Category Archives: Writing

Writing Process Blog Hop

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Thanks so much to Doreen Pendgracs for inviting me to participate in my first Writing Process Blog Hop! The purpose is to give you insight into each writer’s writing process. But first let me introduce Doreen.

Doreen PendgracsDoreen’s intent is to educate, entertain and inspire writers and anyone interested in creative and cultural endeavours. You’ll find twice monthly posts about virtues and life on her writing lifestyle blog at http://doreenpendgracs.com. If you’re a chocolate lover and love to travel, you will enjoy Doreen’s chocolate travel blog at http://diversionswithdoreen.com/. If you’re interested in her latest book, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate, visit  http://chocolatour.net/ for updates about the book, and chocolate tours, tastings and events. In addition to non-fiction books, Doreen also writes magazine, newspaper, and online articles and blog posts about travel, lifestyle, chocolate, volunteerism and other topics for various publications. You can read some of her published articles on the “Samples” page of her static website at http://www.wizardofwords.net. Doreen loves making contact with readers and hopes you will enjoy her posts and articles.

Doreen’s previous title, Before You Say Yes … A Guide to the Pleasures & Pitfalls of Volunteer Boards was released by Dundurn Press in 2010 and has been renowned as the “volunteer’s bible” as it was written to serve as the ultimate guide for anyone sitting on a board of directors in the non-profit sector. In addition to books and periodical assignments, Doreen has also done writing/editing projects for various corporate clients, and conducted writing and public speaking workshops for numerous writing and community groups. As a Distinguished Toastmaster, Doreen’s speaking abilities have dazzled audiences on Celebrity Cruise Lines and in other forums–most recently, the Hawaii Chocolate Festival where she shared tales about her chocolate travels.

I’m pleased to add that I joined Doreen on her Chocolate travels, in London, England 2010 and this year, February 2014 to Hawaii.

Now it’s my turn.

1) What am I working on?

I’ve been freelancing since 1996. I specialize in writing profiles of people and businesses. In 2013 my life changed forever when my husband, Bob Donaldson, became ill on March 11th. He died on June 8th. Since then the main focus of my writing has been on my grief journey and educating people about grief.

My blog, here, started out about writing with a personal focus as well. When Bob got sick I began to write about his time in hospital and our daily challenges. I was posting daily to Facebook as well. My hope is to put this together in a cohesive format, but I haven’t decided what that will be yet. In the meantime I am moving back to writing for publications and clients. I also teach Writing for Publication and Copywriting at Continuing Studies, Western University, London, Ontario.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Everyone has their own, unique writing voice. I have been told, and I believe, that mine is very unique. I try to get my message across in a way that’s easy to understand and that will make some kind of impact on the reader – to learn something new, laugh, cry. I want my writing to touch my readers and make the story memorable for them.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Sharing my thoughts and feelings is a personal catharsis. I feel fulfilled to have put my truest feelings out for others to connect with. I want to make an impact with my writing. Just to touch a few people with my gift of sharing through written words is truly self-fulfilling for me.

4) How does your writing process work?

It differs depending on the project. If I am working with clients on a project, or writing an article for a magazine I do my research and interviews. I transcribe my notes. I write. I go back and edit. I edit again. Then I use a program that reads my words back to me. When you hear them read aloud you find mistakes or bumps in the writing that make it difficult for the reader to wade through. Then I edit again. When I write posts for my blog I write, edit, edit, edit. The first draft is never the final draft.

I highly recommend William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. I use it in my teaching. I live and breathe his mantras about the importance of editing your work, and removing clutter and onerous words and phrases.

Now, I’d like to introduce two other blog hoppers, who I admire. Please visit their websites on March 31st for their Blog Hop posts.

Blog Hop Christine Peets

From an early age, Christine Peets aspired to be a teacher and a writer and she’s managed the two careers well. She started as a community newspaper reporter and then moved into the freelance writing world. Her first teaching was as an Early Childhood Educator, and Christine began teaching writing and communications courses in 2003.  She has taught in the private and public sectors, and especially enjoys working with small groups.

