Living Life With Passion: Lessons Learned From Death Over Coffee With Joi Brooks

Widowhood Real Talk | Joi Brooks | Death Over Coffee

 

Sometimes, all you need is a good conversation over a cup of coffee. In this episode, Joi Brooks, the host of Email and Coffee, opens up about the profound journey she embarked upon following the loss of her husband, Harry, and the passing of her parents. Joi shares her insights on embracing life with renewed passion, drawing valuable lessons from the shadows of death, all while savoring the warmth of a comforting cup of coffee. Beyond her personal tragedy, she discovered an unexpected ally and, through her experiences, gained the wisdom to support others in navigating their own grief. Join us for a heartfelt conversation with Joi Brooks, where the aroma of coffee accompanies reflections on life, loss, and the enduring spirit that arises from the darkest moments.

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide

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Living Life With Passion: Lessons Learned From Death Over Coffee With Joi Brooks

Our guest is Ms. Joi Brooks. She is a widow and has a wonderful perspective that I know that you will find insightful, empowering, and encouraging. Let’s get into the conversation now.

 

Widowhood Real Talk | Joi Brooks | Death Over Coffee

 

Happy morning to you, Joi Brooks.

Happy morning. I’m thankful that it’s not flooding this morning.

She’s been part of the widowhood conversation. Flooding, what is that about?

It’s called living on the South Shore of Long Island. We get used to it over time. It’s not a good thing, but it could be worse.

I was looking at different places in the weather. Ohio is getting spanked by the snow and a lot of other places. What is the weather in New York?

It’s foggy. We had a rain and windstorm. It wasn’t as bad as Tuesday or Wednesday when we did have flooding. It’s not in the house or anything like that. It could be, but it was about an inch in the garage.

How long have you lived in this area?

Twenty-five years in 2024.

What’s your worst flooding experience?

Superstorm Sandy.

How did that impact you?

Five feet in the street and three feet in the house.

It’s past the garage into your home.

It’s like a swimming pool in the house.

What was that experience?

We lost everything. Every day, you rip everything out. You throw it out, and everybody down the block has the same thing. Everybody’s stuff is out in the front. The Red Cross trucks drive by, and they feed us. It’s martial law.

There’s a lot right there.

That’s packed with stuff.

What is the frequency in which you’ve endured?

That was what they called a 100-year flood. It shouldn’t happen like that. Hurricanes, yes, because Long Island is prone to what is called a North Easter, which comes up the coast of the United States. It circles around and spanks us. Because I’m on the south shore of Long Island, it goes around and pushes the water up, and we get a hot time. A perfect storm was Superstorm Sandy, which was a hurricane, a full moon, and a North Easter.

A hurricane is not bad enough. It was a North Easter hurricane. The way it came up and circled around. That was the perfect storm. We get flooded. There are times when I walk the dogs, and it’s an adventure because I’m not going down the street. I turn around. I got to walk on this person’s lawn. It’s something that we live with. If we get down to a personal level, we shouldn’t be living on the South Shore.

One of my husband’s dying wishes was to move out of the house. I like it here. The summers are beautiful. The neighbors are lovely. They know me, and I know them. I’ve been living here for several years. If I were not to come out of my house for 2 or 3 days, they’d be knocking, phoning, or texting. That’s important. I could move to some other place. Odds are something else would be an issue. It’s a trade-off. The weather on Long Island in the summer and fall is lovely. In the winter, it’s iffy and dicey. In August, we get hurricanes. New York, it’s hurricanes. The East Coast gets hurricanes.

You dived right into what was going to be my question. You spoke about the devastation, but why stay? You’re right. Everywhere in the world has some level of extreme weather that you experience, but you cannot outdo those relationships that have been built and cemented over time and the people who care for you. People would notice if something were awry in your life. I can understand that outweighing because you have to pick which extreme weather situation you’re going to live in. You have found one worth being there for. When your neighbors read the blog, they know how important and valuable they are. If you’ve never been mushy, let them know. They mean a lot.

There are services, shopping, doctors, lawyers, and a whole amount of services that, for the past several years, I’ve been part of. I’d have to start that all over again. I’d find a new doctor, dentist, or accountant. You could pick anybody. You could shop at any store that you want. When I walk into my supermarket, there are a few people who recognize me, and I talk with them. It’s a thing.

You mentioned your husband. Please share your late husband’s name.

His name is Harry. Since he passed, he’s become a saint. He’d laugh at that because he was no saint. I’ve turned him into Saint Harry. He could do no wrong.

You mentioned him. I wanted to make sure to articulate his name. I want to spend the time clock back. You can pick any time when you want to pick up your story, share about who you are and yourself before Harry and what that looked like, and come forward into who he is and everything.

I was working for NBC at the time. I was living in an apartment over somebody’s house. The landlady had become my friend. I was about to travel to Spain for the 1992 Summer Olympics. I was working at NBC, and I was going to be going to Spain for work and be there for over a month. It was the summer before August. I had gotten my paycheck for the money allocated before I was going. My landlady friend said to me, “Let’s go out.” I never went out, never. I’d given up dating. I was 37-ish. I was like, “I’m going to become an old maid. I can live like that. It’s okay.”

She said, “Let’s go out.” I said, “No.” She said, “Come on.” I said, “Okay.” We went out. We went to a local bar, the place you’re not supposed to meet anybody. At that point in my life, I liked to drink a lot. I was doing shots of tequila and celebrating. I made a joke with the bartender. From the other side of the bar, there was a man who laughed at the joke. I said, “Bartender, buy that man a drink.” That man was Harry Brooks, my husband. We talked and got to know each other. We started dating before I left. That was the beginning of the next chapter of my life.

He didn’t necessarily believe I had been celibate. He thought that was funny. It was not too funny, but funny. He didn’t believe that I had given up. The next several years of my life were another chapter of odd things that happened. When somebody says, “What has your life been like?” I’m like, “Biblical.” They’re like, “Why do you say that?” I’m like, “Flood, famine, and death have been my life. I’ve had them all.”

I met my husband. We started dating. Within several years, we were engaged. Mom and Dad were snowbirds. They would go to Florida every year after Thanksgiving. On the way down to Florida, they stopped to see my sister in South Carolina. They would celebrate Christmas down there. After Thanksgiving, they’d stay with my sister, and they’d go to Florida until March. My mother’s birthday was March 1st. They’d usually come back in March around that time. That was their winter.

It was winter. I packed them up. I argued with my mother. Mom was 75, and Dad was 80. I was like, “Why are you going down? Why don’t you stay? I’m getting married in February. Why don’t you stay?” They’re like, “No, we’ll be back. Don’t worry. You’ll get married.” The plan was eloping. I was 40 years old. I’m not having a big wedding.

We were eloping. She said, “When I come back, we’re going to have a big party in the summer. Don’t worry. I got it covered.;’ I said, “Okay.” They packed up and went down there. I got married on February 25th, 1995. On March 10th, my mother passed away in Florida. On April 14th, my father passed away in New York. In June, my husband fell at work and had a back injury that took him out of work. The honeymoon was over before it started. The reality sits in.

It was that type of relationship. Fortunately or not, I’m 40 years old. I’ve been through a lot of stuff. Not that anybody wants to go through two deaths and an accident, but I have a certain amount of fortitude. What I was learning was that strength, endurance, rising from the ashes, and being reborn are my superpowers. I was married to Harry for several years. It would’ve been 25 years in 2024. Over that time, he suffered from a back injury. I was the breadwinner. We moved to Washington State, where it rains all the time. He would tell me every morning, “It’s raining out.” I’d be like, “No, there’s a sunburst right there. The sun is coming out.” It would start raining again.

We came back from Washington State. We moved back to New York. He got himself a job. We started another chapter where things were not tight. I wasn’t stressed. I wasn’t worrying about every little thing. It went like that for several years of being able to set things in motion for another chapter of my life, personally, my life at work, and he got cancer. Oddly enough, all of these things were setting me up to be the strongest, best person I could ever possibly be.

Had I not met him, the trajectory would have been completely different over several years. I can’t even imagine. I think to myself, “I would have moved back with my parents because Mom would’ve gotten sick at home.” Anything could have happened. I don’t know. None of us know. Sometimes, we can look at all of the bad things that happened. Mom and Dad died. It was terrible. It was stressful. During 9/11, I had a nervous breakdown. My husband went fishing. All of these things that happen to us can weigh us down or weigh us down and uplift us in some odd way.

I’m making the leap that the cancer is what ended Harry’s life.

He ended up dying of a heart attack. It was COVID and whatever this means to anybody. I don’t know what it means because my husband was in chemotherapy for a few years. They thought that they had licked the cancer. He was in remission. Because of the type of cancer he had, they wanted to put him on immunotherapy. He was six months on, a month off, and six months on. That month off was during COVID. He didn’t get COVID. We were careful. He did get the vaccine. After the second vaccine, he was complaining that he wasn’t feeling well. It was three days after the second vaccine that he passed away with a heart attack.

