Category Archives: Top Business Leaders

How I Attacked Grief Process After Loss of My Wife


Breast Cancer Strikes

I was married to Gretchen for 40 years.  In 2007, Gretchen was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She has a lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy.  Then a year later the breast cancer returned and we decided that a bi-lateral mastectomy was the way to address this life threatening disease that affects so many women.  This was followed by extensive chemotherapy and radiation.

 

We met with the doctors, including two cosmetic surgeons, to decide if she should have breast reconstruction.  It was determined that this was not an option because of the damage that was done by the surgery and the extensive post operative treatment.  The result…….Gretchen was left with a body that was foreign to both her and me.  For the next three years she was “cancer free”.

 

“The greatest wealth is health.”

 ~Virgil

 

Sell Family Home and Downsize

In July 2011, we sold the house that we had built 27 years earlier and the place where we raised our two sons.  This was a major life event and was hard on both of us but especially Gretchen.  She had even told me a few times that she “wanted to die in this house”.  After the sale of our home, we downsized into a very nice town home in a neighboring suburb ofChicago.  We were not in our new home for more than a few days when Gretchen’s health started to fail.  I took her to a hospital when her condition had deteriorated to the point where I believed she needed medical care.

 

Death of My Wife

Gretchen was in the hospital only one week when she passed away.  This was a great shock to me and everyone who knew Gretchen.  She was 63 years old and should have been around a lot longer to enjoy the various life events to come.  One of these was that we found out only two weeks before Gretchen’s death was that our 29 year old son and his wife were expecting their first child in April 2012.  This would be our first grandchild.  Also our 31 year old son is going to be married in June 2012.  It is too bad that she was going to miss these big time life events.

 

The reason that Gretchen’s end came so quick was because whatever cancer she had decided to metastasis throughout her entire body.  When she died she had cancer in most of her internal organs, her bones and in the membrane around her brain.  It was a blessing for Gretchen that the end came so quick and she did not have to suffer very long.

 

However, for those of us she left behind, this was tough to handle.  Gretchen was always very active.  We would play golf at least once a week and had many close friends in the area with whom we socialized.  We also loved to travel to see our sons, other family members or just taking vacations to some of our favorite places.  It was very difficult seeing her lying in the hospital bed in a non-responsive almost comatose state.  When she passed away all of her family and a few close friends were around her.

 

“Good-night! good-night! as we so oft have said
Beneath this roof at
midnight, in the days
That are no more, and shall no more return.
Thou hast but taken up thy lamp and gone to bed;
I stay a little longer, as one stays
To cover up the embers that still burn.”
~Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow

 

The Questions Start – Are There Any Good Answers?

The early death of Gretchen has affected many people.  Those closest to her, Erik, Mark and me, her husband of 40 years, are the ones who had the toughest time dealing with this loss.  Why did God let this happen to Gretchen?  Why did this terrible disease have to pick my wife and their mother?  What was I going to do going forward without her?  Remember, we had spent almost every day of the last 45 years together.

 

Why couldn’t she have been given some more time so she could see her first grandchild and hold him or her in her arms?  She was such a great mother; she would have also been an excellent grandmother.  Then there was the wedding of our oldest son, Erik, that was only nine months off.  Who am I going to walk down the aisle with and who is going to go up to the altar with the bride’s mother to light the unity candles?  The answer is probably me in both instances.

 

My Reaction after Gretchen’s Death

The wake and funeral are just a blur now.  I remember having so many people ask me how I could be so strong.  For the month after her death I only remember shedding a few tears at the wake when I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in a long time and they said something that started a few tears rolling down my face.  During these few weeks after my wife’s death I constantly asked myself why I did not show more emotion after the death of my wife of 40 years.

 

I am the type of person who does not just sit idly by and let the grief process have its way with me.  I have a proactive personality and wanted to attack this thing they call the Grief Process.  So I joined a group grief share program at my church.  I started going on a weekly basis.  It was mostly me and older women who had lost their husbands over the last few years.  One thing that I did find out is that my non emotional reaction was not uncommon.

