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Transcript:

Dr. Brad Miller:

Our guest today is Debbie Weiss, and she is the author of Available As Is: A Midlife Widow’s Search for Love she’s going to share her story, which will be helpful to many of you, Debbie. Welcome to Beyond Diversity.

 

Debbie Weiss:

Thank you for having me on the show. I appreciate it.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

It’s an honor and a privilege, and thank you for sharing your story, which has some painful parts, helpful parts, and uplifting parts to your story and your book. And the title is Available As Is: A Midlife Widow’s Search for Love, which gives us a clue. But there’s a deeper a deep story there. Can you share a bit of your story with us to give us context for our conversation?

 

Debbie Weiss:

Sure. Well, let’s see. I lost my mother when I was 10. And that was in 1973. I live in London, a small suburban town here in Northern California. And I went on to lead a pleasant life. I went to law school and married my high school sweetheart, George. And we were together for 32 years until he died from cancer in April 2013. When he died, I was almost 50. I’d never lived on my own before. And I was pretty devastated.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Complete change of circumstances for you. After you said you were high school sweethearts. So really, I’m assuming that was the main love of your life through the whole early part of your adult life. Is that a fair assessment?

 

Debbie Weiss:

That’s correct; he was my one and only. I’d known him since I was seven. Our parents work together. We started dating my senior year in high school and he was my prom date. So he was it.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Cancer took him, and I’m sure there were some just tragic, ugly, and heart-wrenching moments. And that in and of itself. And how did you get through that? Or did you get through that? Or what was your story there?

 

Debbie Weiss:

Well, it was worse than it might have been. Because he got in denial over his illness, he was a software developer and a very powerful person. And when he was diagnosed, he tried to save me from all the medical aspects. He was getting his chemo at the same hospital where my mother had also passed from an illness. And he just kept doing everything himself. He was working straight through. And somehow, I feel like that messed with his mind a bit because he started to think he was recovering even as he was getting better. He was diagnosed in 2009. We had a few good years. Mid-2013, he started to decline. But he also started to think he was recovering. So he left his parents out of his treatment. He thought he was getting better. And that left me pretty messed up because we didn’t have a real goodbye. And caregiving was so difficult because he was turning down services and things that would have helped and did not understand what was happening to him.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

In turn, this was not helpful to you in terms of how you processed the grief and the loss. And some confusion, I’m sure, is that a fair way of looking at what you were experiencing?

 

Debbie Weiss:

True, it was very hard. I had a lot of guilt as his caregiver. Because since he wasn’t accepting help, I was doing everything. And I’m not a trained medical person. I’m a lawyer, and I worried I was making it worse. I didn’t know everything was happening, although I had a pretty good idea. And sometimes I was angry. I was a very flawed caregiver. So when he died, I felt bad. I felt very guilty that maybe I had contributed to a poor and his life.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

And if he’s in denial, and if he’s angry that sometimes you can have some of the same feelings as well, going through that process. And here’s why I say all this, Debbie because sometimes the recovery that we have is integrated into how the person we lose, how they transition, how they handle it.

 

Debbie Weiss:

Yeah, not so well.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Let’s well about how you did handle it initially. You say you handled it not so well. What were some of the things you feel you did not do so well, which may help set the stage for when you begin to turn that around? What were some of the ways you coped with it?

 

Debbie Weiss:

Well, his name was George. George and I had pretty isolated lives. We weren’t very social. I put practicing law on around ten years before, maybe. So I didn’t have a working outlet. We didn’t have kids. So when he was gone, I was pretty isolated. And I did very well with the administrative stuff. But I was very lonely. So at night, I’d queue up something to binge watch, get a couple of Manhattan’s I was drinking a lot in the evenings. Be just very sad and isolated. And I had had to get out of that, that situation.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Well, withdrawing is, unfortunately, pretty common when people have this situation. And sometimes, I believe a lot of people get kind of stuck. And when they have adversity yet, and in order to get unstuck, you have to be very proactive about it. And so you’re in this situation where you’ve lost your husband, you had some isolation in and of your relationship itself. And then you’re isolated, just watching TV and drinking, if I understand you to say, you took care of the DT and the paperwork, but relationship-wise, you were in a bad place, but you’re not there now. So we talked about what you did that was just a little bit destructive. So let’s talk for a minute here, Debbie, about what you started to do. Was there a turning point when you said, “Okay, enough is enough,” that you didn’t see some TV show, or did something happen at some turning point, and you said, I can’t do this no longer?