Christine’s freelance work is published in consumer and trade magazines, newspapers, academic journals, websites and on blogs.

For more details about Christine’s work visit Captions Communications, or contact her: Christine@CaptionsCommunications.ca. Her blog, With Humour and Hope: The Only Way to Live allows her to write on a number of topics but always keeping in mind a sense of humour and hope.


Blog Hope Luigi BLuigi Benetton
http://luigibenetton.com/ is based in Toronto, Canada. A technology copywriter, journalist, business writer and technical writer, he helps technology businesses and periodical editors explain sophisticated technology in ways that their business audiences will understand.

Luigi loves new technology and says it brings out his inner geek. He equally enjoys telling the story of standout technology, “stuff that will make a difference to others once they learn about it.”

He took an indirect route to copywriting, starting as a technical writer, providing manuals, workshop aids and training for sophisticated software. As a writer specializing in technology topics, Luigi’s goal is to demystify technology making the information accessible to non-technical and technical readers alike. Check out his TechnoZen Blog at http://luigibenetton.com/category/technozen/ .

After he was gone: Right between the eyes

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Some days you think everything is o.k. Then it hits you right between the eyes. Bam!

My inner voice asks, What was that? I thought I was fine. I start to cry. I pull out my phone to see if it’s the date. The eighth of every month is an anniversary that my mind never forgets. But that’s not today. Maybe it’s a reminder that it’s coming s00n. Maybe it’s just me having a bad day.

Then I think of the times when I felt all alone, desperate and forlorn. I don’t always feel that way now. I am better, or am I? I’m always second guessing myself.

And the roller coaster ride continues. Up, Up, Up, then, out of nowhere, the enormity of everything that happened comes flooding back, playing over and over and over in my head. I pass by the hospital he died in and I turn away. Everything is a reminder. How come no one else feels this? Down, Down, Down.

Clown SmilingIt’s not a good day to teach. I have to put on my Happy Face. I can’t paint it on like Ronald McDonald. And, anyway, his is a clown’s face and it’s just plain scary. Mine is a sad face that I cover up with a fake smile.

I talk but my words are jumbled. I try to put an idea forward and get confused; another lapse into widow brain. I’m hot and embarrassed. I want time to fast forward and it does, only slowly not fast, but at least it’s moving forward. I get through it. They don’t know. It’s just me.

Everything feels tainted today. When it happens I know I have to ride it out. This is how grief works. You try to get around it but it grabs you and throws you against the wall, or hits you between the eyes. Bam!

I can’t forget him. I don’t want to. And though I wish I could get off, these roller coaster days aren’t over yet. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Now I am…who am I? I am trying to find out, one day at a time.

After He Was Gone: Who will I share my stories with now?

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Today was a good day but (the BUT) I want to post something about what I’m feeling. It is more of an information piece to get you thinking about who you share things with in your life.

I had a great day teaching my first class for a new course. I would normally share that with Bob. That, in itself is frustrating because I can’t. But something happened that only he and I would understand and I kept thinking “I want to tell him” then, “Oh, I can’t.” I started thinking “Who can I tell?” But then I knew no one else would Really ‘Get It.’ He knew the people who’ve been in and out of my life for over 30 years. He knew me better than anyone. I wouldn’t have to explain it, just say “Did you know?” and a brief sentence and he’d say “Wow! That’s interesting!” And maybe we would strike up a “remember when” conversation. But this isn’t going to happen.

It’s really frustrating when that happens. It’s like wanting to punch a wall but it keeps disappearing. Argh! Another milestone, so to speak. But (the (BUT again), anyway, it was a good day.

