I had several milestone events that occurred during my husband’s bout with Stage IV cancer. I turned 60 the December before he died. Many friends came together and surprised me with a beautiful party, but I missed not having my husband there by my side, as he was not at home but in hospice care.
Several months earlier, I retired from my profession as an art teacher, having decided to give all my attention to caring for my husband Chuck.
I remember traveling downtown to “put in my papers,” and after my exit interview when I stood up to leave the retirement office, the gentleman who had been assisting me said, “Congratulations, you are now retired. You should know that this will be the start of a new way of living.”
I left, caught a cab and, as the car passed through Ground Zero, on a misty rainy afternoon, I wasn’t sure how I should be feeling. I had been doing a really good job of holding my feelings in for quite some time, but, on this day, I had mixed emotions, which I could feel beginning to seep through the seams.
I wasn’t really able to celebrate, but I wanted to cry and did shed a tear as I headed toward home to my unknown future. I felt sad and slightly excited, but this was all against the backdrop of my husband and his illness which was an ever present shadow looming in the background.
Years later, when I would look back on those occasions that might’ve called for me to be joyful, I felt that everything had been tainted. The reality of the events that were taking place in my life was a joy killer that snatched away any chance of happiness or even the feeling of slightest happiness.
It wasn’t my husband’s fault. We were at the mercy of circumstances that didn’t ask permission to be invited into our lives.
Just a year earlier, in the summer of 2007, I had surprised Chuck with a wonderful party on the rooftop of a brand-new Manhattan restaurant on the occasion of his 60th birthday. It was truly a perfect day. The weather was perfect and some 40 friends joined us for food, drink and the best, best music.
I had organized everything and my son, Karim, stepped up and finalized the arrangements. On the evening of the event, my husband was so shocked by the surprise that he actually gasped as he saw familiar faces greeting him with birthday greetings and love.
Little did we know that this would be the final time most of these folks would see Chuck alive. Just some five months down the road we would have our lives turned upside down by a diagnosis of volcanic proportions. I was glad that at least we had been able to have a great celebration with closest friends and family before the tidal wave engulfed us.
I became anxious, nervous and extremely depressed. I didn’t know how to stop my dive into the depths of despair, as I missed my husband and tried to make sense of the loss.
He was really gone, period. I was still here but fading.
Although I didn’t have any widow or widower friends at that time, I’ve since encountered many people who’ve lost a spouse. They too can identify with feelings of emptiness, isolation, numbness and depression. They do not know how they can go on, how they will survive, how they will handle the pain or how they can make the pain go away.
Some men and women, especially women, feel it is a betrayal to let go of the pain, so they hang on for dear life, rejecting suggestions of ways that they can honor their spouse but begin to rebuild their lives.
I didn’t know what to expect as I thought my extraordinary feelings were part of a new normal for me. Eventually, however, I knew I couldn’t go on feeling vulnerable, anxious, and depressed indefinitely. So, I took the following steps to begin to move my life forward:
Here are a few of the things that I found useful as I tried to move forward.
No matter what anybody else thinks, you know yourself best. You can devise a plan to help yourself rebuild your life, and no one has to have input into that plan except you.
Regaining my strength and vitality, being able to transform the pain from the loss of my husband into forever memories was my goal. I did not think that that was possible in the beginning, but little by little as I set-aside time for myself, I was able to move my life forward.
Then, one day, I realized that the sun was shining brighter, and I no longer felt his absence when I entered my home. I was embarking on a new journey alone.
It’s been several years now since I began this overwhelming but illuminating journey and so you might ask, “Do you still have feelings of sorrow even now?” The answer is yes, but it’s a far cry from the day-to-day sadness that I experienced for months, years, now so long ago.
I became my number one priority.
For those who have young children to care for or work outside the home, I would suggest that, before you go to sleep, you take a little time to grieve. Purchase some DVDs on meditation and yoga, or go to an actual yoga class. Try journaling your thoughts and writing down your dreams particularly, those that are about your lost spouse.
You may find a message or an answer in the dream that helps you to begin to feel a bit better. These are a few mindfulness practices that can help to ease you through the grief journey.
During this time, your friends and family, out of concern for your well-being, may urge you to grieve quickly. There is no such thing as grieving quickly. Take all the time that you need to heal yourself.
There are many online grief support groups and social media forums that did not exist when I lost my husband several years ago. These support communities will assist in helping one feel less isolated. Remember, be patient with yourself and know that by connecting with others, you will find that you are not alone.
What have you done to rebuild your life after losing your spouse or another loved one? Did you ever think you would ever survive after loss? How is your life more different now since your loss? What has worked for you as you’ve rebuilt your life?