Overcoming the Guilt and Denial of Losing a Spouse

During the first days after Ron passed, I was caught up in the preparations for the funeral. Without realizing it, I was in a state of shock. I went through the motions surrounded by family and friends who helped me organize and kept me busy.
But after the funeral was over and my family went back to their normal lives, the reality sunk in. I was alone.
I heard the creaks of the house settling and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
Everyone else had a life with commitments. Mine felt like it should be over.
I sat for hours in one spot. I cried. I breathed. I felt sorry for myself.
Why did everyone else have something to do and I had—nothing. Would this be my life from now on? Endless hours of blank pain?
Grief is a natural and normal reaction to losing someone you love. I knew that. I knew there were five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
During the initial days after Ron died and during the days of funeral preparation, I was in denial. I knew he was gone, but it wasn’t real. I saw him in the casket but he was still here…at least his body was with me. Until the casket was closed and I sat at the graveside staring at the box that held the one I wanted to hold. I believe this was one of my anger stages. It wasn’t a lashing out at anyone or even God. Anger fueled the grief. I would not lay eyes on Ron again in this life. Death isn’t fair. I was angry at death. At how death could steal the life from me, scooping out my insides and leaving me raw and empty.
Then I slipped into guilt. Could I have done something differently? Those long days when Ron lay in the hospital on a ventilator and the nurse fed him through a tube in his stomach? I sat and watched as his body deteriorated and he couldn’t speak. He was kept sedated and probably in a fog and not understanding what was happening.
Should I have known he was having a heart attack when he had difficulty breathing that morning? It seemed like all the other mornings when the breathing treatments gave him relief. It was only when he told me he couldn’t breathe and sat in his recliner with his inhaler that I worried this was something more. He was such a strong man and never admitted pain. He didn’t like to go to the doctor, and hated going to the hospital. His pain tolerance was off the scale and he rarely complained about anything. But he looked pale and when I asked if I should call 911, he agreed. Only then did I know he was in terrible distress.
Why didn’t I realize this sooner? If I had, would the heart attack have been prevented? He was so strong. He died in the ambulance, but they were able to revive him. Then at the hospital, the ventilator breathed for him. His poor heart had been through too much and it couldn’t work without help. Was this my fault?
As I write these words, I’m sobbing because the pain never goes away. I remember bargaining with God when Ron became very ill in 2009. I prayed so hard for God not to take him. I told Him I wasn’t ready yet. And God answered that prayer…until 2013. I often wonder if the ten days in the hospital before he died were preparing me for future days of coming home to an empty house.
Little did I know when the ambulance raced away to the hospital that day, Ron would never again enter our home. Bargaining? I don’t think I’ve done any bargaining since his death. I’ve done a lot of praying. I’ve prayed for Jesus to take away the pain. To stop the tears. To show me what I’m supposed to do now. There were times when I withdrew from life. I curled into a ball and hugged the pain. I beat myself up with “what ifs.” I cried. I hurt.
In one of the pamphlets I received, I read about a blessing jar. The more I thought about it, I wanted to start one. I didn’t have a jar, so I made a “blessing basket.” I wrote small slips of paper each time I received a blessing and put it in the basket. The blessing might be seeing a pretty flower. A phone call. A visit. On days when I felt depression moving in, I read the notes in the blessing basket. And I kept going because I had family members who loved and needed me. I had friends who loved me. And Jesus wasn’t ready for me yet.
Depression is the opposite of faith. I did have faith. I believed I would see my husband again. Through prayer and tears, I crawled from the pit of depression into the light again. Life would never be the same. I learned to accept that. The pain will never go away. I’ve accepted the losses in my life. Since his death, I have slipped in and out of different stages of grief. I’ve had days of being despondent, and days filled with joy.
Each day brings a new beginning. And each day God smiles at me through the beauty of nature, through a phone call, a note, or a kind word. Life goes on.

Yes, My Life Has Changed

journaling
We all live temporary lives here on earth and will meet Jesus one day. Most of us don’t think of our short life spans. Those who have a deep faith know death is but a stepping stone into a better life. But when death of a loved one stares us in the face, the reality of losing them from our everyday lives is a powerful sorrow. We need to grieve. God doesn’t promise we won’t have sad times and suffer loss. He gave us tears for a reason. Even Jesus wept for the loss of his friend, Lazarus.

My parents are in heaven and I miss them. My children will miss me when I pass from this life.

I look in the mirror and see how the years are beginning to take a toll on me. My mind is still young. Oh, I may forget things from time to time, but that comes from leading such a busy life. I try not to dwell on mortality.

My life is not the same as it was when I was a mother with children in the house. It’s not the same as the years after they moved out and it was just my beloved husband and me. Oh, the plans we made when we were younger! Dreams of traveling. How different reality turned out to be.

We learned time spent together, quality time, the presence, is the important thing. Presence is what makes memories and deepens love.

I was blessed with a wonderful man who would do anything to make me smile. We shared a love for God and family. He was my best friend. Living without him is the hardest thing God has ever asked of me.

