Michigan author talks about journey after husband's death
No matter what the circumstances, losing a loved one is one of life’s hardest journeys. Michigan author Kristin Meekhof turned her journey of heartbreak into one of positivity and helping others.
Kristin Meekhof’s husband, Roy, has been gone for ten years, but she still lights up when she describes him.
“He was very direct and was very kind and very tender hearted,” she says. “He was a teacher, and while he was a teacher, was always a student. He was very curious and loved to learn. And at the same time, practiced gratitude.
Gratitude would be an important practice to embrace for the couple, when, after only 4 years of marriage, they received devastating news: Roy’s mysterious symptoms turned out to be a rare form of cancer in the adrenal glands. The disease was advanced… and it was terminal.
“My husband lived life on life's terms,” Meekhof recalls. “There was never resistance and there was never anything but accepting. It's not like he just said ‘close the door, this is it, put me on hospice.’ It was just that ‘this is what the current situation is. We've got the scientific experts here. And this is how we're going to move forward.’ And he started listing the things to be grateful for, and he grabbed my hand and said ‘that we have each other.’ And so he's really the one who taught me that gratitude is the answer for every question when there's no absolute answer at that moment for something that's heartbreaking and makes your heart sick.”
Eight weeks later, Roy was gone. Meekhof says she was devastated.
“Absolutely nothing prepared me for that loss,” she says. “When the relationship is based on a friendship that it's a different level of grief because I also lost my best friend.”
But as Meekhof read everything she could find on grieving and loss, she was struck by what she didn’t find: widows telling their stories---what advice they had to give, what was helpful, what wasn’t, what to say when well-meaning friends and family said the wrong thing….practical information for new widows on how to handle everything. Meekhof says she wasn’t a writer at the time---she was a social worker--so she decided to interview widows to simply hear their stories and get advice.
“I noticed time and time again that certain themes came up over and over for them such as finances, emotional support, solo parenting; unfortunately probate--which is law,” Meekhof explains. “Widows would often tell me ‘I wish I had a blueprint for each of these particular areas,’ and that it would be helpful to have experts who worked with widows and lend their advice so that they would be able to cope more emotionally if they knew that some of these practical measures would be taken care of…because it is very difficult to deal with your emotional well-being when you're worried about going to court the next day or the right form for that for your estate.”
The outcome of these conversations? A book, “A Widow’s Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice for the First 5 Years.”
“I also decided that the book could be read not necessarily as a typical chapters book meaning you have to read chapter one and then chapter two that you could read whatever chapter may be most significant for you at whatever time,” Meekhof adds. “Maybe you just want to read the financial chapter and I said. And another time, you want to read chapter one. “
These days, Meekhof travels around the country giving talks about her book and chatting with attendees about their journey with grief. She was recently a panelist at the 2017 Harvard Medical School Writing Conference and is also a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, MariaShriver.com and others. And she maintains a social media group for those who are grieving. But in spite of all of this, she explains that her experience with loss is still difficult to talk about.
“There's not a specific time frame for grief to be healed and that healing. You learn to live with the loss. Loss is very much like an amputation and you don't just grow a new limb back. And it's helpful to reframe the way that you see the loss and to be gentle with yourself and that it's a process.”
Meekhof also tells says that the process is a very individual one.
“It's different because each person is different: different in the way they perceive healing and different in the way that they are able to integrate different things that can impact their healing, like social support, like support at work, what they're open to, and how they cope with stress, prior as well as after,” Meekhof says
Looking back, Meekhof does have one piece of advice for others going through grieving a loss:
“I think the number one thing that I've learned is to accept help. That I didn't do that enough. And I think that being very independent and also given my age, that I thought ‘well, you know you should be capable of handling everything that comes after the grief on your own.’ And I was very ill-equipped for doing that.”
You can connect with Meekhof herself, along with her support groups, on social media.