The Power of Your Story – Part 1

Ultimate MissionA few weeks ago I was asked to “tell my story” to a broad group of individuals at work. The objective was to share the power of storytelling. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to do some self-checking on the stories I tell myself to make sure I’m writing my book the way I want. The process and impact of storytelling (to yourself, not an audience) is life changing. It’s been awhile (too long!) since I really sat down to reflect. I realized that I need to make the time to do this AND I really need to share this process with those I care about.  I cannot wait to share it with you!

The first part of storytelling is to understand what story you want to tell. Our lives unfold through the stories we tell ourselves – consciously or unconsciously. These stories add context to the events in our lives. Stories turn events into positive or negative memories, successes or failures, or makes us the hero or the victim. Stories form our reality. Forgetting where we left our keys is an event – telling ourselves that we are stupid and forgetful because we lost our keys becomes the story we tell ourselves. Stories have power.

What story do you want to tell?

Your story is your story. There is no right or wrong, good or bad, or any other crazy comparison you are thinking of. Just like a great novel that we hate to finish, our stories need to be grounded. Stories need to have a purpose.

Step 1: Your Ultimate Mission

Mission:Possible. Yes, you. You are going to write your ultimate mission in life. Not sure where to start? I’ve found that just like every good story you need to start with the end in mind.  Here are a series of questions to get you started.

  1. Picture yourself being eulogized. What would you want to hear?
  2. What is the legacy you want to leave?
  3. Who or what matters most to you in life?
  4. How do you define success?

Step 2: Write It Out

There is power in writing, walking away, then coming back again. Writing your ultimate mission is not easy – and it is a big deal. I went through about 10 iterations before I was able to put together a personal mission statement that just felt right. And it shocked me. I don’t want to skew your work, so I’ll wait until part 2 or 3 to share my mission with you.

So, why do this work?

Your ultimate mission becomes your true North in life. I cannot tell you how many decisions I’ve made simply because the situation either aligned or did not align with my ultimate purpose. Knowing exactly what you want out of life helps liberate you from unnecessary distractions. Your ultimate mission creates boundaries. These boundaries can release you from guilt, focus your energies, and give you a sense of accomplishment in the ordinary.

Your ultimate mission forms the framework for the story of your life. We don’t always get to write the events that happen to us or the situations we are put in, but we always have a choice in how we respond.

The toughest decision I have ever made in my life is to keep living without Steve. I wanted nothing more than to just fall into a black hole or join him in heaven. I wanted to stay on my bedroom floor crying to the point that I couldn’t breathe – simply because the act of moving was overwhelming.

I had a choice – I stay stuck in grief and loss, or I could continue to write my story. Hearing Steve eulogized was the moment I knew I had to live. Steve fulfilled his ultimate mission in life – and I needed to fulfill mine.

I started journaling and I found that my writing would start with raw suffering, but end grounded in my mission. My mind was able to come full circle through a blank page and a pen.  My mission grounded me – even as every other piece of me was shattered. I’ll liken it to an eskimo – you are lost in a blinding blizzard and all you can see is the North star. You know that is the way home, but you are scared, cold, hungry, and have no idea how far it is. You aren’t sure you are going to make it. It’s hard to breathe and every breath shoots icicles into your lungs. Everything hurts or is numb. Your only goal is to keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust that you will get to your destination even though you can’t see anything around you. That North star will guide you – as long as you keep moving forward. Your ultimate mission is that North star in the toughest moments of your life.

Take a couple days and work on your mission – you will be amazed at what you find out about yourself. Try to write it with “empowering” words – something that truly motivates you. Keep it short – no more than 3 sentences. Can you do it?

Want to know more?

Check out the book The Power of Story by Jim Loehr. He has done a lot of work with a broad group of people – from athletes to CEOs and his message never wavers. You need an ultimate mission to succeed in life.

What is your ultimate mission? If you don’t want to share, can you guess what my mission might be?