Life changed when Jesus called him home.

I was no longer a married woman. I was a widow. And I didn’t understand what this new phase of life meant. I still felt married. The difference was the absence of my husband in bed next to me, his laughter while we watched television together, his voice as he read an interesting article from the newspaper, and the sound of the oxygen machine running twenty-four hours a day. I cried when the medical supplier came to pick up all the equipment and oxygen tanks. It was like saying goodbye again.

The house was too quiet and yet too noisy. I never noticed how loud the furnace and air conditioner sounded, or the refrigerator. I could hear the wall clock ticking. Deafening silence.
I wandered the rooms and felt the absence of the heart of our home.

After the funeral, cards arrived constantly. Their words and condolences were meant to comfort. They brought tears. Each beautiful word reminded me of the truth. My husband was gone.

His picture on the wall made me cry. His smile and his face reminded me he had been real, but his absence became a black hole in my existence. How does one spend so many years together with another person, day after day, night after night, and then go on living without them? Is it possible?

An author friend sent me a journal. Empty pages. What does a writer do with empty pages? I picked up a pen and I wrote the pain onto the paper. This was the first entry thirteen days after Ron breathed his last breath.

Just when I get a feeling that I can handle being alone something triggers a deep sense of loneliness and the tears begin to flow. I scare the cats with the sounds of my sorrow. I can’t control the sobbing. I don’t ever remember crying so hard, feeling so lost, so empty and alone. What kept me busy before Ron passed? How did the days go by so quickly? I realize now why God created us to be in relationships. I hate the long, empty days with no purpose. In time I may find my way back to writing. I hope so.

Today I spent two and a half hours sitting patiently in the Social Security office. I had something to do. Since I’ve been home, I wrote out a few appreciation cards, ate lunch, and took a nap. A storm just rolled through dropping an enormous amount of rain. The days since Ron went into the hospital have been rainy. It’s as if heaven is acknowledging my grief. Will I ever be whole again? How do I go on without my love?

I am not the strong woman people see me as. I am dying inside. It’s true. A heart can break. As the afternoon passes, I long to crawl into bed and sleep. Only then is the pain relieved. I have a big house filled with things that mean nothing. The kids all have their own families and jobs, busy lives. I feel so alone and sad. My life has no meaning. I try to sound positive and not show the pain to others.

Sometimes I convince myself I’ll be okay and I’m getting used to this new life. Then a moment later, I’m wallowing in grief not knowing what to do next. Yesterday I received this journal as a gift from a writing friend. I decided to just jot down my feelings without thinking. They say time heals. I hope those words are true.

I need to find a reason to keep living this lonely and meaningless life. I pray for God to show me what He wants me to do now. There is a reason He’s not ready to take me to Heaven yet. I can only pray the sorrow doesn’t keep me from seeing the path He’s chosen for me. I’ve moved all the furniture around, but I wish now I’d left it as it was. Frozen in time so I might remember how things were before my heart and soul were damaged beyond repair. I’m a lonely woman in a silent home that holds no joy.

Pain becomes a living entity residing inside, like a tumor. It stays night and day. And the temptation to withdraw from life becomes strong. It might take everything you’ve got to answer the phone. Some people continue to hold onto the grief for years after they’ve said goodbye to their spouse. This isn’t healthy, and it becomes a nightmare of depression.

There is help, but it will be up to you to reach out, and it will take every ounce of courage you possess to do so.

I read through my journal and see a woman who doesn’t know what to do, where to turn.

The second journal entry:

It’s been a long day. Each day is another day in a long line of days to come. I miss Ron’s presence. The house is so big, so empty without him. I long to feel his presence, but that’s not to be again. Years pass so quickly and suddenly one is gone. Like a finger snap an end comes. I move through each hour searching for a reason to continue.

It seemed as if I had no purpose in life. Without him to care for, I was adrift in a new, strange world. But I hid my grief from the outside world because I felt this was expected. No one wants to see a woman constantly in tears. Yet, every time I had to tell someone Ron had passed, I couldn’t hold them back. I had some good days and then I would feel that wave of grief wash over me again.

One day I wrote:

Today I had a couple of breakdown moments. I try not to dwell on how his presence is missing. Hard, but I am stronger.

The very next morning, I wrote:

Having a breakdown. Can’t stop thinking about how Ron suffered so much. All the terribly long days when he didn’t understand what was happening. And then the long night waiting while he was in God’s hands, so heavily sedated he couldn’t communicate. The sounds of his struggling to breathe tear at my heart, even now. I can’t stop crying. I’m so broken. I don’t understand what happened. I miss him so much. I seek comfort. I fear this pain will never leave. I have to go on living, finding things to keep me busy. But I don’t want to go on. I long for this pain and sorrow to be over. Is this my punishment? Did I not do everything I should have for my beloved? Does he know how much I loved him? If only I could have taken on his illness myself and spared him. Lord, help me, please—

 

As I write this blog, over two and a half years have gone by since this first journal entry. I am able to write again. Each year since Ron’s passing, I’ve published a fiction book.

