Marv’s wife Marty once told him, “To be happy, you have to decide to be happy.” Marv’s touching book “When the Rocks Sing” couples Marv’s voice, a man who lost his beloved wife to cancer, with the perspective of the grief counselor who walked the road of rebuilding and resiliency with him.
Join us for a heartwarming, inspiring, and wise interview with author Marv Weidner, whose poignant book, “When the Rocks Sing,” recounts his story of losing his beloved wife of 19 years to cancer and the incredible life lessons he learned as he grieved, found resilience, and rebuilt his life. One of those special lessons Marv learned is that resiliency is not about “snapping back” to life as it was. It’s about letting loss transform you into something new.
This is a wise interview with a remarkable man that will touch your heart and inspire you: “Grief resulting from the loss of a loved one can overwhelm us for a time, it will become part of us always, but it does not determine our future. We can choose to be happy, choose our purpose and how we will live each day.”
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- The emotional and physical intimacy Marv and Marty experienced during her cancer that was deeper and more spiritual than anything they had ever experienced before.
- The importance of keeping a person safe within our hearts with acceptance and love and without judgment.
- The ways Marty taught Marv that being happy is a decision.
- How Marv discovered a new sense of purpose after Marty transitioned.
- The insightful perspective of Carol Davis, Marv’s therapist, and co-author, who helped Marv to survive, ultimately thrive, and fall back in love with life.
- Please tell us about your precious Marty, describe your relationship, and tell us about your shared Zen Buddhism.
- What was Marty’s remarkable response to the news that she had cancer from which there was no escape?
- What was the inspiration for the title of your book, “When the Rocks Sing”?
- How does accepting the impermanence of life help us to survive a loss?
- What is the greatest gift you and Marty ever gave each other that transcends death?
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Marv Weidner: To Be Happy You Have To Decide To Be Happy
I hope this finds each of you so very well. I am delighted to have this opportunity to interview author Marv Weidner, who has written an insightful, wise and touching book titled When the Rocks Sing about the loss of his wife to cancer, his grief journey and finding the resilience to keep moving forward with life.
When the Rocks Sing is much more than a story about grief and resilience, it is also a love story. Marv’s love for his intelligent, loving, wise, and beautiful wife, Marty, can be felt as he recounts his story of losing his beloved wife of nineteen years to cancer and the incredible life lessons he learned as he grieved, found resilience and rebuilt his life. I especially appreciated how throughout the book, Marv coupled his grief journey with the insightful perspective of Carol GoldfainDavis, his therapist and co-author who walked the road of rebuilding and resiliency with him.
Before Marv and Marty met, he had earned an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Economics and a graduate degree in Theology. He is the Founder and CEO of Managing Results, a strategic planning company based in Gunnison, Colorado. He’s also a volunteer with Living Journeys, a local not-for-profit organization that provides services and support to cancer patients and their families and caregivers.
I’ll be talking with Marv about the courage with which his wife Marty faced cancer and her death, the value of staying present in the midst of trauma, the tremendous lesson Marv learned that being happy is a decision, the new sense of purpose Marv discovered after Marty transitioned and more for what is sure to be an inspiring, touching and wisdom-filled interview with a remarkable man.
Marv, a heartfelt welcome to the show.
Thank you, Irene. I’m delighted to be here with you.
It’s a pleasure for both of us. Let us have everyone get to know you a little bit. Could you tell us about your precious Marty? Describe your relationship with her, and tell us about your shared Zen Buddhism.
Marty and I were together for nineteen beautiful years. We had what some might call a couple bubble. We had a world unto ourselves. We raised children, ran a business and built a home together. We were very much in love and still are. We understood each other from the very beginning. We worked together before we were a couple, so we had a lot of shared experiences, and our shared values went very deep.
How did you originally meet her?
