’d felt stuck. Stuck in a life I felt I had little say or control over. That feeling of being trapped inside my head had been as visceral as the feeling of being lost and outside my mind and body.”

I was one of the women who contributed an essay to Camilla’s collection.

My essay was entitled, “The Path with a Heart.” Here are two snippets:

“Throughout all the heartache and the hurt, the hard work and the challenges, the pain and the setbacks, the sorrow and the roadblocks, I think we are on the path when we know that at the end of it all – whenever that may be – we will die a happy and fulfilled person who has achieved what we set out to do. And if we avail ourselves of the opportunities around, a heck of a lot more.”

“So where did I go to find the peace and quiet to begin to find my path? Where my heart rested, of course: John’s grave. Except that it wasn’t just his grave; it was also mine – literally. While John’s destiny was now physically carved into that stone, mine was still a blank. At thirty-two, I knew exactly where I was going to end up – I just didn’t know when. And despite the horrific hurt that comes with ‘hanging out’ with my husband’s headstone, instead of him, it was very conducive to helping me face my own mortality and what that meant for my journey.”

I love this passage from Kathi Cameron in her essay, “The Gen-Ager”:

“I was starting to feel like things were on track; I had a great career, a great man friend, and a great social network. Then, at forty-three, I heard it for the first time, that well-meaning punchline that feels like a kick in the proverbial muffin-top: “You sure look great for your age.”

And then there’s this candid insight from L. Fletcher in her essay, “The Great Skate”:

“I remember clearly a bright summer morning when I woke up, at thirty-nine years of age, and asked myself in a blur of semi-consciousness: “What am I doing? Who am I? Is this what I wanted for myself? Is this happiness?” I knew that I had, in that instant, opened the Pandora’s Box of great existential queries of midlifers the world-over. And now that the box had been opened, it had released a gnawing little gremlin that would not go away. I managed to stall the gremlin by keeping myself busy with my social life and doing everything I could to support everyone around me…Because as long as I was doing everything for everyone else, I wouldn’t have to face my own life.”

And check out this thought-provoking first stanza of the poem, “The Invitation,” that was printed in full within the essay by Casey Ross:

“It doesn’t interest me

what you do for a living.

I want to know

what you ache for

and if you dare to dream

of meeting your heart’s longing.”

– From “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

In the second part of our lives – the life we are living after the one we’ve learned with – meeting our heart’s longing (whatever or whoever that may be) is certainly a worthy goal to continue to work towards. In my experience, however, the learning never ends – regardless of our age…but the learning curve does tend to be significantly steeper in the younger years.

Thank goodness 😊

What are your thoughts and/or experience with navigating midlife?

For further information on Unravelling and/or to purchase the book, here is the link

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life

 

published in A Widow's Awakening Book, Change, Death, Grief, Life After Loss, Widowhood by Maryanne | September 21, 2017 | 6 Comments

This is the second blog in the Life After Loss Sept 2017 blog series:

 Being Alone vs Loneliness – When Being Around Others May Do More Harm Than Good

 

“I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.”

– Robin Williams

Ahhh…loneliness. Not the most cheery of subjects to blog about. But then again, stumbling forward with life after a significant loss is not usually the cheeriest of times.

And to be perfectly honest, I may not be the best person to be writing about loneliness in the wake of loss because…well, after my husband, John’s, death I didn’t really experience what I would call loneliness.

At least, not when I was alone.

Yes, I missed him terribly and I was an emotional and psychological basket case for months. But when it came to feeling “lonely,” I figured something out about myself pretty quickly: more often than not, I felt better (relatively-speaking) when I was alone – with just my dog and my thoughts – than I did when I was with other people…especially large groups of people.

Now, there were exceptions to this, of course. I was extremely blessed to have several key people who I could talk to…and believe me, I did. They became the life preservers that, slowly but surely, pulled me from the depths of grief to the shore of a new life. For even though I was alone – I was a widow with no children and I lived alone – I could never have navigated my way through the grief without the help of others.

But here’s the thing: as the Robin Williams quote suggests, my loneliest moments in the weeks and months (and who’s kidding who, years) following John’s death occurred when I was with people who I didn’t feel comfortable talking to about John – or about what I was experiencing, trying to come to terms with his death.

Those were the times I felt a horrific loneliness…like I was standing on one side of the Grand Canyon and that person (or group of people) was on the other side – and John was somewhere in the middle, at the bottom of the Colorado River flowing away from me as fast as could be.

Yes, I had already lost him. But when people began to stop talking about him (which inevitably happens but boy does it hurt), it felt as if he was really gone…not just the man but the memory, too.

Life goes on – we all get that. But when a loss has shattered the very core of our being, we need time to process that loss and begin to heal…and to do that, we need to do everything in our power to surround ourselves with the right people and situations.

