What is the root cause of our grief and the trauma we experience from the loss of our wives? Is it loss and loneliness? Is it feeling helpless?
My guest today is Tim Ohai a strategic effectiveness expert and coach, who I met in the business world, but got to know deeply as a fellow widower. Tim lost his wife Diana in 2020 and is now a single father of two, with a son 22 and a daughter 20.
Tim is a man of strong faith and purpose, along with having an educational background in behavioral science and psychology, and we had plenty to talk about: discussing Tim’s journey from grief to growth, exploring the challenges he faced and how mind, body and especially spirit helped him on his way.
Tim. 15:45 – So that physical movement… when I shut down physically, when I opened back up, all of a sudden, things started to unlock. And so there is something powerful that happens when you tap into that mind body connection,
Tom 16:04 – There is a disconnect that happens when we’re grieving between our mental state and our body. Because what’s happening is, we’re living in our mind, we’re almost disconnected from our body and reality. Our alarm systems are going off and we don’t want to be in the present as a result. But our mind is telling us not to be in the present because of the perceived danger and feelings of grief. But when you connect with your body and you start doing things, it kind of resets that clock, and now all of a sudden, we are in the present. And we will learn to process the grief at that point. And so that physical activity, and for me, it was vital in my recovery running was vital for me going to the gym exercising was vital. Talk about that a little bit. I mean, do you think that’s what happened with your son?
Tim 16:53 – So it’s a combination, for me it’s walking. And I’ve gotten back in the gym, and I used to be a gym rat. So I mean, you know, used to rip phone books and you know, push pretty big weights, I’m in my 50s now so that’s not a great option anymore There’s something about the combination of the physical movement, but it’s also that blood flow. And you’re releasing different chemicals and different hormones in your brain so that it reacts differently to your current reality. So the neuroscience of it is, how do you get yourself out of that limbic reptilian part of the brain, the part of your brain where your pure emotion, and there’s no real logic to it, and to get out of that space to get to your prefrontal cortex, where you actually have logic, thinking and language and you have words to describe things. But when you’re grieving, you’re locked into an emotional state. So the only way to let your brain kind relax, come out of the emotion and into logic and thinking, is through physical movement. And I learned that whenever I get tense, whenever I’m going for a walk it doesn’t just clear my head. It actually gets my brain unlocked. So then I can start doing different things, feeling different things, and thinking different thoughts and feeling different feelings.
Tom 36:33 – There’s a sense of control, I think, in doing some of those things that you need to get back because you do feel so helpless and so out of control through sickness and loss. Things are so much bigger than you realize. So I think there’s a perspective there that you get. But also you feel helpless. And I think doing little things towards improvement and growth are so important. So for me, one of the first things I did was to make the bed, and since that first day after the loss, I now make the bed every day. Now my wife Judy used to do that. And I used to think it was stupid. I’ll be honest, there were many times I said, why do you bother to make it as we’re just gonna mess it up again, kind of thing. So funny. Now, every day. Even Tim, when I’m in hotel rooms. I will organize the bed. I was just on a retreat recently. I made my bed every day.
Thomas Pisello 0:02
Today I have a really special guest, his name is Tim Ojai, he’s of Kupu solutions. He’s a strategic effectiveness expert and coach. And that’s how our pads originally crossed in the business world. But he is also as I came to know, a fellow widower having lost his wife, Diana in 2020. He’s now a single father of two, he’s got a son 22, and a daughter 20, Tim, almost the same age as my two. Tim is also a man of strong faith and purpose, along with having an educational background in behavioral science and also in psychology. So we’ll have plenty to talk about with Tim today. We’re here to learn about Tim’s journey from grief to growth, his own journey in that and tap his experiences and expertise, expertise for insights and inspiration. Tim, welcome.
Tim Ohai 1:26
Aloha, thank you very much.
I want to know how the story began with you and Diana, if you’ll take us back a number of years.
We met in the 80s. We met my freshman year of college, when it was her sophomore year in college, and we overlapped for a semester, and then she left the school.
So I know her brother and her cousin. And we had a lot of similar friends back then. But we didn’t really know each other
And so fast forward. I’m originally from Hawaii. That’s why I said Aloha. I’m originally from Kona, Hawaii. And she wound up moving to Kona years later. And we had some good mutual friends who are like you guys need to meet. And I was like, “Oh, no, that’s cool. Thanks”. I’ve never been a big fan of people being pushed together and all that. And she was getting the same kind of pressure from our friends.
We were both teachers. So I was teaching elementary school. And she was teaching preschool. And the families from the same neighborhoods that had their kids at both schools were like “Hey, you should meet each other”. and “You would be a great fit”. And then I remember one person just said, “No, this is like marriage quality”. I’m like, “whoa, whoa, back off”.
So we knew each other, but we just weren’t getting together until this one evening. I used to run. I was one of the main folks doing security for the Ironman in Kona. And she had volunteered one year and was on the finish line security team. So it’s late at night, it’s a 24 hour shift you do there, the night before making sure the race gets kicked off and running everything. And you’re at that point at night, you’re waiting for midnight for the athletes who are straggling in.
So there wasn’t a lot of activity and we were just sitting there, just sort of talking. And it was nice. It was pleasant.