I was doing my consulting, and she was working for my first large local government customer, the city of Austin. We were charged to work together on a very large project. We got to know each other professionally and then as friends. Much later, we started exploring how we wanted to experience God in our lives. We leaned toward the Buddhist perspective about God being within us, all things being connected and living a life of gratitude in that way. We started studying at a Zen Buddhist temple in Hawaii because we happened to be working there at the time. We got to practice our meditation beginning at about 2000, and I continue to practice that.
You could see that as your story evolves, how that has provided you with so much comfort. We’ll talk about that too, I’m sure. Tell us about Marty’s remarkable response to the news that she had cancer from which there was no escape. How had you responded to that news? Please tell us about your decision to face it together. Your story is such a love story. It’s amazing.
To share a little bit about Marty, she was remarkably present. She didn’t worry much about the past because she couldn’t do anything about that, and she worried very little about the future as well. She was one of those precious souls that lived in the present moment. With the Buddhist practice around meditation, the goal is to be as present as possible, right down to simply focusing on your breathing. That’s how she was. She was very present in the moment and the day.
When we learned about her cancer and this was on the way to the hospital from Gunnison to Colorado Springs, she felt all of the concerns about daily life leaving her. She did weep. She cried during that ambulance ride, but as she shared it with my son and me later, it was because she was so happy with her life. She was crying out of a sense of joy rather than sadness or fear. She’s a remarkable person.
When we got the news, you probably recall in the book, my stomach fell. It was the most terrible news that we could ever possibly imagine. We tried to live the future that we had imagined was gone, and the past no longer mattered. We engaged all of the resources that we had built together over nineteen years to do everything together, face life straight on and honestly and not keep anything from each other. That was a guiding star principle for us to always share everything, not hold anything back and live with open hearts. When we got the news, we named it for what it was. It was terminal cancer, and we faced it together.
I would imagine the way you handled it. When she did pass, it gave you tremendous closure because you had not a single would have, could have or should have. I was that way about my husband, Saul. We were very close. He did not know he was on a conscious level and that he was going to die in the accident. “I’m so grateful, lucky and thankful to have you in my life,” that was the thing he said to me the night before he died. That comforted me so much because we had a similar relationship to you and Marty. We were right out there with our feelings.
I want to ask you also about your therapist, Carol GoldfainDavis. How quickly after receiving Marty’s diagnosis did you reach out to her? Please share some of the ways she helped you to survive, ultimately thrive and fall back in love with life. Selfishly, I asked the question because I believe in healing. A therapist has helped me so much in my life. Let’s talk about Carol a little bit and your relationship with her. The fact that you were so brave that you had no problem, so you said, “Let me go find someone to help me.”
Irene, you and I share that same perspective about getting help. None of us needs to go through this alone. We need community and someone whom we can go deep with. What Carol did was to create a safe space for me. Carol is a very wise and understanding listener who could empathize and understand what I was experiencing and give me a place where I could explore my deepest sadness, greatest memories and also fears.
Creating that safe space for me saved my emotional life. I’ve told her many times, “Not only would I not be here where I am as a person, but I wouldn’t be here without you.” A little bit of an insight from when she came into our lives. This was toward the end of the nine months that Marty and I had together after her diagnosis. It was probably a couple of months before she passed that we started asking for help, realizing how great our losses were becoming.
What I would encourage is to not wait. I would encourage everyone something if you encounter a terminal diagnosis or some very fearful news about a medical condition. In your case, Irene, it’s someone who experienced a sudden and profound loss. Reach out. Find someone who is deeply wise and skilled and who can provide that safe space. One of the things that Carol taught me is how to be with someone who is experiencing grief, and that is to just listen. Be quiet with them and listen to them at the deepest level possible.
About When the Rocks Sing, it’s like when the heart cries or sings, you witness that person’s experience. For some people, seeking a counselor is very difficult and alien to them. How did you find Carol? Did you go to the Yellow Pages, or did someone recommend her? What was that process about?
We were in hospice at that point. Marty’s condition, which we had known for quite some time, was well past healing. It was about helping her stay comfortable and ease her days. We asked the hospice nurses for help, and they referred us to Carol. Carol had previously been a social worker for the local hospice organization associated with our hospital. They knew her well and thought it would be a good match, and it was an extraordinary match.
