This is an excerpt from Navigating 5 Life Changes: An Odyssey of Resiliency and
Hope, which is available at: https://www.creativecoachingmethods.com/
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies
within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
My life changed course on a sunny Saturday afternoon in May 2010. I was spending
the day with my cousin visiting from Greece and had spoken to my husband on the
phone mid-afternoon about dinner plans that evening. When I walked in the door, a
little before 6:00, I called out his name, “I’m home, hon” – no answer. I walked to the
back of the house and found him sitting in his chair lifeless – there was no heartbeat –
the rest is all a blur.
This began my five-year journey – the death of my husband – a loss of the love of my
life, my beautiful marriage, my best friend, the laughter we shared, the future we
planned. From that moment on everything in my mind started to get measured against
the date he died – May 15, 2010 – all the firsts since his death, the significant milestones
since he died, the marking of time and experiences, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays
since he died. This is how I got through my life one step at a time on a continuum since
In reflecting back, for instance, I can remember vividly that first Christmas without him
as such an emotional time. He was a big kid at heart and he used to savor the gift
giving. In an effort to prolong the fun, after you had opened all of the presents and had
cleaned up, he would say, “I think you forgot something, look in the tree.” There you
would find a note which would lead you on a scavenger hunt throughout the house with
complex and funny clues. When you reached the final clue, you would find a present,
and usually it was the one thing you had been hoping to receive. It was a tradition that
had been passed down by his father. The first Christmas without him, my son sent all of
us on “hunts” – myself, my three grandchildren and my daughter-in-law. It was a
bittersweet gesture. I remember thinking how beautiful it was to have such a sweet
tradition being carried on and how a part of him would always be with us at Christmas
through the “hunts” that continue to this day.
The loss of my husband hit me so hard and rocked me to my core. After his death, I
realized my life would never be the same and I couldn’t have my “old life” back no
matter how hard I tried. You experience loss at various times in your life. The impact it
has on you can never really be described and each person reacts differently. I felt my
whole life came to an abrupt halt the day he died. One minute I was going about my
day having lunch with a friend, laughing and content, and the next I was calling 911,
strangers running into my home; chaos all around and a sudden death. I couldn’t even
think of who to call to help me – I was in a state of shock. This state continued for some
time and I lived for a while in a timeless haze. Slowly, I began to move forward. I
sought out and took advantage of all the support in grief groups and in grief books.
Ultimately, I felt truly alone in my grief and knew I had to find my own path for coping
What at the time felt like the end, was actually the beginning of a new journey and
creating a new life for myself. When life changes on you so quickly, you need time to
absorb all that has happened in order to figure out a way to start over. I was not
immune from other major life changes. I am a cancer survivor. In 2006, I was
diagnosed with cancer which began with surgery, followed by six months of
chemotherapy and an optimistic prognosis for recovery. Two months later my mother,
who was such an important part of my life, died suddenly after a brief illness. The
difference in these two life events was that I had my husband to support me in my
coping and acceptance.
As with these other life changes, I discovered how important it is to never lose sight of
the person you are and how you got this far in your life. We all possess an inner
strength which oftentimes appears when we are at our weakest point. I tapped into my
earlier coping mechanisms – support of my family, gratitude, optimism, self-nurturing,
and a reminder to be present and take one step at a time. We can’t change the past
and we can’t control the future but we can be mindful where we are. I know from
personal experience this is easy to say but very hard to do. Old fears and ways of
being nip at our heels continuously and we each have to deal with our own tormentors.
Eventually, we have to learn to manage them and not let them take over our present
lives. The reoccurring thought moving me forward with each step was this is your life
and you don’t get a second chance to do it “better” next time.
My “story” is no different from many other people who have had to start over after a lifechanging event. I feel compelled to share it as a connection to others who have found themselves adrift after a major loss or illness. When you have suffered a loss, picking yourself up and starting over is no easy task. I don’t presume to have it all figured out.
What I do know is recovering your sense of self is important in order to survive and
Coming from a line of very strong women was my heritage. My grandmother, the
matriarch, moved to this country at the age of 19 from Europe to begin a new life in
America. Her mother, another strong woman, had the courage to let her daughter go
knowing she perhaps would never see her again but wanting a better life for her. My
mother at the age of 27 found herself and her three children ages one, three, and five
abandoned by a husband who never looked back. Strong women who made homes for
their families filled with love and compassion, though in humble surroundings. So, I too,
have always considered myself a strong woman, and I know strength of character and
belief in yourself is a critical survival mechanism for coping with life’s storms.
After the one-year anniversary of my husband’s death, I made some pivotal decisions
for myself. I decided to move closer to my son and daughter-in-law and my three
beautiful grandchildren. I decided to sell my home and sort through a life we had built
together. I decided to leave my job, colleagues who were like family, and all my close
friends. I decided to move in the direction of life and create a different life for myself in
this next chapter. At 60, I found myself beginning the next chapter of my life as a single
woman on my own. I believe the only constant in life is who you are as a person, and
everything else is transitory.
Thus my five year odyssey began.