Surviving the loss of a loved one is not something you think about when you fall in love. Frank and I met at 16, married and had three children. Our children were grown and happy, we were enjoying the empty nester stage of life and were enjoying a long and happy marriage. On a trip to the doctor for some vague indigestion/nausea symptoms we ended coming home with a diagnosis of stomach cancer. One of the deadliest cancers, with an extremely low five-year survival rate. Although we thought we could beat this cancer, Frank died within 7 months. At the age of 53, 10/28/14, the day “the other shoe dropped.”
This was not a dream even though there was fog everywhere in my mind. Wake up, go to the funeral home, decide what to bury Frank in, what casket, which prayer, which song. So many people want to share love, a meal or a memory because Frank was the best! I found myself so busy. Then the busy slowed and I had to endure my first Thanksgiving and my first Christmas alone. This time was so dark, I cried so much and the pain was so deep. It sneaks in and consumes you like a giant rolling wave that is never ending.
My family and friends were all still there, but this was my journey with grief, and I had to live it. I was angry that he left me and sad that he did not get to enjoy what we had worked so hard for. My shell of a person would go through life day by day working, interacting, slapping a smile on my face every time I was asked how I was doing. I would ask fellow widowers how long the emptiness would last. A few months? A year? A few years? I did not want to live with this pain anymore. How can life be happy when your future has been erased?
I was not prepared for all the firsts that came up. How about the first time you fill out a form that asks your marriage status, here comes that giant wave of grief again. Am I really single? Attending a wedding alone that we should have been attending together, waves of grief crashing on me the whole way home driving alone. Getting in the car and hearing that song come on the radio could make me turn the car around and go back to finish my sad thoughts.
Year two was even harder because the fog had somewhat lifted and now this life without Frank was my reality. The need to keep moving crept in, even if it was not always moving forward. Thoughts would pop into my head making me think I could have done better, but we cannot change the past. No guilt. Go easy on yourself. Make peace with the thoughts that pop up and know that you had done the best you could. What if you date right away, that is ok! If you wait that is ok too. This is your grieving path and we all travel it at different speeds.
I remember the day that I sang out loud,
I remember how good that felt and thought that
I am surviving, and I like the new stronger me.
I decided not to wait to be invited out, I would go out alone. Guess what? I survived that. I joined clubs, sports, and life again! I thought about dating, but how to go about that was a whole new topic to think about. Knowingly the love that Frank and I shared grew a very strong tree of experiences, emotions and memories with deep deep roots. Nowadays I can climb that big healthy tree and have fun and swing on it. It gives me shelter when it rains, its branches pick me up in an embrace when I need them too and this tree of life still continues to grow strong.