 

Debbie Weiss:

It wasn’t anything specific. I think what happened is that I started to focus on health. I started to take yoga classes, and I went for walks. But again, I was still pretty isolated. And I realized I just had to get out of the house and meet some people. So I started to join some groups. And that got me out of the house, in normal person clothes, not sweatpants all the time, and interacting with people. And that happened fairly soon, a couple of months after he passed. And I also got grief therapy, which was very good.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

So a couple of things here, you got therapy, and you got out to be with other groups. Were these like support group type of things, or just fun groups, or you mentioned yoga, for instance? What type of groups were these?

 

Debbie Weiss:

Just kind of random. I was in a small suburban town. So, for example, I had my late husband’s sports car, George’s car, and I thought I might sell it. But I called the car group that deals with these cars, and they were super friendly. So I started to go to like their monthly dinner. And every Saturday morning, we drive through town to a 7:30 am breakfast. And it doesn’t sound like much, but it was people and friendly. And I was out of the house. And then there’d be some activity car related, which isn’t my interest, but the people were great. And from there, I joined some walking groups that did some walking; a little later, Rotary Clubs in my town were nice. I joined my local synagogue and got grief counseling with the rabbi. And from there, there were some women’s groups within the synagogue, which, again, were lovely, welcoming people.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

So you found yourself starting to belong to something beyond your prior experience. And the people’s relationships made a big difference, didn’t it?

 

Debbie Weiss:

They did, and it made a huge difference. And the other thing I did was super helpful, as I’d always enjoyed writing but hadn’t taken it seriously. And before George got sick, I was doing a weekly adult education writing class at our local adult education center. And I resumed that. And that was huge for me because it met Thursday afternoons, and from there, there was a lovely group of writers, a few older folks, and they did a writing group on Friday mornings. So from there, I had deadlines. I’m a lawyer; I love deadlines. I wanted to get my two pieces of writing in a week.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Take the kind of part of the group’s expectation that you had a couple of pieces of writing a week, something like that.

 

Debbie Weiss:

Well, we didn’t know, but we tried. We tried to have stuff in for class. And we tried to have something in for the group because we’re all meeting to share each other’s writing and get feedback. And at that point, most of those folks were writing books. I wasn’t at that point, but they were. So now I had a purpose, and I had things to do. And two days a week, I had wonderful people to be with, and that helped

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

But also sell like there’s a little level of accountability, or at least some appropriate peer pressure to provide to participate in the process here.

 

Debbie Weiss:

Very much. You don’t have to have something when you go to class; you just have to be pleasant and offer constructive feedback. But I wanted to take advantage of the class time and writing group time; they were very welcoming. And my friend who leads the group, Willm, we’re buddies today. He’s written about 11 books and was very big on accountability. This is your time; this is what the group is doing.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

I’m sure they gave you some structure and some coaching, and various methodologies and approaches to it as well. And also, I know lawyers a little bit. I’m married to a legal assistant and have been around many lawyers, and you folks like to get it done, don’t you? If you kind of got an assignment mentality, it gives you that task orientation that you thrive on. Am I correct?

 

Debbie Weiss:

You’re right. No, you’re correct. Because if you had seen me during the days right after my husband passed, I was doing all the stuff you needed to do with the estate and the trust and had all those death certificates. But all that stuff, I did life insurance, all kinds of stuff. The house was in disarray because deferred maintenance is someone with cancer. I got a lot of stuff done; I’ll let everything be cleaned up. But at night, I was a mess. So I was like two people. I was like this highly functioning person during the day. In fact, he worked it into it, which is a financial software company. And they gave me a liaison whom I worked with him, and I said, I think is a compliment. He said, “If I died young, I’d want my wife to hire you. Because you’re so tenacious to get everything taken care of.” So I think pretty highly functioning from the outside.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Yeah, you’ve got that mentality, you got that punch list type of thing, get it done. I’m sure you’ve heard the term right brain left brain; the left brain is the highly functional part, and the right brain is the part that’s more relationship. Or I could have it backward. But you get the basic idea; we have parts of our brains that function in those ways. And most people are more functioning in one area or the other. And that’s what you did, but we need both. We need both to be a healthy, functioning person. But I understand what you’re saying: you got stuff done, but you had this other need. And I’m interested in sharing with you that I’m a retired pastor, so I’ve had many funerals and much dealing with people going through grief and death situations. And you may be aware of this, but a lot of people don’t handle that kind of stuff you talked about very well. And they have stress on the other side of things where they don’t have all the details cared for. But it works both ways. Action is a real big thing here, Debbie, and I think you’ve mentioned several things you took action about; you took care of the punch list, getting involved with some groups, and getting the therapy you mentioned. And so that was a helpful thing. You got involved with some groups in your synagogue and things like that. If you’re going to advise another widow who was early in the journey, what would one or two things to say? Okay, to get out or whatever your slump is, this is what you need; this is what I would advise you to do.