So then fast forward. I met her in the grocery store. And like, legit was walking down. aisle three, I’ll never forget walking down that aisle and she comes around the corner. And I’m like, oh, and she almost did a double take on this guy. And it’s no, I’ll talk to him. You know, he was nice, maybe you know,
So we started talking. And for the first time there was an energy. This is really nice. And then we wind up going and checking out in the same line. Not planned. But then she was like a person in front of me. There was somebody between us. I just waiting my turn and I was looking at candy bars and magazines and just trying to stay in my space. and she noticed me. so we let the guy between us go. And we were just chatting. And it turned into “Hey, come over to a barbecue on Saturday”. And I had already been invited. She didn’t know. And so I was like, Yeah.
And I got there. And she showed up later, cuz she was working weekends at a different job. And she came in and it was one of those deals where all of our married friends, it was one of those kinds of parties and we were the only two single people at the party. And I was sitting in the backyard, on a big, big blanket on the grass by myself. And she comes out goes, Where do I sit and her friends are like, oh, Tim has space. And she almost went back and said This is stupid. I’ll go. So she sat down.
And we just started talking and the best part, there was no pressure on us. Nobody was trying to push us. And next thing you know, the party’s over, everybody’s left. We’re still talking. Our friends who own the house, come out and go, “Hey, I’m gonna go buy some ice cream for dessert. Do you want some?”. Diana’s like, “Yeah, I’ll go”. So she takes off. And then I go to my buddies. “Okay. All right, who is this gal?”. And my friend Brian says “That’s the girl. That’s the one we’ve all been telling you that you should meet”., All right, I’ve been an idiot. And yeah, it just kind of took off from there.
Sometimes we need that guidance from friends. And from above as well, to define the right one. How serendipitous. I mean, how many times before eventually you got there.
And then you guys built a beautiful life together? Tell us a little bit about that.
So we got married in 99 and she got pregnant on our honeymoon. So we went from a family of one to a family of three, all in nine months. I wasn’t ready for that.
So my son was born in 2000. And at the time, I was a school teacher. And she was a school teacher. And it was in Hawaii. And there’s no money in that. So we were looking at whether we stay here in Hawaii with each of us having two jobs and maybe getting to hang out on Sundays. Or, with a lot of prayer and a lot of soul searching we just realized that we should move to California.
I didn’t want to move to California. But that’s where her family was. And my Mom had sold her house in Hawaii and moved to the Bay area. So we moved to the Northern California area.
I looked at some teaching stuff, I was even offered a Vice Principal position at a private school, but the economics just weren’t there. And then I landed in Sales, with no intention of ever doing that, but I was working as a sales coordinator. And then I was doing Regional Marketing Strategy and helping with business development. I was doing all this stuff, supporting everything from major key accounts to local opportunity stuff and running reports. And all with this intention of wanting to get into training.
So I did really well there. And they were going to make me a sales rep out of Reno. But then the guy who was in Reno, who was supposed to take a promotion of management didn’t take it, he just wanted to stay in Reno. So I needed to make more money. Because at that point my wife was pregnant with our second daughter, and my boss was super gracious and my sales manager, and he was like, “Look, you’re a great guy. I knew when I hired you, I was not going to keep you so I can’t give you anything now. So let me help you find something in the company”.
And I wound up starting over as a trainer in Houston. We moved to Houston, and my daughter was born there. And then I quickly went through the ranks. I mean super fast. And eventually I was in a global role of working for Shell Oil. I was supporting North America and living on planes and in hotels and home only on the weekends.
And Diana was just like, this was brutal, you know, and our marriage was getting hammered. And so we were actually on a vacation, back home in Hawaii sitting on a friend’s Lanai, you would say their porch. And we were watching the sun set and I just said “Did you think your life was gonna look like this when you were growing up? Because no way? Not at all. I didn’t”.
So we said, if we were going to live our values, what would that look like? And we basically took every obligation we had in our life and just erased them all. And said, Let’s just start over. And that led to her leaving, teaching. She wanted to be a stay at home mom. We had two littles and we wanted to be as much a part of their life while they were little. And then I left corporate and started my own consulting company.
And the first customer I landed was Walmart and apparently I was decent, and did my own company for 12 years. And then I got recruited to go back to corporate in 2019. There was an opportunity to do a transformation for a sales enablement function for a company called Workday.
And I went there for the last three years but now I’ve left and I’m now moving back to Hawaii. I’m actually sitting here in California right now because I’m selling this house and already have a condo back there in Hawaii. I’m leaving California and going home to Kona.
Now, along that path, Diana wound up getting sick I think around 2014 Tim, is that correct?
Tom, she got diagnosed with leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Goodness. It’s sickening. You know, anybody who’s got to go through cancer, you can say the strangest most bizarre words just like saying vanilla ice cream.
So it’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia. So “acute” means it hits hard. And so she almost died, like, right when she was diagnosed. And they were able to get some new blood in her body as it was collapsing. I held her hand and I thought she was gone then.
And then that started a six year journey. She went into remission and kept it in remission. And we actually did a bunch of chemo and a bunch of stuff. It was brutal. And then she hit the five year mark, and we were told at five years, you’re more or less, you’re good to go. Right, fantastic.
