The sudden death of a loved one is a traumatic event. I suppose it is natural, at times, to be almost consumed by fear and worry.
Here are some of the fears swirling around in my head (keeping the pre-existing squirrels company.) In my rational moments, I KNOW some are NOT rational or justified. But I still have them, and some are very real. It doesn't help much to know others are crazy talk. (I was sort of crazy before, why would this be any different?) That only makes me feel more crazy. And as much as people may wish to convince me these feelings are wrong, or fix them, in order to ease the pain really need to process and work through them.
I probably should not expose these thoughts to others. I'm hoping writing this down will help get some of it out of my head, give me perspective, and help with healing. Tomorrow this list will probably evolve and grow. At some point I hope to do some subtracting.
I am not afraid that things will never be the same. I already know they will not be. The rational fraction of me knows that they can still be good again. Someday.
MY GROWING LIST
- Becoming a whacked out, obsessed surviving spouse in my search for answers about what happened and whether it was preventable (partly in the hope that this knowledge might save on person's life or spare such a loss.)
- That people will not want to talk about Doug in the future, because they have moved on, it is too hard for them. I talked about Doug all the time when he was around. He was my life. He was so funny. There were so many stories. It's hard to stop now. Plus I don't WANT to stop remembering happier times.
- Talking nonstop about my missing partner, to the point where people get bored or avoid me when I need them most.
- Still talking nonstop about my missing partner decades from now, to the point where I am missing out on the present and what others need from me. I do know it's not all about me. I know I am not the only one who has experienced pain and problems.
- That my pain causes other's own personal pain to resurface.
- Becoming a burden to the wonderful family, friends, neighbors and colleagues who surround me now. I am useless some days. I'm no dummy, and am fairly independent, but I am not like Doug. He was a carpenter, electrician, roofer, plumber, historic home restorationer, landscaper, backhoe operator, car mechanic, floor mopper, goat pen cleaner, organizer, heavy lifter, fixer, go to guy, and all around uber-handyman. There are some things that I will not be able to do myself, like lift an 80 lb. back of duck chow. I will need help from others in the future. I am getting tons of offers of help and support. But I know these people who care about me have other commitments and problems. I don't want to use up all my chips for the routine stuff I CAN learn to do for myself.
- Feeling sorry for myself. Doug's family and friends are suffering too. Some people have other terrible crosses to bear. I know my situation is much better than most. And the one I really should feel sorry for is Doug. He is the one who lost his life and all the fun and happy years ahead that he deserved.
- That people will think first of the spouse, and forget how Doug's family is grieving. I only knew him for 27 years. Doug's parents are the reason he was here, and they had him for 52 years. It is a terrible thing to lose a child. As one parent said "There is no way that parents can lose a child and not feel that they have lost something of themselves — regardless of how much time passes or how many other children they may have." "The death of a child is usually more tragic and traumatic than the death of an older person because a child is the last person in the family expected to die. " Losing a sibling is a special kind of sad.
- Making mistakes due to difficulty concentrating or remembering. Some days I can barely remember why I should get up in the morning. See Doing a Doug.
- Repeating myself. I can't remember which of the things swirling around in my head I said to whom.
- Making bad choices. I have seen despairing folks go on spending sprees, or get involved with a loser or even an abuser just so they won't be alone.
- Falling into a Ben & Jerry's container. Some people fall into a bottle in their grief. When I am blue, I eat. (When I am not blue, I eat.) I worked hard for many years to get my weight under control, and finally did. In the interim, Doug always offered never-ending encouragement (and never-occurring criticism). I got un-chunky in part for him, because I loved him and wanted him to be proud of me. Also, he was so fit, I wanted to be able to (sort of) keep up with him. I also wanted to take care of myself because I knew he needed me, and I wanted to be able to enjoy 40 more years with him. So far, my stomach is so unsettled that I cannot overeat. I have lost my appetite. I'm sure it will return with a vengeance.
- Losing friends that were a big part of my Doug-Bet life. They hold memories I treasure. Doug loved and enjoyed them. So do I. They were a part of who he was and his wellspring of happiness. I know I am not Doug and never will be Doug. We shared a lot, but were very different from each other. But I still need these people in my life. Now I am afraid they will fade away. I might be considered a fifth wheel. Maybe they will feel uncomfortable around me, not knowing what to say. Or grow tired of my seemingly bottomless grief and constant weeping.
- That Doug's parents will get sick or me, or not want me in their lives anymore now that I am without Doug. (I know in my heart this will not happen. They are loving, caring people and have always treated me as a daughter. They are one of the reasons I married Doug.)
- Not being thankful enough for what I had and what is given to me.