There was going to be an autopsy. I insisted on knowing what happened. He had cancer in his pancreas, stomach, liver, and lungs. He was not in remission. The state of affairs during COVID was such that I could not be his advocate as I had been before. I couldn’t go to the doctor with him. I couldn’t tell the doctor, “Here are these odd symptoms. Are you aware of these odd symptoms?” I don’t know what he was saying to the doctor because I wasn’t there.

Thank you for sharing that. This is something you may share on a regular, but there’s still a price to share that story. What you’re giving us is there are many memories and pieces going through your mind as you share that part of it. Thank you for being willing to do that. I want to talk about a few things that you covered. One that you mentioned, and this is helpful for people, is that when we are not doing well, the power of having someone else in that room to ask questions, be involved, and do that and over the life of your relationship, you were able to fill that role and be that empowerment in there.

I did that for my folks.

At the same time, you know that you did the best that you could do and not to apply guilt to yourself.

There’s always guilt. I shouldn’t have said that. I should have done this. I should have done this earlier. I should have done it more.

Could you?

I had to come to terms with that, but I still do.

You wrestle with the guilt. At the end of the day, know you did the best that you could do.

There were lots of things that I learned. There were many times when I lost my patience and I was short with him. I have realized that I was going through cancer with him, and I was impacted. I was stressed. I am not perfect. The things that I might have done, and I do regret, I had to get them off my chest. If he’s going to sit down and tell me, “I’m going to die, and I’m giving up.” Am I supposed to say, “Okay, give up?” No, I’m supposed to say, “No, you’re not.” You have to be a survivor.” In the long run, should I have been kinder? How in the world do you handle that situation?

I don’t think that’s possible. The relationship and the dynamics of who you are is the way you show up to inspire the person you love. At the end of the line, we wish they hadn’t died. We wish that there was one thing that I could have done that could have changed these events. There’s something I could have said or done in a conversation I could have had with a doctor or a physician. There was one other thing. I could research and do that, and I could have made this different.

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It’s not that it’s predetermined. You have to say, “I did the best I can.” There are evil people out there. I’m not talking about evil people. I’m talking about everyday husbands, wives, mothers, children, grandmothers, and daughters. Whatever the relationship is, we’re not saints. I had gone through the death of my mother, father, brother-in-law, his brother, and it was his turn. That doesn’t mean I’m an expert on this. This was my husband. The rest were different family members. It was different each time.

I hadn’t learned anything except everything comes to an end. There’s this sinking feeling that I get when I realize that. If I look at my pet now, I’m thinking, “She’s getting old. At some point, I’m going to have to come to terms with this.” That’s what happened to me. That’s the beginning of the grieving period. I was grieving with Harry the moment he was diagnosed with cancer. I was grieving his death the moment he was diagnosed with cancer. The last moment when they put him in the bag and rolled him out of the house, I had already been grieving for several years.

There was still more yet grieving to do. I want to circle back to something you mentioned. The different people in your life have died. You mentioned something important. You thought that you understood what grief looked like from the passing of your mom, the death of your dad, and the death of your brother-in-law, but Harry dies.

I do not want to get into this conversation about this death being more important or more hurtful than this death because sometimes people try to get into that conversation. This is the worst loss. They all have their different spaces because the relationships are different. If it is possible, discuss how those different deaths have impacted you in correlation to Harry’s relationship.

As humans, we don’t expect to live a long life with our parents. There’s no expectation that they’ll be with us through the end. When they go, it doesn’t at least impact some expectations. They may be, “I thought she would be there for my wedding.” When parents leave and you’re young, it’s different. The expectation is that your parents are not going to outlive you or be there at the end of your life.

When my mother went, it was a surprise because my father called and said, “Mom is gone.” He was in Florida when he said that. I had been home from my honeymoon one week. I was back at work. It was the beginning of being back at work, and I got the phone call. My father said, “Mommy is gone.” I’m like, “Where’d she go?” I should have realized, and I did. I put it together. Dad never calls me at work, and mommy is gone. What does that mean?

There was a point when I realized that while I was still asking stupid questions. That was a shocker when we brought my dad back and buried my mom. My dad was 80, and we took dad to the doctor to find out how he was. The doctor said, “It’s going to get worse.” I’m like, “How worse could this get?” He was in the hospital for a month, and he passed away in the hospital. My dad was a diabetic, and his foot had gone chronic. I was putting the pieces together of what my mother was going through in Florida. She had had a heart attack. She had a massive coronary and died. She woke up, didn’t feel well, done, and gone.

Dad is in the hospital for a month. I was dealing with my sister and getting all the finances put together. That death was the most stressful thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. My sister, who’s older than I am, is not from New York. She lives in South Carolina. I have to get a house I don’t own that is not in my name, cars, money, assets, and everything. I have to get an order because the doctor’s telling me, “This is only going to get worse.” I’m like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “He’s not coming out, Joi.” My sister didn’t hear that.

On top of all of these things, I’m dealing with my sister, who’s dealing with grief like I am in a completely different way. I have to deal with a new husband, the grief of my mother, the grief of my father, setting everything up, and dealing with my sister. Can you imagine how much stress? There’s so much stress. In my mind, my mother’s death was a surprise. After that point, there was no death ever again. That was a surprise.

With Dad’s death, I’m dealing with it on a monthly basis. The moment the doctor said, “This is only going to get worse.” I’m beginning the grief process. A month or so later, the phone rings early in the morning. I pick it up, and it’s the doctor. He said, “Your dad passed last night.” It’s an instant grief. I’m like, “I’m relieved. How dare you? How could you feel that? You’re such a selfish cold.”

I still go through that because strength is my superpower. It’s not that I don’t feel things because, to this day, I go to bed at night and say, “Good night, Mom, Dad, and Harry.” Every night, I say it without even thinking about it because the first word that comes to my mind when I go to bed is Mommy. I’m not kidding. I laugh when I think that. I’m like, “Am I demented? Is this normal?” I think I’m taking stock of my emotions as soon as I hit the pillow.

That’s important because, many times, we try to gloss it over. I’m having these conversations because there are many people in this place who feel like, “Should I still be doing this?” What that looks like for you to keep your mental wellness and be honest with yourself is that we don’t live our entire lives with these people and unravel them quickly.

Your mom, dad, and the people you’ve known your entire life is a person. It’s not the funeral that happens, and you go on like they never existed. We don’t say their names. That part is what mutes people. That is what is so thick in their throat. They can hardly feel like they can utter their name and say it out loud without somebody being uncomfortable because you said their name or mentioned they’re dead. That’s over there.

That is ever-present. That is a part of who you are. It is empowering for someone else to hear in this conversation that their mom, dad, sibling, spouse, and cousin who had such great value in their life are no longer breathing. It doesn’t mean that their connection to them has ended. That has not been severed, but the way we connect with them has changed. Thank you for sharing that.

I do think, “What would Mom have done?” I think, “Mom would’ve said this.” Sometimes, it would’ve been numerous, and I laugh. That’s why Harry has become a saint. Anything falls apart in the house. I walked into the kitchen, and there was water all over the floor. I’m like, “Harry, what’s going on now?” I look under the sink, and the pipe has become disjointed. I’m like, “Thanks, Saint Harry. What am I supposed to do? You did tell me to move. What did that have done? Because I moved, I would’ve had a handyman. Thank you very much, Harry. I do have a handyman who comes over and fixes it.” He doesn’t know Harry, but he made a Harry joke because he knows how I referred to Saint Harry.”

I remember, “Do I rehash? Is it obsessive?” No. Do I rehash? Yes. Do I obsess, or should I, could I, would have? No. Occasionally, I do go to the tip of the rabbit hole. I look down, and I’m like, “I’m not going down there.” I walk back because I think, “That’s not the point. I don’t think Harry would want me to be obsessive over this. He would want me to go on. He would want me to remember what he said, learn the things he did, and go on.”

Here’s another story. He said to me, “Move.” I didn’t. I told him I wasn’t moving, but he said, “Make sure you get another car. When I’m gone, you need another car?” He said, “Least it, don’t buy it.” I’m like, “Okay.” I leased a car. One of the lights went on. I’m thinking, “What I do, Saint Harry?” He said, “This is what you do. You play a video and find out what it is. Play another video, learn how to open the hood of the car, and do all these things.” I’m like, “I could do this.”

