Reflecting On The Stages of Grief and Loss - With Appreciation and Love
As years pass, one becomes more reflective about life and loss. This past year, I was given the gift of time to deeply contemplate my life's journey but more importantly to reflect on the people who were a significant part of this journey and to put in perspective the stages of grief and loss that I had been through.
This is my reflection on one person who has been part of my thoughts since the day he chose to take his own life. We were divorced. He was the father of two daughters. It took years for me to understand that he struggled from depression. He covered it with confidence.
This story is told to him. He left this life not knowing that he played an important role in making me who I am today. That confidence made me strong. He represents the beginning of many life lessons.
I Will Always Love You
In 1973, we got married. In the end, I chose to leave you, Mike, but the lessons from you are still being learned today. To my first love, there is so much that you need to know. I hope that I can do justice to you and to the contribution that you made to my life.
In the beginning, you were my salvation. In high school, you didn’t need me. I needed you. There was something about having a boyfriend that increased my confidence. And when you went off to college, it was the very push that helped me stand up to my mother. She hadn’t thought college was important but I couldn’t take the chance that you would meet someone else and leave me. I was afraid of losing you. I chose the college that you chose. I had no idea what I wanted to study. I had no plan other than to make sure you didn’t leave me behind.
Throughout our early years, I tried to be the exact kind of person that you wanted me to be. You were the one who thought that it would be cool if I smoked. You even bought my first pack of Virginia Slims. You said “See they’re meant for you. They have flowers on them!” So I learned how to smoke!
At one point, you felt that I was too, oh I don’t know, weak I guess. I don’t know what you actually said but my perception was “stop being whiney, stand up for yourself!” That was the message you sent during that disastrous first semester of college. You were right. I heard you and, because I wanted to do whatever you wanted, I changed! The message was clear, I needed to take care of myself! It was then that I began to learn how to do just that.
But then you got drafted into the Army. You were afraid! Everything that I had ever known about you spoke of self confidence! With everything else in your life, you were in charge.
But then came the draft lottery. Your number was 48. You needed to report to basic training!
While you were gone, I found a stronger voice, a more confident me! I found the field of special education and fell in love with the courses but also found my voice in those classes. I was quite clearly happy!
Then, you called and said “Let’s get married!” I was stunned but thrilled, so believe it or not, I immediately quit school and joined you for the rest of your tour of duty!
Just By Loving Me, You Gave Me Strength!
Look at this bride, Mike! This is a bride who broke with tradition. I planned a wedding in less than two months. I not only didn’t have a white wedding dress, I didn’t want one! I wanted to be different. I felt strong and confident but I still didn’t want to lose you.
Look at the smile on that girl’s face! She was happy to stop what she was doing and join you! You were my strength!
Your mom and dad thanked me! They said “He needs you!” I had never been needed by anyone. I smiled when they said this but secretly thought “boy you don’t know your son very well. He is the strong confident one.”
What I would find out much later is the fact that they knew their son very well!
You Were The Ultimate Strong Person!
In the beginning of our married life, my role was to just be your wife. We built a life with other guys in the Army and a few people from around the area. I sometimes felt jealous and vulnerable. I tried to be a strong person but deep down, I was not. To me, you were the ultimate strong person!
During that time though, your dad suffered a stroke. It broke your heart to be so far away from him. You also felt a need to be there to help with the family business, so as soon as your tour of duty was up, we returned so you could run your dad’s small retail store.
Your dad recovered but was, then, basically retired. Still, he and your mom came weekly to help out. They said that they liked staying busy. Now, I think that your dad provided you with a stability. It wasn't until after he died that I realized how deeply you depended on him. I should have paid closer attention to your signs of insecurity.
On The Surface, Everything Looked Great!
Over time, we had two beautiful little girls, I got a teaching job, we bought a house, and on the surface everything actually appeared perfect. Periodically, though, you would make fun of me and I worried constantly that you would want someone better than me.
What people didn’t see was your increasing demands for me to help out at the store as well as raise two little girls, and work full time at the school district. Even I didn’t realize that everything that I was earning was going into our household expenses because everything you made at the store was going back into the store.
Then your dad died. It was one of the only times that I ever saw you cry! It was the first time that I literally felt that you were lost. It was like you were dropped into a deep dark hole.
Arrogant Confidence, Hidden Insecurity!
More than anything, you wanted to prove that you could make a decision without your dad present but when your choice of a new store location turned into a disastrous losing proposition, you would actually sob at night. The next morning though, the arrogant confidence would come back. At one point then, a miracle of sorts happened. You were able to sell this new store to a friend of your’s and the burden was lifted from your shoulders. However, instead of being grateful, you turned on the bragging, over confident, arrogant person.
When your friend then struggled with the business, you laughed and said “Not my problem!”
Taking Charge Of Me While I Was Losing You!
As time passed, I became a more confident person. You became jealous of the things that I was doing. You dealt with it in hurtful ways making me feel guilty but at the same time encouraging me to keep going. This would, later, be called "emotional abuse". Oh, there were so many things that I didn’t understand, Mike. I didn’t know that you were trying to tell me that you had insecurities because on the surface you were so annoyingly confident and arrogant! So I just became frustrated and angry.
You had always been the one who had wanted me to be confident and take charge of my life and now, it seemed that my confidence was the very thing that irritated you. I didn't understand.
Searching For Strength...Apart!
In the end, I left you. I felt as though someone was actually grabbing me by the collar and saying “Get up and get out of here!” I told you that I needed a divorce. In public, you laughed about it. On the day of the divorce, you cried but up until that time, all I ever saw was the arrogant confidence. That was what made it easy for me to not change my mind.
I truly had not taken to heart the words your parents had said when we got married. “He needs you!” I never really felt that to be true even after we divorced.
