Author Archives: Sandra Pesmen

Grief: That heavy stone in your heart

They were more deeply in love than most couples are after 35 years of marriage, so it was even more tragic when the husband died of cancer three years ago.

His widow, only 60 at the time, was fortunate in that she had two loving grown children, a professional career and sufficient income to live comfortably.

But widows face many issues, especially if they are young and still in their “active, social” years. Life, as she had known it, stopped abruptly.

Friends, family and colleagues were considerate and tried to help her feel life is worth living.

She gamely attended a recent family wedding and seemed to enjoy the ceremony and cocktail hour, but as the reception got underway she felt more and more alone. She missed her husband even more sitting among family members and friends who all were in couples.

After salad had been served, she rose abruptly and said, “I’m done. I must go home.” And all at the table felt her sorrow.

Coincidentally, this week The Dr. Phil Show repeated a program focused on a 60-year-old widow with two grown children and a successful career, who was having trouble returning to a normal social life.

Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, chief medical advisor for Pfizer, was also featured and she gave this advice:

  1. Social Isolation (such as that experienced by many widows) is an addiction, as serious as any other, like alcohol, drugs, or obesity. It deserves to be treated as such.
  2.  This emotional paralysis caused by reminders of life with your husband may cause anxiety, depression, and especially fear. The greatest being falling in love again and losing that person too.
  3. Both this counselor and Dr. Phil emphasized that the length of time you grieve is no indication of how much you loved the deceased.
  4. The advice wasn’t unusual. It included getting back into civic and religious organizations and doing volunteer work. But also stressed the need for therapy, where talking about your feelings gives the most relief.

As one of our readers has remarked, “It’s like carrying a heavy stone in your heart. In time it gets lighter, but it’s never gone.”

And most of us don’t want or expect it to be.



There in spirit

Sunday ranks as one of the most splendid days in our family’s history, when our first grandchild, and only granddaughter, Sara Preis married Wayne Brin in a spectacular ceremony.

But, of course, for this widow, it was bittersweet. Sara’s birth father died tragically when she was three, and, though she was adopted by a devoted step-father soon afterward, her grandfathers also stepped in to  help fill that void and probably became closer to her than is ordinary.

“Papa George,” her father’s father, was at the wedding, and paid tribute to “Papa Hal,” my husband, who was not.

Everyone in our family had many moments during the memorable and festive weekend when we felt the pain and sorrow of his loss. We wished he was with us on this so special day. It helped that Sara arranged a special table at the reception with photos of beloved family members who were gone. And it included one of our handsome Papa Hal, holding his beloved, 4-year-old Sara in his arms.

Today, looking with joy at photos of all our children, grandchildren, dearest cousins and friends who were with us, I  thought about whether I want to go the rest of the way seeing such glasses “half full or half empty.”

I chose half full because I’m so grateful to have this family and know that as long as some of us are together, Hal will be with us in spirit as he was Sunday.

Face it! Own it! And You’re not a victim!

She was alone for the first time in 43 years. When her husband died, she thought she could handle day to day issues. She knew how to care for the car, the house, pay bills, manage financial arrangements.

Oh, don’t pity her. She was going to be fine.

Except she wasn’t. The day- to- day lonliness, coupled with sincere grief and sorrow at losing her best friend and loving mate at a time in life when she could no longer go out and start a career, or make new friends. (And when someone called to say they tried to reach her but she was out, she said, “Try Saturday night.”

“Tough.” That’s what everyone said she was, with some admiration. And she tried to maintain that image.

But it was stressful, and then, horror of horrors, her hair began to fall out.

All her medical experts said it possibly (and probably) was caused by  stress from suppressed sorrow.

The good news is there was a satisfactory solution: Get a wonderful wig (or two) and start wearing them so you won’t constantly be reminded of the  loss.

“I just can’t,” she protested. “l’m afraid people will notice it,” she protested.

“And what’s the worst case scenario if that happens?” I countered.

“They’ll ask me if I’m sick and if I have Cancer!” she said, tearing up.

“The best news is you can smile and say, ‘NO, thank God. I have hair issues so I bought these, so I can look nice. Do you like this one or should I try another color?”

Face it, own it, and you’re not a victim!

And once you can again look in the mirrow and see yourself looking normal, you can focus again on your very real grief and take steps to start diminishing it.

It will never be gone entirely, and perhaps we don’t want it to be. If one had a good relationship, the remaining partner will constantly be reminded of that missing mate. “Grapple them (those good memorie) to your soul with hoops of steel,” (Thanks, Shakespeare) and talk about them with others who are doing the same.

They may be the people sitting at your bridge table– who just told you your new wig is pretty.



‘Remember Me’

At a beautiful funeral for a very special friend this week, I found the following poem by English Painter and Poet David Harkin in thre program. It seemed especially fitting to read again during the Menmorial Day holiday:


You can shed tears that she is gone

or you an smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back

or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her

or you can be full of the loe you shared.

You can turn  your back on tomorrow and live yestrday

or you can be happy for tojorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she’s gone

or you an cherish her memory and let it live on.

You can c;ry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,

or you can do what she’d want: smile, open  your eyes,

love and get on.

I’ve Been ‘Tired’—–By My Car

Ever been ‘tired?”

I have—by my car.

When my granddaughter and I left a local restaurant last weekend, she commented, “Grandma, your front tire looks low on air.” The parking valet, standing near by, warned me not to drive any father than home on it.