Not a New Year’s Resolution

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I don’t make New Year’s resolutions and I rarely set goals. I know those who succeed in life at many things do set goals, I just always end up disappointing myself by not following through. But this past year, as difficult as it was, taught me an important lesson – go with your gut. So I decided that I want to par down my weight and get into better shape. That’s not a resolution, it’s a personal goal, but not one I feel I have to keep, though…now that I’ve put it out there for others to read…

Anyway, after belonging to a gym for 15+ years, and using the pool often and rarely doing much else, I decided to meet with a fitness trainer and I have to say I got the perfect match. He’s also a physiotherapist. Why’s that important? Well, let’s just say I was armed with several reports from X-Rays and CT scans. But the point is, he can provide me with a workout that won’t compromise my physical issues (bad back and a host of small things) and maybe even make them better, while helping me to meet my weight loss target.

I had my first session (gratis  trial) tonight and decided to continue with it. So, diet and exercise, though totally cliché in January of any year, are part of my routine now. I figure if nothing else it may increase the positive endorphins which, I understand, may actually give me a feeling of euphoria, or at least a more positive outlook during the bleak, cold days of winter. And so yet another lame cliché: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Are you doing something new this year?

I Am With You

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Someone told me that when a loved one passes away you should look for messages from them. I’m more of a pragmatic type gal. If I can’t see it I generally don’t believe it. I’ll admit I have been looking though, but no messages from Bob until just before Christmas. Then it started.

Someone sent me a text message giving me information about something they said they would get me. They told me the guy “who waited on me was named Bob – go figure.” I didn’t think much of it.

On Christmas Day I was programming a new land line phone and reading the directions. It said: “You can name your phones. For example, call one Bob and one Upstairs.” Yep, really.

On Christmas day I was at my brother and sister inlaw’s. One of Bob’s (our) nephews and his wife came in. She is expecting their second child. Someone asked, “When is the baby due?” She said “June 8th.” That’s the day Bob died. By now I’m shaking my head. Could this really be happening? And then it happened again…

Today I went to the dollar store and bought a package of toothbrush covers, along with a few other items. I was taking them out of my basket for the cashier to ring in and I looked at the toothbrush cover package. It said: “Dr. Bob OraCare.”

And I believe this was his message. “Don’t overreact (he always said that if I got upset about anything). Things will start getting better.” Maybe he was even saying he’d work to make things happen. But whatever the message was, things changed for the better starting on Christmas day and it’s been going that way ever since then.

Do our loved ones really come back or just stay with us to take care of us? I never thought so, but now I do believe.

Saying Farewell to Facebook Posts on Grief

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It was six months on December 8th since Bob Donaldson died. Half a year. It’s hard to believe. And with this anniversary I want to tell you that I won’t be posting about my grief on Facebook anymore. This decision wasn’t done lightly, but I realize that those I love most are on their own grief journey that doesn’t parallel mine. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that we need to respect each person’s grief journey, not to judge it. I don’t want to cause pain. That wasn’t my intention. But how could I not cause pain when I reveal raw grief? I realize that now.

This has been an amazing experience. Writing has always been my outlet. I found some magical things happening when I posted. It began as my need to reach out and get support. It’s actually ironic and sad that my best writing is done through pain, and without Bob I have no one to talk to or confide in. You were my support system.

A true gift came when I began to learn that my posts helped others. What kept me going were those personal messages, or being tapped on the shoulder by someone on the street telling me how their experiences paralleled mine, or how they respected me so much for what I wrote. I also learned that my posts educated others. Many cultures bring together learning of life and death. North Americans try to avoid death, and the topic, so when it hits home for them, the devastation is raw and unparalleled by anything ever experienced before. I see it over and over and over again; the newly grieving who can’t stop crying. That was me and sometimes still is, but less often now.

Thank you to all who have called me, sent cards and gifts, who have come by to be with me, shared your private stories with me and posted words of wisdom here. Your interactions have helped me so much. I am forever grateful for your love and kindness.

I will post my messages on my blog now and put the links here so you can choose whether or not to read them.

Bless you and thank you for your sharing and caring.

Painful thoughts after he is gone

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The world is upside down and backwards. I am in a bubble surrounded by a haze. I don’t want to push it. Reality will seep in and take over.