I played a few videos. I realized it was for my windshield wiper water. I went out and bought the Rain X. I opened the hood, found a little thing, opened it up, and put the Rain X in. The rain X is pink, but the fluid in there is orange. I’m pouring it in at some point. I’m like, “What, Harry, no?” I look, and I’m like, “What, Harry? You’re calling me every name in the book. If you were here, you would be doing it.”

I thought it was the brake fluid, and I panicked. I went and watched a video about brake fluid. It was like, “Danger.” I prepared myself for the car getting towed and flushed. I put it into the radiator. That’s not that much of a big deal. However, what did I do? I went into the garage. He had a lot of tube tubes. It was a big giant straw. I put it into the receptacle and started a siphon out because it was heavy.

You need to flush the radiator. That was a good call.

I siphoned it out and placed the call. The guys came and said, “Don’t worry. It’s not the break. You’re good. You should bring it in and have them flush everything out.” It was okay. The point is that not only did I have a full conversation with my husband, and I’m not going to go into woo-woo land where he told me what to do, but I experienced his style of figuring stuff out and what he would have done had he been there. He would’ve never put it in the wrong place because my husband was a mechanic. I did the best I could from being with him.

There are a few things I want to talk about there. One, it’s not the woo-woo thing, but we’ve lived this life with this other person. Because of 25 years of living a life with Harry, you would know, in this situation, he would’ve said this, and you would’ve done that. He’s not here, but he is a part of who you are. Being with Harry is part of why you are Joi Brooks, and it taught you how to put on that super cape and understand what your strengths were. We need that part of their voice and reasoning.

One of the things that I talk to people about when I’m doing grief coaching is, “I miss them. I want to tell them this.” We are used to giving that to them. You can still do that. You can do that by saying it out loud. You can do it by writing in a journal what is wonderful that happens in life. The first thing we want to do is pick up a phone or wait until we see them or text them, and we can’t. We’re left undone. The ability to say, “What would Harry have done in this process?” It empowered you to pull from that Harry knowledge that Joi didn’t have.

There’s something else you mentioned. There is so much stress when we are now trying to maintain a household that that other person did all this stuff. I remember the first time after Mark died. I looked in the backyard. We lived on a 1.25-acre lot. I looked at all those leaves. I looked out the window and I could see Mark raking those leaves. I was like, “I’m going to have to rake the leaves because they can’t stay out there.” I put on my coat and go out there with the leaves. I’m in the backyard. I raked a minor pile and started crying. I was like, “Raking leaves is not a big ordeal, but that was Mark’s job.”

I have to do the Tina’s and Mark’s stuff, and I’m trying to stay sane. I dropped the rake in the yard, came back in the house, and finished crying because I had stayed out there doing it for so long. Eventually, a friend called and said, “Is there anything I can do for you?” I was like, “Yeah, I need you to rake all the leaves, the whole yard.” They thought it was a minor task. They were like, “Rake leaves?”

When it’s that thing your spouse does, there’s another level of strength and energy you have to pull from the little thing underneath the sink. This, that, and learning how to do the car. We do those through tears, anxiety, and stress. It’s those little steps of continually doing. It helps us not to be stuck in that place. We get more strength, capability, and understanding of our capacity to keep going. I want people who are reading this conversation to know it’s hard, but you can do it little by little.

One of the important things that I learned was how to reach out for help. Being proud and saying, “I could do this myself,” is wonderful for a certain amount of time. I did that, helping Harry. I did that because he would not have accepted anybody else helping him. I did that for Harry. I’ll do this for you, Honey. I could do this myself.

The first year he was gone, I mowed the lawn and raked the leaves. I did everything. At the end of the summer, I was like, “What am I doing? I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this. I wanted to do it, but it’s a lot.” It becomes too much. Now I hate whatever it is, as opposed to, “I’ll go ahead and rake the leaves. It’ll be good exercise.”

 

 

The neighbors come around in any case. When it snows a lot here, the neighbors come around. They’ve always done that. Harry would be there, and they would come here. When it starts to snow, I enjoy shoveling. I don’t have that much property, but it’s not so much mowing the lawn. It’s the upkeep of the mower. It’s like, “It needs gas. It won’t start. I’ve got to pull it. Should I get an electric? I need a cord.” I’m like, “Why don’t you pay somebody? They can come and do it?”

I fought it for a summer. I thought, “No, there are going to be times when I’m going to need help.” The friends you had were your good time friends, and you had your husband deal with all the good and the bad. Sometimes, now the friends need to help you with the bad times. If you’re not feeling well, where your husband would take care of you, you’ve got to call a friend and say, “I’m not feeling well. Can you take me to the hospital?”

You’ve got to come up with a plan if you’re going to stay single. I’m still single. It’s not that I’m not looking for a relationship or that I am looking for a relationship. I’m trying to take care of myself. I’m doing a day-by-day thing. Whatever happens happens. What happens if I get sick? Who’s going to take care of me? Who’s going to care? My neighbor and my girlfriend call me. That’s the plan.

I call her when she’s sick. I call my neighbor when she’s sick. We all make sure that we’re in touch. They’ll come knocking, “Do you need soup? Do you need me to shop for you? What do you need? Tell me.” That’s important. If you’re going to get married, you’re going to give to that person again. You’re going to have another relationship. If you’re not going to get involved or have another relationship like that, you’re going to need to find good friends.

Community is important. Thank you for sharing that. You and I have both seen this. When people are grieving, it’s easy to become isolated, turn inward, and feel as if your safe haven is cutting yourself off from other people. In those communities, if you’re the person who may be the first time losing a spouse, you do have to educate people. You have to articulate and let them know you don’t want to be alone. You have to tell them, “I need to talk about Harry, my spouse.” Those friends are friends. It’s that they don’t know what you need or how to show up. We do have to guide them.

 

Widowhood Real Talk | Joi Brooks | Death Over Coffee

 

Isolating yourself and removing the community from your life is another loss. It’s a loss that’s difficult to pull ourselves out of. It’s wonderful to have what that community looks like because the inevitable is going to happen. Things are going to break around the house. Get a handyman. You’re going to get sick. We’re going to get a cold or do something. Line up a friend to be able to do that. Having all those things takes some of this sting out of this new life we’re learning to live.

The first time it happens, maybe, “I need to do this.” If you’re reading this conversation, you get to say, “That’s something I need to put on my to-do list. I didn’t think about that. I need to reengage with my friends and restart my community. I need to have different friends. I need to have friends with other people who are widows or widowers because they understand some of the things that I feel like I can’t talk to my different friends. I need to look at what happens when I don’t feel well, stuff a toe, and do something because I don’t get what I had before. I do get to make a plan about what I’m going to do.” You talked about how the death of your mom and your dad impacted you. Would you share the difference between what that looked like in the death of Harry?

You don’t expect your parents to outlive you, and you expect them to pass. You don’t want to think or expect that your marriage is going to end in any way. It’s going to, but you don’t get married and plan that. You plan everything else. You plan your retirement to a T, but you might not plan the next step. You may write a will, decide trusts, and say, “I want to be buried here. I want to be cremated.” You may do those things.

When you’re 40 years old, it’s like, that’s never going to happen. You retire, and there’s something that happens somewhere in your 60s. When you start thinking about retirement, it’s when you start thinking about what happens after retirement. You start putting things in order. Harry’s loss came before retirement for us. We had no plans other than all through our married life.

Harry said, “If anything ever happens to me, I want to be cremated.” I knew that. I said, “There’s a plot that my parents bought. There’s one for me. That’s where I’m going.” He knew. I knew that I would cremate him, but other than that, I opened the book, and it was blank. It’s like the last page, and Harry died. There’s nothing there. I had no idea. I quite honestly got laid off a month later.

I was in a job where I was working and saying to myself, “Something is wrong with this job. Something is not right.” When I got laid off a month later, I wasn’t surprised, but I thought, “I don’t have a husband, and I don’t have a job. What do I do?” I went into semi-panic mode. That’s when the superpower came over. I thought, “You are going to have to do stuff that you’ve never done before. Either you’re going to give up, or you’re going to the telephone booth, take your glasses off, and rip out that cape. It’s cape time.”

I didn’t do anything miraculous other than saying to myself, “What’s the solution? Do this. What’s the next solution? Do that. What should I do here? Do this.” I created my own twelve-step program where every time there was a problem, I solved it. Instead of saying, “What am I going to do? I should have. I would’ve maybe.” I thought to myself, “What am I not going to do? I’m not going to leave the house. I’m not going to put the house up for sale.”

It could have been a solution. I could’ve said, “I’m going to sell the house and the money that I have from the house. I don’t have to worry about a job.” I thought to myself, “I don’t think that’s going to solve the problem because I’m going to be without a house, memories, and job in a whole new neighborhood. I’m going to present myself with a whole other bunch of unknowns.” I stuck with the knowns, and I looked for part-time work. A month later, I was able to get a full-time job.

