Archive for the ‘Death of spouse’ Category

Mourning the Loss of a Spouse   Leave a comment

From FaceBook page of Sheryl Sandberg

Today is the end of sheloshim for my beloved husband—the first thirty days. Judaism calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.

A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do.

I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well.

But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.

And this is why I am writing: to mark the end of sheloshim and to give back some of what others have given to me. While the experience of grief is profoundly personal, the bravery of those who have shared their own experiences has helped pull me through. Some who opened their hearts were my closest friends. Others were total strangers who have shared wisdom and advice publicly. So I am sharing what I have learned in the hope that it helps someone else. In the hope that there can be some meaning from this tragedy.

I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.

I have gained a more profound understanding of what it is to be a mother, both through the depth of the agony I feel when my children scream and cry and from the connection my mother has to my pain. She has tried to fill the empty space in my bed, holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep. She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine. She has explained to me that the anguish I am feeling is both my own and my children’s, and I understood that she was right as I saw the pain in her own eyes.

I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was “It is going to be okay.” That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, “You and your children will find happiness again,” my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good” comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” When I am asked “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

I have learned some practical stuff that matters. Although we now know that Dave died immediately, I didn’t know that in the ambulance. The trip to the hospital was unbearably slow. I still hate every car that did not move to the side, every person who cared more about arriving at their destination a few minutes earlier than making room for us to pass. I have noticed this while driving in many countries and cities. Let’s all move out of the way. Someone’s parent or partner or child might depend on it.

I have learned how ephemeral everything can feel—and maybe everything is. That whatever rug you are standing on can be pulled right out from under you with absolutely no warning. In the last thirty days, I have heard from too many women who lost a spouse and then had multiple rugs pulled out from under them. Some lack support networks and struggle alone as they face emotional distress and financial insecurity. It seems so wrong to me that we abandon these women and their families when they are in greatest need.

I have learned to ask for help—and I have learned how much help I need. Until now, I have been the older sister, the COO, the doer and the planner. I did not plan this, and when it happened, I was not capable of doing much of anything. Those closest to me took over. They planned. They arranged. They told me where to sit and reminded me to eat. They are still doing so much to support me and my children.

I have learned that resilience can be learned. Adam M. Grant taught me that three things are critical to resilience and that I can work on all three. Personalization—realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word “sorry.” To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault. Permanence—remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. This will get better. Pervasiveness—this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.

For me, starting the transition back to work has been a savior, a chance to feel useful and connected. But I quickly discovered that even those connections had changed. Many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why—they wanted to help but weren’t sure how. Should I mention it? Should I not mention it? If I mention it, what the hell do I say? I realized that to restore that closeness with my colleagues that has always been so important to me, I needed to let them in. And that meant being more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be. I told those I work with most closely that they could ask me their honest questions and I would answer. I also said it was okay for them to talk about how they felt. One colleague admitted she’d been driving by my house frequently, not sure if she should come in. Another said he was paralyzed when I was around, worried he might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing. One of my favorite cartoons of all time has an elephant in a room answering the phone, saying, “It’s the elephant.” Once I addressed the elephant, we were able to kick him out of the room.

At the same time, there are moments when I can’t let people in. I went to Portfolio Night at school where kids show their parents around the classroom to look at their work hung on the walls. So many of the parents—all of whom have been so kind—tried to make eye contact or say something they thought would be comforting. I looked down the entire time so no one could catch my eye for fear of breaking down. I hope they understood.

I have learned gratitude. Real gratitude for the things I took for granted before—like life. As heartbroken as I am, I look at my children each day and rejoice that they are alive. I appreciate every smile, every hug. I no longer take each day for granted. When a friend told me that he hates birthdays and so he was not celebrating his, I looked at him and said through tears, “Celebrate your birthday, goddammit. You are lucky to have each one.” My next birthday will be depressing as hell, but I am determined to celebrate it in my heart more than I have ever celebrated a birthday before.

I am truly grateful to the many who have offered their sympathy. A colleague told me that his wife, whom I have never met, decided to show her support by going back to school to get her degree—something she had been putting off for years. Yes! When the circumstances allow, I believe as much as ever in leaning in. And so many men—from those I know well to those I will likely never know—are honoring Dave’s life by spending more time with their families.