 

Debbie Weiss:

The first thing I would say is to be very gentle with yourself. I was really hard on myself. And I was like, Why aren’t I smarter? Why aren’t I getting more done? Why am I so unhappy? I felt very guilty. Again, I told you about the circumstances of my husband’s death. So I would say the first thing is to be very gentle with yourself. We may get a whole layer of pain and difficulty when judging ourselves in extraordinary circumstances. So the first thing I would say is to be kind to yourself. And then the second thing I would say probably is just a very low-key way to start doing a few things that bring you joy and see if you can do them with other people.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Well, that’s taking some positive steps and not guilt and blame and all the emotions we can have all get wrapped up into this kind of thing. And there’s also the element of that which is beyond ourselves. What I mean by that is the inner life or some spiritual realm. Some people lash out at God or think this is so unfair on some metaphysical level. Tell me if this is part of your experience dealing with a spiritual realm or anger with God or anything along this line. Was this part of your journey in dealing with your husband’s death?

 

Debbie Weiss:

Well, I’m not a religious person. I’ve had a pretty contentious relationship with the idea of a higher power since my mom died when I was 10. Okay, I figured I meant it for ten years old; why is Mommy sick and dying? That didn’t seem like a well-ordered universe to me. When my husband died, and I was 50, it was like, this is happening again; the person I love the most in my life is happening again. So I was very angry. And I believe that we live in a pretty hostile universe. And it just took a while for me to see good and positive things. And from there, to go to a place of not being angry, I wouldn’t say gratitude. I think that’s overused, especially when people are in pain. But to see that my circumstances work extraordinarily. Many people go through things like this and far worse. And I was lucky to have resources; I didn’t lose my house. My husband had life insurance, and I was going to be okay. I had a wonderful loving dad and stepmom. I felt I had to tell myself I had all the pieces to create a better life. That was up to me.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Well, part of what you get, as you’ve mentioned, is a little bit about having some that struggle. I think almost everybody has some internal struggle. You must come to terms with it one way or another, or you can dissolve into some real bitterness. And I think that’s part of the danger for some folks is to dissolve into, I call it, the malaise of mediocrity, where you get stuck and can’t function. And so people think it’s a God thing. And some people think it says they, the world is against me, and you decided to do something about it. And that’s awesome by taking action and things like that. So let’s begin to talk here, Debbie, about some of the things you did, a step-by-step process. We talked about some of your actions to break out of it. But I’ve talked about some of the things that maybe you have in your book and other things where you’re finding how you put your life to begin to build your new life. And you eventually started dating again, and some other things. What were the processes and some of the steps you took to put your life together to where you’re at now?

 

Debbie Weiss:

I started with very basic things like making the house my own. My late husband was an engineer. So we had wires from unfinished projects everywhere. He was both a perfectionist and a do-it-yourself. So first, I had to make my house feel like my home. And then I could at least focus on physical fitness a little bit. I would walk and go outside, and you’d see all these nice smiling people walking the dogs, and it was spring in there, cherry blossoms or whatever. And that was lovely.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Let’s go back to make your house your home for a second. What were some of the specific things that you did? Did you take down pictures and put up different ones? Did you tear out walls? What do you do?

 

Debbie Weiss:

Well, I wasn’t as dramatic to tear down walls. What I did do was look at things we’ve never managed to repair while he was alive. And also just the things that needed work. For example, the primary bathroom was leaking into the dining room; I had no choice. Yay. So I have to get it doneā€”the bathroom. I got a contractor, went to the tile store, and the flooding store, and got rid of a bunch of things. George was four years older than I was, and he made all the decisions. So this was a chance for me to do something like take down all the stuff that he liked and I didn’t and get rid of all his unfinished projects and replace them with easy things that a technological idiot like me could use so that the family room was someplace I could watch television and look at it and not understand what this network thing was all about. I also like to do finances. I did stuff like get everything in my name and put things with my financial advisor, so I had an idea where I was because I didn’t; he had everything. For a while, I was using the computer as him. I’m always prequel to the woman at Wells Fargo who was. I remembered her, nine months pregnant with a nose ring, who helped me put everything on myself and gave me a big hug was pregnant, and I could help you. So just getting a sense of specifics and then from there, kind of venturing outside the door and going for a walk

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Reinventing yourself sometimes starts with the physical space. Some people, as you probably know, can’t stay in the same space when they lose a spouse. They have to move or do some major remodel. Where your book is available Available As Is: A Midlife Widow’s Search for Love, what do you mean by available?

