Tuesday, February 6, 2024

When Love and Laughter Play the Tune

It's those tapes that want to ruin our lives.

When we've lost a loved one, the tapes of the last moments play in our heads like a broken record that never stops its scratchy noise. The music is the worst we've heard---loud and grating. There is no off-button. The noise is made up of our thoughts that cause us to contemplate the last words spoken by ourselves and by our loved one. We think of how it could have gone differently and how if it had, our loved one would still be alive. Over and over we ask, why did it have to end this way? If only . . . . If only I had taken him to the hospital earlier. If only I had watched him more closely. If only I had known more about the disease or his friends or the event where he was in danger. We scream into the night. We think the constant-playing tapes will kill us. Exhausted, we want to shut off our minds.

As we go over in detail the last moments with our loved one, we want to believe the moments could have been orchestrated differently.

Control is the loud tune that plays in rhythm with If Only. The two work together. We have been led to believe that we have control. We think it is ours. We wore our seat belts and ate our vegetables, were kind to our neighbors (even the nosy ones) and bought toys for our children. We shouldn't have to be going through this confusion, this ache, this despair. Our loved one should still be here with us. Instead, we are now living a life without him or her and wondering how to face each day. For whatever reason, we have bought into the myth of power, control, thinking we could play God in our lives. We ignore the soft voice that asks, "Did you get to choose your place of birth, or height, or color of your eyes?"

To try to make sense of our confusion and illusions, we journal. Page after page, we fill them with questions like: How long does this pain last? When will I get back to the old me? For help, we read the lives of others who have been on the bereavement journey. We marvel at their survival and at the same time wonder how they have done it. Can we do it? Can we journey year after year without our child, our spouse, our parent, our friend?

We put the journals and books aside, and go back to the If Only and Control. Over and over the frantic tunes play as we continue to live the last days. While the re-living the last days seems detrimental, the truth is, it is necessary. It's called process. Our brains need to process what has happened to us in our loss. Eventually----and I don't know how long eventually is---the tapes wear thin. We forgive ourselves, we realize control is a myth, we realize it is not up to us to have control over when someone takes his last breath. We acknowledge we are not God. We may never understand why our loved one died when she did or the way she did. We may never get the answers we want on this earth. But one thing we know, until our last breath, we are going to have to figure out how to make this bereavement journey work.



On a day where the sun pushes past the clouds, we hear the laughter of our loved one. As we drive to work, we recall a road trip with our significant other. In the parking lot, we remember a joke our son told. The laughter feels strange to our ears. A smile expresses the memories we carry in our hearts. The next day we may be back to listening to the If Only tapes, but once again, on another day, a fond memory slips through. She did like to bake oatmeal cookies, he did give the best hugs. And we trod on the journey, clouds and sunlight, dreariness with glimpses of hope. And we are progressing. Day after day, we embark on the rocky path, finding our footing, discovering what we need, learning and growing.

And one morning, we find ourselves thinking: Maybe I will survive. Maybe, perhaps, I might even thrive again. And in the meanwhile, we savor the laughter and the love. They are what fit inside our hearts; their tunes are worth carrying and playing over and over again.

Friday, February 2, 2024

What We Never Lose

I always think, "the wound won't be as painful this year," and I am always reminded that love never dies and missing my son is part of who I am.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Cooking with Author Marilyn Nutter

Today we welcome author Marilyn Nutter who has a new book out that offers hope for widows. She also has a recipe for us to bake. So let's get rolling.

I'm glad to have you here, Marilyn. Thank you for joining us at the blog today.

What were the circumstances that led you to write Hope for Widows: Reflections on Mourning, Living, and Change?

I was encouraged by a fellow writer to write articles and a book to help widows--sharing my thoughts, responses to grief, and how to help someone navigate this journey. Some of my book comes from my journal entries. Other parts are experiences with friends and family that once I was encouraged to write a book to help widows, I began to record and apply to grief, mourning, and life changes. And some are responses to scriptures in my devotional reading or Bible studies.

