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Grief Experiences and Effects

Updated on February 22, 2016
Jean Bakula profile image

Jean has taught astrology and tarot for 40 years. She enjoys music, reading, knitting, gardening and meditation in her cottage in the woods.

Loss Of A Spouse

I spent thirty nine years with the love of my life when he died unexpectedly in January of 2014. We got along really well, teased of being the "perfect couple. He captivated me with his intellect, unique way of thinking, and the way he never judged, but always accepted others. He always put me on a pedestal, though I never understood why. Besides being first boyfriend and girlfriend, we were best friends too, growing up together, as our ages were the same.

We were never separated for more than one night in all those years, and then he had to go on a business trip for two weeks. It was hard, but I never dreamed that was preparation for what was to come. We had a lovely Christmas, and he was supposed to make another business trip soon afterward. A week before that, he seemed to have a stomach virus, and threw out his back and rib while vomiting.

I took him to the chiropractor, and as we walked into the lobby, he collapsed. The receptionist pushed a chair under him, and I was standing in front of it, holding his upper body in my arms. The doctor called an ambulance, but after that, my husband closed his eyes and his head fell onto my breast. I guess I knew then that he died, but didn’t want to know. I texted our son to meet me at the ER, praying I was wrong, but alas, my assumption was right. Later my friend, the receptionist at the office, admitted that the EMT’s told them he had no pulse when they put him on the stretcher. She was the first to know, and also the first to ask if I needed her to shop for anything personal I needed for his service, as she knew I would now have no time to myself.


Preparing For A Funeral Service

If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know how hectic and exhausting the next days are. Everyone needs to be notified, and you need to begin planning a service ASAP. I have no other family, so it was just our son and me. At one point we were manning four phones, the house one and all three of our cell phones. The morning after, when the main people were notified, would have been a great time for someone to offer to make a chain to notify others, so maybe we could have rested. Or anyone could have come to our house to answer some phone calls.

The company where he worked had people from a very diverse group of countries, and it was so difficult getting them to understand how we make arrangements and have funerals in the U.S. Many didn’t speak English, and those calls were the most heartbreaking, because they would just say his name into the phone and cry. So many people loved him. Plus they began work at 7AM, and kept calling me really early each morning, expecting me to empty his office and discuss his life insurance and benefits. I had to tell them there was no time for that before I saw to my husband’s final service. I would have killed to have a nap, or something to eat. At this point, you are in shock, and barely know what you are doing.

Grieving people can’t think clearly, but they need to keep strong. If you can help them with housework, cook for them, do some laundry, or go food shopping, it would be a great help. A ride to the undertaker’s office is of utmost importace, because he or she is one of the first on the list when those notifications begin. You must decide if you need an urn or a coffin, and what to put in the obituary so people know whether to send flowers or donations to charities. If you are doing a Celebration of Life, someone can help make posters of pictures of happy times you shared with your loved one. Having someone around to bounce off your ideas would really help, because in your shocked state you may not remember all the facts you need. It would be best if it's another family member, or someone you have known for years. A shoulder to cry on is good too.

You need to get an announcement in the newspaper, so people don’t miss the service. He was cremated, but a lot of flowers came, and there’s nothing to do with them if you don’t bury the urn, except donate them. So it’s important your friends and guests do not waste their money on something unnecessary. Later, someone could help send out Thank You notes to those who came to the service.


Feeling Early Stages of Grief

The day after the service, the phones were silent, and it’s been that way mostly ever since. People made so many promises. “Don’t worry, call me no matter what you need.” They all disappeared into the woodwork. Now, I understand that as friends, relatives and coworkers, they lost him too. But if you have no intention of helping, please don’t offer. It gives people hope that maybe someone will actually help ease the burden in some way.