 

Debbie Weiss:

Well, the book picks up starts when I started to date, which I did 14 months after my loss. Okay. And I picked Available As Is because we, older singles, are like real estate. We’re like this great old house,we’re available.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Oh, my goodness. Okay.

 

Debbie Weiss:

Yeah, creaky floors; some built-ins aren’t coming out. Right. So that was what I was talking about entering the dating stage. Well, kind of like a finished product.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Well, if I understand you, your dating was with your husband growing up, right? I don’t want to put words out that you didn’t have a lot of experience dating other people, even as a teenager. So you had to learn a lot of lessons quickly at a different stage than the 18, right,?

 

Debbie Weiss:

Yeah, very much.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

So what did you learn?

 

Debbie Weiss:

Let’s see. I learned that a lot of middle-aged dating, at least to me, is very hostile. And it’s very unpleasant. Most of the men I met were disillusioned. Most of us were divorced, not widowed. And they were angry with their exes and their failed relationships and discouraged by the whole thing. And I found that pretty disheartening because I was a widow when I was looking to find joy again. And I felt like, if I can go through what I’ve been through and be optimistic, why can’t they? And people weren’t invested because they felt so disillusioned and discouraged, which I see. Divorce is painful. Maybe there’s animosity, obviously. In my case, I would have still been married had my husband not died. I loved him dearly. In divorce, you lose your finances, community property, or whatever. It’s a mess. But what I saw was that a lot of guys were divorced. And I’ll add another nasty thing: our current hookup culture. When I was younger, and you dated, I was 17, the boy comes over, and he’s wearing probably a sweater, his mom checks out his collar, and he takes you to a nice thing. He drives you home, and you make sure you’re at home safe. Probably you have to meet my dad, who’s pretty intimidating, whereas now, these guys would be like, “Oh, yeah, do you want to come over and hot tub?” Treating someone to a cup of coffee was apparently a difficulty. And all they did was complain a lot about exes and problems. And it was like, ” Okay, I’m trying to find a little joy here.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

So a lot of bitterness, much temporal stuff on a surface level, kind of a thing. I’m to pick it up on here that wasn’t for you. It wasn’t what you’re looking for.

 

Debbie Weiss:

No, it wasn’t. I tried dating a bit and tried to just take things casually. But that wasn’t me. And I found a lot of sexism in our generation. I think this is my big theory. It comes down to how folks of our generation were raised. I was like the last generation of girls who had to wear dresses in the first grade. And we were raised to be polite and pleasant. And then the media is big on being attractive to men, which is also connected to us and our media. And the boys were raised, “Oh, boys will be boys.” There they are in the playground. I grew up in the 80s. So that’s Gordon Gekko; greed is good, Masters of the Universe. So you have these guys who were being pushy and women who were taught to be empathetic and kind. And I found being a lawyer extremely helpful in dating because you had to be pretty strong and stand up for yourself, as in most matters of life.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

No. But sounds like you learned these lessons. And now you’re sharing them with other people. So who’s this book for? Is it for women in your similar position? Primarily? Is that the target audience?

 

Debbie Weiss:

Well, it is, it’s for women who find themselves alone at middle age, either through divorce or widowhood, and who need to find their voice and find themselves and create a life for themselves. It’s specifically aimed for cautious people because I’m cautious after my mom died, I learned people can vanish so it’s not your eat. , it can be but it’s not , it’s for your person who needs to take steps forward. But might not be your Eat Pray Love person who runs off to an ashram or sells their house and tours the world. I also feel though, and i’ve spoken to a few men that my book would be beneficial to men, because I think a lot of I think middle aged single guys, especially like women who’ve been in long marriages Maybe could use a woman’s perspective on some of this, I think it would be helpful.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

So what I’m hearing you say is that there’s a, there’s lessons to be learned on both sides of the matter. Kind of a cautionary tale, in a sense for women to, , wake up. It’s not just like it used to be, you got to be smart, you got to be aware, you got to be alert, you got to understand expectations are different than what I may have had. And for the guys, perhaps it has to do with take to twist to go a little deeper. Am I anywhere near close to what you were after here? I mean, yes,

 

Debbie Weiss:

Yeah. You’re pretty close. Yeah. Yeah, you are? Exactly. Yeah. I mean, for me, I talk about , finding a voice after being in an all encompassing marriage. So for women, I think. And then it’s the sense of creating a new self as a single person on your own. Which is probably a first step when you’ve lost someone you’ve been with a long time as you kind of have to find yourself as a person. And then you can from there go to try to to blend your life with someone else’s. And for men, , I also really just, I’m gonna sound ridiculously old fashioned. But , courtesy is helpful. Kindness is helpful.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

So politeness, politeness still counts? To me

 

Debbie Weiss:

It sure as heck does, yes, very much so and so as being kind and compassionate. I mean, trying to push a woman to do something you want isn’t a victory, it’s, it’s a flaw?