The full-time job was a contract that lasted for a few years. It was a miracle. It saved me. I worked from home. It was full-time. I filled my day with work solving problems. I got a nice paycheck. I started getting myself together. I thought, “What I’m going to do is do a yearly, what’s up? If I feel it’s time to leave, it’s time to leave. I’m going to need to do several months of business plans for myself. I’m going to have to do them alone.”

It’s not that I’m not looking or that I am looking. I’m nearly taking it six months at a time, making sure my bills are paid, I’m healthy, I’ve got friends, and I do a few things. I take it a day at a time. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I know that I’m managing as much as I can. Something my friend says to me often is, “Why don’t you take a vacation? Why don’t you go somewhere? If you didn’t have the dogs, where would you go?” I keep thinking to myself, “I do a lot of things, but I don’t want to do any of them alone. I’m not going to drag a friend with me to do them because what’s the purpose of that?”

If you’re going to go on a vacation, you want to have the nicest time. You want to be able to relax and feel comfortable. You don’t want to feel stressed. What’s the point in spending the money and feeling like you’re going to places for the other person that you don’t want to go to, or you’re compromising? I’m like, “I’m not ready to travel yet.” That’s the answer. I’m not ready to travel.

Am I looking for someone, something, some special package? Yes. That’s what I’m looking for. If it lands, if I see it, and if the opportunity comes, the perfect vacation for me is getting into an RV with the dogs and going through New York. Is it going to happen? Probably not, but I look for that type of vacation on the internet, like an RV Airbnb-type thing, where I could drive up. It’s not mobile. It’s planted. I look for something like that. The next chapter is about a point where I’m six pages away from blank pages again, but I’m always six pages away. I turned the page, and I got six new pages. I’m constantly running on six new pages, but there’s a whole bunch of blank pages ahead of me.

There are many pages that you’ve filled since the day that Harry died. There are two things that come to mind. You spoke about it briefly. I want to give you more time to talk about it. I’ve heard people say, “I knew they were going to die. I had anticipated. I had thought about these things. I thought that when they died, I was already done grieving, but I wasn’t.” That anticipatory death versus how that grief shows up when they die. Can you share more about that from your experience?

I had cried my eyes out before it happened. When he passed, there was some amount of peace and relief. One, it’s over. He’s not in pain anymore. What he was going through was far more painful than I could even imagine. It was his life that was ending. He was leaving me behind. He had guilt. He’s like, “I’m leaving her behind. What is she going to do? No one is going to take care of her.” There was some amount of relief that his journey had ended, and he was at peace. What about me? I did a check on my emotions. There was fear, guilt, relief, and anger. I was like, “I’ve got a lot of emotions I have to deal with. Why am I not hysterically crying?” That’s my superpower.

I wouldn’t categorize strength as an emotion, but it was fortitude. I don’t know what emotion it could possibly be aligned with, but it was the emotion of stoic resilience. Something that said, “He has given me X amount of time with him. That was a present and a gift.” I’m not going to turn this around and turn it into something it’s not. The arguments that we had and all the things that went on are still there. They’re not worse. They’re not better.

Strength is not an emotion but fortitude. Click To Tweet

He’s a saint. That’s the joke. I still think back and go, “Remember the time that.” I’m like, “I need to do the right thing for him. He would appreciate that. He would also appreciate that I have not fallen apart at the seams because he’s hoping that I keep going. I don’t think that he’s the type of man that would think, “There she goes. She doesn’t even care about me.” I don’t think that. If I had reached out and gotten married a week later, the wrath of Harry would be there. Harry said, “I want you to remarry.” I looked at him, and I was like, “Let’s not even go there.” He goes, “No, I want you to remarry.” I’m thinking, “I’m going to hit any case.”:

I know that he would want me to take care of stuff. There was some of that like, “I’ve got to be strong for Harry. I’ve got to do the things that he wanted me to do and carry on the legacy.” A part of that is carrying around the Harry Doll. He’s not here, but he’s here with me. I’m that person that Harry said to me many times, “You’re my rock. What would I’ve done without you?” He’s still saying that. He’s still saying, “You’re doing the right thing. You’re taking care of stuff. I’m proud of you.”

I do choke up now and again at odd things. Harry loved John Wayne. We would watch John Wayne movies. He loved classic movies. Any classic movie, we would watch together. There are some movies that I can’t watch because I know that it’s his favorite movie. We would watch it together. Now, I’m on the couch by myself. I’ll start watching and going, “Harry, we’re going to watch this together.” I’m like, “I can’t do this.”

There are some things we’ll be able to pull off, but there are some things we’re not ready for and we may never be ready for. What I hear is that when Harry died, there were many blank pages. When you go back and look at the reverse, you learn how to fill those pages with your life. The future still has empty pages, but you’ll take those as they come.

When you go back and look at the reverse, you learn how to feel those ages with your life. Click To Tweet

It’s the same as your twelve-step process and learning how to move to continue living, solve problems, and determine if this problem is going to make more problems or is this problem going to make less. You make that hierarchy of decisions to do that. Those things right there are what we have to learn as widows or widowers and anybody else who’s dealing with the death of a loved one because if not, we will become frozen about what we can’t do, what all happened, and how horrible this was. At some point, we’ve got to take that first step.

One of the things that you and I talk about often is not being stuck in that place where I am no longer functional, I’m not doing anything, and I only look back and see what I lost versus taking on the present of the gift of having that love in our life. If someone were widowed and what you’ve experienced, what advice would you give to them?

A friend of mine wasn’t married, but her boyfriend of several years committed suicide. That in itself is a whole other thing. She posted on Facebook. I connected with her. I said, “Let me know if you need to talk.” She said, “I’m talked out. I can’t even begin to tell you.” I let her be. She posted something along. This is a friend that I worked with many years ago. Because of social, I have stayed in contact with her. She now lives in Las Vegas. She used to live in Long Island. I haven’t seen her in a number of years, but we do communicate through Facebook. I felt a need to step in to let her know I was here.

I’m sure she has close friends. She has her boyfriend’s friends also. They’re taking care of her. I’m not pretending that I’m the expert and that she needs to talk to Dr. Joi. I said, “Anything you need to do or talk about, I’m a little talked out.” She posted something along the lines of, “I’m working full time, but I need another job.” I’m thinking, “She needs to fill her mind up. She needs to stay busy. I get that. I was there.” I sent her a book. I said, “Why don’t you read this book? It’s about the gig workspace. Maybe you could find a job.” I’m hovering over her in the most polite way for her when she needs it. Whatever she needs, I attempt to give it to her.

Everybody is different. If you care about your relationship with them and the relationship that you shared that you lost, there’s some amount of grace. That’s supposed to be in bad times. This is how gracefully I go. That’s the point. If I have the chance to help somebody in some way uniquely for them, I’ll be there.

I have another friend of mine. This was a boyfriend that I had many years ago in high school. His wife died of cancer. Through social, we reconnected. I felt they needed to go to the funeral. I went with another high school friend of mine. I kept in touch. Now that she’s gone, I’m hovering. If he needs to talk, I’m here. His daughter died of an overdose. I thought, “How is this guy going to make it?”

I learned that he had a girlfriend. He had begun another relationship. I thought, “This is good. This is healthy. She’ll be there to help him. He’s not lost.” He quite lost his family. Imagine that you are now 70-some-odd years old, and your wife and daughter are gone. The family that you raised is gone. The 40 years of your life as a husband and father are gone. All that I do is, once or twice a month, I send a text or on Facebook, I say, “What do you need? Do you want to do coffee? I’m hovering. I’m not the one thinking, “I’m the one he needs.” I’m nearly saying, “If he needs me, I’m here.”

I learned that because I had mentioned the landlady who took me out that night where I met Harry. That landlady is my closest friend now. She came into my life out of nowhere. When she found out that Harry passed, she phoned me and said, “I’m sorry. When you have a chance, let’s go for coffee.” We picked up in the relationship that we had when she was my landlady and my friend. She’s one of my closest friends that I reach out to when I don’t feel well. She does the same for me.

She’s divorced. She’s been divorced for several years. When I called and told her about the car incident, she said, “Why didn’t you call me? I would’ve come over and told you how to do it.” I joke and say, “You are my next husband.” We joke about it because she’s experienced being alone for several years longer than I have.

There’s great value in learning from people who have traveled a road that you are now on. There’s wisdom. Someone is going to read this blog and go, “I’m trying to think of everything in the future where I need to try to get a solid rhythm in place.” It’s why I’m having these conversations.

Go back in the past and think about those friends that it’s time for you to reach out to that you ignored. Sometimes, you’re lucky. A married relationship allows you to have girlfriends from the past. In many instances, what happens is once you get married, the relationships you pick up are those family relationships or the relationships where the friend of your husband has a wife, and the couples get along. You build these other relationships that are built around the marriage.