I had an emergency electrical issue in the house about a month later, and called one of my husband’s old electrician friends to help. He just showed up unannounced with his wife early one Sunday morning, woke us up, and acted shocked to find us still sleeping. Did it never occur to them to call first? Then they both wanted coffee with sugar substitutes I didn’t have, and I had to wait on them hand and foot. The wife is heavy set, and the husband was examining all our kitchen chairs, embarrassing both her and us. It really just made us feel bewildered. He was unable to fix the problem all the way, and later that night, I had no light, heat or exhaust fan in my bathroom. I had to call an emergency electrician, and in my haste to get to the phone the next morning, I tripped and badly hurt my toe, limiting my mobility.

It kept snowing, we had over a foot of it several times, it seemed like all my son did was shovel. It was about 5 degrees out, and I could actually see his tears freezing on his face. Neighbors didn’t offer to help, though he and my husband always helped them. Nobody offered to pick up anything we needed from the store. The days and weeks to follow were so hard and lonely. Our family doctor left his practice, and I was referred to all specialists, who prescribed new medications. It was very a difficult development when so much was changing in my life. I would have appreciated a ride once in a while, it’s hard to drive when you are shaking to start with, then scared about new doctors and medications.

Grieving people really need somebody to talk to, so don’t keep away because you don’t know what to say. Just visit and the grieving people will do all the talking. They are shaky and shocked and will be that way for months. If you know of a good grief group that helped you or someone you know, now is a good time to mention it.

It’s really hard to get used to sleeping alone after so many years, though finally I can sleep. Having no extended family, I have a lot more to do to maintain my house, and I have to run all the errands, except those my son does. It's been 15 months now, and it's still exhausting sometimes. I didn't realize how much he did around the house. I miss the romantic part of our relationship. I want a hug. My son misses his Father, though he is in his mid-20’s and has been a great help. I must be mindful that he is in terrible pain too, and not to burden him too much.

People in their 50’s are saying thoughtless things to my son like, “My Dad just died, man, I understand what you are going through.” NO, they don’t. Being in your 50’s isn’t like losing a parent in your 20’s, before the parent has seen a lot of your life accomplishments. People telling me they lost their parents at age 100 doesn't help me either. Both my parents passed by the time I was 40, and you expect to lose them. Losing a spouse, your life partner, is much harder than losing a parent, because you live two lives as one. I had my husband to comfort me when both my parents died. I can't understand how people think the loss is equal. I do understand that all losses hurt though.


Moving on With Life After Loss

I am eventually got used to the fact he doesn’t come home from work at the end of the day. Our son is a vegetarian; I began to alter my eating habits because it wasn’t worth cooking separate meals. He is also becoming a pretty good cook on his own. I basically eat just to stay healthy, I have little appetite. The days are endless knowing I have no husband coming home to me. My son said Sundays were the hardest for him, so we started going for dinner and a movie, and that helped. You don’t have the same concentration, and need mindless things to pass the time. I did a lot of gardening when the weather improved, and took a course in Intuition and Clairvoyance, which led to more courses, and I found a new place to hang out at a Healing Center that teaches metaphysical topics, but has a main purpose of helping people heal Body, Mind and Spirit. Sometimes we are led just where we need to be.

But at times I have to push myself out, I have little energy, though I know it’s a process. People keep telling me to join things, but I think my course is good, I garden, I write, and have always been an avid reader. The paperwork is endless, there is so much to do with Social Security, death certificates, insurance policies. My parents died at 51 and 61, so I never had to help them apply for benefits, and it’s all new and confusing. If you are an accountant or have financial expertise, or know someone who does, a widow or widower can use help there. Or any older person who has been through the death or social security process can be a mentor. Changing names on bank accounts, getting rid of your loved one’s stuff (or not), and trying to move forward on days when you feel paralyzed is tough. A song you both loved, even sometimes things people say on a TV show, can set off an unexpected crying jag.

