Just kidding! There is no right or wrong. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own amount of time. And this truly depends on the depth of the relationship one had with the deceased. The one thing that we the grieving have to monitor is our resolution to the pain and grief. This does not mean we will ever “get over” the loss of someone very close to us such as our spouses, child, parent or other person significant to our lives. But we can learn to live with these losses in a healthy manner, which often means gaining the help of a therapist or being part of a grief group where we share and learn from one another, or having someone to lean on who has walked the walk and survived, or needs someone as bad as you do to talk to. And there is nothing wrong with this.
Believe me, I know. As I’ve mentioned from the beginning of my blog posts, my now late husband and I suffered the death of our oldest son, Sgt Patrick Tainsh, in Iraq, February 11, 2004. Who would have thought 10 years later I’d be pulling out my grief books from a box in the closet to re-read how to deal with grief, but now because my husband has died.
One of my favorite books is “How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies” by Therese A. Rando, Ph.D. According to Ms. Rando, in order to adapt to the reality of our loss and striving to live healthy in our “New Norm” without our loved one, we must “complete three sets of processes:”
- Acknowledging and understanding the loss: I have certainly acknowledged the reality of my husband’s death. I watched him take his last breath on a bed in hospice. I also understand why he died. A combination of years of heavy smoking causing COPD and emphysema, along with service in Vietnam that brought on agent orange related stage 4 lung and brain cancer. To watch his decline from a strong man who served 28 proud years in the Marines, to a shell of a man leaves me with a heaviness that is difficult to remove from my heart and memory. The grief of this I will carry to my grave, but also must not dwell on, because there are the memories of his youth, strength, leadership, provider, protector, husband and father that are part of everyone whose life he touched. On the flip side, our son was in the Middle-East when he died in an ambush on a road outside of Baghdad. We weren’t there. Patrick had left for Iraq on April 1, 2003 and died February 11, 2004, near the time the unit was to return home. Acknowledging and understanding our son’s death was difficult because we didn’t see what happened. We could only understand our loss based on what was written on some forms, a death certificate, and word of mouth from those he served with. We refused to see the flag draped casket that was brought to the funeral home. We couldn’t accept he was gone. We wanted to remember him the way he left us, on two strong legs. We only had an urn of ashes at the Memorial Service, no more phone calls, and an empty seat at all future holiday gatherings.
2. Experiencing the Pain & Reacting to the Separation: Oh the pain after my husband’s death! The grief. The being alone. Remembering his one in a million smile. His voice and a song he would sing to me. I just couldn’t out run it. I tried. I planned trips, cruises, moving, volunteer work, anything to distract me from the daily nausea of heartbreak that my protector, my supporter, the man who validated me and loved me like no one ever had in my life, the man I adored, admired, respected, and loved for all he had made possible for me was gone. The man who had been the reason I grew as a person in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without him. No, we were not a perfect couple. Folks who heard us argue sometimes wondered why we were together. But we were perfect for each other. And on December 23, 2014, my entire world was upside down with a new path to follow called “readjustment.” Readjusting slowly to the fact that David was no longer in my life to fulfill any further dreams, hopes, feelings, or needs.
How was I suppose to do this readjusting for my 2nd most critical New Norm? No one gave me a manual to follow after the death of a husband, no more than a manual was given after a son’s death. So, as I did after Patrick’s death, I screamed and cried alone, (after Patrick’s death I threw old dishes against trees and broke them, or screamed and cried while I dug holes in red Georgia clay where where we lived at the time, then afterwards I planted flowers in the holes) or sometimes I cried with a girlfriend or two who personally knew Dave, and I slept on the sofa so its back gave mine something to touch. I stayed awake (still do) with thoughts of “Where do I go from here?”
My one other son lived 4 hours away. I had no grandchildren to visit and offer to care for. I tried volunteer work at a Senior center with alzheimers’ patients, but that made me sad. I was restless and lost (still am to a degree). With David gone, I didn’t have the energy to continue with the non-profit organization we started together to provide support to families of the fallen and veterans. We had been a two-some. We had not been a part of groups or organizations for gatherings or parties. We had not belonged to a church group. (David was mad at God after Patrick died.) My two best girlfriends in our community had families and obligations of their own. If I wasn’t on the road traveling, which I couldn’t afford forever, I had no anchor. My anchor was gone, dead.