That works for the marriage and carries the marriage forward. Those single relationships that you had may languish or go to the wayside because your husband doesn’t want you to hang out with the woman that you used to go out on dates with and find guys. In any case, she came back into my life and was graceful in the way she hovered. I learned from her how to do it for others.

If someone is going to read this, learn how to hover for other people.

It’s a light hover where there’s not a lot of noise, and they go, “What is that? You’re not knocking on the door and saying, “Here’s a casserole. Here’s bacon and eggs.” You’re not doing that. You’re saying, “Do you want to do coffee?” The person was like, “No, it’s okay.” You don’t get upset.

People will say, “I reached out to them. They didn’t reach back.” Their spouse died. It may be several years. You stay consistent. When they’re ready, they will trust and know you’re there for them. Don’t think, “I texted them three times, and they never returned the call.” They may have finally taken a shower. They may have left the house. This is the long game. This is not something you text me. The hovering needs to be consistent. If nothing else, they may never return it, but it meant something for them to get that message.

You don’t know how much it meant to them. You may have been a lifeline that never occurred to you that they thought, “It was nice of Joi to do that.” They made it through the day. They’re not going to call up and say, “Joi, the reason I’m alive is because.” They’re not going to do that.

Keep doing it. Keep hovering.

Some lesson that I’ve learned about life in general is that you learn the value of people, and you take that for granted for most of your life. It takes some amount of tragedy for you to realize the miracle of life. I would hesitate to say that you could learn that otherwise. Unfortunately, you can’t. A death or a traumatic, tragic, whatever happenstance makes you realize, “I’m lucky to be alive even though I’m not a millionaire, I don’t have a great car, my job stinks, or I’m alone.”

 

Widowhood Real Talk | Joi Brooks | Death Over Coffee

 

All of the things that are driving you down, you may say to yourself, “There’s another day of opportunity. I’m going to take one step at a time.” No one is expecting you to be Jeff Bezos tomorrow. Those are special people. We’re not all very special. We are all special. We’re all unique and special. Some of us are incredible and are just special. Does it take the value away from being special? No. We’re not ordinary. None of us are ordinary.

Something else you mentioned briefly is that you and Harry spoke. There were two things that you mentioned. One, you knew he wanted to be cremated. You knew that he had articulated that he wanted you to get remarried. When you’re at this place when your spouse dies, you go through this Rolodex in your mind. What did we talk about? What did they want? What did they not want? We have an immense desire to honor them but feel the wishes they articulate.

No one, Harry wanted to be cremated, let you know automatically what you need to do when you’re at the funeral home. Knowing that he had given permission to articulate it, that you get remarried, he gave you the relief or no guilt that if I ever decided to be with someone else, I would have that gift from Harry, knowing that I was in a good place.

Some people have to reach forward in that and are not certain what their spouse would’ve wanted or not, but they know they’re living and what the continuation of their steroid looks like. Are there any other topics you recommend to somebody who’s married, coupled, or with their partner? You should talk about this. It may have been some things you and Harry talked about that you didn’t mention or things you’ve learned over time that partners should talk about. When that moment happens, it’s inevitable. It’s not as if we are all working to be ancestors. When they are no longer here, it would value you to have talked about these other different things.

Every relationship is different. Harry was the typical man. You watch a lot of these comedian women who talk about their husbands who never talk. Harry never talked. He didn’t come home from work. We would sit down and say, “Well.” No, he’d come home from work, have a beer, watch TV, and go to sleep. If I got any conversation out of him, it was like, “Let’s have sex.” That was the conversation. He was that guy. We didn’t talk a lot, but I knew who I married.

I made it a point to know what he wanted and what I wanted, not be foolish about it and pretend. You cannot pretend in a relationship or in a marriage. If you are pretending, I strongly recommend you look in the mirror and stop pretending. You don’t necessarily have to have the conversation aloud at first, but go into the bathroom, shut the door, look in the mirror, and say, “What’s going on?”

Look in the mirror and stop pretending. Click To Tweet

Be honest. If there are things that need to be discussed, those difficult topics, have them with your mate. If you can’t have them with your mate, solve them in some way. You need at least the smallest plan. You need to be aware that, at some point, you need that line to pull and get you out. You’re going to need it. Where is it going to be? Where is it going to come from? Is it going to be all you? Is it going to be the smallest amount of you and lots of friends? What is it going to be?

I want to travel, but I don’t know how I’m going to do it. The plan would be to find the right group to travel with. That’s the least amount. That’s fine. Having that small conversation is a luxury. Have a conversation with your husband, family, or friends. There’s some established conversation that you can have that you could say, “It’s happened.” They know what to do. You know what’s the next step. You’re not like, “I never thought of this.” That’s not a good place to put yourself in any situation.

Think about this. They always say, “In the cold weather, when you go out, always make sure you have gloves, a hat, and a blanket.” I think about these things when I’m getting into the car in the winter. I think, “If I go in the car, I have to make sure that I have a coat. If in case I have to walk home or the car breaks down, I’m going to walk home with this, and I’m going to freeze to death. I need gloves and a hat.”

I go through these things, and I’m thinking, “Goodness gracious.” The point is that you plan. What did your mother always say? Make sure your underwear is clean. Why? These are little plans that make sure that you’re in. If the worst-case scenario happens, you are not stuck in the worst case. You haven’t made something bad or worse because you didn’t plan. I’m not telling people to make a whole plan, but I am saying you can’t have a conversation with anybody. Go in the bathroom, close the door, look in the mirror, and say, “What am I going to do about this because I’ve got to come up with some plan? What do you think?

Every mother tells her daughter, “Make sure you’re going out for a date. Do you have money in your pocketbook? You have to have $25 in case you need a cab.” I never went to bed angry. I always said to Harry, “If we have an argument, I will not go to bed angry because something could happen in the middle of the night, and I will never forgive myself the next day.” Little stupid things that they’re not stupid.

Women are better at this than men. Men are pragmatic. Women are more emotional. Have these hard emotional conversations with yourself. Men are generally pragmatic, but they’re not thinking about their emotions. I would tell men, “Put a dipstick in those emotions and see what you come up with. If you are on low, think about it because you are going to be having emotions that you never planned on having. That’s going to be tough. Men don’t cry. Men don’t go to other people for help. You’re going to have to come up with some support and maybe save yourself.” My friend went to a widow support group. Do something like that if you’re a man.

Widowhood Real Talk | Joi Brooks | Death Over Coffee
Death Over Coffee: Women are better than men when having hard emotional conversations with themselves. Men are very pragmatic, while women are more emotional.

 

I’m going to use this as a plug. We have a men’s only grief support group that we host on the second Thursday of the month from 6:00 to 7:00 PM Eastern time. It’s the points that you made. We identified that men need a safe space to be vulnerable and transparent with only other men. There’s a different camaraderie and communication style. There are differences that they need in that privacy. We have an open mixed group on the last Thursday of the month, men and women. Depending on what that is, we’ve seen the need to make sure that we’re providing a space.

The gentleman who hosts that support group lost his wife in 2017 after she gave birth to their third child. The child did pass. I share that to say that the person who is managing and leading that group is someone who has traveled that road. If you are a man or you know a man who is struggling and needs a safe space, you can go to our website, WidowhoodRealTalkTina.org. You can find the Zoom and the information to participate in that men-only grief support group. Because of that community, we do need that.

There’s something else you mentioned about the different types of friends we have in our lives. Some friends seem well when we are married. Some friends don’t carry over into this new life that we have. I want to encourage you because I’m a bit of a unicorn. All of my married friends have remained in relationships and stayed intact.

When Mark died, they linked in and said, “I’m here. Don’t discount me.” When I left Pennsylvania and relocated back here to Virginia, I was trying to figure out, “How do I create this new friend group?” I made the assumption that they didn’t want to have anything else to do with me because I’m this widow, and I’m looking like what nobody wants to have happen to them.

I started trying to connect with single people, not dating, but a book club or different meetup. My married friends came to my house and were like, “What are you doing? We are here. You don’t get to make that decision for us.” I say that to say it may happen, but there’s a possibility that it won’t happen. Give your friends space to show up, love on you, support you, and continue down this version of life that you have.

Another thing along those lines that comes to mind is that many of the friends that were Harry’s friends are grieving. When they see me, they see me without Harry, and they grieve again. For some people you think don’t hang around you anymore because they were never your friends and they were never Harry’s friends, be thoughtful about those people because they may not be able to manage the grief. I see it in my nephew’s and a few of Harry’s friend’s eyes that they may not be able to put it back together again.