How long did it take you to complete your book?

That’s an answer with many layers. The book evolved over several years. As I said, I was encouraged at a writers’ conference to write a book to help widows walk on their path. I attended conferences and a writers’ group for critiques, so the work went through much editing and changes. I took out a section from each vignette that I might use now for another book. It was declined by several editors because I didn’t have a large platform and some even thought there isn’t a market for widows’ books. That was disappointing. Each day 1,000 women are widowed and the average age of a widow is 59. Finally, once represented by an agent who believed in the message (she has a widowed relative and saw the relevance) she shopped the manuscript. That was about nine years since I began writing, then rewriting. It was a good example of Isaiah 60:22 “When the time is right, I, the Lord will make it happen.”
What was the most difficult part of writing your book?

Probably reliving the night my husband died and the days and months that followed. I could visualize all that I wrote about-even the details. In grief or trauma, when we do that-tell and retell our story- we are in that experience again. We have to re-ground and look at our surroundings to go back into the present.

What do you hope readers will gain/learn from reading it?

I wrote the book for widows- to support and encourage them that they are not alone. The book is interactive and following each vignette, I offer two opportunities: Treasured Reflections where they can respond to their application of the story, such as- did they have a similar experience and what were their thoughts. The other is Treasured Thoughts – asking them to journal how they want to respond and move forward. So the book isn’t just my story but guiding widows to write theirs. The book is not just about the reality of grief but also change, living, and purpose.

I also wrote the book as a widow’s advocate. Everyone, even those with the loss of the same person, grieves in different ways. But aside from the grief of losing the person physically and relationally, there are other losses. We call those secondary losses. An example might be always driving alone somewhere, learning new skills such as banking or home maintenance, and of course loneliness. I want others who know and love widows to have insight into the dramatic life changes and challenges a new path brings to a widow and read Hope for Widows too. Grief is far more than the death of her husband. Hopefully, others who are not widowed will read it and then care more intentionally for the widows in their lives.

Please share a recipe with us.

Sticky Rolls

2 loaves frozen bread dough, thawed

1/2 cup butter

1 large package vanilla pudding (cooked variety, not instant)

1/4 cup milk

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Spray a 9x13” pan with cooking spray. Tear off pieces of bread dough and place in pan, pieces next to each other. Set aside. Melt butter and add milk, dry pudding mix, and cinnamon. Blend until smooth and pour over bread dough. Our family doubles the butter and milk so we have lots of caramel with the rolls. Cover and refrigerate three hours or overnight. When ready to bake, remove cover and place in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Leave in pan to serve. Have a spoon ready to scoop up the caramel!

Why is this recipe special to you?

It was a traditional Christmas morning breakfast when my girls grew up. Now they have carried on the tradition and do the same for their families.

Thank you for joining us today, Marilyn!

You can get a copy of Marilyn's new book on Amazon.

Read more about Marilyn and her writing at her website.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Weep Boldly; Write Bravely --- A writing workshop in Raleigh, NC

Excited to announce the next grief and loss writing workshop!


Weep Boldly; Write Bravely


Navigating Grief through the Gift of Writing

April 27, 2024

All-day Writing Workshop

9:30 AM to 3:30 PM

Hampton Inn and Suites Raleigh NC

111 Hampton Woods Lane


So, folks, it's been a few years since I've facilitated an all-day writing workshop to help those in grief and loss discover the benefits of writing. I enjoy these workshops so much, and feel it's time for one to be held in 2024. And, guess what? We have a date, time, and place. There will be a dive into what grief and writing through it entails, what to write and not write, tips on expressive writing, making your writing the strongest it can be, learning from each other, and silent time to freely write without distractions. I hope to see you there!


Early Bird Special $70.00 (submit payment by 2-5-24) Update! If you have read this far, you can still attend (even after 2-5-24) for the Early Bird Price.