If this blog series helps one person to understand they are not crazy and it is okay to grieve when losing a loved one, the writing has been worthwhile.

Yes, my life has changed. I still grieve. I still cry. But life does go on.

Blessings,

green sig

A Kind, Gentle Man with Big Hands

© Alexey Lisovoy | Dreamstime Stock Photos

My first marriage was not a success. I never wanted to go through a divorce. I’d experienced what happened after my mother’s failed marriage and how I was separated from my brother and sister. My biological father died in World War II when I was just a baby. I never knew him. My mother’s second husband I remember as being funny and never mean. But I remember also being four years old and holding my brother close as we hid under the table and the fights raged with kitchen utensils and pans flying around the room as my mother yelled, while my baby sister cried in her crib. I didn’t want that kind of marriage.

Later, she married a man who became my father and they shared fifty plus years together.
I was young when I met my first husband and I was sure this was a love that would endure. He was a good man, kind, and funny. But when he drank, he became someone to fear. I don’t regret being married to him, for out of that marriage came my four wonderful children. But as the years passed and his drinking increased, I knew if I didn’t get out, he would one day kill me. So my marriage became another statistic.
Then I met Ron and fell in love with the kind, gentle soul he was. He was a tall man with huge hands and an even bigger heart. He touched me with gentleness and his eyes spoke of his deep love for me. A love I’d never experienced before.
We went through tough times and good times, but our love only grew stronger. He was a good father to my children and his. I was blessed with gaining four bonus children. A perfectly blended family of four boys and four girls. We were like the Brady Bunch, with one difference. My son, Kevin, never accepted Ron as a father figure. My ex-husband played upon that and my son chose to live with him when he turned fourteen. The pain of losing him from my life has never been healed, but I had to let him go. Over the years, we saw him when we visited my parents in Illinois. A short time after Kevin graduated high school, he moved back with our family for a short while. He eventually accepted Ron and they became friends.
Life was good until Ron, who was never ill, suddenly was struck with heart and lung issues. He slowly declined over nearly three years and we said goodbye for the final time after thirty-three and a half years of marriage. I didn’t know how I would live without him. But I did. God was with me.

And Then There Was One

Church and graveyard taken in Somerset England  © Matthew Collingwood | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Church and graveyard taken in Somerset England © Matthew Collingwood | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Today in Sunday School we were studying John, Chapter 11, the story of Lazarus’ death and how Jesus called him out of the tomb. Some of the questions we discussed touched on our own experiences with death and grief.

A friend explained the death of her husband as an experience of losing herself. This, too, is what I felt. It is a true testimony that when we marry, the two become one. So, when our spouse dies, we are no longer the same person. We must learn how to move on while we are in a state of confusion.

How do we separate ourselves from the one who has died?

There will be times when we go through “a dark night of the soul” where we withdraw from the things we have always loved to do. We need to restore our soul. We need time to grieve and just let Jesus hold us. After the busy things that keep our mind focused on necessary actions, when everyone has gone back to their normal lives, and we don’t know now what normal is, this is when we feel cut off from everything and everyone.

Those with deep faith will find a path to walk, one which leads to a lesser place of pain, a renewal of spirit and a closer relationship with God. There is no magic formula. We don’t know the answers to our questions about death, we only have the hope and the promise that death is momentary, life is eternal. But it is enough for those who believe, and there is a peace that passes understanding. We are never alone.

My heart goes out to all who have suffered this kind of loss. I pray for you. And if you haven’t turned to God, now might be the time you need to seek out a church and talk to a pastor. God is waiting and only He can fill that empty space in your heart.

Blessings,

green sig

 

God Knows There is a Reason

pic2The first snowfall of winter always fills me with joy. I love watching the flakes coming down, especially when they are large and so close together, my breath catches in awe. I remember how my husband used to shovel the driveway so I could easily get off the street when I came home from work. There are so many memories I hold in my heart and pull out from time to time.

The memories I’m pulling out now of my family members who have gone to Heaven make me very sad. I never realized how terribly heartbreaking it would be to write about the grief that follows death. Each day as I sit at my computer, I can’t hold back the tears as I share these emotions. Truly, my heart bleeds onto each page I write.

So, why am I doing this? I could stop. But I feel led by God to do this. There is a reason. Perhaps there is one person out there who needs to read my story. Or perhaps it will lead to another level of healing for me. Whatever the reason, it is God’s will and He always knows best.

I must limit myself to a small amount of time daily, for more than that leads me into a deep sadness. I’ve finished the first part of the book and am now ready to tackle what has been a deep buried grief I rarely let anyone see. The death of my son, my beloved child who decided to take his life. Dealing with a child’s death is terrible. Dealing with suicide is like having a knife cut you so deep inside you can’t heal.

Perhaps in the telling, I will find sense. I pray good comes from the words pulled from my grieving heart. I pray someone will be blessed and that God will direct the book into the right hands.

green sig