They’re still grieving. When they see me, I represent their loss. They have their own emotions. They’re going through their own things. I have no idea what they’re going through. It’s difficult for me. I have not been able to come up with, “This is how this is going to be because every time I see them, I still see their grief. It’s changing a little bit. I don’t know how to make them feel good.”

That is the trick or the oddity of it. There’s no fix. There’s no way to make it what it was again. I’m a huge proponent of people going to a therapist, having a grief coach, or doing these things. As I talk to people, how can you fix this? They’re dead. We don’t get that. The fix would be you coming to acceptance that you had the gift of their life.

How do you continue making your own journey? How do you continue making your story because your journey has not ended the time that you had with them? How do we cement that relationship, enjoy the love we have, and not turn it into a burden of regret but take that love and bring it into the journey we’re living? It brings me to my question. What do you do to fulfill your days? Who is Joi now? What is your journey of life looking like? How are those pages being filled?

Because I was considering retirement or closing close to retirement, I decided to slow down and take inventory of who I was. It’s been several years since Harry passed. I was talking about those six pages. After the six pages, it’s blank. Those six pages keep on getting filled. I’m thinking, “Let’s take a look at those brand new six pages. What am I? What do I want to do? Where do I want to go?” I thought, “I don’t need to work like I have been working.”

That brief moment of panic when I got laid off and that relief when I got that contract job and when that contract job let off, there was another moment where I was like, “Who am I?” I thought to myself, “I’m 67 years old. I’m a widow. I’m in knock, knock relative good health. I have a house. There’s a certain amount of luck, planning, and sense. I’m not running on empty. I’m not Jeff Bezos, but I’m okay. What do I want to do?”

That’s when I went to maybe page seven and thought of an outline, “What do I want to do?” Part of that was like, “I want to travel. Do I have every piece there? No. What do I want to do now?” There are a few things that I enjoy doing. I had been networking. Through the network, I began a mastermind. It was a small mastermind. I was dabbling with it and thinking, “Who am I? I’m not a doctor, a psychologist, or a lawyer. I’m just Joi. Maybe just Joi can do this.”

I led this mastermind for four cohorts. It’s now in its seventh cohort. I’m thinking, “I’m a facilitator. I’m managing this for another network of women to confidentially talk, network, and connect.” It’s not a huge network where you don’t get a chance to talk with people, and the insurance person comes over to you and wants to sell you insurance, or a multi-level marketer wants to get you in their funnel. It’s more of what are you doing? What are you thinking? Where are you going? What problems do you have
 ? They may be some of the problems that I’ve had. It’s a small network. Last July 2023, I decided I was going to put more effort into the mastermind.

Did you say the topic of the mastermind? You mentioned it, but what is it?

It’s for women. It’s business-based, but it’s a business lifestyle. The mastermind is built on because I am a marketer. All the women are email marketers. That’s not the purpose of the mastermind. That’s the common denominator. We all have one common thing amongst us. We may come from different places or stages of our careers. We may have families. We may be older or younger, but we’re all email marketers.

That is something that I do. Each time I do it, it grows. I thought, “I’m going to focus on that.” I’ve been doing a podcast. The podcast has also grown. The first year I did it was about email marketing. The second year was about digital marketing. Now, it’s about people. It is a digital café. Tina, who do you know that doesn’t have something to do with digital?

My 80-year-old mom has a podcast.

We all touch the digital world in some way. Anybody can be on my show. I like to talk to them about their specialty and what they can provide and share with other people. If it touches one person, I’ve done a good deed for the day.

What is the title of your mastermind class? What is the title of your podcast?

The podcast is called Email and Coffee, A Digital Cafe with Joi Brooks. You could look for it. The women’s group is Women in Email Marketing Mastermind. I’m focusing on that. I still do email marketing. I have five clients in email marketing. They float my boat. I call them my cash cows. That’s the money that’s coming in. Because I’ve retired, there’s that money.

I’m not looking to make a lot of money. I’m looking to break even. I’m looking to make people. I’m looking to connect because it’s something that I took for granted, and no one should take it for granted. We take for granted that we have kids, mothers, husbands, and lots of things. We take it for granted because we all learn during COVID. That could be taken away from you. It could be a fear of connecting with people, “I’m going to get sick if I touch them. I can only talk to them on the phone.” Those relationships were the only things that held us all together. It wasn’t anything else. We didn’t have toilet paper, but we connected on Zoom, and those things kept us sane.

Many people didn’t. You weren’t connecting. That became a big way to interact with people. The timing of your podcast was relevant.

Learn how to connect with people, connect with different people, and create new networks for yourself. I tell many people who get into the cancel concept on the internet, “If you’re feeling that there’s such a big problem and there are people out there to hate, take that hate, turn it into a volunteer, and go volunteer.”

Be the solution to the problem you’ve identified.

Become part of the solution. Forget about the people that you hate because they hate whatever concept that is your passion project. Let it be a passion project and connect with the passion project. I’m not saying you become an activist and burn somebody’s house down. I’m saying that if you feel strongly about a group of people who need help, reach out and try to help them. Find a network that helps those people and helps them. Be there for them.

If you feel strongly about a group of people who need help, then reach out and help them find a network to be there for them. Click To Tweet

It’s like I’m doing with the widowhood. Our experiences can be utilized beyond what we felt. We’ve identified something difficult and hard. Be there for someone. If you’ve identified that there are a lot of people who don’t have food, set up where you provide lunch once a month. It doesn’t have to be world-changing, but if each one shows up in a way in someone else’s life, it is impactful. We can spend a lot of time complaining and putting our voice on something. Unless we put action to it, it’s a lot of hot air.

There are lots of communities out there. Even if you’re not a religious person, a lot of the non-secular community is set up to do volunteer work. If you went down to a local church and said, “This is not my denomination. I’m an atheist. Do you have a food kitchen? Do you have local drives where I can help? What can I do to help the community?” Start at the community level. If you don’t have a passion project and you say to yourself, “I’m going along in life, but sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself.” Volunteer. It’s important.

What I did was create my own volunteer community. I started the mastermind. I put it together whereby I’m not the person necessarily who’s giving all the advice. It’s the group of women that are advising the group of women. No one has a degree. No one is a psychologist. We are people. We are that friend group that has a certain amount of experience that can help other people. We’re all different. We’re inserting a completely different worldview that suddenly you’re thinking, “Those people aren’t bad. I meant that.” You’re now exposing yourself.

One of the things that I do in the women’s group is it’s international, and I do it purposefully because one of the things that American workers are having a problem with is having their jobs outsourced and hating groups of people because those people are taking my jobs. Those people need to work. Those people have families. We’re taking those out of those, and it’s people. It’s important because the world is not going to shrink, and we’re going to have lots of grief scenarios like losing a job, a loved one, or a friend.

We may call grief mental health or other different phrases we have, but there’s something that we’re no longer with that expectation of being able to receive, and we’re going out. We are grieving the loss of that item. What I’ve found is it’s usually the death of a loved one. That becomes a thing that you realize is more than you can handle on your own. You may have said, “I got to relocate. I lost a job. I’m going to do this. My health is not bad. I’m going to eat right and exercise. I’m going to do this.” We learn to push our way through those different griefs. When someone we love dies, it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back. We are no longer able to handle all those. I’m at rock bottom, and I don’t know what to do with this.

It’s a hack for people. We have all lost lots of things. We have crawled out of the hole, but tap into that strength to know, “I have been here before. I lost my husband. I’ve never lost a husband before. I lost my mom and dad. I know what to expect.” People who haven’t lost loved ones, when they start to get to a certain point in their life, the old saying that, “You get to a certain age and everyone’s dying around you.”

 

 

It’s true. It’s also true that you are also having babies all over the place. You get to a certain part of your life where everybody you know is having babies, and the rest of the people are all dying. The truth is tap into that. Use the babies that are now your grandmother. You lost your husband. You could say, “My grandchild is never going to see your granddad.” You could do that but also say, “This is the miracle of this child. I’m going to be able to give that.”

You have to use all of those experiences to drag you out of the hole to tell you I do have some experience here. There’s a certain amount of, I haven’t a clue what I’m going to do, but I do have a certain amount of experience, and it’s okay if I act like I know what I’m doing, and at the same time, exposing myself to being vulnerable. No, I don’t have lots of friends anymore. I’m not going out with my husband to dinner. I am home, and I don’t have a big social life, but I accepted some people back into my life. I have a few friends, and I’m building on that moving forward.

Let them back in. Let new people in. Build something moving forward using the experience of your life. What did you used to like to do before it all happened? I used to like to read. I always read with Harry. Now, I read three books at a time. I have more time on my hands. I read a lot. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not something I share with other people.