- Others not knowing how much I appreciate them, how grateful I am for their love and support, and for being a part of our lives. That people will think I am rude and ungrateful for not getting back to them right away, or not thankful enough for their caring, generosity and expressions of sympathy. That I will forget to thank or include someone. But in the first few days and weeks I am often unable to talk or email people. I am too much of a mess. I can only hope they realize that their support wraps me in a cocoon of caring.
- Doing inappropriate things (something that probably did not concern Doug enough :-). Like having his body cremated before the Memorial Service because I didn’t want anyone to remember him so still and not full of life. Maybe I robbed them of their chance to believe this is real, which can be a challenge when an apparently healthy person dies so suddenly. If I had not seen him afterwards at the hospital, I’m not sure I would have ever believed it. I still don’t. Or speaking at his service. I gather spouses don’t usually do that. But there were things I wanted to say, and people I needed to thank right then and there.
- Wallowing in regrets, "What Ifs?" and the "wudda, cudda, shudda." I know I need to stop this. Doug had no regrets. He didn't even remember some stuff he really should have regretted. It was part of the reason he was so happy almost all the time. Also, there is so much about being with Doug that I will never regret. I just hope I was a good enough wife and friend to him. He often told me I was the best wife ever.I want to believe it was true, but I know my weaknesses all too well. Fortunately he didn't expect much.
- Forgetting. Forgetting what life was like with him. Forgetting what he was like. Forgetting about the fun we had together. Forgetting what his touch felt like. I totally freaked out one sleepless night at the thought that I might forget the sound of his voice. I'm glad I have a few videos where I can listen to him. And thousands of photos of our too short time together.
- Reverting. Doug made me a better person. He brought out the best in me. His own behavior constantly reminded me of what I could do better. At least I still have his voice in my head.
- Behaving badly (see above). I am not at my best right now. I have lost it several times with people who are trying to help me. I had some anger issues before all this. They are flaring up. I am afraid the people around me (some of whom don't even know what happened) will not understand. I am afraid they will be hurt by my selfishness and lack of sensitivity.
- That no one will tell me when I am behaving badly. That when I have lost my perspective and am so wrapped up in my own issues and problems and feelings, I will forget that others have a different perspective or needs, and will say or do things that do not honor their perspective or needs.
- Inability to get out of a bad mood. Doug was really the only one I simply couldn't stay blue around. He could make me laugh no matter what. See the little video clip of him (trying) to sing The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow to experience his mastery of this area.
- Getting weird. Turning into a cat collector or a bag lady. Blathering incoherently (which I'm doing right now.)
- That people who know how wonderful Doug was will wonder what he ever saw in me.
- That no one will tell me if I have a poppy
- seed stuck in my teeth. Or will see the tick injecting me with Lyme Disease again (found one in the shower that first week.) Or stop me from crossing the road without looking. (Doug used to yank me back all the time.)
- Being irresponsible. In my grief, forgetting to do things I committed to. Messing up at work because I can't concentrate. Neglecting my bluebird trails to that point that it threatens the survival of native birds I've invited to nest in my birdhouses. Forgetting to feed the cat and having him die of starvation. I've forgotten to feed him under better circumstances. As I often said to Doug, it's good thing we don't have kids. (This is also
something he thanked me for many times.)
- Losing my sense of humor. Sometimes it's hard to see the funny through the tears. Doug was my wellspring of funny. He was one of the funniest people I have ever met.
- Shutting down emotionally. To avoid feeling pain, feeling nothing at all.
- That people around me will misintepret the numbness (probably a survival mechanism) that descends upon me periodically and think I don't care about them, or that Doug is gone.
- That my heart will harden to avoid feeling pain.
- Financial challenges. This seems so damn trivial at a time like this, and in light of what happened to Doug. However, it is my new reality. Feeling guilty when other people are in much worse straits. Read more.
- Having This Old House fall down around my ears. Doug (and I) love this place. I don't want to have to leave it. He is in every room. He was so proud of all the fixes and updates we worked on together. Well, I guess "we" is too many people. I mostly just made the "to do" lists. Right now the back of the house is up on jacks because he didn't get to finish his latest mega-project - replacing the rotten sill. It was load even for twice as many of us. Fortunately, my brother, who is a skilled builder is coming up from North Carolina for a week to get it in.
- Not being able to rely on his good judgement or figure things out. Doug was my sounding board. He could also fix almost anything. Many men wear dresses, but not Doug. I can't find where he hid the tools. I can't figure out how he gerry-rigged some of the stuff in the house.
- That my efforts will not meet Doug's expectations. It's not like all his standards were high (after all, he was married to me :-) And he rarely criticized me. He was probably the LEAST judgemental person I ever knew. But he really liked the house to look good.The second week, I was overwhelmed with guilt when I noticed clover popping up on the lawn I hadn't mowed, even though I knew it really didn't matter (and bees like clover :-)
- That the pain will not end. Or that it will actually get worse with time, as reality sinks in.
