Grief Experiences and Effects
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.
I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye
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.
Stages of Grief
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.
Love is Stronger Than Death
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.