You must understand that when my husband died, I didn’t know any more about air in tires than I did about working the gas pump gas or changing the oil. He did all that, and until this week I was still in the dark about tires.

That night, I went home and began worrying about which towing company to call in the morning so I could drive it to our local Just Tires franchise and have whatever was wrong fixed. I was already mad about having to pay God know what for the tow.

Then a wise friend told me to look at my car insurance policy, because most have road service coverage and a low tire fits that description. I looked. I had it and the next morning I called the insurance company’s help line.

In 45 minutes, the road service car pulled up in front of my home and a friendly young man hopped out. He checked the valve and said it was fine and it didn’t look as though any had slow leaks in the rims, or anywhere else, Then he filled all the tires to proper levels and gave me the astounding news that I’m supposed to check the air pressure every few months (Duh!) and have someone fill any tires that are low.

Because I drive far less than when I worked, I have less auto checkups and fewer oil changes, so the service people probably didn’t get to check the tires every few months.

I now have a schedule—with encouragement from my Just Tires franchise—to drive over there every ow and then, have someone help me check the pressure and fill them with air.

I feel rested.


Memories and Heirlooms Help Us Live On

As long as memories of us live on–we do too.

I make sure our children and grandchildren remember my husband, “Papa Hal,” with stories and anecdotes we continue to tell about him at every gathering around our family dining room table in the home we shared for 55 years.

But I believe tangible items help too.

This week I gave our 15-year-old grandson Josh, a musician, his grandfather’s tuxedo, complete with designer evening shirts, cumberbund, and accessories. Tall and slim like his grandfather, Josh was “over the moon” and marched around the house in it, planning to wear it when he performs, as well as (eventually) to his prom. “I’ll rock in retro!” he exclaimed.

His cousin, Sara, who is getting married in June, is equally delighted when she receives something  memorable from our family “treasure trove.” At a recent shower I gave Sara the silver butter dish her adoring grandfather and I received at our own wedding.

(And of course I included a check with a note on it that said, ” This is for the butter!)




Don’t Chase After Married Kids

There’s that temptation when you live alone after your spouse’s death, to want to tighten the bonds between yourself and the rest of the family, particularly children and grandchildren.

One friend of mine sold the large family home when her husband died and moved with her grown son into a small ranch home in the same town, close to her newly married daughter.

That was fine until last year when the daughter bought a home in a far away suburb, became pregnant. She just had the family’s first grandchild and my friend, who still works full time, spends every free moment at their home, babysitting when the parents leave and helping when they are present.

Last month my friend announced she planned to sell her current house and buy one closer to her grandchild so she can be more helpful.

The kids didn’t see it that way. Her daughter told her they’re thinking of selling their new home in a couple years and moving back toward the city because the commute is too far to work.

Let that subtle message work for all of us. They don’t want us on top of them. They will call when they need us. Trust me .


Randhill Park Welcomes Interfaith Couples

My nephew, who lives  in Arizona, recently came to Chicago and visited his parents’ graves in Shalom Memorial Park and Funeral Home in Arlington Heights, IL.

“It’s such a pretty, restful place” he told me, “And now that I’m turning 70, I’m thinking of my own final plans, and I was wondering what to do because my wife of 26 years is Christian and I’m Jewish. I want to keep the family together.”

Fortunately, the Jewish cemetery where his parents are buried includes a special section for people who have intermarried, and he was able to pre-plan satisfactory arrangements.

This problem becomes even more relevant as more people  continue to marry outside their faith.

Shalom’s Executive director Maynard Grossman explains: “Many families we serve have individuals from different backgrounds and traditions. Shalom Memorial Park and Funeral Home are formally affiliated with Randhill Park Cemetery to accommodate the needs of these diverse families.

Randhill Park is a non-sectarian cemetery located on the grounds immediately adjacent to Shalom Memorial Park. Many interfaith families are drawn to Randhill Park’s lovely Garden of Devotion. This private garden was designed particularly for the needs of interfaith families.”

Randhill Park offers a full range of options including its general grounds, outdoor mausoleum and columbarium. For more information about Randhill Park, please contact  (847) 255-3520.



Help Keep Sales Associates Working

Headlines screamed “American Retailers Lay Off Thousands!” again last week, and we learned the reason is that too many shoppers are doing their shopping online.

Well, I am not one of them. I am doing my best to keep sales associates working.

Aside from EBooks from Amazon, I pretty much browse through the Internet for ideas, then go to retail stores to see, smell, touch or try on the items I searched. That goes for food, fashion, furniture and anything else I need.

I met a woman on a plane last month who works as a personal grocery shopper. People phone in orders to her company and she goes to the store and squeezes the lettuce for them, fills the order and has it delivered. I know it’s a time saver for busy people, but it’s very expensive and also, when I worked full time in the city while caring for a home and family in the suburbs, I relished that quiet time alone in the supermarket on weekends (where nobody could get at me.)

The same goes for clothes and home furnishings. For example, if I see a dress online that interests me, I search for a nearby store where I can try it on, feel the fabric, and decide if it’s really the same pretty shade it appeared to be on my computer. Also, I can see if it fits properly. If the answer is yes to all that,  I pay only what the dress costs with no shipping charges, and carry it home with no need to wait for delivery in a week or  return it if it disappoints.

My young friends and relatives who order almost everything online cry, “I’m sooooooooo busy,” and they find me ridiculous. But I pay no attention to them. I have been equally busy over the years and was grateful for the opportunity to have both a family and a career during earlier years when so few women did.

Let me know if you agree or disagree. And remember, those sales associates need you!