Widowed Life

Photo Credit: docoverachiever via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: docoverachiever via Compfight cc

Living life as a widow is something no one imagines or dreams of.

If you are not a widow – be thankful that you have never had to go through our pain. If you are a widow, know you are not alone. Widows are unique. We have lived through losing our future. We have had to wake up to the empty bed, fallen asleep with unwashed clothes just for the scent, and put on a brave face for the world to ease the discomfort of others. Loss of your spouse shakes you to your core.

Being a widow means surviving through times when you are surprised you can even breathe. It means gaining a mental toughness to handle the challenges of broken dreams and the memories of a life that ended too soon. For widowed parents it means telling your children that their parent is never coming home.

Widows Around Us

Once I became a widow, I started to notice all the widows around me. News of car accidents and plane crashes now make me think that someone else just joined the widowed life. I knew some widows before becoming one, but I never slowed down my life enough to truly attempt to understand their struggles. I certainly never thought I would be forced into this new world.

When I first became a widow I felt alone, scared, and devastated. Friends and family helped me to the absolute best of their ability, but I was acutely aware of the fact that they were able to go back to their normal life and my normal had all but disappeared. My normal had been stolen – shattered, and I had no idea how to even begin to piece it back together. A year out, I can say that it still hasn’t gone back together. Widows have to create a new life to move past surviving and into living again.

Embracing Widowhood

Accepting the term widow is a journey in itself. Months went by before I started to even say the word. Now it’s like a second name.  The word used to make me think of an old woman, who wears black all the time, surrounded by gray and dreary days.  I couldn’t wrap my head around associating that word with me.  I can now tell people that I am a widow without feeling uncomfortable.  The term “widow” describes something that happened to you, it does not describe YOU.

Being a widow means that you loved, lost, and survived. I was lucky enough to have been married to my best friend and honestly the best person I ever met in my life. Many people in this world never know that feeling. I was proud to be his wife – one thing I can do to remember the love we had in our marriage is to be honored to be his widow. He lived his vows and truly loved me “until death do us part”. What more could I have asked for?

Learning From Experience

My saving grace came in the form of other widows. Although I knew a few, I never realized how many widows were already in my life! Widows are like a hidden group of beautiful souls that have been forever changed.

My aunt became a widow when my uncle passed away in his early 40’s from cancer. I cried at the funeral and celebrated when she started dating again. But, in-between? Nothing. I didn’t know how to help – or that I should.

I met another widow at a neighborhood party hosted by Steve’s aunt and uncle. I had met this person a few times before, but never knew she had been widowed. She asked how I was doing in a way that only those that have walked through grief would understand. She gave me advice about making decisions that result in my and my children’s happiness. Most importantly she shared her story with me about the social stigmas of being a widow.

Society thinks there is an “appropriate” time to grieve. Some would say it is a year, some two years, while others are concerned if you couldn’t pull your life together in a couple months. In the grieving process you move too slow or too quick – there’s no just enough that is spelled out for you. You start to wonder what is wrong with you.

This is where we can help. Widows helping widows is POWERFUL. There is hope, guidance, and normalcy that can only be offered by those that have walked before you on this journey. It is a journey indeed and often one of self discovery.

For the Non-Widows

Have you ever been divorced? Lost a sibling or a child? Do you know someone who has been there? It’s a lonely place to be. My goal is to help those that are going through any life altering event. There are no winners or losers in the grief journey. There is no competition or measuring stick about who’s journey is worse.

We need to accept that life is the journey. Some of us are thrown hand grenades that forever alter our course. We all know someone who has had a life altering experience through divorce or death. We are all in this together.

Why Blog?

This blog was started with the hope that by sharing my story I can have a positive impact on others. I’ve learned a lot about myself through this journey and a lot about what it means to be prepared for the worst in life. There will be tactical, easy activities that you can complete within a couple hours to ensure you are prepared for the unexpected. I want everyone to be prepared – ideally before a life altering event. Most importantly I want you to know that you are not alone.