I knew I had to let go of the dead and get used to a new life without him. But how long was this suppose to take? And what was this new life suppose to look like? I had loved being a wife, a part of two in our own private world.
In Victorian times a widow was to wear black for 2 years and stay out of public view for the first year. This was the designated time to honor her grief and her lost loved one. I’m glad for the symbolism of honoring the widow and the dead, but I know I couldn’t wear black for 2 years. I didn’t wear black to my husband’s memorial service and I couldn’t remain in the house for a year! For me, being alone after marriage for 30 plus years just didn’t feel right. I didn’t like it!
Two months after Dave’s death, a friend and military veteran who spoke at David’s Memorial Service, called to check on me and offered to take me to dinner. Then he offered his thoughts on how he had cared for me from afar. Yes, he caught me in a very vulnerable, lonely stage and I fell for his admiration hook, line and sinker. No, he didn’t mean a word he said and hence, I learned a great lesson at the age of 60, and I’ll admit, there have been a couple more since this one! But I’ve gotten a lot smarter. Oh, and by the way, part of society still likes to view a widow from the Victorian Rules of Grieving as to what is right after “Becoming a Widow.” Yes, a couple of folks thought I was dishonoring David. But David was/is gone. I’m still very much in the here and now! And I’m still readjusting! I’m not suppose to act the same way I did when I had a husband. I’m in a new world aka new norm, and as a widower friend said, feeling like a piece of driftwood floating around, but with hope it will soon wash to a solid shore.
So, back to more regarding my path to readjusting after becoming a widow. It takes time. And that is a problem for me because heaven knows my Creator did not fill me with patience. I want to know where my life is going and I want to know NOW! But it just ain’t happening! So here I sit writing…I suppose this is part of my new journey. Tell my story. Maybe it will help at least one!
One of the greatest loses I feel, and I’m sure other widows/widowers will agree is that we had so much emotional and love energy with our loved one, and now we have no one to give that to and no one to give it to us. My doctor told me that what she hears from her older patients who have suffered the death of a partner is that they miss “touch”, not sex, but simple touch. Well, I have to agree with that one. We no longer have that satisfaction and fulfillment of holding hands or stroking their back, or vice versa.
On page 231 of Dr. Rando’s book, “How to Go on Living…” she states: “The most crucial task in grief is this change in relationship with the person who died. It is the untying of the ties that bind you to your lost loved one…it must be stressed that this does not mean that the deceased is forgotten or not loved. Rather it means that the emotional energy you had invested in the deceased is readjusted to allow you to direct it towards others who can reciprocate it in an ongoing fashion for your emotional satisfaction.”
Loosening this tie takes time. Not falling apart at the sound of a song, the view of a place once visited, and so many personal things takes time. The last home my husband and I built together one mile from the beach is ten miles from where I now live. We moved into that new home on Thanksgiving Day, 2008. He became ill and made his last trip to hospice from that home in December, 2014. I couldn’t live there any longer and moved to our small cottage. I couldn’t afford the upkeep as a widow nor could I deal with the memories of his illness that filled each room. My heart hurts each time I pass the cross streets that lead to that home we were so proud of and planned to share many years together. A friend recently invited me to their home to watch a football game. I had to turn them down because they live in the same neighborhood where my dream home was that I shared with my husband for the last six years of his life. I may never be able to go into that neighborhood again, I don’t know yet, because I’m still readjusting.