If one more person tells me “to get out of my comfort zone” I’ll scream. I’ve been so far out of my comfort zone this whole time, I might as well be living on another planet. I think I am coping pretty well. I go out, I see a therapist, and try to keep busy. Life does get easier, and I am slowly rebuilding and trying to find new things to do. I find people try to ignore me, as I am a reminder of what will happen to their couple relationship one day. Our culture seems to have no idea about how to deal with death, and think healing progresses in a straight line. It doesn’t. Some days I feel OK and they are good. Some days I feel like I can never reinvent my whole life again, which is basically what I have to do. It takes time.


Keep Quiet if You Don't Know What to Say

Several people have asked me if I want to remarry soon. Who? I was with the same person for 39 years, since I was 18. I turned 60 this summer. I wouldn’t know how to be with someone else, and that’s the farthest thing from my mind right now. A neighbor even told my son he should get his own apartment so I can date. He can’t afford that now, and that was hurtful to him. How can anyone expect me to be thinking about dating even a year after a relationship that lasted for decades?

Women seem to be avoiding me. Several keep offering to take me “out to lunch”, but that never seems to materialize. And since I stay up late writing and sleep late, I don’t even eat lunch. Anyway, why lunch? Would it kill them to invite us over to dinner, to be with their families for an evening? Are they afraid I want to steal their husbands? I’m so shocked at our lack of invites anywhere. My love and I weren’t joined at the hip, we did things separately. Nobody invited my son and I over for any holiday occasions, even though his side of the family knows I have no other family. But they all asked if “we had a nice day!” My husband and I always cooked all the holiday dinners, so we never had to decide whose side of the family we would visit for which holiday, we never left anyone alone. I had strangers who had no place to go at my table. I can’t believe how thoughtless people are. Is everyone so much in their own little world they have no room at the table or in their hearts for people who are alone and hurting?

But mostly my son and I are finding our way forward, it just takes longer than unrealistic people seem to believe. Once you get through all the holidays once, at least it’s a little easier next time. Or sometimes not. I'm finding now in the second year, that I was in shock the first year, and am actually hurting more sometimes. That's when I realized that this is my life, and it will be what I make of it. Since I was half of a couple for so long, it was hard to walk into a party alone the first few times I did it. I don’t expect to have fun yet, but sometimes when I’m out I feel better. Not always though, it depends on the company. I’m learning to be choosy about that. You won’t ever totally forget or heal, you’ll just learn to adapt. There is no such thing as closure. Most people don’t want to hear that, because they have to face the fact the same will happen to them some day. I know I must forgive them for the hurtful things they say when they think they are being so helpful.


Little Ways to Help Cope With Grief

So give your grieving friends a break, and try to be thoughtful. It’s really useful if at least you call to chat for a bit, or go visit. If you can’t do either, send a card, or bring some flowers or a treat. Invite them over, they need to go out, even for a walk or a ride. Beware, bereaved people have mood swings, because sometimes odd things trigger memories that cut so deep. I have one friend who now says, “My husband” about 50 times in each conversation. I swear. It rips my heart out. I am now avoiding her.

Make positive changes when you are ready. Early on, my son noticed how devastated I looked each time I came out of the bedroom shared for all those years. In a few weeks, he and a friend repainted it a nice color I chose, and moved around the furniture. It was too soon to get rid of my husband’s stuff, but we whisked it out of sight. It helped to make it “my” room.

I do realize my good fortune at having a man who loved me faithfully for 39 years, and I him. So many people never have that, and I treasure it. We have a beautiful son, and a nice home. We travelled to many beautiful places. He taught me to love the woods, to be more patient, that love was unconditional. He left me in good financial shape. He didn’t suffer, he died fast. Oh, so fast. I feel him with me at times, and know he is watching over us both. I know we were together before, and will be together again in another life. A few people showered me with religious platitudes, but I’m not religious, so don’t try to push your religion on someone at a time like this, especially if the person is a Pagan like me.