Not the opposite.

Be careful about saying yes to social events out of obligation

To illustrate the importance of staying clear of situations that may not be the best fit for our…current emotional state, this passage from A Widow’s Awakening happened two months after John’s (“Sam”) death:

Tonight is the annual Christmas party for Sam’s team and Tom invited Nick, Angela and me. I said yes, thinking it might be nice to carry on the tradition – and because I should go. For I am The Cheerful Widow whose job it is to make everyone else feel better by pretending I’m A-OK. In public, I’m the smiling little trooper who asks lots of cute questions. Back home, I’m weaving the answers into a dangerous rope into which my own neck might fit quite nicely.

At the Christmas party, I soon realize that being the widow of a fallen officer watching her dead husband’s teammates trying to party is a like a drug addict in rehab, watching other addicts shoot up. I’m not emotionally equipped to observe the reality that life is going on without Sam. So off to the buffet I waddle.

With a heaping plate of food in one hand and a beer in the other, I find a seat in the living room and a woman I’ve never seen before sits beside me.

“And who are you?” she asks.

“Ummm . . . my husband was the police officer who just passed away.”

“Oh now, which one was that?” she says loudly, waving her wineglass. “There’s been so many lately, I get them all mixed up!”

Ouch. I could have punched her for making such a callous remark. In hindsight, I kinda wish I did. But for the purpose of this blog 😊 my point is this: when you are in an extremely vulnerable state, you have to be very careful about the situations you sign up for and the people you surround yourself with.

In this next excerpt from A Widow’s Awakening, two more weeks have passed (I am “Adri”):

For American Thanksgiving, I order Chinese food from our favourite restaurant and watch our favourite Thanksgiving movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Since I didn’t watch it at Canadian Thanksgiving, I figure watching it now would be acceptable to Sam – in our new relationship as red light and wife.

What I don’t remember about the film is that the main character is a widower who carts around a photo of his dead wife. At one point, he’s sitting in his car during a snowstorm chatting away to her. Sitting on Sam’s perch, surrounded by pictures of him, I can certainly relate. The dead are often better companions than the living. I’m far happier staying at home alone, talking to the walls than I am venturing out into the world and hearing what the mortals have to tell me. For as the two-month marker of Sam’s death approaches, I’m noticing a definite shift in the clichés coming my way.

‘You’re young, dear,’ is a popular one from the over-fifty crowd.

‘I’m so sorry,’ is being replaced by an oddly enthusiastic, ‘Well, at least you didn’t have children!’

That’s right, you morons: now I don’t have a husband OR a child.

And my all-time favorite, occurring with alarming frequency and frightening conviction, is: ‘Losing a spouse isn’t as bad as losing a child.’

‘GRIEF IS NOT A PISSING MATCH!’ I scream at the water fountain when I get back home again.

Then there are the dozens of people who take my hand and softly confide, “Adri, I just want you to know that your loss has really made me appreciate what I have.”

I’m so pleased my nightmare could be of assistance to you. Not.

In other words, I finally figured out that spending time with strangers – or with familiars who didn’t know what to say – was doing more harm than good. Although the ridiculous comments made by others were not intentionally cruel or rude, they certainly served to stoke the fire within…and believe me, my fire did NOT need more stoking! I was doing a damn fine job all on my own ☹

Loneliness leads to isolation

And the more isolated we feel, the more isolated we become – and then the more treacherous our path becomes because we are far more prone to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse or dangerous thoughts, to help bridge the gap between us and…everything else. But unhealthy coping mechanisms won’t bridge the gap – they only widen it. More on that in a future blog.

Choose Wisely Who You Surround Yourself With

To find a person who can truly listen is a tremendous gift. It’s also one of the trickiest things to find because a good listener is a rare gem indeed.

If you have recently experienced a major loss of some sort in your life, when it comes to loneliness, my advice is this: be VERY careful who you spend time with. Choose wisely.

And how do you know if you have chosen well? By how you feel when you part ways. If you feel better, you’ve got a keeper. If you feel worse, you can throw that one back.  

“Loneliness is that prominent, gaping hole in your life that just can’t seem to be filled regardless of what you do…But being alone is a different situation completely. Being alone is a state of being; loneliness is a state of mind.”

– Andrea Cope, Thought Catalogue

 

Animated Empathy Video Hits Mark

If you haven’t seen the short (3-min) animated Brené Brown video about the difference between empathy and sympathy, I highly recommend viewing it. It’s brilliant! It illustrates the danger of using the words, “At least…” when supporting someone going through a difficult time.

You can view it here on You Tube.

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life

 

For further info about the Life After Loss blog series, please click here.

To subscribe to receive the Life After Loss blogs and/or to read the archived blogs, here is the link.