I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds.

I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave. I want option A.” He put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A. As Bono sang, “There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love.” I love you, Dave

Source: https://www.facebook.com/sheryl?fref=photo

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Posted June 29, 2015 by ouidaofs in Death of spouse

I Carry You In My Heart   2 comments

I carry you in my heart and pray that God will give you the grace to see, to know and to understand.  It is a gift.  For some it just comes; others have to ask for the gift; others neither seek nor want the gift.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  He also said:  “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Matthew 11.

You are right.  Existing is not living, and I am glad that you want to live again.  Jesus said that he came to bring you life and to bring it more abundantly.

You were created out of great love by God and made in his image.  He created all of us with a great vacuum in our souls and hearts, an emptiness, a loneliness and great longing that only he can fill.  If we do not surrender to the mercy and love of God, then we will go through life in this state, ever longing, ever incomplete.  Some try to fill the holes with alcohol, drugs, sex, a marriage partner, success, money, fame and fortune, but it never works.  We need God to be the ground of our being.

Our surrender to God will not take away sorrows and sufferings, losses and broken dreams, but we will have a purpose greater than all things of this earth.  We will have the God of All Comfort and Love walking by our sides as we walk through the trials of this life.  He will give us the strength and consolation needed.  We will believe that separation from loved ones though death is only temporary and that spiritually, we remain of one heart and mind even though absent from each other in body.

(Written for all who suffer, especially from the loss of a loved one.)

Prodigal Son - Rembrandt

Posted January 13, 2014 by ouidaofs in Conversion, Death of spouse, Grief, Jesus, Love, Mercy, Suffering

Then is Now   Leave a comment

A few days ago I had a car accident. It was a one-car accident. A bit of rain had sprinkled on the road – not much but enough. I made an exit from the interstate, braked and skidded, lost control of the car, crossed two lanes of traffic, plowed up lots of grass and came to a stop with much damage to the left front wheel and front underside of the car.

I am so grateful that no one else was hit and that I am not injured. The car is in the shop, I have a rental and today I am not as sore as yesterday.

My husband Tom passed away last May. I don’t feel able to handle so well anymore all that is dished out in my life now, such as this wreck. Life this second year without Tom is much more difficult than the first year.

I knew I would be lonely without him. We really had so much in common in our faith, values, beliefs, and love for similar things, in music, books and all that is beautiful. Early in the marriage, he was very controlling, but he became comfortable in my freedom, setting himself free in my freedom to be. I told him once that I have imagined coming home with him gone, and I cannot tell you the pain that ripped through my heart then. Then is now.

The Anima Christi
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ’s side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints
and with Thy angels
Forever and ever
Amen

Posted June 22, 2012 by ouidaofs in Death of spouse, Grief

Yet I Live   Leave a comment

When my husband passed away last spring, I had strange feelings which accompanied my grief. These feelings went on for the first few months, and I am sure they would have continued much longer and much stronger if we had been younger or if his death had not been preceded by many years of decline which prepared me or if I had not maintained a strong sense of self (a strong spiritual self) that was separate from him and our marriage.

This morning, during prayer and meditation, I had a sudden insight into understanding these feelings. The causes are very simple and obvious to me now.

When a spouse dies, the surviving one in the marriage not only loses a husband or wife, a best friend, and a companion, the remaining one also loses themselves and their identity. The person we were as a spouse, married to the one who has passed away, no longer exists. We grieve for the loss of two people: the one who has gone to God and ourselves who remain but are gone also because much of the context of who we were is gone. The couple dies with the one who passes. In this sense there are three deaths in our grief – our spouse, ourselves, and the marriage. We miss “us.” We miss and grieve for who we were and who we could have been.

This certainly accounts for the eerie feelings I had for so many months after my husband Tom passed away. It is somewhat like being on stage, before a huge audience, with no script and no role to play. Some of the questions one unconsciously poses to self are what do I do, what do I say, who am I? We begin to walk down a new road to find the answers to these questions and many more. This is the work before us to continue our lives. We walk alone but with God. There is no other way. Yet we live.

“. . . I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” Galatians 2:19b-20

“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.” (Closing prayer, Divine Mercy Chaplet)

Posted April 16, 2012 by ouidaofs in Death of spouse, Grief

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