I decided Christmas will be too hard for us here, so we are going to Antigua for the holidays. My husband passed only several days after we took our Christmas tree down last year, and there’s no way we can just buy one without him, and put the ornaments we spent our lifetime collecting on the tree. We always made a weekend of trimming the tree. I just can’t face that this year. I know the mantra, “You need to make new traditions now.” But I’m 60, have lost many loved ones, and you can only change all your traditions so many times.

As I write this a few months later, the change of scenery did us good, but it was still Christmas without our loved one, so maybe it wasn't worth spending so much money to get away. We never even did anything with the pictures we took, it's like we don't want to see them, since he wasn't part of the vacation. We missed his energy.

This December was our second Christmas without him. We did buy a small, living, 2 foot pine tree, and decorated it with all new ornaments that had no memories. We weren't able to face the old ones yet. But it was pretty, and we enjoyed the tree. It is now planted outside, a new tradition we think we will enjoy. During the summer we had to install a new septic system, and it destroyed many of the plants my husband and I planted, we loved to garden. So I am looking forward to planning how to replant and change the back yard.

We spent Christmas Eve with my sister in law, and my son is getting closer to his cousins. We didn't want to intrude on their Christmas day though, so we exchanged a few gifts and went out to a Chinese restaurant. I know that's shocking to people who have family members who all have long life spans, or are living in the 1950s yet, but actually, quite a few people eat out on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We spent Thanksgiving with friends too.

Time Really Does Heal

Taking off my wedding ring is the hardest thing I ever had to do. My love designed and had my engagement ring made, an emerald set in silver, to protect me, as we were both young Astrology students at the time. I keep putting the rings on and off. But I finally took them off for good on the 1st year anniversary of my loss.

I made a few mistakes moneywise, even though I was the one who paid the bills, so if you are ever in my position, get a good financial advisor. I think it will work out fine. After I finished the Clairvoyance class, I noticed my Tarot readings were so much better, I was connecting the dots in a whole new way. I was asked to be the new Tarot reader at the Healing Center where I took the course. All different people do Reiki, other massages, there are shamans, and all kinds of Intuitives, and I fit right in. I’m making new friends there. I’m learning about aromatherapy and essential oils, and had a lot of work done on my house this summer. I go out more, but still have hard days where I just need to cry or be by myself, and I stopped beating myself up about that.

Our son is teaching in first grade now, and is being groomed to run his own business in martial arts one day, something he loves. He’s been great and I’m proud of him. He's been a great comfort to me, and I hope I am to him.

Now good memories are returning. We smile and laugh again. We don’t think about it so much. I believe in reincarnation and know I was with my husband before and will be again. We aren’t sure what else the future holds for us, but then, I guess nobody really does, do they? We’re going to be alright. Most of the time, anyway. We won't ever be able to forget him, and will always carry him in our hearts.


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    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 22 months ago from New Jersey

      Hello Jonnycomelately,

      I'm glad you read and commented, and hope I helped you in some way. People don't like to speak of death and grief. I began writing this and it finally took me about 6 months to be able to, I was still too close to the night my husband died to have distance from it.

      I've always been interested in Astrology, and over the years got into all kinds of metaphysical subjects. It helps me more than any organized religion. Reincarnation and meditation and many other things have been more useful to me. Many people are unable to grieve for a long time, and hold it in, not realizing they are doing it. Anything can trigger it off. Society expects us to "get over" it in about 3 days, when our whole world gets turned upside down. I'm doing better, but not too many people have reached out, and losing him was losing a set of hands too, I have a lot more responsibility now. We were together since we were 18, so I feel like someone cut me in half, and people think I should be dating. We have to do what's best for us. Losing your friend in such a hard way must have been awful for you. Take care.

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 22 months ago from Tasmania

      Jean, your writing has helped me. Thank you. Putting some of my feelings into words for me has helped to understand what I was going through....when a young guy, whom I really felt for but who was going through dark stuff I never even imagined, hung himself. I have not shed much of a tear for him, the crying was done on the inside mostly.

