“Be gentle with yourself,” said my therapist A after I told her about losing a beloved family member last Tuesday afternoon. My sister-in-law F died after suffering with a degenerative disease called multiple systems atrophy or MSA. She was 75.
“I am very sad,” I said to A. “This month marks the one year anniversary of losing my other sister-in-law after her battle with ovarian cancer. It’s so much loss to process on top of all the Covid-19 stressors.”
Losing a family member and close friend
My sister-in-law F was such a support, mentor and close friend to me throughout my 24 years of married life. I could always count on her positive words and wisdom. “Everything is going to be okay,” she would say whenever I was anxious about something whether it was about my late husband M’s health (her younger brother), about my parenting woes (even though she didn’t have her own kids she was a counselor to thousands of young adults at the University of Pennsylvania during her 36 year career there), or even my own health when I learned I had bladder cancer in 2017.
I could always count on her to listen. She was a cheerleader during happy times and a savior during times of distress. She never missed a day of visiting M while he was hospitalized in intensive and long-term care for seven months. She was by my side on that awful day 13 years ago when M died. “I’m scared,” I told her after losing my spouse. We cried together and she spoke her comforting words to lessen my fears. “Everything is going to be okay,” she said.
Saying goodbye with lovingkindness
Thankfully, I was able to visit her at her assisted living home to say goodbye. It’s never easy saying goodbye to a loved one. I told her how much she meant to me all these years, how much I love her and how much I am going to miss her. Then we closed our eyes and spent our last moments together practicing a lovingkindness meditation. In a small way I felt like it was my parting gift.
“My you be filled with lovingkindness. May you be happy, May you be at peace,” I said as we both took deep breaths between sentences.
“May the world be filled with lovingkindness. May the world be happy. May the world be at peace,” I expanded as we took more breaths.
“That was nice,” she said.
My sister-in-law F died on Tuesday, July 7th. She donated her brain to science to help the Mayo Clinic find a cure for MSA.
Grieving the loss of a loved one
It’s challenging to process deep loss during the Covid-19 pandemic when you’re already grieving the loss of normal life. So I must honor F and as A says, “be gentle with myself.”
I’m finding morning meditations and yoga helpful. These soothing practices heal my mind, body and spirit.
I’ve also been finding calm at my condo on the corner at the Jersey shore. I purchased this condo after my husband died and it has been a special place where I go to retreat ever since. It’s a quiet sanctuary where I can stop, breathe and be. Taking long walks on the beach provide an opportunity to relax and reflect on my losses.
Reading about loss and grief
I’ve also been doing more reading. Two recently published memoirs I received for review offer welcome advice about loss and grief.
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me
The first is Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by comedy and screenwriter Bess Kalb. It’s a beautiful love letter to Bess’ beloved grandmother Bobby. The prose traces Bess’ family history from her great-grandmother’s journey from Belarus to Brooklyn, Bobby’s journey from poverty to globe-trotting sophisticate, Bess’ mom, and Bess herself. The publicist described it ” like a warm hug from your grandma or bowl of Matzoh ball soup, or whatever your grandma made/makes well.” I related to Bess and Bobby’s story because I realized that Bobby was born in the early 1920s, the same year as my mom.
I like the way Bess tells her grandmother’s story in Bobby’s own voice. I enjoyed Bobby’s Jewish grandmotherly advice too: “Do you know what my ‘zayde’ used to say. He would say, “Bubbalah, when the earth is cracking behind your feet, you go forward, One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other.”
Or when she was having a bad day Bobby’s mother (Bess’ great grandmother) would say: “Go buy yourself an ice cream soda and a new hat.”
Anyone who like me, had (or has) a special relationship with her grandmother (mine with my Nana, who was my mother’s mother too), will like this book. Plus, it’s so sweet how Bess shares some of the text from her actual phone messages with Bobby.
My Wife Said You May Want To Marry Me
The second book is My Wife Said You May Want To Marry Me by Jason Rosenthal.
It’s an inspiring memoir of life, love, loss, and new beginnings by the widower of bestselling children’s author and filmmaker Amy Krouse Rosenthal. She was an amazing woman whose last act of love before her death was preparing her husband for a life without her.
Amy’s op-ed piece for The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column —”You May Want to Marry My Husband,” appeared 10 days before her death from ovarian cancer. Being a widow of 10 years at the time, I remember reading her piece in March 2017. It was similar to a “personal ad—in which a dying wife encourages her husband to go on and find happiness after her death.” The column went viral, reaching more than five million people worldwide.
In his memoir, Jason discusses his commitment to respecting Amy’s wish, even as he struggled with her loss. At times it’s tough reading as Jason looks back on his life before, with, and after Amy. He contemplates love, the pain of watching a loved one suffer, and what it means to heal—how he and their three children, despite their deep sorrow, went on.
The first half of the book brought back painful memories of my own spouse’s suffering. I liked the second half of the book which focuses on ways Jason continues to honor Amy’s life and her last wish, and how he seeks to appreciate every day and live in the moment.
Losing a soulmate
I also thought Jason had some good advice to share in his April 2020 interview on CBS Sunday Morning. Expressing his profound devastation upon losing his soulmate Amy, he described his loss as similar to the way many people are feeling now during the global pandemic. He said Amy wanted him to find joyful moments, which he is doing. At the same time, he expressed how challenging grief can be:
“I learned that grief has no timetable. Through this current crisis you may suffer extreme losses and hardships in your own life,” said Jason. “You might feel okay for awhile then slip back into grief and anxiety. Anything can trigger the feelings. It’s okay how you’re feeling.”
He said he came to an epiphany. “Loss is loss, is loss. It’s unique to each one of us yet a shared story for us all. Grief has no timetable from normal routines to loss of a loved one. As you are isolated feeling a sense of loss and grief know that these are normal feelings as we manage through this crisis. We can be alone together.”
Thanks to Bess and Jason for sharing their stories of loss in their own unique way. And to my readers, during these difficult times “May you be filled with lovingkindness. May you be happy. May you be at peace.”