11 secrets I learned about living after losing

After my husband, Gary, died of cancer, I relocated to southern California, claimed my daughter-in-law’s pink-rimmed bike as my own, and said Yes to several not-necessarily-planned-far-in-advance adventures.


Venice Beach with my pink-rimmed ride


Adventures, such as … Puerto Rico with son and daughter-in-law, spring break with daughter and son-in-law on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, full-ride scholarship to writers/speakers conference in Cincinnati, meeting long-lost Mallory family in Wisconsin, white water rafting in Idaho, trekking through Switzerland.

Maybe the reason these past couple years as a widow have passed with the blur of light speed is because I’m living them full-out.

From our experience, here is a list of 11 secrets Hubby and I learned about the saying-of-yes and the taking-of-risks and the living-of-life despite loss of health, loss of a way of life, loss of a most beloved person:

1. Stay connected.

It takes effort to stay connected because after a significant loss, there is a tendency to wrap ourselves up in a fleecy blanket and hibernate. Invite people over; meet friends for Chai tea; FaceTime with long-distance family; join a community of like-minded people. Because it’s critically important to be loved and to have someone to love.

2. Meet new people.

Gary and I had planned to hike in the Swiss Alps, but we ran out of time. A year after he died, I signed up for a walking tour of Switzerland with 23 fabulous crazy preposterous fun witty unstoppable new friends. And with each new acquaintance, my life is enriched.



3. Try new things.

In Puerto Rico, I took stand-up paddle board lessons, not thinking I could be coordinated enough to keep a large surfboard from dunking me into the river. (One dunking, in case you’re counting.) Trying new things produces gleeful delicious exhilaration.

4. Step outside the comfortable.

This sounds like a repeat of #3, but I mean it in a different way. Number 3 is about adventuring; this is more about doing something that will stretch us. Public speaking did this for Hubby and me as we shared our story across the country about what we were doing to live well with terminal cancer.

5. Look for ways to give back.

The more Gary and I booked speaking engagements, the easier it became to get up in front of audiences. And while we were sharing hope, hope was gently showering down all around us.

6. Invest in good eating.

My husband and I changed our way of eating — more fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes; healthful fats and sugars; smaller portions of meat and seafood — and I’ve continued this way of eating in widowhood. Which means I feel strong energetic healthy. And this matters.

7. Keep moving.

There’s a path that meanders beneath impossibly tall trees alongside a creek that I walk several times a week. Outdoor movement within sound of a busy creek rushing over large boulders is unimaginably conducive to living well.

8. Maintain a gratitude list.

I’ve been counting my way to one thousand things I’m grateful for, inspired by Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. I am now in the seven-hundreds: #703) Safe journeys across snow-covered high desert; #721) New knitting project in gorgeous shades of midnight blue; #734) FaceTime with the four youngest grandkids — zaniness!

9. Look for the good in the not-so-good.

It was arm pain with numbness and loss of strength in my hand (the not-so-good) that brought me back to central Oregon for medical attention only to realize this is where I left my heart. I’m now happily ensconced back in the place where Hubby and I made so many crazy good memories (the very-good).

10. Establish purpose.

In the past week, I’ve sipped tea with a young couple dealing with cancer, a too-young widow bereft of husband and toddler in one horrific accident, and a cancer patient’s girlfriend struggling with being shut out. A nephew once said: “People listen if you have scars.” Are there scar-producing events you wouldn’t have written into your story that could eventually establish a new purpose for your life?

11. Keep the faith.

Our faith undergirded Hubby and me through cancer and into widowhood. It’s fabulous to know that the Master Choreographer has designed a beautiful production that encompasses my remaining days on earth.

* * *

The steps Hubby and I took to live well after his loss of health are basically what I’m doing in widowhood. And my life is quite full — as in, peaceful, grateful, purposeful, joyful.

If you’ve faced tremendous loss, do you have a strategy for persevering back into life? It will take work and commitment, but it’s doable. It’s very very doable.

P.S. If you know someone who could use a bit of encouragement to live forward, please share, tweet or pin!


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  1. Tami Brigham

    Marlys, You are such a good writer! This was so encouraging & motivational yet I cried through most of this article. I have definitely locked myself away from doing just regular normal everyday things and from seeing many people. I do get out some but nothing like I used to. Looks like its time to plan a trip or two. Thank you!

    • Oh, Tami … half the battle is won right there: recognizing that “I have definitely locked myself away from doing just regular normal everyday things and from seeing many people.” Good for you!

  2. Wendy Walker

    Thank you for sharing your life and beautiful writings, and encouraging us to love, live and journey forward with purpose.

  3. Angie White

    Are Heidi and I on you’re 1000 list?: )

  4. The gratitude list is a crazy-awesome idea and has brought me more peace and joy than anything. Following seasons of grief, when I go back and read the gratitude lists, the tiniest details pop from the page, and Jesus winks that warm wink of His into my soul.

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