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December 21, 2018 GMT

When we experience the loss of a spouse or other loved ones, there are decisions to be made.

“Grief is usually for a season, yet after we begin to come out from under that painful and dark cloud of grief, we need to make some choices,” said Mary Cullen, widow of the famed Houston oilman and philanthropist Roy Henry Cullen, who passed away in 2014. “Those choices include if we want to have a positive or negative life.

“I have chosen a positive life, and I’m not saying it was easy, but it is what I work toward each and every day. For example, every morning when I wake up, I review yesterday and all of the blessings and good things that took place. This helps me move forward in my day being grateful. Being grateful for the good things in our lives is a very important part, I think, of having a positive life. I also surround myself with positive people.”


Mary and Roy Cullen were married for 44 years and were very active. They traveled the world and Cullen has many interesting stories to tell, such as about their trip down the Amazon and traveling down the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea.

The Cullens also took tango dance lessons together, were active in the community, supported many non-profits through The Cullen Foundation, raised six children, and had a good life they had built together.

His death was unexpected and sent a media storm to the Cullen’s family home.

After her husband’s death, her grief was extensive and even though she has family, she felt very lonely and isolated.

“I did not know what grief was until I faced it with Roy’s death. It was very difficult. I left Houston and went to Chicago where we have an apartment. There I saw an excellent grief counselor who really helped me understand what I was going through, and to begin to move forward. I also joined a grief group here in Houston that I went to every week that was very important to me,” Cullen said. “I went to this group for just over three years. Those in the group understood what I was going through, which those who haven’t experienced such a loss, they may not have understood what I was talking about. I also understood what others in the group were talking about.”

Very slowly, the sun began to peak through the darkness of her grief.

“I will always remember that day, after Roy had been gone almost a year, that I was taking a walk in the park. As I walked, I saw a beautiful flower. Before, I could not see the flowers or feel them, I was so shrouded in grief. And then right there beside the sidewalk was this beautiful flower, and I stopped and just looked at it. I felt so lucky to see this flower; it was beautiful,” Cullen said.


Even though Roy was the love of her life, and she will always cherish every moment they had together, she has chosen to create a new life.

“My counselor in Chicago told me that the life I had with Roy was over, that I had lost that reality and now I needed to create a new reality, a new life. He said I had to chose to make this new reality either negative or positive. I chose positive,” Cullen said.

Cullen wants anyone who is suffering a loss to know you do not have to go it alone. There are numerous grief groups and counseling centers around Houston. HGI Counseling is a 40-year-old nonprofit that Cullen has supported and assisted in starting a grief group.

Today, Cullen stays busy traveling and her calendar stays full of activities. She also spends time with family and friends.

“Sometimes I enjoy doing things alone, and other times I spend time with friends and family having fun,” Cullen said.

Exercise is also important to her.

“I exercise on a regular basis and I am going to start taking tai chi, which I understand is good for one’s balance. At this age, seniors are known to fall, so strengthening balance is important. Since I have had a couple of friends fall with serious results, I find that I am more deliberate with my movements, and am more careful,” Cullen said.

Cullen also works to maintain a healthy and proper diet and a healthy sleep pattern.

“I have found that if I use a few drops of lavender oil on my cheeks at night it helps me to sleep better,” Cullen said.

Many people might be surprised to learn that Roy loved to tango dance, and the Cullens danced often. Today, Mary is continuing to take tango dance lessons in Houston, and she also travels to Argentina with friends, where she also takes lessons.

She also takes many continuing education classes at a host of different venues, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Hoover Institute; and Women’s Institute.

“The new director at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Gary Tinterow, is doing a fabulous job in bringing in world-class art exhibitions, and he has done an exceptional job with education and programs, which I’m sure has increased the attendance at the Museum,” Cullen said.

Staying active is important for Cullen to maintain her positive approach to life. She still has a number of things on her bucket list, such as visiting Iceland, Easter Island, Alaska and Bolivia — the only country in South America she has not been to.

“I also enjoy time with my family and my grandchildren,” Cullen said.

Cullen also believes in a higher power; and that there are many things each of us can be thankful for each day. Cullen counts each one, and silently whispers “thank you.”