I am sure I will wake up and find that this is a cruel joke. You will walk by and say “Hi Sweetie Pie,” and I will say “Oh Bob” and laugh.

Instead I cry every night. As the the days grow shorter your lack of presence is more pervasive. Pain slips in easily behind the darkness at the day’s end. And when I think I am done crying I start again.

My emotions rule me. I am not in control. Today I had to go to a hospital. I walked through the doors and my heart was pounding. My breathing erratic. I realized it was the first time I had been in a hospital since I left you there.

“This isn’t the way it was supposed to be.” That’s what the grieving always say. Now I understand what it means. There is no normal. Routine is gone. This isn’t reality just a cruel joke; a horrible nightmare. When will I wake up? I bounce back and forth. I am so tired. It is easier to allow my emotions to control me. I can’t control them. I give in to the sadness because fighting it is just too hard.

I am so afraid to continue this journey called life without you. I am strong, but am I strong enough to go on without you? Most days I feel like a leaf being pushed around by invisible air, never touching the ground, just brushing past it. Push and pull and toss me around. I am not grounded without you.

I don’t know if these words will help me through this. I would rather believe that you will be here with me when I wake up. We will know that every moment is precious. We will be comfortable in our silence as we were.

But now the silence is forever. Your voice is in my mind but not my ears. The bubble is starting to fall apart. There are small cracks as pain seeps in and the haze that was my buffer is pushed aside by the knowledge that this is not a dream no matter how much I wish it was.

I know that I will need to face reality that you aren’t coming back, but I can’t do that right now. Not yet.

 

Three months after he was gone

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This blog will seem disjointed as you read it. My thoughts are disjointed, but I think it will all come together if you read through to the end.

September 8th: It is three months now since he has been gone. I have cried, sometimes totally bereft, but not as often as I did before. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss him. I miss him every day, hour and minute. It just means that life goes on. When he died I thought it stopped, at least for me. But it didn’t.

I realized one day this week that we all have two choices. We can get up out of bed every morning and put ourselves out there to possibly face ridicule or we let good things come into our lives. But it seems easier some days to stay in bed and curl up in a ball. It was the day I had this epiphany – not really such a prophetic realization, but a simple thought that stayed with me that day. It was that day when I encountered the most hurtful and painful anger.

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Bob was a family man. His parents, children, siblings, granddaughter, nieces and nephews were most important to him and me of course. Forgiving transgressions has always been part of our family’s culture. We don’t always agree with decisions made by others, but do our best not to judge. And when a family member is in trouble we are always there to help.

Bob wanted to protect his family from harm or hurt. He wasn’t authoritarian. So if he got mad his children stopped and listened. Sometimes they just did what they wanted anyway, even if he disagreed. Kids are like that. But they always thought twice about something if Dad didn’t approve.

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People often say to me, “Bob would have wanted” this or that. I don’t know what he would want other than to be with us. He wasn’t ready to die. We weren’t ready to let him go. But I do know he would be hurt and angry if his death created a chasm between his loved ones. I saw that happen this week.

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We all grieve in different ways. We go through the stages of grief – denial, anger, and somewhere down the road comes acceptance. But from what I can see the danger is in the phase of anger, and anger, like all the phases of grief, can arise over and over again, alone or in conjunction with other phases of grief.

I have tried to understand and give leeway to those who are also grieving Bob’s death. I don’t feel my grief is any more important than anyone else’s. I don’t judge how others grieve. I’m not angry at them. If grief separates us for a while, that’s o.k., as long as we come back together. But what happens when grief becomes anger that festers? What happens when things are said that can’t be taken back? I don’t think there are a lot of things that can’t be taken back with “I’m sorry” and a hug, but if the anger is so vile and ugly and hurtful it may take on a life of its own. I saw that happen this week.

Bob loved all of us and trusted us to stay strong together. He would not want us to hurt one another or judge or be spiteful.