I can't bear it as is. I have a room in my head for this kind of pain. Years ago, I taught
myself how to close the door to that room when it got too intense. But it is such a heavy door right now.
- That nothing really matters any more, and nothing ever did. (see W. H. Auden's Funeral Blues.) That there is no meaning to suffering. That there are no answers and no reasons. That nothing good will come of this. However, I am realizing that the loss of Doug was a wake-up call to many, and that will live on. As will the gift of healing he gave through tissue donation.
- Never knowing such happiness again. Of course, I do know I was lucky to have it all, for as long as I did.
- Losing someone else I love. Since Doug and I fell in love, my greatest fear was always that he would be taken from me. It just seemed to good too be true. Turns out it was. Everytime I say goodbye to someone I know it might be the last time.
I know (at least intellectually, even though it is hard to grasp) that everyone dies in the end. One of the reasons I didn't take my time with Doug for granted is because I had been witness to sudden, unexpected departures before this.
My father was killed in a boating accident the year he and my mom retired, when a drunk boater sank their boat. Thank goodness my mother survived the accident - I can't imagine what I would do without her now.
My twin sister took her life at the tender age of 24. She had problems with drugs, relationships, physical health and depression. Followed a year later by Antonio's sister, who also committed suicide, due to problems with finances and sadness.
(I will admit that I would not be sad to die right now. I have often remarked that I could not live without Doug. I am currently unable to imagine life without him. However, suicide is not an option for me. I know that it offers relief from suffering for those who choose it. But I find it a cruel wound that never heals for those who are left behind. Plus there is no guarantee that I would get to be together again with Doug after death.)
My friend, roommate and lover Alan. He was struck by a car while loading his lawn mowing equipment onto his truck at the end of the day.
My high school buddy Michael, who contracted HIV. He told me once that he was almost glad he got sick, because he figured out what really mattered, before it was too late. It was the love and time spent with family and friends.
- That my life as I knew it is over. Doug cut my sorrows in half and doubled my joys. There were so many things we did together - camping (I can't handle RV repairs by myself) and exploring new places, bluebirding, picnics, hiking, going to museums and lectures, watching movies, fixing up the house, writing my newspaper column, that I either cannot do, no longer want to do, or that will not be the same without him.
I mentioned this to Bob Fournier, the kind funeral director of Gilman & Valade. He said something that sticks with me. People will surprise me. I will change in ways that I never expected, and experience some amazing things in the days ahead, some of which would not have happened under different circumstances.
- That my appearance and behavior will frighten, upset or worry people. I know I look like sh*t. When I pass by a mirror and notice my reflection, I don't recognize myself. Sometimes my hair looks like I combed it with a chair. It is falling out. I am trying to eat regularly and healthy to maintain my strength as there is so much that needs to be done, but often don't care about food. My eyes are red, my face looks haggard and my wrinkled clothes are hanging off of me because I am having trouble not bending over in grief. My eyes are red and I often cry uncontrollably at certain triggers and in public places. More....
- Loneliness. I did as much as I could WITH Doug. We went to the dentist together. The grocery store. The hardware store. The Dump. We went on a date a week (Doug's concept.) Right now I am surrounded by family and friends. They will have to get back to and go on with their own lives at some point. I believe that those that love me will be there in a heartbeat if need them. But other people and things in their lives need them too.
- Dreading someone saying "It's time to move on" before it's time to move on. They probably will just want me to stop obsessing and sinking into sadness. Everyone grieves at their own pace.
- Wishes and regrets
- The things I DON'T regret
- Words of advice for the to be bereaved - things to do and think about BEFORE a loss
- Coping strategies - interrupting rumination
- Living with guilt and thoughtworms
- Doing a Doug
- Doug & Bluebirding
- My Spouse is Dead - grief recovery tools, suggestions and tips for recovering from the death of a spouse. Their motto is welcome to a club you never wanted to join. After I wrote this list, I read on this blog that "...Bereavement is a devastation of your mind, your ego. Your mind intensely dislikes the present moment, preferring instead to keep you caught up in thoughts about the past and anxieties about the future."
- Reactions to a Spouse's Death, KLS Funeral Home - this makes me feel less crazy.
- The Mothers of Section Sixty - grieving parents
- Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight - about living in the present, where I hope to spend some time in the future.
- What makes a good neighbor and neighborhood, Our Better Nature
- Sudden death - what it is like for those left behind
- Why it is unlikely that I will ever be so lucky in love again (09/26/2010)
- Bereavement Support Groups - pros, cons, bottom line (10/04/2010)
- Adjusting to remarriage after widowhood, handling the fear