Dr. Rando does give us some clues to show we are becoming successful in readjusting and resolving our grief:
- Remembering our loved one without pain
- Talk about them without falling apart
- Express regrets without undue guilt (I’m still working on this one)
- Loving others without feeling we are betraying our loved one(mmmmm not sure)
- Writing the word widow without feeling abandoned (mmmm hate that word)
The third set of processes Dr. Rando talks about is
3. Moving adaptively into the new life without forgetting the old:
Well, number 1 for this is to create a new relationship with our deceased spouse, (or other loved one) in symbolic ways. Yes, I talk to David and Patrick. Especially if I’ve lost something, I actually ask their help to find it. I refer to them as my guardian angels. I also comment on what they would think about a loss or win of a ball game they would be watching if at home. After Patrick’s death in Iraq, it took me a long time to not feel sad when I went to the beach because he loved it so and he loved to surf. With every surfer I saw with long blonde hair I would think of Patrick and wish I could see him surf one more time. Or I”ll see wind surfers and say, “Man, Patrick would love doing that.” But the heaviness in my chest isn’t as bad now as almost 13 years ago.
Regarding my David, he’s been gone only 2 years. I miss his touch, his kiss, the way he dressed up or down, and so many more things I can’t count. The way he look in Marine Corps dress blues, a tux or in shorts and t-shirt. I see couples our age on the beach and a twist comes to my heart, but I know it will get easier. And he will always be the hero in my heart who helped make me the strong woman I became (although I’m getting a bit tired of being strong). He will always be a symbol of strength to me because, for a story I will tell later, he grew up from foster care and abuse to becoming a leader of young men in the U.S. Marines where he served for 28 years.
So, my new relationship with my two deceased loved ones is to keep them tucked in my heart, knowing they blessed me and everyone whose lives they touched while living in the physical.
Number 2 in this matter of adapting to this new norm is the question of how to keep our loved one(s) alive appropriately. Well for me, there is a quote: “They are not dead as long as someone calls their name.” My other way is to visit the grave site and place silk flower arrangements several times a year at Fort Benning, Georgia where I placed the ashes of both David and Patrick with a military headstone with Patrick’s name on one side and his father’s name on the other. I also placed the paw prints of our two golden retrievers with them! I also keep a photo of the two of them side by side in their military uniforms. Because of their military service to our country I keep the flags I received for each of them on my desk. Sometimes the flags make me want to cry, but it is also a cry of pride!
Then there is number 3. Maybe the most difficult for me and others. I have to create a new identity as one. I’m not a wife any longer. I’m a widow, and I don’t like being that. But who am I? I know I”m a writer. I’ve have several books published. I’m still Phillip’s mom. But I’m not David’s wife, because David is gone. I mentioned in part of my writing above that David and I were a twosome. We didn’t hang in groups or organizations, or a church. So what was I going to do when the travel stopped? Stay at home and read and write to myself? Something had to change to help me create a new me. And along the way unexpected people came into my life. Just goes to show if we look up instead of down, things can change a bit at a time.
A part of the new me began in the year after Dave’s death when a couple (both widowed) who I barely knew invited me to start attending local music shows and karaoke with them here in Panama City Beach. This lovely couple, Dolores and Ken, introduced me to others along the way. I often cried because I felt alone in the crowd of couples. But as time moved bit by bit, I became comfortable in going to the music venues alone because I recognized people and they recognized me. I also began singing karaoke. Through this with the help of others, I’ve become a part of a caring group of individuals who enjoy music, laughter, and giving hugs. It’s not always easy, but I’m making some progress in forming a new identity for my new norm. I also meet with a group of lovely ladies for lunch each month called “The Blue Water Mermaids.” Although by no means am I an artist, I began drawing mermaids on canvas and offering them at the luncheon as a raffle gift. I have a group of acquaintances on facebook who when I feel alone at home, I just write something that I hope falls on listening ears and receive a note back to let me know they are there.
How to go on living when someone you love dies is the toughest road we humans, since the dawn of time, can travel with all the ups, downs, twisting turns, and near the edge layout. Its a struggle, it can be lonely, it can be frightening, it can be frustrating, it can seem endless, but we can get to the other side with a lighter heart and hope if we all hold on together and continue seeking our purpose in honor of the ones we loved and who have died, that I’m sure want us to love and be loved again. And as for me, I’m not giving up on love, to give love, and to receive love once again.