How I Wrote My Way Through Grief: Processing the Death of a Husband or Partner After 60
The Black Widow
After I had lost a 42-year-old husband, a 50-year-old ex-husband and a 75-year-old live-in partner, my family and friends jokingly called me, “The Black Widow.”
The deaths occurred under different circumstances and were all devastating. The first, Keith, a bank vice president, was diagnosed with full blow AIDS. He died 18 months later and before the new medications were available.
I remarried several years later to Marco, a native Italian, and then divorced. About eight years later, his body was found in his rented room where he had been dead for 6 days. It was heartbreaking to learn no one cared enough to check on him earlier.
I was embroiled with his autopsy, cremation and estate as my ex-brother-in-law spoke little English and my son, Marko’s stepson, was named heir and executor.
At the time of Marco’s death, I was in a live-in relationship with a man twenty years my senior. Joe was convinced his prostate cancer was in check, but in reality, it was advanced. He died nine months after Marco.
Why and How to Process Grief Through Writing
Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that grief consumes almost every thought and moment in the days that follow. After a while, the thoughts begin occurring less often – every two minutes, then five, then eventually, hours or days may pass before grief sets in again.
Although it was a heartbreaking experience, I started writing the details of Keith’s death scene, the moments before and after. I sobbed throughout the typing, but I was glad I had recorded everything.
When processing loss, you are also dealing with a myriad of other issues and emotions. There are usually legal, financial and family concerns that accompany a death.
In my case, this was the first time I had to deal with debts. My late banker husband, Keith, was bankrupt, so I had to quickly return to work to support my then 3-year-old son.
Marco was also bankrupt, and a hoarder. It took a year to unwind his belongings. The most recent death, Joe, led to a major conflict with his adult son who was resentful and hostile when I was named executor and partial heir.
In such moments, you are not only grieving but stressed by all the other peripheral issues and sometimes the behavior of others. I was also resentful for being subjected to such trauma and difficulties by the losses.
The Grief Journal
Making notes or writing over the course of time may help process your grief easier than a single telling of the events. Exploring and revisiting the loss in separate passages over a period of weeks, months or years can prove cathartic as your grief takes new dimensions.
You could write about themes that explore your feelings, past and present, your hopes for the future, memories, etc. Start the passages with:
- When we first met…
- The first time we…
- He or she taught me how to…
- What I really miss is…
- I hated when he or she…
- I wish you had learned to…
Writing truthfully about your feelings can also be useful if you had a complicated relationship with the deceased.
Another approach to writing your way through deep grief is by addressing a letter to the departed loved one, with honesty. As it’s in the first person, it may prompt you to pour out your feelings easier than a journal.
You could also try processing loss by writing the person’s biography, through words and/or photos. You can also interview friends and family. This is a terrific record and memory to leave for your children, grandkids and future generations.
Fictionalizing the Experience
I was in shock when I realized the last three men in my life were dead. This inspired me to write a book about those losses. I was seeking an explanation as a way to process and move forward, so I created characters and events that resembled my experience but with a twist.
My comic romance, Matched in Heaven, was published by a small press in 2015. The book won the Readers Views award for romance and New Apple Award for humor.
The book imagines that there is a support group in heaven for guilty spouses. The dead, who quarrel a lot, play matchmaker for their left behind partners.
This story follows the earthly journey of middle-aged Samantha who loses a husband, then a Latin lover. She then meets Sidney, twenty years her senior, who takes ill and dies.
Samantha finds out she was “matched in heaven” by her late husband and Sidney’s late wife. She swears that no one, not even the dead, will mess with her love life again.
No matter which form you choose to write about your loss, this will give you a hard-copy document of the events. You can also decide to record your narration of the events or film a video. A photomontage set to your loved one’s favorite music is also an option.
After you write about your loss, you may not want to re-read your journal again. My book was both an exhilarating and painful writing experience. I have not re-read it since I sent it to the publisher. But I’m glad and grateful it was published.
Creating a quirky scenario in the book helped me move forward. Writing was and continues to be a huge help when I need to cope with an unusual sequence of losses and circumstances. Hopefully, it will do the same for you.
How do you cope with grief? What is your favorite medium for expressing your thoughts and feelings after a loss? Please share some ways that have helped you on this journey.