Surviving Complicated Grief

Surviving complicated GriefThe hospital smells of disinfectant, trying to mask the presence of illness and grief. I walk into my husband’s room and give him a hug. I hold on tight, and even though he’s too weak to reciprocate, I relish the familiar touch and feel of his skin. How, I wonder, will I find the strength to witness his decline. He promised he’d never leave me, that he’d love me forever. But now he has cancer and promises are a thing of the past.

Six weeks later my sweet husband, Rex, passes peacefully at home. Even though I’m with him when he takes his last breath, I just stare in disbelief. Grief takes on many forms, and for now I feel like I’m watching a scene in a really bad play. I walk through the funeral, burial and reception like I’m a robot. I engage in conversation but I’m not really present. There’s a blanket between me and the rest of the world and nothing’s getting through.

When the feelings start to come they are complicated and not what I expected. The anger kicks in first. I tear through Rex’s tools and start packing them away. When I find corroded duplicates, I go to the dump and toss them out frantically. I call in a friend to take down the walls of his make-shift office in the garage. I clean out the space with a vengeance, furious at the mess that he left behind. If I’m going to be alone then I’ll do what I want, so don’t get in my way.

My kids are adults with families of their own, and I don’t want to burden them unnecessarily. But toughing it out on my own is harder than I thought. Out of nowhere, with Rex gone 6 weeks, the tears start to come. They come at the supermarket when I can’t decide between peaches and plums. They come when the light turns red and I’m going to be 5 minutes late. And again when the gas tank hits empty and I’ve forgotten to fill it up. They come flooding when the dishes pile up in the sink and the dishwasher is full. It doesn’t take much, but for the next 8 months grief feels like it’s never going to end.

When the fear kicks in I suddenly feel very old. How will I navigate this next phase of my life on my own? Will I be lonely for the rest of my days? What if I get in an accident and nobody knows about it until it’s too late? Will I have enough money to live comfortably if I need long term care? Who can I talk to when I’m feeling worried or sad or even happy and excited? Rex was my heart, the one I shared everything with, and now I have no idea where I’m supposed to turn.

I’m independent to a fault and resist reaching out, until I see a card from The Gathering Place. Provident Little Company of Mary is offering a “Loss of Spouse” Grief Support Group. Even though I’m not Catholic, it’s close to my home so I agree to give it a chance. I go to the group for nine weeks and start connecting with other women. I start to make friends and surround myself with people who understand. “How did you deal with Social Security?” “Do you have to take your husband’s name off the mortgage to set up a trust?” “What are you doing with his clothes?” “Who do you talk to when you are feeling hopeless?” And most importantly, “Tell me about your husband, what was he like?”

It’s two years since I lost the love of my life, and although I’m still grieving I am beginning  to have hope. I journal every morning to stay in touch with my feelings. I honor my husband by sending him loving prayers throughout the day. I’ve learned to reach out and ask for help when I need it. I know who I can really talk to and who just wants me to move on. But mostly I’ve learned that I have not been abandoned. I have been loved and cherished by a man I adored, and that love gives me the strength to make it on my own.

Sydell Weiner, Ph.D

Surviving Grief, August, 2017

16 thoughts on “Surviving Complicated Grief”

  1. Sydell, you are a strong woman and wise woman! I am happy that you have a wonderful support group. I have a feeling that you will be a leader in that group and help many women who share in your pain. I love the journal you speak of. One day your kids will read that and it will reaffirm what a wise and strong mother they have. Hugs dear friend I always enjoy your thoughts on matters.

  2. Chiefy,
    You are never alone. The gift of wisdom, compassion and spirit, dwell inside me always. Similarly, I have passed your legacy to my girls, who are now demonstrating that they will do the same. While you may not see us in the physical sense, we will always live right next to you, via your shared humanity. To say that you are an impactful soul sounds trivial, as words will never truly capture what you mean to me, and now, my next generation.
    Yes, Chiefy, I do remember, and will always…..”follow.”

  3. Sydell,
    This is so beautiful! You are a writer, and are writing, and you are seen and loved and admired for who you are. I can’t wait to read more…

  4. Wonderful article about the complexity of grief and the power of love. My own love and loss are still being processed internally and I realize that it may take longer than a few months to grieve. Thank you Sydell.

  5. Sydell, Thanks for this beautiful, honest piece of writing. I will share it with my Silver Linings–the grief group that morphed into a group of friends that continue to meet weekly months after our hospice Life After Loss group ended. It will resonate with them, as it does with me. My family celebrated my 70th birthday the evening of the day of my husband’s celebration of life, just over a year ago. Strangely, it was a comfort to have the focus shift to gratitude for being together, and an affirmation that they would continue to be with me in the challenging months to come. My husband died, a year and four months ago, twenty-five years and four days after my first dear husband died. The miracle is resilience. I still miss them like crazy, but I am in awe of how I am once again recreating a life of meaning –and even joy! Also a Taos Writers’ Retreat grad, I hope this month to be finishing the first draft of my first book, Come Together, on the place an intentional group of empathic friends plays in such miraculous second growth.

  6. hope. that’s it. and our memories which often give us strength. may each day bring new surprises and new found peace with this new chapter. I find strength in your admitting your willingness and new ability to ask for help… that’s a strength and something people are thrilled to offer (when asked). And when/if you encounter those that don’t or can’t be of aid, there will be someone who can. Take good care Sydell. You’re on to something! sSs

  7. Loved this when you first posted it, and love the eloquent and insightful update. People pass, but love endures – and that is our immortality. In the love you still share with Rex, he is with you – always. Your journey through this loss gives others the knowledge that, though the loss remains, the heart heals. Thanks for sharing?✨✨.

  8. Hi Sydell! This is a wonderful! You are a very deep and sensitive woman. To be human is to experience loss. You navigate it well. We are all in one stage or another of healing…


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