      Your Pagan insights and all the things that you seem blessed in and with, like Aurora, Reiki, Colours, I don't have a real "belief" in but they are exciting things that can and do uplift me somehow.

      Please keep writing.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 2 years ago from New Jersey

      Hi Cs-miravite-blogs,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I recall my Mom being that way years ago when my Dad passed on. My husband didn't even seem sick, so it was a big shock. I do remember any kind thing anyone did. But it seems people are uncomfortable with me, maybe I am a reminder that one half of a couple dies first, it can't be avoided. I'm getting out, but sometimes I still cry and suppose it will be that way for a long time. But I am trying, and we had a son, in his mid 20's, who I need to stay together for. We are helping each other through.

    • csmiravite-blogs profile image

      Consolacion Miravite 2 years ago from Philippines

      Death of a love one is so painful and can bewilder anybody who faces it. When my dad died decades ago, my mom just collapsed and unable to move. My brother and I took care of the arrangement --- selecting the coffin, attending the wake, burial arrangement --- while grieving. I remembered appreciating a cousin for giving us a basket of muffins during the wake, when we were too fagged out to move and eat. The experience was so overwhelming that little acts of kindness can go a long way in easing the pain.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 2 years ago from New Jersey

      Thank you, Perspycacious,

      Writing about that early period when I was so shocked helped me to see that I am moving forward in little ways. I realized too, that without him, since we were together almost 4 decades, I wasn't the same person anymore, and I had to document that to face myself too. So it was therapeutic. I understand most people stay away because they don't know what to say, or because they want to ignore the fact that their own loved ones will die. But it's no excuse. Culture in the U.S. does nothing to prepare for death, or to help create manners that would help others through. People always ask me what I'm going to write next, and suggest a book. But I don't want to write a grief book yet. Thanks for your kind words. Take care.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Everyone grieves in their own way, and nobody else knows what that way is. This is a fine Hub to pass along at the right time to groups when a member of the group has experienced such a loss, so other members of the group can follow your suggestions about great ways to be supportive and helpful at such a critical time.

      I'm proud of you for putting your experience into words others can reflect upon, support others, and heal from. Thanks.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 2 years ago from New Jersey

      Hello Danagoodman,

      Thanks for your kind words. I know people are well meaning, it's just they either don't know what to say, or feel you are "tainted" with death and they are afraid it will happen to them. I read yesterday that 85% of women outlive their husbands. I am keeping busy, but that has resulted in feeling overwhelmed. I feel better at times, but don't have fun, it's just not as bad. I am grateful my son is still here. People don't seem to get it. Thanks for writing, you can write to me if you need somebody to talk to.

      Hi Dessert Bunny,

      I am so sorry you had to suffer illness as well as deal with your loss. I know you don't want to hear "how strong you are" I want to smack the next person who tells me that. Keep in touch if you need to talk. I hope your children are a help to you, but am unsure how old they are. So all your friends left too? It seems common. Blessings and hugs to you too.

    • danagoodman profile image

      Dana Goodman 2 years ago from Kamloops, British Columbia

      I am so sorry for your loss! How painful. I am sorry people did not bear witness to your pain. I too have lost a husband and peoples' comments sometimes feel like steel wool on the heart.

    • profile image

      Dessert Bunny 2 years ago

      I read your story and it was just so sad. I can relate to your feelings as I lost my husband 3 years ago and my circumstances are more or less the same as yours. One never gets over it - you just learn to live with it. Well I do not have any real friends left - they all left when my husband died so all I have are my 3 children and I am so thankful that I have them. I stay alone in our big old family house and it can get very lonely at times. I have 3 dogs which does help but sometimes I would love just to have a friend that can visit or maybe can go to have some coffee with. Last December I got very sick and nearly died. But I survived open heart surgery and it is just terrible to be alone when you are that sick. I have my children but one wants to have your husband with you. Life will never be the same. Blessings and hugs.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 2 years ago from New Jersey

      Hi justom,

      Yes, we all lose people we love, there's no getting around it. I just wish people would talk about death more, everyone avoids it. I've felt so pressured to "act normal" when almost everything in my life is different. Even the littlest things. People try to say the right thing, but I'm sort of surprised some of them are so old and have never had someone close to them die. It's so hard, and a part of you dies too.