Our grief and grieving is not about ourselves, it is about the loss of someone we loved. Some people choose to move more quickly. Others are more pensive. No one’s grief is more important or sacred than anyone else’s. We must be tolerant of everyone’s grieving process and forgiving, even if we don’t share the same feelings as someone else mourning our loved ones. Judgment of another’s grieving process at this fragile time is dangerous. Words can be said and deeds done that can’t be undone.

I have felt so much loss these three months, but never so much hurt as I felt this week when anger spewed its ugliness at me. What would Bob say now if he was here? Knowing who he was I am sure he’d be mediator and smooth things over. I am sad to know that his death has caused a divide that will be hard to mend. I will try to forgive but it will take time to forget.

Hugs for healing

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I have learned that hugs are healing and I am trying to share that message now. I do it with people I know. I share it with strangers. I will share two stories about hugs here. 

A few weeks ago I was purchasing a new piece of technology. When I was working with a tech guy in the store to get my purchase up and running I turned around and saw someone I knew. He was really an acquaintance. We had seen one another at group functions and waved hello and that was really it. We never really talked. We are friends on Facebook, which has significance to my story about hugs so I’ll share this first.

I use Facebook to post some of my thoughts about what I’m going through, mainly on days when I just can’t handle the grief on my own and I need an outlet. But in return I have had some amazing public and private responses about how people believe that what I post has helped them. Some people even say it’s changed their relationships with significant others and their priorities in life. One person was going through a prolonged illness with a family member who eventually passed away. They wrote me a message to say that my posts and blog had helped them prepare for their grief. So it may sound crazy but I am so gratified to know that my pain is helping others. Releasing it to the world is helping me, at least to some degree.

So back to the acquaintance. We never really talked before except to say “Hi.” But soon after we saw each other in the store, he came over to me and told me he had been reading my social media posts and said “I wanted to tell you that I think what you’re doing is brave.” I thought, how can I be brave when I feel so weak and alone but I thanked him. Then I asked him, “Do you know what helps?” He looked mildly confused. Then I said “hugs,” and so we hugged. And I did feel better with the embrace. It’s something that I’m learning as I journey through this dark grief. And I hope that he passes this message on to others and that he can ask for hugs when he needs them too. But hugs are also a message to those who don’t understand how to deal with someone who is grieving. They stand a distance from you and mumble “my condolences,” or “I’m sorry for your loss,” then they are lost about what to do next. So I am telling people that hugs are healing and that they help everyone who needs to be propped up for any reason.

The acquaintance and I talked briefly, then he went back to his purchase and I went back to working with my tech guy. I briefly explained to the young man (during our discussion about my purchase he mentioned that he was 23) and I told him that I had lost my husband to explain that most North Americans would consider strange behavior – hugging random people. After we finished I thanked him for helping me with my new purchase. I put out my hand to shake his and he opened his arms and hugged me, a big, warm bear hug. I thanked him and I thought “This is so great. I hope he pays my message forward and shares the importance of hugs for healing too.”

A few days later I went to visit my sister. She lives near Washington, DC and so I flew there. On my way home, as I was waiting to get through security at the airport, there was a young woman standing ahead of me. I’m guessing she was in her mid-20s. She was wearing a long sundress and I remember thinking she had some amazing tattoos on her arms. She was pushing a stroller with a toddler in it. Then I noticed she was crying. I asked if she was o.k. She said she was so sad. She wanted to stay because her family was there but she had to go home. She had come for her father’s funeral.

I asked her if I could ask her a favour. She nodded and I asked her if I could give her a hug. She nodded again. I leaned over and put my arms around her and whispered in her ear, “It’s o.k. I just lost my husband. I know this is hard but you will be o.k.”

She returned the embrace and then thanked me as we were pushed up through the line and into the security section.

As I was gathering my belongings from the X-ray belt someone came up and tapped me on the shoulder. It was the young woman. She said “can I ask you a favour?” I said “yes.” She said, “Can I hug you?” And of course I said “yes.” She thanked me for helping her during her difficult time, and then we parted ways.