Cost is $80.00 after 4-1-24.

Send payment via Paypal (use PAYPAL link below), check*, or send using Zelle to awisler3@gmail.com

Who is this for? Those who want to write from sorrow and trauma for healing, health, and hope

What will we do? We’ll discover how to express our thoughts onto the page; instruction from author and grief-writing advocate, Alice J. Wisler

What’s included? Coffee, tea, chocolate, lunch, instruction, and handouts

What to bring? Pen, notepad, and creativity

* Make your check to Alice Wisler for $70 (Early Bird Price if sent by 4-1-24) and after that date, make it for $80. If you sign up with a friend (you both need to acknowledge and pay together), the cost is only $67 each.

Mail check to:

201 Monticello Avenue

Durham, NC 27707

Pay NOW with PAYPAL to get The Early Bird Special.

No refunds or cancellations. Feel free to email me at awisler3@gmail.com with any questions.

Watch the video to learn more about the workshop--

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Write Bravely! An All-Day Writing Workshop 2024

So folks, it's been a few years since I've facilitated an all-day writing workshop to help those in grief and loss discover the benefits of writing. I enjoy these workshops so much, and feel it's time for one to be held in 2024. The plan is to find a venue where we can meet and spend the day together, writing, sharing, and learning. Since I'm in Durham, North Carolina, I'd like to have the event in either Durham or nearby Raleigh or Chapel Hill. The day will start around 9 AM and end by 4 PM. There will be a dive into what grief and writing through it entails, what to write and not write, tips on expressive writing, making your writing the strongest it can be, learning from each other, and silent time to freely write without distractions.

Interested? Email me at awisler3@gmail.com to let me know of your interest and to keep up with the updates as the workshop location is disclosed, etc.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Watermelon in the Bathtub

Our family was—and still is—enthusiastic about fireworks. There was a time David even slipped in some illegal in North Carolina, the kind purchased across the border in his state of South Carolina. Every Fourth of July, we sat on our lawn in anticipation. David stood yards in front of us on the street and lit the torpedo buzz, the rockets, all the funny-sounding popping crackers. We cheered and clapped and buried our faces in ripe slices of watermelon.
July 4, 1996, Daniel was in the hospital having his monthly chemo injections. Our celebration of our nation’s birthday would have to be held inside Daniel’s hospital room. Daniel looked forward to watching the fireworks, hoping his hospital room window would provide a good view. But a nurse informed us there wouldn't be fireworks from Kenan Stadium that night; the reason was unclear.

Daniel bounced back from his disappointment when friends Sue, and her twelve-year-old daughter, Becca, entered the room with a watermelon and a knife. "We came to celebrate July Fourth with you!" said Sue in her vibrant Rochester, New York, accent.

Sue cut slices for each of us and served them on paper plates. Becca placed a plate on Daniel's tray table.

Daniel dipped his mouth into the fruit. With juice running down his cheeks and chin, he took another bite. He found a black seed and, facing Becca, spat the seed toward her and then, grinning, waited for her reaction.

She laughed; he filled his lungs and cheeks with air and let out another. It landed on his sheet. Our family comes from a long line of watermelon-seed-spitters. Mom had won contests, but it looked like Daniel needed some tips from her.

After the two left, Daniel said, "I think I've had enough watermelon." He lay on the bed, comically rubbing his tummy and grinning.

I looked at the half-consumed treat. It was too big to store in the fridge in the communal kitchen down the corridor. "Where can we put it?" Where did other patients keep their watermelons?

I'd read the thick binder about Daniel's medications and various procedures, but nowhere in any of the literature was there a section about proper protocol for taking care of leftover fruit.

"How about in the bathtub?" Daniel said.

What a great idea! "Why not?"

And so, we did just that.

[The above is an excerpt from the memoir, Life at Daniel's Place, by Alice J. Wisler. Get the book here.]