But then, a few months later, the Leukemia came back very aggressively. So that was the end of 2019, beginning of 2020. So she started feeling weird around Christmas. And then I was in London on a business trip. And she goes, I have to talk to you, and she goes, “Hey, the cancer is back”. I was crushed by those words. And she goes, “Just finish your trip, and then get back here. I still have to get a room”. And thank God. She was at Stanford Hospital, A great, great hospital, And she goes, I can’t even get a room yet. And you gotta remember this is 2020. So COVID was going sideways by February and we were locked down in California, it was the Bay Area and it was getting hit.
Nobody knew what was going on. Nobody knew what was real. It wasn’t real. Everyone was trying to be like, let’s be as safe as possible. So I jumped on my plane, as scheduled, and I literally landed at the airport, went straight to the hospital. And I arrived at the same time she did to check into her room. So she had just gotten in the room when I walked into her room. And so we synched up at Stanford Hospital.
That was Valentine’s Day, and that was how we spent Valentine’s Day 2020. And unfortunately, long story short, she did a bone marrow transplant, it turned into a bone graft, and she died from that rejection on July 4, 2020. So you know, I got holidays that are burned into my head and that’s not what they’re supposed to be.
Valentine’s Day is enough, as a hard one to handle. Even this past year, I was in tears right in the middle of a CycleBar spin session, even five years later.
And you’re not ready for it. You’re not ready for it to happen there.
So with Diana’s passing, you have this professional career. How did you keep that going? You’ve got two kids. You were dealing with their grief. At the time, were they home? Were they in college?
Yes, well, Kailyn graduated high school right before Diana passed. So she went to college. But she basically ruined that first semester. She had nothing left, Fine. Take a break. Yes, wash it off. Let’s try this again.
My son was going to school, but my son’s also presenting Jiu Jitsu black belt now. He just got his black belt. He’s an instructor. So he was going to school, but it was more going to school to learn business because of his path. He’s going to run his own academy. So he’s actually a Jiu Jitsu instructor. So for him, the hardest part with all this was the COVID shutdown of the academy. He went from being able to go to the mat literally, and work out whatever was happening inside of him, to sitting in his house, in our house, and just going sideways.
So I had to figure out how to help him open up himself physically. And at that point, we basically just started training neighbor kids, because part of it was some of our own neighbor kids, their parents are going nuts with their kids stuck at home. No running. Sports, no nothing. And some of his Jiu Jitsu buddies said to him “Look, my kids, I’m gonna kill them.Can you please take a private lesson?”. So that was a little bit further in, but we converted our garage into a little miniature Academy. And he was doing one to one, one to twos. And that fixed kind of his personal space. And then eventually, I sent him home to Hawaii. And because Hawaii didn’t have the shutdown that California did. And I got him a job with my cousin. And he was living in my condo there and going to training and Jiu Jitsu, at a regular place. And that really helped him.
So that physical movement… when I shut down physically, when I opened back up, all of a sudden, things started to unlock. And so there is something powerful that happens when you tap into that mind body connection,
There is a disconnect that happens when we’re grieving between our mental state and our body. Because what’s happening is, we’re living in our mind, we’re almost disconnected from our body and reality. Our alarm systems are going off and we don’t want to be in the present as a result.
But our mind is telling us not to be in the present because of the perceived danger and feelings of grief. But when you connect with your body and you start doing things, it kind of resets that clock, and now all of a sudden, we are in the present.
And we will learn to process the grief at that point. And so that physical activity, and for me, it was vital in my recovery running was vital for me going to the gym exercising was vital. Talk about that a little bit. I mean, do you think that’s what happened with your son?
So it’s a combination, for me it’s walking. And I’ve gotten back in the gym, and I used to be a gym rat. So I mean, you know, used to rip phone books and you know, push pretty big weights, I’m in my 50s now so that’s not a great option anymore
There’s something about the combination of the physical movement, but it’s also that blood flow. And you’re releasing different chemicals and different hormones in your brain so that it reacts differently to your current reality. So the neuroscience of it is, how do you get yourself out of that limbic reptilian part of the brain, the part of your brain where your pure emotion, and there’s no real logic to it, and to get out of that space to get to your prefrontal cortex, where you actually have logic, thinking and language and you have words to describe things. But when you’re grieving, you’re locked into an emotional state.
So the only way to let your brain kind relax, come out of the emotion and into logic and thinking, is through physical movement. And I learned that whenever I get tense, whenever I’m going for a walk it doesn’t just clear my head. It actually gets my brain unlocked. So then I can start doing different things, feeling different things, and thinking different thoughts and feeling different feelings.
I love that. Totally love it. You’ve got some ink on your arm. I can’t quite see it with your shirt that you have now. There it is. Talk about that a little bit?
The word tattoo is a Polynesian word. And in Hawaii, you get a tattoo when something significant happens in your life. So it’s not just a form of art, it’s actually a part of the life process and it was often traditionally that people get tattoos as part of the grieving process because getting the tattoo itself hurts.
My tattoo took three three different sittings to get it all done, and it goes all the way around my forearm up to my elbow. And it hurt a lot in a really powerful way, because that pain… I was grieving Diana at the time and I had my nephew do it in Hawaii
When you see a Polynesian or somebody with Polynesian tattoo. you’re not supposed to ask what it means, you just comment on it and if they want to share, they’ll share because there’s more involved there. It’s not just art. There’s actually a historical and powerful evolutionary story.