I’ve been very blessed with counselors and therapists who have come into my life also and made all the difference in the world when I have that loving, understanding perspective to bounce off. Could you talk to us about the emotional and physical intimacy you and Marty experienced during her cancer illness? You say it was deeper and more spiritual than anything you’d ever experienced before and you two were close. How did it become even more intense as each precious moment took by?
It’s a deep part of our story. When we learned about the diagnosis and then through the progressive treatments of chemotherapy, whole brain radiation and several operations, we’re understanding that Marty was an independent woman and very much her own person. She had a great voice. She was extremely articulate. Over the months, she lost her ability to walk. I would lift her out of bed into the wheelchair, take her to the restroom, take her out to the windows where we were living on a mountain and serve her breakfast. She would see the birds and the deer running through the yard.
She became physically very dependent on me. That kind of physical and emotional intimacy became very spiritual for us. Over time, because of the whole brain radiation, she lost her ability to finish a sentence and then, ultimately, to speak. It became an intuitive process where she would start something, and I would do my best to finish her thought for her. She could acknowledge that I had it right or wrong by her facial expression. We began to talk to each other.
In a way, like telepathy.
Very much so. It was because of our heart-level connection that we were able to do that. Another comment about Carol being a helper is one of the things that happened for the last several weeks of Marty’s life, she very much wanted to see her relatives who live in Arizona, and they couldn’t all come. It was impossible for her to express the degree of importance of doing that because, in truth, she might not have physically survived that trip. She might have passed away on that trip. It was Carol who helped her express those emotions without verbalizing them so that we could have very clear confirmation that she knew the risks and she wanted to make the trip anyway. She made the trip, and we came back. She had a few more weeks of life after that.
She had closure also. What a beautiful thing, in a way. When the Rocks Sing, no stone unturned.
She was not afraid of death. What she was afraid of is that it would surprise her. Through those last months and weeks, what hospice nurses and I tried to do was we would tell her where her illness was and how it was progressing.
What was the inspiration for the title of your book, When the Rocks Sing?
One of the things that I realized coming from the depths of sadness that I experienced and it was the trauma that so many of us experienced in losing a family member is that I realized that my life was shrinking. To overcome that or recover from that, I decided that I needed to get out in the world and travel. I wanted to go to places that I’d never been to before and didn’t know anyone. I would force myself to come out again and be out in the world. I chose to go to Australia and New Zealand.
In New Zealand, on the South Island, there’s a place called Greymouth. I walked to that beach for three days and it was somewhere mid-afternoon on the second day that I realized that there was a sound that I couldn’t quite make out. It took several times for me to figure out what was going on, but as the large waves would come in, they would go out over the rocks that were on that beach. They’re beaten into disc shapes. They would chatter against each other.
What I realized was that at that point, my mind was calm enough, and my heart was still enough so that I could hear those beautiful, subtle sounds of nature. I realized that I was still in love with life. The title of the book references my experience because I hope for everyone who’s lost a loved one, that they too will come to a point when their mind is calm enough and their heart is still enough to hear those subtle, beautiful sounds of life.
That’s why I always ask people in my interviews about joy. You hope that you will get through that so that you can have joy again. The grief feels so devastating. Speaking of that, in your book, you talk about grief. Would you like to tell us what you’ve learned about grief, Marv? Is the process the same for everyone to you? What have you got to tell us about what you’ve learned about grief?
That’s a very important question. What I have observed and learned is that the grief process is not structured. It’s organic. It’s a process of very intense emotions. I describe them as a successive line of waves coming over me. Sometimes over time, they’ll become less frequent and less intense but it’s very individualized. My grief was solely about sadness. Others experienced a whole variety of emotions. We’re trying to give something structure that it doesn’t need and doesn’t exist.