In the past I was guilty of temporarily feeling sorry for someone that just lost a spouse and then moving on with my life. Occassionally I would say to Steve, “I can’t imagine ever losing you.”  Your mind goes there after hearing of someone else’s loss (or at least mine did) and it was horrible to imagine. The imagery was was nothing compared to reality.

People surround you and help, but then everyone else gets to go back to their own life.  Their life may be altered by the loss, but as a new widow, you are left with the ashes of a life. It’s almost as if there is no life to return to. It takes time, strength, and sheer persistence to literally start your life over.

My goal is to make it OK to be a widow. There are a lot of “young” widows in this world and I want to empower us to make a difference together. Widowhood is now synonymous with strength in my mind – I don’t have a life like any of my friends. I don’t live a life that people dream of. In fact, one moment in my life reflects most people’s deepest fears.  One moment.

What I have come to realize is that there is one moment in time that changed my life forever.  One simple moment.  One decision that I would have made 100 percent of the time.  Steve did exactly what I would have done and yet, that decision resulted in the end of his life.

One moment changes a life, but it doesn’t have to define it.  What defines life is how you live each day. Being a widow means seeing the world differently than everyone else around you. Let’s embrace our differences together, empower one another, and give each other strength.

Are you a part of the Widow Club? Feel free to share your story in the comments or reach out to us via the contact page.

10 Learnings From My First Year As a Widow

10 Learning's From My First Year As a WidowOne year ago I lost my best friend, my husband, and the father of my children.

I also lost myself. Losing a spouse means losing the person you planned your life with. You lose the future as you had dreamt it. These past 12 months have taken me to the very depths of my soul. It completely drained me of everything – and forced me to find myself again.

Reinventing myself meant finding my new purpose in life. My husband, Steve, had a purpose. He wanted to be remembered as a man devoted to his family and a person that contributed to making our home, Valley City, North Dakota, a great place to live.

At his funeral, I realized that he achieved his goals – in spades. Weird as it sound, his funeral motivated me. The world lost a great man and now I needed to figure out how to live my life with a purpose to honor him. In short – that is why this blog exists.

I’m learning that a big part of my purpose is my desire to positively contribute to other people’s lives. Where this adventure leads me is yet to be fully known, but if I can make a difference for even one person my time writing is well spent.

Through my new world as a widow I have come to see life a little differently. I hope to connect with widows and non-widows alike, as we all try to get the most out of this one life we have. Through my experiences over the last year, I now see the world differently – in a way I wish I would have seen it all along. Here are ten ways my perspective has changed.

1. Amazing People Exist Everywhere

A person I hardly knew became my daily support, confidant, and shoulder to cry on. I also met widows that gave me great unsolicited advice and affirmation that all of the mixed emotions (highs and lows) I experienced were completely normal. They helped me feel okay when nothing in life was normal.

There are times in life where you need people that have walked in your shoes. It reaffirms that you are neither alone, nor losing your mind. Connecting with others in my grief helped me to see these beautiful souls and how they lived their life after loss. They gave me strength and the belief that not only would I get through the grief, but I would be able to live again.

There were also many people that truly stepped up to help me during this past year. There are so many “little” things that truly make a big difference to a new widow – there will be a future post on this topic!

2. Make Sure to Implement Your Financial Plan

My husband ran the finances in our marriage. A few months before Steve died I commented to him that if anything ever happened to him I wouldn’t know where to start. He turned on his computer and showed me where all of our financial information resided.

When he passed and I had to start figuring things out, I realized this information was only the tip of the iceberg of what I actually needed. Even though he was a financial savvy guy, there were some small details that were missed that left a big impact on our family.

I’ve learned a lot about personal finances through my experience. I’d like to help others avoid some of the financial oversights we made by sharing some of the simple plans I have put into place since his passing to ensure all of our affairs are truly in order if something happens to me.

3. Kids Are Amazing

They are the most resilient, innocent, and best things in life – period. We have two children who were two and four when Steve passed away. I always called Steve the 75% parent, because he was. He lived for our girls and I realized that I need to truly engage in their life.