      I am trying to do more things, but was half of a couple for so many years, it gets overwhelming and exhausting. And then people seem to think that means I am OK, but the grief doesn't travel in a straight line. I can do a lot one day, and completely fall apart the next. I think I'm doing pretty well, but it's hard to see a future without him right now. It takes time. Thanks for writing back and I hope things are all good with you. Peace.

    • justom profile image

      justom 2 years ago from 41042

      Hello Jean, I hope you and your son are doing better. I had to go through all this when my dad died several years back. I had help and still felt overwhelmed. Great hub! Take care ~ Tom Peace!! (I left a comment yesterday but something must have happened and it didn't show up)

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 2 years ago from New Jersey

      Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your kind wishes, and it's nice to see you. I tried to write this for a long time, because I wanted other people to benefit from some of my experiences.

      People in the U.S. really ignore death, our work places expect you to come back in 3 days and act like nothing happened. I understand it's not easy (for sure) but the topic really needs to be addressed more.

      I realize I am fortunate that I was loved so much by such a great guy, and he worked 6 days a week. So he left us in good shape. But he played as hard as he worked, and I have a lot of good memories. Our son is a real blessing to me. We were not going to have any kids, because I have bad scoliosis and it's hereditary, and had a change of heart 13 yrs. into our relationship. It really changed us!

      There's good and bad days, and now I decided to stop listening to people who don't get it, and grieve on my own timetable. I'm different now, and am finding new things to do. Everything happens for a reason, and I was holding him at the end, so I know he didn't suffer. Take care, hope to see you around.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 2 years ago from Arizona

      I saw your name and I try to keep up with favorites on HubPages when I can. I am so sorry about your loss, and know that people can be thoughtless. They are also uncomfortable with death as are many. We are all so fragile and never know when the moment will arrive. I hope you muddle through this and find a comfy place. You have two good things--your son and financial security and they are major. Wishing you the best.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 2 years ago from New Jersey

      Hello Nell Rose,

      I began writing this about two months ago, but the grief was still too close, and it was more about what happened the night he died. He was only 58, and showed no signs of health issues, we really thought it was just a stomach virus. He had been under a lot of stress. I'm just grateful my son still lives at home. We have slowly been adjusting, but it's hard. The clairvoyant I met at The Healing Center said his eulogy, and invited me to a Women's Meditation Group, and at the end of March, I took her Intuition and Clairvoyant class, as I have waking visions, and my son is beginning to also. The place has been a life line to me, all the people are nurturing and schooled in one or more healing disciplines. I'm getting out more, I don't have much choice, having to depend on myself. But I'm not the same person I was when I came to HP, and felt I had to write this for a long time. It feels good to get it all out.

      Thank you for your kind thoughts, you have always been so kind and sweet. I didn't write it to make anyone feel sorry for me. But people are so thoughtless (I had to stop writing at some point) I hoped maybe the hub would help another woman in my situation. Love and Blessings, Nell Rose.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Oh Jean I am so so sorry for your loss, I was crying with you here, people are so darned selfish, I was going to swear but thought I had better not on here!

      What is wrong with people? asking if you are going to remarry? What? are people heartless? yes it seems to be that way these days, things go so fast, people seem to have turned off their feelings and compassion, I can't believe how you coped, who would? all I can say is a big hug to you, and I hope things do get better for you as time goes on, you have had one hell of a shock, take care and take one day at a time, hugs, nell

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