It’s an organic process. It’s highly individualized. There’s no right timeframe by which you should be over it or through it. A loss like the one you’ve experienced, Irene and me and many of your readers, we never get over that. We learn to live with it and it becomes part of us. The love that we feel for our loved one continues and so does the grief in whatever form it takes in our lives.
As the years go by, you still miss and think about that person. For me, it’s not as intense. It informs your life in a lot of ways. It opens your heart to give you more compassion. Another theme running through your book, which is so important, is resiliency. Who taught you your first lesson about resiliency? How does resiliency help to let loss transform a person into something new, which is so important? When you have a loss, a side of that is snapping back to life as it was.
It will never be the same. Resiliency is not about being strong like an oak tree but it’s about being a willow. We bend in the wind but we don’t break. Resiliency is very much about recovery. It’s like communities that experience a flood or a natural disaster. How is it that they’re able to get back to business, kids going to school or be able to get back into their homes? Resiliency is something that we’re all born with. If you think about premature babies, they fight for life.
We all fight for life. We all want to continue our life and t find love, inspiration and wonder in the world. I experienced resiliency as a kid growing up in a farm country in the middle of Iowa. I would watch the cycle of the crops and the animals that would be raised and then become food. The cycle of life was very much all around me. The impermanence of life is what embeds in me our ability and resources to be resilient. There is no permanence. This is all a life in a cycle. Knowing, accepting and embracing the impermanence of life tells us we can continue.
We can come back from a hand grenade being thrown in the middle of our life. We can continue and recover. We will be changed, perhaps more compassionate and grateful. We do have the ability with the help of counselors, community and families to begin to rebuild a life in our timeframe. I have lots of stories about resilience from refugees from Southeast Asia to watching my son climb mountains that he didn’t know he could climb but we all have it within us. Knowing that gives us a lot of hope and strength as we try to recover from these great losses.
I don’t know if you would agree with me with this but to me, resiliency also has a lot to do with the story that you build for yourself around your loss and what you’re going through. A lot of it has to do with your history and the way people handled things when you were growing up and what you learned. Also, you can change that story. You can decide, “I will somehow get through this,” and you can employ people like your therapist to help you on that journey.
Those narratives that we build in our minds are what we bring into the experience and what we take out of it. One of the things that I talked about somewhat briefly in the book is the one thing to avoid is seeing yourself as a victim. It incapacitates your ability to keep your heart open and believe that life is going to continue to bring you to wonder and love.
Therefore, you keep yourself in the more good stuff that could be out there for you. Hang in that old story. The other thing I want to ask you is, how do you continue to connect with Marty now that she’s on the other side? I know that you do that. This is something that many of the people in our audience have experienced keeping that connection going. How do you two do that?
We do that in a couple of ways. Everybody does this in their way. Our shared grave site is on the edge of the small town where I live in Western Colorado. I’ll go out and have a chat with Marty and tell her what’s happening with our children. Sometimes I pose a question, and I hear an answer, almost instantaneously. There’s one place I go to tell her of how much I still love her and am grateful for everything that she brought into our world, all the love and the wisdom that she continues to share with me, our children and the people who knew her. It’s very much an internal process for me. It’s a very beautiful process that we have.
It’s so comforting to you to do that. I still talk to Saul too, and I know he is here. What is this new sense of purpose you’ve discovered after Marty transitioned? Do you want to tell us about that? You harnessed your resilience and went to therapy. What’s the evolved Marv about?
The before and after is while Marty was still alive. My main purpose in life was to be the best husband to her I could be. That was the organizing principle for my life and hers as well. When she passed, that purpose evaporated. To continue to love her was there, but that part of the way I was living my life was gone. A few months after I realized how lost I was without a sense of purpose. I spent a lot of time walking, meditating and talking to my kids, friends, community and Carol.
It was on a long trip that I took, similar to the one in New Zealand, that I realized that my purpose was to continue to live with an open heart. That’s how Marty and I framed our love and relationship, to live with an open heart with each other. Here I am, vulnerable and living with an open heart to what life and the people in it might bring to me.