So I knew I wanted to do something, and I co created this with my nephew. And it was wild how it worked out. So I said let’s do something on my forearm that really tells the story of my immediate family. And so I’m going to turn my camera a little bit see if we can get this to work
So this part at the very top closest to my inner arm, elbow, those little tiny arrows are a headrest. They represent, you know, the little wooden headrests that you would have had as a pillow back in the old days. And then there’s a weaving pattern on it, and it looks kind of like cords of rope. Underneath it, the Olonal plant, the leaves that you make rope with. And so you weave those, those cords, the leaves together make a really strong cord.
And then, because I’ve got strong European heritage, as well as my Hawaiian heritage, I have Celtic blended into this. So this is Celtic and you can see the head and the legs and the tail. So this represents my son, his name is Connor. And he’s named after King Connor, who in the name means lover of hounds. And so I have this Irish hound there. And then there’s little rectangles that go around the outside, that’s a Polynesian pattern that represents the octopus, because my son loves the octopus, because of the jiu jitsu, the grappling. And so the octopus and the way you the way you grapple. And it also speaks to tenacity and strength.
And then I have a heart, a Celtic Heart, which represents my daughter, because she’s 100% creative. And there are different knots within embedded in the harp. And then there’s this pattern of birds, that goes from the harp all the way out, back to my elbow. And if you notice, there’s there’s hard thick lines that go all over this thing that holds and that’s called framing. And the frames represent, like the beams of your house. So the ribs of your boat, t their strength, so I have a lot of frames on this. But the birds leave the frame, the birds are not in the frame. So what it means is this headdress represent good thoughts and good dreams. And this chord represents a marriage. And out of my dreams came this marriage, this beautiful woman produced two beautiful children until she left us, and the birds represent the fact that she left. So she left the frame, she’s gone. And so it was a combination of both How do I tell my story, but also, how do I give meaning to the story I’ve experienced.
Thank you so much, Tim, for sharing that. And it’s absolutely beautiful and stunning, and also the history of what it represents. I think that there is something there in terms of experiencing the pain that is also important to the healing process. And it’s a rite of passage almost in a way that we as men have lost, from the childhood rites of passages through the experiences in our life, those rites of passages. Any thoughts on that?
I will say that American culture, and Western culture in general, but especially American culture, struggles with grief. As you talk with a number of friends, it’s obvious that we’re just grief illiterate.
When I was going through this, I was at Workday, and I was at a Corporate and they were very gracious to let me have time when Diana passed. But then it was like, Okay, it’s time to get back to work. It’s time to get stuff done. And grief doesn’t work like that. There is no on and off switch.
So you, you can’t just experience grief for a season and walk away, you’ll grieve for forever. The question is, how much of your capacity is it going to consume? So you’ve seen the picture where they draw what people think grief looks like, with your whole heart filled with grief. And then they draw it like, it’s not that grief gets smaller … your grief stays the same. But the goal is to enlarge your heart to make your life bigger.
So that’s the hardest part is trying to explain grief to people. And yet at the same time, one out of nine people in the US are affected by losing someone to COVID. And that’s just COVID. That’s not including anyone else who died for any other reason or anything else.
And then, you know, we’ve talked about the underlying drive behind grief is that really it’s just a form of trauma. And trauma is driven by helplessness. So anytime anybody feels helpless, losing a job, losing a spouse, losing a child, just anything where they felt helpless, and there could be life experiences that happened to them when they were children, etc, that trauma needs to be grieved. And if we don’t really understand how to do that, we’re going to re-live our grief, it will never stop, so to speak, and we will never grow past it. Because we’re still reliving that trauma.
So every fourth of July, every Valentine’s Day, every birthday, every park you drive by … all of that stuff becomes a major trigger. And I’ve learned how to navigate that stuff. But no one was ready to tell me, here’s how it works. That’s why I love what you’re doing with this because especially as men, we don’t necessarily have a lot of buddies who’ve gone through what we’re going through.
And it is different. What I’m doing is different from, say, divorce, where divorce is still dramatic and tough. And there’s grief. That’s part of that. So I’ve got divorced buddies, but a very few widower buddies, but the ones I do have, oh my gosh, we can talk about it so deeply. But I’m still teaching them stuff as I’m learning that they never heard. A buddy of mine, a widower of almost 40 years. remarried, but he’s learning stuff that I’m sharing with him that he would have loved to have 40 years ago.
And I think in those shared experiences, it can be really healing. And we don’t have that form a lot of times, a lot of times we’re suppressing our emotions, our hurts right, we put on that corporate mask that you and I both had to go and put on right away like, hey, everything’s alright, I got this handled. I’m stoic. I can get through this. Meanwhile, you’re broken underneath that mask, you know?
Oh, my gosh, I try to explain to people like number one, I go first and foremost, you’ve got to know your “Give A Damn”, it’s broken. You just don’t care. Yeah, like in my situation. I literally held Diana’s hand as she died. So I was the one who called the time of death when the physician came in. And they said, Okay, you were here. What was the time? Right?