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Well, especially you sound like you’re, you’re, you’re responding to kind of a conquest, culture or a culture of, of one upmanship. , one is above the other at this time very much. There is a place of hope, and of fulfillment, beyond this wilderness experience of the death of your husband and the dating world, and trying to reinvent yourself, you did find your way through this, to have some sense of fulfillment in your life. And, and that’s good news. And when I say this, because so many people as my experience, , when they get this adverse life events, and they stay stuck, or they can’t see the end of it, , they can’t see that there is some hope there is some way to get through this, and you’ve talked about this. So tell me about any person that you have encountered that you either your book has touched, or maybe your own, maybe a kind of a counseling, or just friends that you’ve talked to, who’ve been able to take your concepts that you’ve that you share in your book, and it’s been helpful to them? Is there persons in your life who have responded to you said, Okay, this has helped.

 

Debbie Weiss:

Yes, they have been, they’re usually virtual friends, I found a lot of my author page on Facebook, i’ve gotten comments from people who’ve been helped one woman. There’s a part of the book where I wind up going to Paris with George’s in laws and start to awaken to the possibility of travel in a different kind of life. And one woman wrote on Facebook that she read my book, and she was encouraged to take her daughter to Paris, she’s a widow. I did a recent podcast and a woman said that, , she’d given up on dating, but she’s her timeframe of loss, losing her husband was quite similar to mine. And she put some really great notes that she felt not alone. My I have some Amazon reviews to that effect. I’ve heard from widows who’ve said they feel a lot less alone when they read this. And in my yoga classes, i’ve had some lovely women who’ve been buying this book for their moms, because they’re because their dads are ill.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

That’s a that’s very affirming that that’s it’s great. Makes you feel good when people respond doesn’t Yeah, you feel like so you’re doing something purposeful. Well, Debbie, how can if there’s somebody listening to us now and who’s going through something similar? Or maybe there’s someone who has, how can they find out more about you your website or your book? How can people find out more about what you’re about? Well,

 

Debbie Weiss:

The easiest thing is probably my website, it’s Debbie Weiss author. We used to be the hungover widow when I was first widowed. So you can see I changed. But now it’s Debbie Boyce author, i’ve changed it. My Facebook page is Debbie Weiss author, I believe it’s the same on Instagram. I’m kind of hard to avoid if you Google Debbie Weiss writer because i’ve had some stuff published and i’ve done some podcasts. My web page is the best place I want my book available as is is on Amazon. And I answer comments. , if people write to me, I send out newsletters and uh, , someone says they’re in pain or something. I honestly answer people I do.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

We’ll put links to that in our website, Dr. Brad Miller.com, Debbie Weiss author.com. I just would share with you that I, for whatever reason, I know a fair number of women who have somewhat similar circumstances, or it’s a couple cases the opposite. At least one good friend who was my age who lost his wife he’d go through some somewhat similar things from the other perspective. But I just think there’s a real need for this. Part of what I’m getting at here with Debbie is the need for direction. , so many people are just kind of, , just floating around, like, what do I do? And the experiences of other people help, but also if you’re able to kind of outline, okay, here’s what I did. And here’s some point by point processes that may be helpful. What you’re trying to do is I see it is be helpful,

 

Debbie Weiss:

Sir. Yes. Yeah, it is. Yes, this book is not. Yeah, this book is designed. I mean, it’s a memoir. So it is not a self help book. But I do try to go through the lessons that i’ve learned, and what I got out of those experiences, and to make people feel less lonely. And yes, I want I was hoping the book would help fellow widows who felt very isolated. That’s when I started writing and blogging. And which ultimately turned into mine going back to school and getting a master’s degree in writing. So , I think you can start to take something you love to do, and start to make it into something that might bring connection and purpose.

 

Dr. Brad Miller:

Well, apparently, this has been a good thing for you in terms of this because you only have written the book. You said you’ve had pieces in Huffington Post Women’s Day, Good Housekeeping, a Reader’s Digest. And, , those are all wonderful publications and you’re making a contribution. And the way I like to put it is is that what gives us what gives us value in life is when we are able to serve others with love and contribute to the greater good and you’re doing that so thank you for doing just that. Our guest today Debbie weighs her her author, her website, Debbie we author.com and her book is available as is a midlife widows search for love. Debbie, thank you for being our guest today. On Beyond Diversity