Instead I went back to school to get certified to be a school administrator. It was something that I didn't have time to do while we were married because of all the time that I was needed at the store.
You seemed to move on too. You bought a condo and a sailboat.You took our girls on an unforgettable vacation to Florida with that sailboat and you were making plans to take it back to Florida with other friends for the winter.
I stopped into the store one day because I needed your signature on something. You asked how school was going and seemed interested in my accomplishment. I don’t know if you were proud of me but when I said that I was going to be given the chance to intern as an assistant principal in my current elementary school, you did say “Good for you!”
One day later, you decided to take your own life!
Living Through the Stages of Guilt and Anger
Every day, Mike, every day, I think of you!
Early on it was with great guilt, then later anger. A counselor told me to think of the possibility that instead of feeling guilt or anger I should think that perhaps you were pushing me away and waiting until I was ready to go it alone! When you knew that I would be ok, it was time for you to leave!
So nearly every day, I talk to you, asking you for guidance and help with your daughters. I have felt that you never intended to leave them. I think that, instead, somehow you felt that they would be better off without you! People who deal with depression often believe things like this. Now, your daughters, your family, and I all clearly understand that you were not a person of arrogance and confidence. You were a person with emotional problems the least of which, depression!
Still, you left me with the task of being a single parent to your girls and I would call out to you often, angrily, saying "YOU NEED TO HELP ME WITH THIS!"
Reaching the Stage of Acceptance
I have carried the guilt for years. Was our divorce the reason you decided life was too much to bear? Had I been the one to push your depression over the edge?
It was this year, eighteen years later, that I sat with pictures of you and thought about our life and the years since you died. As I looked into your face in those pictures, I think I finally moved into a new stage: acceptance. Your death was caused by only you. I had had no control.
But with this acceptance came a renewed sense of grief. I had not been able to tell you how important you were to me and to my life. I feel a need to tell you the lessons that I learned through you, Mike. I need you to know that you were a significant part of making me who I am today!
Lesson Number 1: “No Guts, No Glory!”
Do you remember saying this, Mike? It was a "Twirp" Dance. Girls ask a guy to the dance instead of the more traditional approach. You and I had not dated at all but I liked you. You were a Senior. I was a Junior. You knew of my intent and you watched as I walked past you, trying to muster up the courage. You finally just said “No guts, no glory!” My first reaction was thinking that was a really pompous thing to say! But then I laughed and found the courage to ask you. We went to that "Twirp" dance, had a great time, and the journey began.
The message is really the lesson here. You have to have the courage to do that thing that you want to do. Have the guts to just get out there and do it! Oh, I tell you, I struggle with this but when I find the guts I am so, so proud of myself! So, you were right. No guts, no glory! I only wish that you had had the guts to ask for help!
Lesson Number 2: Rely on Each Other
You needed me and I didn’t know it. I needed you and you didn’t want me to. We were two people who dealt with our issues in silence finding it hard to say the words out loud. You didn't know that I relied on you to be my strength and confidence. It was you who helped me say “No” to my mother. It was you who gave me the need to go on to college. It was you who made sure that I returned to finish after your time in the army. You also pushed me in front of those first customers in the cheese store.
The message is to know that it is important to find people you can rely on. It wasn’t until later in our marriage that I felt the scale tip too much with it feeling as though I was helping you accomplish things in your life and I was giving up my own. It was later when I started to feel used. But for so many years, I relied on you to be my strength! You didn't know it, but you were!
Lesson Number 3: “Nothing Lasts Forever”
This is another Mike quote. When we were dating, I was so nervous and insecure. I wanted in the worst way for you to commit to a lifelong relationship with me. I would come right out and ask you, “Will you love me forever?” Your answer was “Nothing lasts forever!” I believe that you were not at all interested in getting married. It was the Army that uncovered a vulnerability that you didn’t even know you had.
I didn’t ever think that our marriage would end and I am certain that I never would have guessed that I would be the one to end it! Who knew that you were unfortunately right but if you could have listened to your own words perhaps you would have believed that your depression may have been temporary. Perhaps you would have believed that it was possible to get the help you needed to make it go away.
Lesson Number 4: Believe
There is life after death. I want to believe that with all my heart. I want to also believe that you have been a spirit watching over your daughters all of these years. I believe that they believe it too. They have had a good life. Good things have presented themselves to both of your girls! And because they believe so strongly that you have been there, they have often told you and any one else who would listen that they are angry at you for leaving them. Did their life path change when you died? Yes! But they would have rather had their dad.
I said earlier that I talk to you regularly. That’s completely true. I never wanted to be a single parent and although both your daughters were old enough to not need close attention, they haven’t stopped needing guidance. Remember how much you counted on your dad? Well, you could have been that for them. They try to think about whether or not you would be proud of their decisions but they don’t know for sure.
So the final lesson, Mike, is to believe. We continue to believe that you are there watching over us. You need to know that we all miss you and wish you had been here!
Out Of The Darkness
Every year, now, we join a group called "Out of the Darkness". It's a fundraiser for the prevention of suicide. Every year, your family gathers to remember you and at this event, there are pictures of all the others...all the faces of people who fell into that same black hole and couldn't find their way out.
I had been trained to "look for the signs" of a suicidal person. I didn't see the signs, Mike. You didn't let me see the signs! November 9, 1994 will always be, now, a day filled with memories of horror! But also, now when I look into your face in those pictures, there are also deep memories of love, a love that will last forever!
Feeling Your Presence
- Being Healed By The Message of a Spirit
If one can believe that life events all happen for a reason, than one can also believe that our job is to uncover the messages along the way. Open up your hearts and minds to let in the messages that might be all around you.