And so when people are sitting there complaining about a missed deadline, or they’re trying to execute something in the business strategy, and you’re like “why are we doing that?”. You try to put your veneer on, and you’re just like, “What the hell.” And then on top of that, you have your own family stuff. And in my situation with my kids, they each had their own journey, I have no idea how to help them go through their journey. And my daughter’s a lot like me, so she got super angry. And her warrior spirit just went right to the surface, she was ready to fight anything. Because she didn’t know who to fight.
My son took his warrior spirit to the mat, because the Academy opened back up. And he let that go. So for him, and I’m super grateful for especially his professor, but the other folks at the academy. They just came alongside him and they didn’t have to necessarily explain everything. But his body was able to process what his soul was going through. And that goes back to what we were saying, , if you’re doing this and you’re sitting at home by yourself, or, you know, I started watching, I did the whole watch stuff I’d never watched before Danna sort of that we started sort of watching Breaking Bad. Oh my gosh, it’s really good. But it was so dark and about halfway through season two, I’m going “Why am I watching this”. It was making me more dark, more depressed. And that was when I was like, Okay, I gotta get up and get out of my house. And I gotta watch different things and feed myself different things meant mentally, emotionally, spiritually, all of that. Because that journey is the only way I was able to keep paddling and keep moving forward.
This was all during COVID which I didn’t have to go through so I could still get out there. I could still do my business trips, I could still go to the gym. But California was locked down tight. And just when you need that physical contact depending on your love language, or the human contact, just that we all need as human beings. You didn’t have any of that or you had it with a very small group of people. Talk about that and what you went through there.
That was when I started to walk because you were allowed to be outside, you weren’t allowed to go to the grocery store. Very limited. A lot of businesses for sure couldn’t go to restaurants, everything was pickup and take out. And that’s when I started walking and getting outside and taking my dogs for a walk and whatnot.
God forbid you ran into me because I was not a pleasant person. I wasn’t like, ”Hi, how are you?”. As I walked by, I was just like, snow, cold stares and just “leave me alone”. And I was in my head a lot. I needed that space, too. And I think you and I have talked about this. There’s no right way to grieve. Yeah. You just grieve. You just let it go. And walking allowed my thoughts to wander. Because as I got my heart rate up, my thoughts started to unblock and my heart started to open back up.
Your Amygdala and emotional brain was quelled. And now you could get into your frontal lobes. The thinking part of your brain.
That’s right. And you can begin to start making meaning of things. And that’s the key. Right? So how do I make meaning out of this? It’s not that there was some wonderful thing that happened. I told the kids that this isn’t because God wanted Mom to die. You don’t find this in theology. I’ll use the Greek word for shit, Scoob a lot. It’s in the Bible. It’s excrement. It’s worthless. God doesn’t want any of it or anyone to die. He doesn’t want anyone to suffer. He doesn’t want anyone to be sick. This is the result of living in a fallen world.
So we live in a fallen world. And this is the impact of living in a fallen world. And we actually had it pretty good. I’ve talked to friends who have gone through the widow experience, with no economic support, where their husband did everything on that front and don’t know what to do, and their community doesn’t know what to do with them now that they’re a widow.
With us guys,, I’ll still work and I could throw myself into work and I’ve probably got a pretty decent paying job. And I’ll become a workaholic. And in my case, I’d started becoming a borderline alcoholic. I just threw myself into extra stuff. That wasn’t helping me. But it kept me in motion. Yeah. And it was the slow down, it was the work and it was the fact that COVID was like dude, you you don’t have easy access to the distractions. And that actually turned it into alone slow time, not necessarily intentionally, but it became a blessing to have that time alone.
You couldn’t go to the bar and drink. Although you could have a drink at home, and the work travel slowed down, so that you did have that extra time to walk as you weren’t on a plane or trying to get to that meeting across town. Talk a little bit about that issue that both of us fell into with alcohol. I was flat out medicating, and alcoholic, I would label mine borderline too. I was drinking way too much tequila every week while my wife was in Hospice in particular. And thank goodness, the day after she passed I was able to put the bottle down and haven’t picked it up Tim for five years now, not a drop. And I am really happy with that, as it really turned my wellness life around.
The “busyness” though, I got busy. I got really really busy. My business was faltering, so I needed to get busy, but I didn’t deal with the grief. I just buried it in my work completely. Talk about that because that’s a common thing that I think many men go through, the medicating with alcohol, as well as the busyness.
So for me, I was working a lot. It was back to back Zoom conferences all day. And then, as soon as I turned off, the house was silent, and there were my kids around but you can’t sit there and unpack with them. You can’t and you shouldn’t go there. There are certain limits to what you can share with them because they have to do their own grief journey and stuff.
Sitting in my house by myself, with the silence, it was super easy just to go pour a glass, and make it a double pour, and then do it again, and then figure out how to go to sleep. Yeah I realized it was an issue because I got just so unhealthy, and I was eating whatever I wanted, drinking whatever I wanted. And so I just realized that this is not how I want to live. I’m gonna die young. I’m not going to live to a decent old age if I don’t make some changes.
So I knew there was a health thing involved, but also I found that the more I got into walking, the more I moved. And then I started listening to podcasts and audiobooks that were about grief. And differently. I started to realize that there’s a journey I need to be on, and I’m not on it. And so that was a year and a half, probably a year and a half in.
And then, I got really serious about a year ago, I got really serious last November / December. And since then I’ve lost 60 pounds in the gym, and I’ve definitely changed my BMI, and all this other fun stuff, but I didn’t eliminate alcohol, because I do like my red wine and my whiskey or my bourbon, especially when I’m having a cigar. God bless a good cigar. But I moved it to weekends only.
On business trips, I’ll drink non-alcoholic drinks or I’ll drink sparkling water. And it’s just that demonstration of discipline that created the capacity for healing. And it’s not the discipline, but it was the fact that I was trying. And I think the fact that I was trying, my soul, my spirit, my body. Everything was like, Okay, we’ll meet you halfway. And it started opening me up. That really changed things for me.
There’s a sense of control, I think, in doing some of those things that you need to get back because you do feel so helpless and so out of control through sickness and loss. Things are so much bigger than you realize. So I think there’s a perspective there that you get. But also you feel helpless. And I think doing little things towards improvement and growth are so important.
So for me, one of the first things I did was to make the bed, and since that first day after the loss, I now make the bed every day. Now my wife Judy used to do that. And I used to think it was stupid. I’ll be honest, there were many times I said, why do you bother to make it as we’re just gonna mess it up again, kind of thing. So funny. Now, every day. Even Tim, when I’m in hotel rooms. I will organize the bed. I was just on a retreat recently. I made my bed every day.
Do you hear Judy’s voice in your head? Do you see her standing there already doing it?
I don’t know. I think I did in the beginning where it’s like, you know, I kind of realized that she was saying, “you need to do this now. I’m not here. You need to take this over”.
For me it was so similar. Mine was doing the dishes, I hate doing the dishes, it’s not my favorite thing at all. And I’ve learned to love it. And it’s become my space.
I’ll do the dishes because it’s one of those rituals that brings me to the present. So that’s one of the big things, instead of trying to relive the past or obsess about the future, I want to maximize the moment right now. And washing dishes, it’s very much about what’s in your hand right now. Pay attention, because you don’t want that dish or galls to slip out of your hand. You know, make sure it’s clean. And that has become as healing as going for a walk. Because my brain is also just calming itself down.
And then I try not to watch TV or do a whole lot with lights on at night, letting things kind of calm down. And there’s a wonderful podcast from Andrew Huberman called the Huberman Lab. They talk about all of what’s happening in the brain. And I’ve tried to apply a lot of those things.
But fundamentally, you have this weird, getting ready for the holidays. And this is the part where as a family we are trying to walk through how do we remember Mom without deifying her?. Diana cooked and she was a great baker. Oh my gosh, she won contests and she taught a class at our local cooking school near us, and they brought her in to teach. She was phenomenal.
And so we’re getting ready. Thinking about Thanksgiving food and Christmas food, and all these different things that are a big part of our traditions. You don’t want to lose those, but we also don’t know they can make it well enough, like this was St. Diana’s dish. And we made it just the way St. Diana made it. And you can’t let that overwhelm your tradition, otherwise you’re never going to move forward.
Yeah. Tim, one of the things that I made a mistake on around many holidays and special occasions is not recognizing it. That loss is the elephant in the room. Ten you try to go through the day as if that person isn’t lost, and not there.
And honestly until my trip this past Spring to Hawaii with the girls to celebrate their graduations. It was Mother’s Day and I asked the girls to create a special day for us, a journey tribute to Mom. I said “you guys are in control of our day, make the itinerary and do the plan. We’re going to remember her and every place that we’re at, as if she’s on the trip with us. Road trips are great, and I was able to share some Tom and Judy travel stories with them along the way.
And right from the start, they saw some cardinals, and there were cardinals in every spot we went. Cardinals are a big representation of those who have passed. And it was beautiful, as if she followed us the whole way.
And that was the first holiday that I felt. I felt like there wasn’t that real missing element. There was great remembrance and joy. And this is almost five years in for us.
You talked about the deity element, St. Diana. I know, this can be really hard. And I’ve dealt with this in a couple of relationships, and you’re in a new relationship now, which is amazing. So talk about that a little bit. And talk about some of the challenges of remembering the past while also making sure that you’re planning for a new future because I think that can be a delicate balance.
So I’ve been dating this beautiful lady for last three months. And, you know, we met through a dating app, which I wasn’t going to do,
I was out having coffee with a buddy. And he’s like, you know, Tim, you gotta get back in the saddle, and I look at him and I’m like, “What does that even mean?”., “What does that look like?”.
And he goes ”Well, you’ve got to put yourself out there”. And I’m like, “Seriously?”. And he recommends me to go on a dating app. And I go,” Oh, my gosh, I do not need Tinder?”. I had other buddies who are doing it, or they were trying to. And I really didn’t know if this was right for me at all.
Then I was talking with another good friend who actually worked for me at the time. And he’s like, yeah, a third of all relationships, they now start online. It’s just kind of how things are going. And I’m like, You’re kidding. He goes, No, well think about it. Would you rather walk into a club and meet somebody, or let an algorithm say, Hey, you probably should talk to this person who would be a good match for you, and let the algorithm help you. And I was like, “Okay, that makes sense”. And then what got me was him indicating, “that’s how I met my wife”.
So with that, I’m like, “I’m gonna give this thing a chance”. And so in that situation, my girlfriend she’s divorced. So she’s been split from her ex for about eight years. I’ll be honest, the getting connected, she was a little nervous, like, “Am I your first girlfriend since your loss?” And she was not too comfortable on how dating someone who lost their wife would work.
Her kids went through a divorce journey. So they watched Mom and Dad split, and they watched the tension, and so they want Mom to meet someone that’s going to take care of her. Someone that’s going to make her happy.
My kids didn’t have that attitude. We sat down and I had our moment to discuss the next steps for me. Now my relationship with my late wife Diana, it wasn’t perfect. Goodness, gracious, no marriage is. I don’t think it is. But we had a great marriage, and if she was still alive, we’d still be married. So their journey has been very different, So at first, especially my son, he’s just like, “I don’t even want to know about it”. Okay, all right. And no pressure because you can’t force it on anyone. But then he said something really powerful. He goes, “I don’t know if it’s because it’s not Mom. I don’t know if its because it’s too soon, even though it’s been a couple of years. I don’t know what it is. But how I feel has no bearing on whether or not I want you to be happy. And as long as you’re doing the right thing. Then I support you”. That was incredible.
And the fact that he gave me that. Now my daughter didn’t use the same words, but she was “Okay, I’m ready to meet her”. I’m like, “oh, okay, I’ll set up a Zoom”,So we’re working on getting that meetup setup now.
Unless you’re a widow, yourself as the female, your new partner, they’re going to need to learn what you’re going through. And to talk about it and we talk about stuff. But we also hold back on some things, because there are definitely some things that she’s not ready to talk it through yet. It’s a little overwhelming for my girlfriend to hear some of these things. And part of it, she just feels intimidated. She’s like, Oh my gosh, you know if Diana was alive today, you’d still be married to her, and you and I would not be talking. And indeed, that’s true. That is true.
She’s now been gone for a few years and you can’t just stop your life and living. So that’s the part that I think, if you’re a widower and you’re looking to get back in the game, it’s gotta be on your own terms, it’s gonna be your own personal journey, and it’s going to be up to you to give it time.
For me this has been “Hey, this is clicking and we’re getting along really well. And I’m like, this feels amazing. It feels awesome. It feels like I’ve met somebody really special. And I believe I have. And I asked my kids, how fast is too fast. My son is like, “you’re experienced, you’re mature, you know what good looks like, I don’t think you need what I need at 22. But anything less than a year, I won’t respect. So take your time. Getting to know each other, even if it’s working. Give me the year, basically, I need a year to adjust to this”.
If you’ve got kids, you have to bring them along on this. At least give them a chance. Because not every kid will be behind their parents moving forward. They may be stuck. And so therefore they want to keep you as the widower stuck, because they can’t get past their own trauma.
Connor gave you, graciously the right, that I don’t want to hold you back. shouldn’t hold you back from finding a new life and finding purpose and meaning in a new relationship. Speaking of purpose, and meaning, I really want to get and spend a little bit of time on the faith part. Because I know you are a man of faith. So talk about your faith in the importance of that through this whole process.
For my whole life, I’ve had faith and that part of that spirituality and part of it is my culture, because when you look at the universe, you know, there’s a creator, so you’ve got to know who that creator is. This universe and life didn’t just happen because of random math. The math is too complex for it to be random.
But at the same time, I’m a total nonconformist, and when my give-a-damn meter broke, I was like, I need something authentic and real and true and pure. And I had a friend who had lost her husband, and her faith got rocked. And we got into this whole discussion, as to “how do you know what’s true?”.
And when you have church experiences with people who are well meaning, but they have no idea what they’re doing. And then you also have toxic people in church, doing stuff and saying things. And me, I say “you just need to get out of my life”.
So in this conflict, you start to ask about what’s true, and what’s not true? And I became consumed with figuring out the answer to that question. A lot of people ask, how do you know what’s true? And they go, “Well, the Bible says so”, Now, I know the Bible too well, that there’s stuff in there that’s mistranslated where what you think it says, it is not actually what the Greek says. So how do I know what’s true?
Well, true, is based on truth. So therefore, what is truth? And the only answer I can come up with is that I know Jesus is Truth. He said,” I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. So there’s something in the person and character of Christ that resonates so deeply. This doesn’t go against logic, it simply goes beyond it. So it transcends rational.
That’s why we call it faith. If it was no mystery, and there was no unknown, you wouldn’t need faith, it would just be science. But when I did when I locked in on Jesus being Truth, then I went back and I’m now re-reading my Bible, in the original language and translating it, and finding very different interpretations.
What I’m finding is what Jesus taught, and this is not what I was taught. What he said was Metanoia, changed the way you think … change your mind and change direction. Because the Exousia , the authority that comes from you, the authority of Heaven is now available to you. And, he came at it from a 100% position of love. And even the word that he used for evil Poneros, is not evil in the way we think of, it’s more about oppression and sickness. So when he was going around and you hear all the stories of him healing people, that was a miracle as a metaphor, that what I’m saying and what I’m doing is the exact same thing, I’m touching people, and whatever’s afflicted in them is going away.
That is the faith journey, to have our affliction, our brokenness, our disease that hits us from all different angles of life, we can be healed of that so that we can be the best versions of ourselves. And more importantly, we can then extend that same love to others and rejuvenate them. T
And the fear that was injected into what I’ve been taught, is just like, it’s just not there. I mean, the Bible says, God has given us a spirit of fear, and it’s like, wait a minute, but that’s not what I was taught. You better do this, or else. Well, this happened, because something I did was wrong.
That’s not how it works. Life happens the way it happens, because we live in a broken world, and we get that theology later. But because we live in a broken world, we need love more than anything else. And if we lose the love of our lives, where does that love come from? And that’s when you realize your faith becomes more important than the person. Because whether that person is there or not there, you are still connected to pure love, and then able to extend pure love to others.
That doesn’t mean I’m very good at extending love. Trust me, I got, I got moments where I’m like, I embarrass myself. But I’m a better human. I’m a deeper human, I’m a more profound human. I’m also a simpler human. Because I’m letting go of all this other stuff goes on top. Because the only thing that’s really pure is love.
Peace and love that transcends all understanding, I really hope that that translation of that Bible verse from Philippians is a good one.
Let’s add hope in there too, right? Because in your grief it is too easy for you to lose your hope. When you go through the grieving process? How am I ever going to get through? You “catastrophize”. “This is going to be the worst thing ever”, or you overgeneralize, where “now everything in life is going to be broken”, or you make it permanent,” it’ll never be better”.
And you get past those things. And you start realizing, Wait a minute, I have hope. And the reason I have hope is because I have love. The reason I have peace is because I have love. And I want hope, I want peace, but without love, when that’s ripped away from you, your peace and hope get ripped away with it.
And that comes from within. That light that’s within, that is ultimately from above. And that I completely agree with you, the teachings come across as very authoritarian, very rule based.
And he did say many, many times, you know, you rabbis, it’s not about the rules, right? But then we wind up ignoring that, and we impart rules on achieving better faith and salvation. So I really want to learn more about that, Tim, as you go through that journey as you go through those translations. And I will have you on again, so we can dive deeper into that. But we are totally out of time.
What is the one thing that you’d like to leave our widowers, our growth warriors with today, Tim, from your experience in your journey?
It’s an easy answer for me. I went to a workshop, attending a virtual conference for grief workers. Not people grieving, but to help those who are grieving, and it turned out to be a powerful resource for me. It was run by David Kessler. A well known person who discusses and addresses grief and healing. He said a few things around this idea of how you get meaning in your grief. So loss is what happens in life, but meaning is what you do after that loss occurs. So the meaning is not in death, the meaning is somehow in us and what we do. So we’re trying to lessen the pain of that grief with the meaning and when we can find out the meaning of what happened.
We then are able to give ourselves a foundation not to move on – because you don’t – but you move forward. And a great example, I can’t remember her name, but the woman who lost her daughter to drunk driving and started MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. And so she turned the loss of her daughter into something that was powerful and transformative and, literally, I believe went on to save millions of lives. People are now not impacted by drunk driving because of what she did and her own personal crusade. The key to remember is that the value of that meaning is never worth the cost. We paid to learn it and it will still hurt, but there’s meaning there’s meaning there if you allow yourself to go after it.
I totally agree. I’ve got an acquaintance of mine, Mike Song. I don’t know if you know, Mike, but he’s an inspirational speaker on efficiency and time management. And he lost his son to a tragic gun accident, when I believe his boy was 13 or 14 years old. And he’s become a big gun rights advocate for reasonable gun control.
What a tragic loss. I mean, you think of the loss of a wife at one level, but the loss of a child to me is degrees higher in tragedy. Yet he and his wife have found great meaning in it. They’ve made great strides to change gun laws. They were involved in the latest legislation on reasonable gun control that most Americans support and it is just wonderful how he’s found purpose in his loss.
There are certainly those big things that some do from there loss, but your journey doesn’t have to be that big, though. There is purpose to be found both big and smaller. And so don’t think that it has to be this amazing, transformative national effort, that is your purpose. Perhaps in your silence in the walks in the woods, in that private time that you spend reconciling the loss and new experiences, asking the question upward and within as to “what is my new purpose”, what is the meaning you want me to learn, to change and become from this loss?”. I think that answer will be provided to you as to what the purpose is.
I know this because that’s how I found my new purpose. Literally via A Walk in the Woods, literally. (See this important experience story here – https://growththroughgrief.org/a-walk-in-the-woods/)
Tim, it’s been absolutely wonderful to have you here. Thank you so much for the time you spent with us today and all of your wisdom and sharing it with us.
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About The Host
Growth Evangelist / Growth through Grief Founder
Tom Pisello is a widower and the father of two daughters. Tom lost his wife Judy in 2017 after her ten year battle with cancer.
Tom founded the Growth through Grief site, resources and ministry to help share his personal experiences to grow through the grieving process, and to share with others to help in his own and other’s healing process. Through this process, Tom gained his sobriety, lost 60 pounds, gained a growth mindset and rekindled lost faith, now sharing these hard-earned lessons and the lessons of other widowers and experts with you.
Prior to creating Growth through Grief, Tom was a successful serial-entrepreneur, analyst, speaker, and author of the business books Evolved Selling and The Frugalnomics Survival Guide. He was well known as “The ROI Guy”, founder of Alinean and Interpose, a Managing VP of analyst firm Gartner, Chief Evangelist for Mediafly and founder of the Evolved Selling Institute and host to the popular sales and marketing podcast – Evolved Selling
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