 

One of the women running this program calls this Divine Anesthesia.  Whether this comes from the Lord or from within the body, this will occur to allow us to get through the immediate period of time after a loved one’s death when there are many things to attend to and a lot of thoughts going through my head.  I can personally attest to this because there were times weeks later that I would run into a mutual friend and I would ask them if they came to the wake and/or the funeral.  This was usually met with a blank stare then they would inform me that they were there.  So I guess I was in a fog initially.

 

“Life is eternal and love is immortal;

And death is only a horizon,

And a horizon is nothing

save the limit of our sight.”

– Rossiter W. Raymond

 

 

Finally I Break Down and Show Some Emotion

About four weeks after Gretchen is gone I decide to redo some pictures in my wallet.  I have a practice of carrying pictures of my family in my wallet as many people do.  Upon printing these out I was hit with a major sense of loss.  At the same time, the tears start rolling and I begin to sob like a baby, or better yet like someone who had just lost the love of my life.

 

This lasted for a few days.  It was not constant but it was very intense and frequent.  Near the end of this period and after, I started to feel like a cleansed man.  I still had other tearful moments but nothing like the initial intense mournful days.  I have heard someone that I have grown to respect, Aurora Winter, refer to this as, “Tears are like Spring rains that come to wash away all the stuff left over from Winter so the Spring flowers can grow”.

 

“Tears are the silent language of grief.”

 –Voltaire

                                                                              

“There is a sacredness in tears.

They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.

They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.

They are messengers of overwhelming grief…

and unspeakable love.”

 —Washington Irving

 

 

How I Attacked Grief

I have always been a very positive, glass half full type of person.  So shortly after this period of emotional release I went on the Internet and assembled two lists of videos.  One was made up of motivational/inspirational videos and the other grief-related videos.  Initially, I put these videos together to assist me in dealing with my loss of Gretchen.  They were meant to help me start to work through the grief process.  But after these lists were completed I thought there were others out there who this would help.  So I sent them to my family and close friends and told them to send this information to anyone they thought were going through some tough times and could be helped by this material.

(See the article titled Motivational and Grief-Oriented Videos)

 

 

 

This is how I ran into Aurora Winter, who is the author of From Heartbreak to Happiness®.   This is the account of her feelings and reaction after she wakes up and finds her 33 year husband, who was also her business partner, dead in bed next to her.  At that time they had a 4 year old son.  Aurora went on to found the Grief Coaching Academy®, where she trains others to become grief coaches so they can start their own businesses providing coaching or counseling to clients who have suffered serious losses.

 

 

 

“He that conceals his grief

 finds no remedy for it”. –Turkish Proverb

“To spare oneself from grief at all cost

can be achieved only at the price of total detachment,

which excludes the ability to experience happiness.”—Erich Fromm

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Helping Others Achieve Fulfilling and Joyful Life


While I was attacking the grief process I ran onto someone who really opened my eyes.  She is a woman who lost her husband when he was only 33 years old when they had a four year old son.  They had just relocated to a new home.  The second day she woke up to find her husband dead in bed next to her.  You can appreciate that this had devastating results on her and her four year old son.  Being a writer by trade and always maintaining a personal journal, she documented her feelings and wrote down what was going on in her life on a daily basis.

Because of the nature of his death and the early stage in their life together this had a devastating impact on her.  It took her 10 years to work her way through her personal grief process.  Being a writer by trade she decided to put her diary in book form.  It was published about 12 years after her husband’s death.  It is titled From Heartbreak to Happiness®.

The success from this book and the feedback she received from so many people that it had touched caused her to found a new endeavor that she called the Grief Coach Academy®.  This was a very comprehensive program where she trained others to become grief coaches.  Being a businessman by background, I was very impressed that a totally new business could be created where nothing like it existed at the time.