I used to be content to sit back and watch them play or stay behind the camera. No more. It HAS to be me and I have to make time for play. My kids are amazing and they inspire me to be the best I can be. They deserve the best of me!

4. Life Isn’t Perfect

I used to think that I had to be okay, even if I wasn’t. I felt like I needed to live like everything was under control and “perfect” from the outside looking in. No more – I am a real person with real feelings. I have good days and bad days. I have reasons to feel extremely blessed and reasons to feel cheated. Don’t we all? Let’s be real together.

5. Sunsets and Sunrises Are Windows Into Heaven

Have you ever stopped your life just to watch the sun rise or set? Have you ever set time aside to just clear your mind and see the beauty in these moments? A sunrise or sunset is a metaphor for so many things in life. There is beauty all around this world if we just pause for a moment to truly see it.

6. I Have An Angel

Life does exist after death. I struggled for a period of time wondering if there was a God. If there was, how could he take such an amazing father, husband and contributor to the world? Then I realized we are given angels on Earth to teach us how to live. I had an angel on Earth and now I have an angel in heaven.

I have a whole new consciousness and accountability knowing that I live on Earth for both of us. Steve lives through me. I’ve been given signs, as have multiple members of our family that he is still with us.

My faith has been strengthened through this loss because I had to truly believe that heaven exists. It has to exist or I will never see Steve again. That is a reality that I cannot and will not accept. Someday, I will go home to Steve. After all, the last thing I ever said to him was, “I’ll see you at home.” I didn’t know how true that statement was at the time.

Mitch Albom said it best, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

7. Focus On Your Story

Goodbyes make you think about the story you made together and the chapters that were left to write.  The story that has been written never changes or diminishes. For those that remain, the ending is yet to be written.  Life is too short – write the story you would love to read!

IMG_40298. Write (and Keep) Love Notes

Love notes from Steve have become treasures to me. When I first lost my husband I felt this deep guilt and regret for not being a better wife. I regretted the times I was upset with him as what we were fighting about now seems trivial. I wondered if I ever told him how much he truly meant to me.

Then I found the letters. Not only can I see the love he had for me in his own handwriting, but I have tangible proof that while I was far from perfect I did tell him how important and loved he was in my life.

“When someone you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure.” ~unknown

9. Journaling Helps

I was never one to sit and journal, but I started to write after Steve died. Fear was my motivator. Fear that I would forget the memories that kept flooding into my mind. Fear that something would happen to me and my children would never know these stories.

I found that writing gave me an outlet. It helped to calm my anxieties. In the moments when I was crying so hard I could barely breathe, I would do the only thing I could do – write. Calling someone was out of the question because I couldn’t even speak. I wouldn’t have known what to say anyway.

Being a widow is a lonely place, even with a lot of well meaning, caring, and genuine people around you. I very rarely started writing in my journal with a plan. I would just pick it up and write whatever came to my mind. Over time, I realized that each of my journal entries naturally flowed from memories or situations out of my control into what action I could take, or what changes I would make to my life to honor my memories.

I found that by the time I finished writing in my journal I was more relaxed, felt more confident, and had the start of a plan – all without even trying! If you are struggling with anything – grief, weight, relationships – pick up a pen and randomly write what is on your mind. You’ll be amazed and what you find within yourself!

10. Life Is What You Make It

No more and no less. Each day is a new opportunity to CHOOSE how to live your life. Only you can control the outcome of each day. Be aware of the “can’ts” or “shoulds” in your head. Then get your game face on and prove yourself different!

I plan on expanding on all of these learning’s in their own posts over time, but when I sat down and thought about this last year – my first as a widow, these are the things that came to mind. When you haven’t experienced a loss in this capacity, it can be hard to really understand the gravity of how your life will change. I hope that you’ll take the time to appreciate the loved ones in your life a little more today – maybe even write a love note or two!

Have you experienced a similar loss? If so, is there something you would add to my list of learnings?

We want to know what you think: