By Daniel Casciato
After caring for her husband Mike (a national record-holding police officer) through his over-two-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS; or what is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Carole Brody Fleet became a widow on December 19, 2000. For her, it was a journey that culminated in physical and emotional shambles for the two of them as well as complete financial ruin.
Fleet, who has one daughter, Kendall, was married to her late husband for five and a half years, and were the best of friends for almost 20 years. She learned to cope with her husband’s loss by coming to understand two fundamentally important facts.
“Going into the fetal position and staying in a place of pain and grief was not going to be an option,” says Fleet. “Also, that just by being here, my daughter and I were still entitled to a life of happiness and abundance – and that it was up to me to show my daughter the path(s) to doing just that.”
Many of Fleet’s friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors were absolutely amazing to her during this time. She says that Mike’s close friends from the police department were absolutely invaluable in terms of taking on a lot of the funeral planning, so that no tradition was overlooked and that he received the kind of service that he so richly deserved.
“Our closest family and friends were also incredible when it came to making arrangements for what was an extremely large funeral,” she recalls. “Also, as chance would have it, both Kendall and I were very ill with the flu immediately before and for about a week after Mike passed away. Friends showed up daily with “front door packages” consisting of medications, food, magazines and messages of cheer. These are all debts that I will never be able to repay and memories of love that will stay with us always.”
Today, Fleet, who resides in her native Southern California, is the Chief Executive Officer and founder of Widows Wear Stilettos Inc. and www.widowswearstilettos.com; an organization dedicated to the education, support and mobilization of the widowed community; regardless of age, gender, “technical” marital status or sexual orientation. She is also the award-winning author of, “Widows Wear Stilettos: A Practical and Emotional Guide for the Young Widow” (New Horizon Press) and “I’m ‘Heeling’ One Day at a Time…” (Crystal Night Books); as well as the author and executive producer of the best-selling CD entitled, “Widows Wear Stilettos: What Now?”.
The first book, Widows Wear Stilettos: A Practical and Emotional Guide for the Young Widow offers support, education, hope, promise and a smile to widows of all ages, their friends and their families. Offering both practical and emotional guidance, “Widows Wear Stilettos…” addresses issues such as how to take ownership of the “Healing Journey”; coping with the opinions and insights from people who surround the widow as referenced earlier; fashion, beauty, diet and exercise tips (including quick and easy recipes); how and when to re-enter the “World of Dating”; advice on financial and practical transitioning (complete with “how-to’s”, checklists and guidelines) and helping children of all ages adapt and transition.
“The book also includes quizzes, journal space, affirmations, contracts and other activities designed to help the reader actually see recovery in progress,” she says.
Her latest release, “I’m ‘Heeling’ One Day at a Time: The ULTIMATE One-and-Only Question, Answer and Reference Guide to Life After Widowhood” is the first and only book of its kind; answering the most common questions that the widowed generally have both immediately following a spouse’s death as well as months and even years thereafter.
“These questions are excerpted from the thousands of actual letters that I have received over the years,” she says. “Since the questions featured are the more commonly asked questions by those who are themselves widowed, readers will likely find answers to most of the questions that they have concerning widowhood; dealing with everything from child rearing as a widowed parent to coping with relatives who fancy themselves financial wizards, to the ‘rules of intimacy’ and a wide-ranging variety of subjects in between.”
As with “Widows Wear Stilettos…”, “I’m ‘Heeling’…” provides readers with sound advice and hope for the future; as well as the comforting knowledge that they are not alone in the challenges that widowhood presents and that there are literally millions of others in their position who truly understand.
What motivated her to start the organization and write the books was the glaring lack of education and support for widows.
“It was also a desire to ease others’ pain and enhance the lives of widows of all ages,” she says. “It is incredibly rewarding to be able to educate, speak to, coach and enrich women in need on a global level; as well as help the widowed find comfort, solace and community with others; using both necessary practical advice as well as a little bit of humor when appropriate. And yes, there is a lighter side of widowhood!”
Although Widows Wear Stilettos will always target issues that concern those who are widowed at a younger age chronologically, Fleet says they are thrilled to have members ranging in age from 17 years to 88 years young.
“It is vital that the messages of ‘What now and what next?’ as well as the support and encouragement of the thousands of women involved with Widows Wear Stilettos continue to reach the millions who are so badly in need – a huge motivating factor in itself,” she says.
Based upon the thousands of letters that she receives, Fleet believes that the most difficult issue that faces those going through these kinds of losses inevitably involves the people who surround them.
“While most are well-meaning, the fact is that those dealing with loss are subject to largely unsolicited opinions, insights or otherwise ill-timed advice coming from people who are unequipped to be giving such advice – and they are giving this advice to people who are emotionally raw and extremely vulnerable,” she says.
She adds that when these opinions and observations do not coalesce with how the widowed or divorced are feeling at a particular moment or season in time, the loss survivors tend to automatically assume that something is wrong with them.
“Our mission is to help these people find their voice, assume ownership of their healing journeys and empower them to assume an attitude not of arrogance, but of determination – an attitude that conveys, ‘This is my healing journey and I am doing things in my way and according to my own timeline; not according to the timelines of those around me,’” she says.
Two pieces of advice that she has for those who are recently divorced, widowed, or separated to help them move on to the next phase of their life are:
- Accept that it is absolutely normal to experience feelings of guilt, fear and confusion; as well as suffer from an “identity crisis” of sorts (i.e., “Who am I without them?”);
- Commit to getting proactive about your healing by getting help and support from those who are in a position to give you both.
“As I have said many times and believe fervently, it is not a sign of strength to try and go through loss along; nor is it a sign of weakness to look at someone and say, ‘I need help with this,” she says.
Fleet says that it is both a privilege and her primary goal to help anyone who has suffered devastating loss, tragedy or a serious life challenge on their respective healing journeys.
“We want to teach as many as possible that there is life after loss of any kind and that while perhaps not the life that you might have originally anticipated, it is nonetheless a life that you are entitled to lead in happiness, in abundance and most importantly… in peace.”
For more information on Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, visit www.widowswearstilettos.com.