During my attempt to attack the grief process associated with the loss of Gretchen, I came across some of Aurora Winter’s material on the Internet.  The more I researchedAuroraand her business the more my interest was peaked.  Eventually, I decided that this is exactly what I wanted to do.  Even though many will wonder if this fits with my background in Corporate America, I believed that this is what I was meant to do with the rest of my life.

After many discussions withAuroraand listening to her training calls with other grief coaches in training, I can say thatAurorais one of the most heart-centered, warm people I have ever met.  She is has very good interpersonal skills and has the first hand experience of struggling with her own grief process.  A more formal description of Aurora Winter follows:

Aurora Winter is a popular speaker, trainer, coach, and guest on radio and TV. Aurorais the founder of the Grief Coach Academy®. She is passionate about helping others enhance happiness.

A former TV producer, Aurora Winter is the author of From Heartbreak to Happiness®, which has been endorsed by Dr. Wayne Dyer. Her latest book, Encouraging Words, will be available December 2011.

It plays directly into my long-time focus on wanting to help others.  In addition, my interpersonal and communication skill sets would help me in this new career.  If it is possible for a former Chief Financial Officer to be heart-centered, that is exactly what describes me as a person.  So I enrolled in the Grief Coach Academy® and I am in the process of undergoing this top quality training program that will allow me to help others and create a new career for myself.

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,

“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

 

 

Info on Breast Cancer


Do you have a loved one who experienced a loss because of breast cancer?  Before I relate my story, let me first share some facts with you about the #1 source of cancer in women.

These facts are assembled by the National Breast Cancer Coalition, which is a powerful voice, speaking for women and men across the country, demanding victory in the war against breast cancer. In 2003 it was named one of the twenty most influential groups in health policy based on a survey of congressional staff – the only grassroots group and the only breast cancer organization to make that list.

Its mission is to eradicate breast cancer, the most common form of cancer among women in theUnited States, by focusing the administration, U.S. Congress, research institutions and consumer advocates on breast cancer.  According to the National Breast Cancer Coalition, below are some of the myths and truths about breast cancer.

Myths

  1. Monthly breast self-exams save lives
  2. Mammograms can only help and not harm you
  3. MRIis better than mammography because if finds more cancer
  4. Mammograms prevent breast cancer
  5. Most women with breast cancer have a family history of the disease
  6. Men don’t get breast cancer
  7. Everyone’s breast cancer is the same
  8. Removing the entire breast is better than just cutting the cancer out and getting radiation
  9. There are drugs that can prevent breast cancer
  10. Once diagnosed with breast cancer, it is very important to make treatment decisions immediately
  11. Second opinions are only for treatment options
  12. With new treatments we can now cure breast cancer
  13. All breast cancer research is good because  it moves us toward prevention and a cure

Truths

  1. When breast cancer shows up on a mammogram, it many have been in your body for 6-10 years
  2. Breast cancer mortality rates are declining
  3. We don’t know how to prevent breast cancer
  4. Risk of breast cancer increases with age; 50% of breast cancer occurs among women aged 62 and older
  5. Most people think they have a higher risk of breast cancer than they actually do
  6. Hormone replacement therapy increases your risk of breast cancer
  7. You should question your doctors

My wife and I have had first hand experience with breast cancer.  Because of this my wife, Gretchen, passed away abruptly at the age of 63 after we had been married for 40 years.  At the time of her death we had two sons, who were 31 and 29 years old then.

The impact of Gretchen’s passing was an immediate emersion into the grief process.  I can tell you that this was a very painful time in my life.  I could have given in to the grief I was experiencing and let it control my life for a long…….long time.  But my personal makeup led me to attack the grief process and to find support and counseling so I could address my pain in as short a time as possible so I could return to a fulfilling and joyful life.

I plan to give you a picture of my life together with Gretchen and our two sons, some high and low points in our lives, the onslaught of the grief process and how I was able to regain a happy and meaningful life.

Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself:

 I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today.

 I can choose which it shall be.

Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet.

I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.
— Groucho Marx