What a great gift you give everyone in your life. You’ve shown them that you can go on and you can keep that great love with you. There is the greatest gift you and Marty ever gave each other that transcends death. Do you want to tell us about that?
One of the great gifts was that we had a conversation a couple of years before she passed, and that was what I call “the conversation.” Marty initiated this conversation. What do we want for each other? Should one of us pass first? It was a year and a half before the diagnosis. She started the conversation, and I followed the conversation. We wanted each other to be happy in all things, including love and family. Also, to continue to live life fully after one of us passed.
We had this moment when I was helping her from the bed one day, and she started laughing. This was a long way into the nine months. She was having a belly roller of a laugh. When she caught her breath, I said, “Tell me, love. What’s funny?” She said, “I thought you were going to go first to me.” She wants me to be happy and continue to live my life out as fully as possible, which is the greatest gift she could have given me.
What is Marv’s message about the importance of healing, hope, and resilience to those who may be about to experience a loss or actively grieving a loss? There’s something about the concept of integration that you talk about that has to do with all of this.
One of the things that I learned through the grief process was to allow the feelings to be expressed when they come up. Do not defer them, push them away or suppress them in any way. For me, that was exclusively about sadness.
It’s no matter where you were if the sadness came up like you were in a business meeting.
I told folks ahead of time that I may need to excuse myself. When those feelings came up, I walked out of the room. I told them I’ll be back in 20 or 30 minutes. I went to be alone or outside and allowed those feelings to be expressed. It’s a way of loving yourself and embracing the love for your lost loved one that’s there inside you. It’s a vital part of the healing process to allow those feelings to be expressed as they want to be expressed. That’s an essential part of the healing process.
The second thing I would suggest is to get help. You don’t have to do this alone. Stay close to your community and your family but be with someone who understands the grief process and can be there for you. Carol and I worked together intensively for two years after Marty passed. It was probably the most important thing that I could have done for the healing process.
She gave you a bridge for the rest of your life. It was wonderful.
She was the bridge. The third thing I mentioned is that for me, I was a bit of a writer to begin with, but I found that telling in writing and keeping a private journal of all the things I was experiencing and all the questions and thoughts that I had was important to me. It led me to write When the Rocks Sing.
Disintegration, is that about accepting all of the experiences and integrating everything into your package?
Yes, everything in my package and my life. It’s a bit of accepting that the greater the love, the greater the loss. That loss is an integral part of life. The better we are, the more willing we are to accept loss as a part of life. It makes it less fearsome and scary when it does happen. It positions us to find that resiliency and hope within ourselves. It finds ways that each of us needs to be able to move forward compassionately and with gratitude. We’re still here and have a life to live. It’s very much integrating all of that and accepting both the impermanence and the wonder of life.
In a way, the bottom line is your book is very uplifting because of what happened to you and how you came through it, from this great love that you had, how you did integrate it and moved on with your life. I’m encouraging everyone to get your book. Do you have a special offer for our audience?
I certainly do. Go to Ballast Books’ website. There will be a special code in honor of your work and show. If you enter the word Rebirth at the point you’re purchasing, it will give you a 20% discount.
Thank you for that. What is Marv’s important tip for finding joy in life?
Keep an open heart and mind to the wonder and love that can come or will come your way.
Stay open. Marv, I want to tell you that I so deeply resonate with this very wise quote from When the Rocks Sing, “It’s proven true in my own life, and it is grief resulting from the loss of a loved one can overwhelm us for our time. It will become part of us always, but it does not determine our future. We can choose to be happy, choose our purpose and how we live each day.” I want to thank you from my heart, Marv, for this inspiring, touching, and wisdom-filled interview. Here’s a loving reminder, everyone. Make sure to follow us and like us on social, @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram and Facebook. As I like to say, to be continued. Many blessings. Thank you again, Marv. Bye for now.
- Use code ‘Rebirth’ for 20% off Marv’s book: When the Rocks Sing
- Managing Results
- Living Journeys
- Follow Marv Weidner on Facebook
- Ballast Books – Referenced in this Episode