Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Joy's Warrior Dragon: Courage Befriends a Widow


"She was a brilliant green color with shining scales."

Marv and Joy Johnson
This is how Joy Johnson begins to describe a friendship that began during her late husband's hospice care.* 
The red helmeted, riding dragon first appeared during those final days when, at Marv's insistence, Joy would leave for lunch. Marv wanted quiet time, alone, in their senior village apartment but, Joy said, "I always worried that upon returning, I would open the door and find my sweet and very ill husband, dead."

 "All at once, this dragon was there beside me.** 

I knew instinctively that her name was Courage."

From then on, Joy's dragon followed her (technically, Joy rode her warrior dragon) everywhere. Their first outing after Marv died, was to make cremation plans at the funeral home. "She sat close to me and is extremely well behaved."

"I rode her to a lot of  'firsts.'"

The need for courage is so great when a life partner dies. Now, it's not a choice to go to a movie alone because your spouse is busy with something else, it's the new normal.

"She sat in the seat beside me. She passed on the popcorn and soda."

Perfectly capable people doing perfectly routine tasks find that grief can throw a spear into their heart at an unexpected moment.

"We flew to the mobile phone store to take Marv off my phone plan and she put her wings around me when I cried afterward because it felt as if I were deleting him."

Author photo
On a recent run, I was struck by the marriage metaphor of a tree entwined by vines. Amidst busy lives, devoted couples cling and draw strength from the steadfastness of love. And then, I was so taken by the symbolism, I coaxed my husband and dogs to go vine hunting. 

And I have always liked the lines in Shakespeare's, Hamlet, (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 548-9) where Polonius passionately declares:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, 
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.
Imagine the effort it would take to free those vines from the tree!
Joy credits her dragon, Courage, for the momentum  to carry on with responsibilities. "I took a little sign out of her mouth and read: 


Joy's strategies for happiness include having something to look forward to. She'll hold up her phone and tell a friend, "invite me places!" but advises her widowed peers:  be willing to do the calling, yourself.

Take breaks from the hard work of grieving and do something you love.
Joy Johnson, Novelist
Some time ago, Joy took a break from "writing and editing over 100 books and articles on grief," and wrote her first novel:

  The Burned Out Old Broads at Table 12. 

The 6th BOOB Girls title!

Another book signing
With her collection now numbering 8 sassy Boob Girls titles, Joy enjoys giving presentations at libraries, churches, book clubs and "gathering places for seasoned women."

Joy also gently suggests:  Dream your dreams. It's okay. It's not disloyal. They can reside in your heart or on your browser's Favorites list, and one day you'll feel like doing something more with them.

What can you do for a widowed friend?

  • Be lavish with confidence boosters. Whenever an opportunity arises, offer positive reinforcement. It doesn't have to be a big deal, but spot something and express:
    • You do that so well...
    • You were so patient with that cashier...
    • Would you show me how to cut a pineapple...
    • You have an infectious laugh...
    • Thanks for the wonderful referral to...
  • Turn off your urge to criticize or advise. Even if your friend describes stresses or struggles, you are most valuable as a listener, acknowledging the matter with simple phrases:
    • What a bummer...
    • That stuff is confusing...
    • You'll find a way...
    • That's not easy to talk about, thank you for trusting me...
    • Would a hug help?
  • Keep talking about the deceased spouse. Freely bring up stories, anecdotes, admiring comments. You are not causing pain! The loved one will always live in the heart and memory.

If you are on a grief journey, consider visiting the resources at www.centering.org including the Grief Digest Magazine.

Share this post with a friend, and thanks for caring!
*Joy and S. Marvin Johnson, DMin, founded the Centering Corporation in 1977; it is North America’s oldest and largest bereavement resource center. The Johnsons have been internationally-known bereavement specialists and conducted workshops and seminars in every state, every province in Canada and in New Zealand. They were awarded the National Compassionate Friends Community Service Award and Omaha Family Service’s Community Service Family of the Year Award. In 2001 Dr. Johnson received Boston University’s School of Theology Alumni of the Year award. "Marv" died March 28, 2014.
**Joy's story of "Courage" first appeared in The Dodge Magazine, a funeral industry journal. Excerpts are used with permission of the author.

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