Let new people build something moving forward using the experience of your life. Click To Tweet

With the women’s group, one of the things that I do is say, “Would you like to read a book together?” If you do like to read, you can consider a library group where you read a book together. It’s that simple. There are lots of things you could do. It becomes a little odd. The library is a good place to find resources, not just books but community resources. Most of the time, the community library does a lot of things.

This has been a good conversation. I’ve asked you a lot of questions. Any questions for me, Joi?

When is that group? I might want to take a look at your mixed group.

It is the last Thursday of the month from 6:00 to 7:00 PM Eastern time.

It’s online.

It’s on Zoom. It’s on our website. You and I connect mostly on LinkedIn. I’ll try to make sure that I place it as an event there. The open group is last Thursday, 6:00 to 7:00. I try to allow it to be an open conversation, ebb and flow. I do because I’m a project manager. I’ll have a couple of things to cover to spark conversation. It’s a good thing to know that I’m going to meet up with some other people to get and to be in a safe space. Some days, we may talk about grief. On other days, it may be weather life and to be able to have a safe space to be. I would enjoy you joining us.

The most important thing for people at any stage of their life is always to reach out. When we’re young and in high school, the opportunity to make friends is plentiful.

We’ve never been heard. We’re naive. As adults, we start thinking of all the rejection. What if they don’t like me? We shy away. We needed more in this season of our life. We have so much more to share and to help other people.

It’s a different friendship. It’s not I go to the movies with her, we color together, we laugh a lot, or we talk on the phone about nonsense. The friendship becomes mature. It’s the same thing as a marriage. When you’re married to somebody for a number of years, you first meet them, and you’re excited when you see them. You’re going to go out for dinner. You’re going to jump into bed with them. You’re going to have a great sex life. You have all these great things that are going on.

Friendship becomes mature. It's the same thing as marriage. Click To Tweet

Several years down, you got kids. The whole thing changes. Several years after that, the kids are older. You’re looking at each other, going, “That person’s got no hair. That person has hair all over their face.” The concept of friendship changes. Another thing is to go in the mirror with the bathroom door closed and say, “What is a friend? What do I want out of a friend? Am I a friend? What do I give as a friend?” Friendship is important. Your husband, wife, or loved one is your best friend. That’s more than you could possibly imagine. Harry was my best friend.

I have two questions for you. What gives Joi joy?

I wasn’t able to have kids. I’ve always been a dog lover. I’ve always had dogs. If I had kids at some point in time, I would be talking about my kids and my grandkids. I’m talking about my dogs. My dogs give me a reason to walk twice a day and to get out. They’re dogs. I am not pretending that they’re human beings. I don’t dress them up in clothes. We go out. They walk their dogs. I’m a human being, but we’re integrating ourselves into this bigger world on a number of different levels.

I’m aware and appreciative of that level because it makes me realize that there are bigger things than me, myself, and I. That level is dimensional. It does bring in the maker or the creator because they have a creator. I realized that this is a big picture here. There’s a big mystery because I can’t communicate with them, and I can’t communicate with that, but I do the best I can. That grounds me in an odd way. They’re my joy. That’s the answer to that question.

Second question, if you could pick any season age in your life, what would you pick, and what would you tell yourself?

I am comfortable here. I don’t know if that’s a cop-out. I would go back to my teenage youth, and I would say, “Slow down. Be more mindful. For all the questions, some of them are going to have big answers. Some are going to have little answers, and some are going to have no answers. That’s the way it will always be.

Slow down and be more mindful because some of the questions will have big answers, some will have little answers, and some will have no answers. That's the way it will always be. Click To Tweet

Thank you for not copying it.

I don’t have any regrets.

It’s not about regrets but things we’ve learned. Thank you for this conversation. I will let you end this out with anything maybe you wanted to talk about we didn’t cover or say how you want to close this conversation.

It’s an overused expression, but being grateful is a lifesaver. When you’re down and out, I start singing a song. Remember what you’re grateful for, and there’s no way in life that you could say you’re not grateful for something. It may be, “I’m grateful for the glass of water.” Try to find that one thing that you’re grateful for and the next thing. With along the lines of that word, grateful and grace, going through life with a little bit of grace. It aligns with compassion where things may not be right. Things are not perfect. The world may have a lot of conflict, but I do believe we are here to fix it. That’s all that we could do.

Joi Brooks, thank you for being here with us.

Thank you.

I told you that a conversation with Joy would be worth your time. I enjoy the opportunity to be in this space with her and have a candid conversation. She doesn’t hold back anything. She was willing to share many different intimate details and tips that you will find helpful in your journey of widowhood. We are on this journey with you. Be encouraged, and let me know what you think of some of those twelve-step efforts. If you’re interested in joining any of our support groups, please go to our website. Thank you for being here with us, and have a good day.

 

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About Joi Brooks

Widowhood Real Talk | Joi Brooks | Death Over CoffeeBirds and Bees

Public school sex education was a handout with black and white illustrations and clinical conversations about body parts at a time when I had no idea why anyone wanted to get naked together, not to mention touch each other.

In time, I’d develop crushes on boys and Hollywood stars, but I was in no way prepared for the onslaught of my own desire. Gushing hormones would be my demise. I would become preoccupied with sex and men. I fantasized about it with them and manipulated people, places and things accordingly. It was nothing less than obsession and I hadn’t the slightest idea what I was doing.

At first, falling in love with Thorne was heaven on earth. Our relationship blossomed and we became intimate. Then my body took over. From auto-pilot to hyperdrive, I left my mind, friends, family and eleventh-grade life behind at lightspeed. When the relationship came apart at the seams, with all the toxic behavior and adolescent drama, I staged a half-hearted suicide. When that failed, I decided to take off for the summer and consequently joined up with a commune in Vermont.

It was not a true decision, I simply ran and relied on chance. Everything that happened from late July through August did so as cause and effect, over and over. The path was thoughtless… careless… textbook examples of irresponsible behavior. It amazes me that I lived through the summer.

I did return for my senior year in high school. It appeared as though I’d settled down, but I had not faced my obsessions and pernicious behaviors and would not acknowledge them for years to come. I otherwise appeased my parents and agreed to therapy. Mind you, I have nothing against the concept of therapy, and I would develop my own techniques given the hours and hours I spent with a professional psychologist, but the process at the time fed my obsessions and gave me license to talk about myself in the pretense of progress.

Boys and Girl

Thorne was paradise compared to every relationship that followed. There were twelve years of Natt, five years of Roy, two years of Tom, relationships without prospects, lackluster attempts at the time being. In my mid-thirties, I gave up dating all together, which simply created a millpond of desire that led up to meeting my once-and-future-husband.

I can say this now, on the other side of menopause: sex is over rated. When I met Harry, however, I was in no more control of my ego or id. It was serendipity that ultimately took control.

Man and Woman

Harry was a bad boy, a profile that attracted me to men. He drove fast, drank deeply and could not control his emotions. But Harry was a worthy challenge. He was a creative genius, worked hard at whatever he did and fiercely protected me. And, unlike any other man in my life, Harry uncovered inherent strengths I hadn’t myself professed.

Husband and Wife

Unfortunately, our first year of marriage was no honeymoon. I was forty. Mom was seventy-five. Dad was eighty. My sister, Joan, was married and living in South Carolina with two teenage children. Harry was working a construction site in Pelham with long, hard hours. We had no sooner eloped than were dealing with my mother’s sudden death, my heartbroken father following suit and a work accident for Harry that took our lives further down a rabbit hole. Within four months, we’d bury both my parents, execute their last will and testament, sell their home, and take off for Seattle, Washington.

The plan was for Harry’s two brothers to move soon after and settle down to life in the Pacific Northwest. In 1996, Harry and I had bought a mobile home in Snohomish on a horse’s acre of property. Soon after, Bob and his wife Marsha rented a small home on Whidbey Island while they broke ground and began building a home on the piece of property they owned together with the third brother, Kenny.

Kenny, with his wife Flo, never made the move out west. The reason they didn’t was never apparent, other than they’d decided to move south instead of west. As a result, ill will and a growing distrust over who-said-what-to-whom distanced the three brothers.

Harry was one of five brothers and five sisters. The family of ten ranged in ages so that Patricia, the eldest sister, had a daughter that was older than the youngest sister, Madeline. Harry was the youngest boy. Their father worked to keep food on the table for all those kids and the eldest boy, John, was Harry’s surrogate dad. When I met Harry, he was living with John in a small house in Lindenhurst, NY. When Harry and I left for Washington, Harry and John remained in close touch, sending each other videos and letters.

Most boys play ball with their father and brothers. Harry would fish, build things and fix engines. Any day of the week it was normal to find the boys working on boats or cars, straightening up the garage, operating lifts with heavy chains, handling every sort of power tool imaginable. Every weekend without fail, they’d rise early and go fishing on the Great South Bay. Harry told me that his dad would sometimes drag his sleepy head fishing before school started. His dad was strict and the fish they would catch would be for supper. It wasn’t sporting, it was survival in earnest.