I thought a lot about hugs on my way home that day. If everyone hugged someone to give them strength and if we hugged each other without feeling constrained by uncertainty, but moved instead by love and caring, how wonderful would that be? In my mind the world would be a better place. Well, maybe that’s just being too idealistic. But for the moment I will just concentrate on receiving and giving hugs and spreading the message that hugs can be healing.

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One month after he was gone

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Our Wedding

Today marks, by the calendar numbers, one month since he died, June 8, 2013.

Last week I didn’t cry. Instead of finding solace in not crying I worried my lack of tears meant I wasn’t a good wife/partner. I worried I had cried all the tears I could. What is that saying about Crocodile Tears? According to Wikipedia they are “superficial sympathy…a false, insincere display of emotion.” I am trying to make them come but they don’t.

This week they are back. I am in denial again. But now the denial isn’t as shocking. I just look at his side of the bed and think “He’s not there.” Tonight I cleaned the kitchen table. I went behind the chair he always sat in and thought “he’s not here.” And that was it. Would that be acceptance? And yet I can’t accept this. It’s still just a bad dream. It’s me wanting it to be just a bad dream.

I keep having replays of that scene in the movie Steel Magnolia’s where Meline (played by Sally Field) tries to come to terms with the reality that she just buried her child.

“God I want to know why?…No it isn’t supposed to happen this way…I just can’t take this.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-Ai4SUrj8w. In the end the scene takes a humourous turn, but I’m not feeling much laughter these days. That’s not reality.

I have tried to get the “cause of death” for the insurance companies but no one seems to know. I call and call and get passed off to someone else. Finally I go to see our doctor and she says she will get it. Today someone from our doctor’s office called and said the information came in and the doctor wanted to talk to me to explain it, so I went.

It isn’t easy talking about the details of how someone died but when I read the report all I could see was that recurring word “unfortunately.”

Unfortunately, this pneumonia progressed…Unfortunately, he was transferred to the ICU and deteriorated…Unfortunately, after a few days of treatment the family decided to withdraw (intubation).”

Like we had a choice? Should I have let him stay with that horrible tube down his throat; his face swollen from being propped on his stomach, then turned over, looking like he had been in a fight? Puffy features on his always slender, long face and his strong square chin. It wasn’t Bob. And when we removed the intubation and they shut off the machines, it didn’t take five days or five hours (as we were told it could). It took five seconds. No time at all.

And now the tears are back. Now I can’t stop crying when I think of him.

No one will ever know me like he knew me. No one will remember what happened when my mother died. No one will understand when I tell them something that happened when he and I were the only ones present.

Yes, I am taking care of myself. Yes, I am getting therapy. Yes, I am going to a bereavement group where others tell their stories of losing someone close, many spouses. Some can’t forget after three years or more.

I hear clichés over and over again:

You won’t get over this, you will just get through it.
Normal is just a cycle on the washing machine.
This is your new normal.

Then there are the ones that make you feel dissolute in a desolate wasteland because you can’t see or touch or hear or feel these things:

He’s an angel on your shoulder.
He’s watching over you.
He’s telling you what you should do.

Really? Because I can’t hear him. I can’t feel him.

And then there are the little things I miss. I want to touch his cheeks to feel the unshaven stubble. I tried to feel that after they unhooked  him from the machines. He was so cold and there was no stubble. I touched his face in the casket and it was a terrible feeling – makeup. No, I will never, ever feel that stubble again.

I want to hold him and feel the scar on his back where he had a benign lump removed. It gave me a sense of reassurance. It was him. We were connected. He knew my body’s quirks, I knew his.

I want to trace that one fingernail with my finger; the one I traced every day and gently chastised him about biting. He said that it was crushed at work in a machine and the nail never grew back. Whatever it was, that, and every physical, tangible connection I had with him is gone. It’s just a memory.

Today marks, by the calendar numbers, one month since he died, June 8, 2013.