My first experience with death and mourning occurred with the untimely death of my late husband, Michael. Losing my soul mate was debilitating. I can best describe myself as shattered and shocked.

One day I was young, in my 40s, with two precious daughters, living near the sea, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Life in the Islands with Michael, also in his 40s, was a romantic adventure. The word ‘survive’ was not part of my vocabulary.

And then, the tide turned. I found myself immersed in a private and personal journey of unanticipated grief. As a young woman and mother, I was in uncharted waters. I was faced with learning how to handle constant sadness, fear, lack of concentration, loneliness, and grieving.

Looking back, I survived by my instincts. I was always mindful of signals coming from my heart, prompting me how to survive the loss of my husband, knowing I had no choice but to ‘ride the wave.’

How One Phone Call Changed Everything

The phone rang as I was about to leave for the market to shop for a special dinner. We were going to celebrate Michael’s homecoming and a successful business trip to Salt Lake City, Utah. I was as happy as a lark when I picked up the phone.

I immediately recognized the voice on the other end of the line and I smiled. It was Michael’s brother, Roger, a periodontist living in Colorado with his wife Karen and two children.

“Hi, Rog! How are you? I am so happy to hear your voice,” I said.

Roger pulled no punches. He said to me, “Michael had a heart attack.”

I burst out, “I will be on the next available flight into Salt Lake.”

Roger said, with no emotion in his voice, “Susan, Michael is dead.”

Overwrought with uncontrolled and sorrowful emotion, I heard myself screaming at the top of my lungs, “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!” so loudly my neighbor next door heard me and phoned the police to report what she thought was a break-in.

Three police officers arrived and saw me racked with uncontrollable and heart-wrenching sobs. Nothing could stop the faucet of tears from drenching my face. I was agonizing over my loss. I felt my pain. I was in the beginning stage of mourning, a young woman who knew nothing of death.

It is now 20 years later. I survived this loss and yes, I can even say I am now thriving. The lesson is this: With fortitude and one step forward at a time, you too can survive and thrive again. Here’s how.

The Four Types of Widows I Have Met, Myself Included

  • Pretending to be ‘just fine.’
  • Talks incessantly about the deceased spouse.
  • The ‘merry widow,’ running as fast as she can.
  • Rode the wave through the pain.

During the first year, I felt like each of these ‘types’ of widows at one point or another.

I was overwrought with sadness. I was lonely for Michael. I lost my ability to concentrate. I could not read or watch television for the first year.

I preferred spending my time alone with my pooch, in my private world, thinking. I had no desire to engage in social conversation other than with my daughters. I could not remember anything negative about my marriage.

How I Survived… And You Can, Too!

Exercise and meditation

I walked four miles daily, two in the early morning and two at sunset with my pooch, Maholo. We strolled along the beach or down the road past Diamond Head and into the park and I used the time to think about my life with Michael. This helped my physical and emotional stress.

Cry

I felt my pain and cried long and hard every day that first year. I never held back one tear or thought.

Move to a Place that will Bring You Comfort

My surroundings were extremely important to me so I moved from our large home to a beautiful apartment with a large lanai near the sea. I smelled the salt air and filled my apartment with nature, orchids everywhere. My new home wrapped its arms around me and brought me serenity.

Accept Help

My daughter Jenny asked if she could move into my apartment with me and I said, “yes.”

Embrace New Relationships

Month 10 after Michael’s death, I met my husband, Sheldon Good. I told him, “I cannot see you for a year and a day from the time of Michael’s death out of respect for Michael, my daughters and myself.” He waited for me. We are now married and have been for over two decades. There is hope, my friends.

Listen to Your Heart

I rode my personal wave, always listening to my heart, and that’s what got me where I am today.

The Four Stages of Mourning – Because The Only Way Out Is Through

I knew there were four stages of mourning. A widow or widower never fully recovers until they deal with their feelings.

  • Shock and denial. We cannot comprehend.
  • Anger, fear of the unknown, depression.
  • We survived. Our mind accepts that life can go on. And, so it does.
  • Moving on to a new beginning, a new chapter.

These are natural feelings that helped me get to the heart of my grief. It was natural for me to feel and release all of my emotions, but I know this is not the case for everyone. If you are stuck in grief, there is help for you. Private counseling, self-help groups, a family Priest, Minister or Rabbi.

The message is this: Life goes on and you can, too. That is what your partner wishes for you. Please don’t deny yourself the ability to ‘ride your wave’ to a new chapter of your life. If you aren’t there yet, please trust that you will be happy again and you deserve to be happy.

If you have lost a loved one, what tools helped you heal? Do you feel guilty for finding happiness again? How did you regain happiness after a tragic loss? Please share your story below and help us learn from it.

Let's Have a Conversation!