In honor of National Grief Awareness Day, here is my story about how I survived the loss of my first husband, Michael.
My first experience with death and mourning occurred with the untimely death of my late husband, Michael.
Losing a soul mate was debilitating. I can best describe myself as shattered and shocked. One day I was young, in my forties with two precious daughters, and living near the ocean in Honolulu, Hawaii. Life in the Islands with Michael, also in his forties, was a romantic adventure. The word “survive” was not part of my vocabulary.
And then, the tides 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, 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.’
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 as 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.”
Roger pulled no punches. He said, “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 and phoned the police to report what she thought was a break-in. Three police 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. And, I felt my pain. I was in the beginning stage of mourning, a young woman who knew nothing of death.
My First Year of Widowhood
I want to share with you the first year of my widowhood, in snippets, when my life was falling down around me. Darling, I went from Sadie-Sadie married lady to widowhood in less than one minute.
It is now 20 years later. Over the past week, I have listened to conversations describing the methods three of my friends are using to survive the loss of a spouse. These conversations prompted me to share my story.
Each narrative, mine included, chronicled a different approach to the first year of mourning.
1. Pretending to be ‘just fine.’
2. Talks incessantly about the deceased spouse.
3. The ‘merry widow,’ running as fast as she can.
4. Road the wave through the pain.
During the First Year, I felt These Emotions…
I was overwrought with sadness and I was lonely for Michael. In fact, I lost my ability to concentrate. I could not read or watch television for the first year. And, 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. And, I could not remember anything negative about my marriage.
My way of Survival: I did not fight or ignore any of my feelings or needs. I listened to my heart and ‘rode my wave.’
1. I walked four miles daily, two in the early morning and two at sunset with my pooch, Maholo, along the beach or down the road past Diamond Head and into the park and thought about my life with Michael. This helped my physical and emotional stress
2. I felt my pain and cried long and hard every day that first year. And, I never held back one tear or thought.
3. 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. Darling, I smelled the salt air; I filled my apartment with nature, orchids everywhere. My new home wrapped its arms around me and brought serenity.
4. My daughter, Jenny, asked if she could move into my apartment with me and I said, “yes.”
5. Month 10 after Michael’s death, I met my husband, Sheldon Good. I told him…
6. “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.
7. I rode my personal wave always listening to my heart.
The Four Stages of Mourning a Loss
I knew there were four stages of mourning. A widow or widower never fully recovers until they deal with their feelings.
1. Shock and denial. We cannot comprehend. For example, my first words were, “Oh no!”
2. Anger, fear of the unknown, depression
3. Acceptance. We survived. Our mind accepts life can go on.
4. Moving on to a new beginning, a new chapter.
These are natural feelings. I was able to get to the heart of my grief. It was natural for me to feel and release all of my emotions. This is not the case for everyone.
There is help for you. Private counseling. Self-help groups. A family Priest, Minister or Rabbi.
Please don’t deny yourself the ability to ‘ride your wave’ to a new chapter of your life.
If you have something to say about coping with the loss of loved ones let’s talk! I want so much to hear your opinions + feelings. I also want you to speak up so that women our age remain visible. I think we have a responsibility to share our wisdom, don’t you? Share yours in the comments below.
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