Rebuilding Your Life after the Death of a Spouse
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Mishael Porembski seemingly had it all. She had an inspiring career in network news, a happy, faith-fueled marriage with her chiropractor husband, a darling three-year-old daughter, with a second child due in just two months.
Then it all stopped. A cryptic note, a missing husband, and ultimately a phone call that changed Mishael’s life forever. Her husband had taken his own life.
With her life in tatters, Mishael gave birth to her second daughter just two months later. Then, tragedy struck again. Just a few months after that, her mother succumbed to breast cancer. In her words, “Stick a fork in me, I was done.”
What should have been the happiest days of her life was now nothing more than a harrowing battle to get through each day.
But somehow, someway, Mishael tenaciously and courageously rebuilt her life. With a warrior’s spirit, she slowly but surely put the broken pieces back together. Now, nine year’s later, she is not only sharing her story in a new book but has developed a program to empower grieving widows who may think their life died when their husband did.
I recently sat down with Mishael to discuss 180 Your Life: From Tragedy to Triumph (written with Larry Keefauver, DD), her journey of recovery, and some highly valuable tips on overcoming grief.
From your husband’s death to the point where you felt you were in a place to start working on this book, how long of a period was it? What was the motivating factor to actually share your story?
I really, really struggled and I didn’t want to be part of the sorority of widowhood. So, I really didn’t seek out other widows actively for about four and a half years. I lost time by doing that. I encourage people to get into a team of people who understand your kind of loss. Because I lost time and I think it is a waste. I started exercising. I started training for triathlons. I had never done a triathlon. I was a theater major from the Univ. of North Carolina (Chapel Hill). I’m not necessarily the most coordinated person but I thought let myself do something big and crazy … the swimming really scared me but I wanted to overcome something. And I think overcoming stuff with your body is really important to help your mind and spirit do that. So, I trained for the Irongirl Triathlon in 2009. I kept training and doing events. And then in 2013, I reached out to other widows because I was part of these different grief groups. I asked if anyone would be interested in training for a triathlon with me. I wanted to put the pieces together of healthy eating and exercise in support of community with people who understood my kind of loss. Seven very brave widows said yes. We got together and started training. And I saw our lives change in the span of four and a half months. I thought that’s what I want for other women going through grief because that’s what I felt. I felt that if I could achieve this goal by taking on something, it doesn’t have to be a triathlon. Get together with your team, people who understand your kind of loss – your support people. Train mind, body, and spirit while making healthy and wise choices. In my book 180 Your Life, these principles are biblically based. One of the keys is to help others along the way. This to me was the secret sauce that revolutionized my life.
What are the core tenets of 180 Your Life?
The core principles come under three main topics: Team, Train, Triumph.
Team: A team should not operate as a grief group but a group that is dedicated to a common goal. Make it simple. A walk for a cause or a 5K are a good way to start. But whatever you do be sure to cross that finish line.
Train: Train body, mind, and spirit. Make healthy and wise choices that are Biblically based.
Triumph: Make a goal and achieve it. Something like crossing that finish line even if it takes you ten years to do so. It is also important to help others.
This program addresses the whole person. And when you do that you create a baseline, a foundation after the chaos of loss. You create a foundation of peace, strength, and wellness. And from that place you craft a life you love. You create your new normal. You cannot craft your new normal on top of chaos or rubble. You must clean and create.
On paper, the core tenets for 180 Your Life looks great. But nothing is foolproof and I am sure there are speed bumps along the way in the recovery process. It can’t be that simple. Is there a more detailed process that people can go through?
There are eight steps in 180 Your Life. The eight steps are:
Empower Your Ground Zero: In other words, empowering those around you to help you and to also find your resources.
Forge your team: It’s all about finding and empowering your posse. In other words, people who want to help you. Out of that group of people you will have a team. Because they create order out of chaos – they can be friends, family, or church members who want to help. But eventually you need to find your support group of people who specifically understand your kind of loss.
Go into Team Mode: From there, you will engage with a very specific deadline. In that process, you train your mind, body, and spirit. You are training your mind by simplifying your processes. For example, your finances, home, clearing the clutter, and empowering your family to work as a team so that mom is doing all the chores by herself.
Train Your Body: Take away foods that are weighing you down and understanding why they do that. Understanding what your body is doing while you are grieving – adding proper supplements, super foods, and healthy recipes so that you can strengthen your body. Grief is actually physical. It messes with your digestive system so that you can rebalance your body. And get a proper night’s rest.
Train Your Spirit: Practice forgiveness, release anger, and practice gratitude. Those are choices. Those choices actually have physical benefits in your body. Studies show that practicing gratitude helps normalize your heartbeat. When you are forgiving or releasing anger you are releasing good endorphins in your body.
Crossing Your Finish Line is a Ten Year Goal: Living your legacy is about helping others. When you help others there is something you get called a “helpers high”. It is an endorphin release and is healthy for you. Just like the endorphin release you get when you exercise, you also experience that when you help people. This actually helps combat depression.
Unveiling Your Triumph: Be sure to honor and acknowledge your journey for the last year.
Have a Celebration: The eighth and final step is a dinner that honors your loss, honors your journey, and speaks forward for where you are going. This is a cycle. This is how I live my life. I’m in the ninth year. You don’t need to drop it after a year. These are wonderful life principles so circling back to what do you do them again is fine. That’s why you are in a team environment. This is because you need accountability. You need to be open and honest and say, ‘You know what? I’m really having a hard time forgiving right now.’ ‘I’m having a really hard time forgiving the fact that I’m a widow and I still have to raise my two children.’ Well, I’m going to open up to my team members and say, ‘I’m having a hard time right now.’ They will pray with me, encourage me, and it’s a choice. When I’m having a difficult time with those choices I say to the Lord, ‘Heal my heart and mind and help me to trust you. And help me to make wise decisions. Give me wisdom.’ In James it says, “If you ask for wisdom He will give it to you liberally.” And I’m amazed that after this journey of nine years that praying that simple prayer has brought me to the place where I am talking to you.
What have you learned about yourself by writing and creating the 180 Your Life curriculum?
I have learned that I am a warrior. The Lord has brought me through the fire to be a warrior to defend and protect those who are going through loss by giving them a practical road map. By using my loss to giving them the roadmap so they aren’t lost in loss but that they actually go to the heart of it and find the wellspring of life. That wellspring is the Lord.
This book has been several years in the making. 180 Your Life is a deep and comprehensive look at overcoming grief. When we boil this all down, as an author, after people read this book what is your greatest hope for them?
There is a Bible verse;, that became my anchor verse. It says, “I cried in anguish to the Lord and He answered me by setting me free.” I want to help set people free. I want people to lead their life, to live their best life in such a way that it helps others. In helping others people will find a new sense of joy. It will be unbelievable.
180 Your Life is a movement. I intend for this to be a movement. I’m not going to stop with women. I want people to have goals and a future where they feel like, ‘Yes! I can do this!’ A place where they see a life for themselves beyond loss. When you go through the fire of grief, God changes you to become a very specific tool for a very specific job. I want to empower people to use their loss and not to put it away and hide it. That is your greatest testimony that no one can take away from you.
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