I grew up in a small, sustainable family. Harry’s Episcopal, western-European roots were polar opposite to my Jewish, eastern-European ancestry. My family holidays were somber in contrast to his lively. For his family, any day was a reason to gather. There were long drives to the Pocono’s, boat rides to Fire Island, camping, hunting, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, all with an assembly of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, nieces, nephews, daughters, sons, grandchildren, friends and dogs.

There were hug-feasts and good-cries. But there were also arguments and fist fights. Eventual melodrama at every get together, sponsored by copious amounts of beer, wine and liquor.

We spent five years in Washington, moving three times. From Snohomish to Mount Index to Mount Vernon. I had a decent job in publishing and we were able to make ends meet, thanks to additional bits and pieces of my folk’s inheritance. Although the Puget Sound was breathtaking, the mountains drop-dead gorgeous, the summers dry and temperate, the gray-dome over western Washington depressed Harry to no-end, and he’d give way to homesickness.

One morning, shouting over the morning weather report — “rain with sunbreaks” or perhaps it was “sunbreaks with rain” — Harry announced, “Pack your bags. We’re selling the house and moving back to New York.”

In 2000, we bought a house in Lindenhurst, not far from his brother John. Harry was on-again-off-again with brother’s and sisters, but we’d otherwise made fast friends in the neighborhood.

I was forty-five. Although we’d tried, Harry and I did not have children. I was at menopause junction and a lot more than the landscape was changing.

Harry’s previous accident at work developed into chronic back pain and a degenerative condition. He’d had surgery in Washington and his back was fused. Out west, I was the bread-winner, but that was clearly not going to cut it in New York. Harry would have to find work. In the meantime, he spent most of his time fishing and my fried fish dinners developed into a fine art.

On the morning of September 11th, I was standing in front of the television waiting for the weather report. I worked not far from the house, so I would leave at ten-to-the-hour. It was 8:46 when the first tower was hit and the weather report preempted. I shouted for Harry, who was outside with our neighbor Joe, more-or-less a single father. They were getting ready to go fishing. The three of us stood in front of the television watching the world-as-we-know-it end. Joe’s kids were let out of school early and soon my house was a mix-match of 3 elementary-school-aged girls, one rottweiler, 2 grown men, and one woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I cried that day, like the motherless child I was. And I unhinged a little bit every day after that. I couldn’t find a reason to cook, clean, work, shop, not to mention entertain. Regardless of Harry’s masculinity, I wasn’t safe. The sky was falling.

My desperation scared the bejesus out of Harry. He cleared a wide path around me. The alternative for me was to seek out professional help on my own. My family physician prescribed Zoloft and recommended a therapist.

For a year, I popped a pill every day and talked my heart out every week. Unbeknownst to me, my body had yielded to time and I was in the eye of menopause. The medical impact of Zoloft camouflaged pleasure, pain and mid-life crisis. I felt less and less about more and more and flatlined. I became rational, intentional and deliberate.

I needed to stop taking the Zoloft. And in time, I would have enough with the weekly sessions. Memory mining my folks, my sister, my past, my present, my future, my hopes, my fears. At the end of each hour, it was the same. “We’ll pick up next week. I want you to think more about why you fill-in-the-blank.” The conversations were repeats of repeats. I needed to stop talking about obsession and start breaking bad habits. Thankfully, parting words with my therapist were courteous. In comparison to the conversation with my physician. When I suggested I wean myself off Zoloft, “Emphatically, no,” and “I’ll tell you when you are ready,” were his bottom line. But, I was ready. And as my mother found out ages ago, the surest way to get me to do something was to say “No” without discussion.

I Googled everything about Zoloft and planned out my exit strategy. I expected vertigo but I didn’t expect night sweats and a dead-on-arrival libido. The night sweats would last ten years. The libido never returned.

Harry and I continued to love, honor and obey each other without abandon. And although I cared more than ever, I was a gray alien and he was lost in space. He made the mistake of suggesting I go on hormone therapy only to receive a whiplash of spousal verbal abuse. He’d avoid that topic in the future.

Post menopause, I became amiable. I enjoyed my life filled with gardening, dog walking and technology, but as Harry aged, he’d need to discover on his own how to lighten his load in order to survive. Harry’s second career after his accident was as physical as his construction job, just in different ways. He discovered that he needed to flex mental muscle to solve problems when brute strength failed. He became a CDL truck driver and eventually a successful machinist and truck mechanic.

Life and Death

Harry’s change of life was insidious. One day, he admitted to shoulder pains and we got him to the doctor. The next day, his x-rays resulted in a whirlwind of checkups. And there it was. Cancer. Within a week of diagnosis, he lost his voice. The small-cell cancer was entwining around his larynx, growing from the top of his lung.

We barely comprehend the millions of motions our bodies take part in. And there we were, blind-sighted by facts, in a screeching halt that chucked us to the other side of midnight.

The chemo and radiation treatments held the cancer at bay for a year, but it recurred in his liver and became the perfect storm. His liver ablation, scheduled for late March in 2020, was almost canceled as the hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients. After the surgery, treated like an outpatient, he rested at home. Along with the cancer that was eating away at his resolve, the news, politics and hysteria from the pandemic pillaged and plundered.

I began preparing myself. I started with gratitude, taking inventory of everything we had together. I suggested he reconnect with family and friends. I imagined my life alone. We made an appointment with our lawyer and drew up a will.

I was stone cold sober since the day Harry was diagnosed. I embraced reality with a passion equal to the hope and faith I discovered, to the benefit of my years in therapy. Harry confessed, “You’re my rock. You’re taking care of everything. I don’t know how you do it. I love you for that. But, I’m sorry…I’m not gonna make it. You’ll need to sell the house. Maybe move in with your sister.”

I’d reply, crossing my eyes and shaking my head, “Shut up! You’re a survivor. Don’t give up!” Absolutely frozen with fear.

I could not always find the perfect words to comfort him. So, we shared hugs and kisses. Nostalgic movie moments. Awesome grilled cheese sandwiches. Although his appetite waned, whatever he wanted was on the menu. Cheese cake. Hot dogs. Crusty baked cauliflower. Homemade beef barley soup with hot buttery crescent rolls. Apple pie with whipped cream.

Meanwhile, Harry would go to work without fail. He’d take time off here and there to receive his treatments and then return to work the very next day. The job switched up his hours so that, being immuno-compromised, Harry could work a later shift and avoid contact with other people. His supervisors loved him. They ran a raffle and he won. Wink-wink. A huge, flatscreen TV!

The world continued to panic around the pandemic and argue about the vaccine. Harry wanted the shot with all his heart and soul. I spent every free moment trying to squeeze an appointment out of the internet and finally prevailed. His first Pfizer shot was in April, and he took it well. Complained about a sore arm but stood tall. On a sunny Sunday in May, while undergoing staged immuno-therapy, Harry returned for his second booster.

I insisted he stay home from work the next day. He was tired and chilly and achy. I stood by, feeding his face, comforting him with blankets, taking his temperature, happy to find it was normal.

The next day there was no stopping him, and he went to work. And I thought, “Can’t keep a good man down.”

“I’m so tired,” he said when he came home that afternoon. Onto the couch, with the remote in his hand, he slept only waking for food.

Men love their remotes almost as much as they love their couches, and I discovered early on in married life that it’s totally illogical to wake a man who has fallen asleep on the couch to tell him to get up and go to bed. That conversation goes nowhere.

That night I left him sleeping on the couch, as I had many times. He looked so comfortable sleeping in front of the TV he’d won in a make-believe raffle. I didn’t have it in my heart to wake him up. Instead, I slipped off to the bedroom and in time fell asleep myself, propped up in bed, reading my Kindle in the dark. It was 12:30 in the morning when I woke up, stiff from sitting, and discovered he hadn’t come to bed.

I took off my glasses and switched on the night light. I noticed the time as I walked to the living room. I also noticed Harry stretched half across the couch and the floor. I couldn’t help but think, “It’s happened. It’s over.”

In the very same moment, “Harry, wake up!” I touched his cheek and realized he was ice cold. I tried to lift him back onto the couch but he was too heavy. I rested him on the floor. I put my face to his face, to feel, smell or hear his breath. I instinctively crossed his arms onto his body. I covered him with his favorite blanket. I called 9-1-1.

My entire life merged into a pinpoint in time. Like clay on a pottery wheel, serendipity had crafted me, every spin molding me perfectly for this singular moment.

I reported to the police. I recalled for the medical officer. I telephoned my sister, Harry’s nephew, and his boss. It was a long night, a lonely morning, and the first day of the rest of my life without Harry.

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide