Death of a Spouse
Having just arrived to work, I walk into the office and found a paper tablet with the inscription, “So-and-so is at the Brandywine Hospital. Released. Coroners Case. Autopsy.”
I loaded the pickup van, stopped at Dunkin Donuts on the way and a half-hour later I was at the Hospital. I went through the normal procedural paperwork, and got back to the morgue where the security guard awaited me. We pulled the stretcher out of the fridge (the gentlemen had been dead since Sunday [the family had only called us this morning as they awaited the autopsy]) and unzipped the bag.
I didn’t know how he died and wanted to look at him to make sure there wasn’t an obvious and horrific cause of death. He was autopsied that much was obvious, but no abrasions or other violent injuries. And he was young. I couldn’t tell how old he was, but I knew he wasn’t much older than me.
I called dad and let him know that if the family wanted embalming, that embalming was possible. That call proved useless as I arrived to the funeral home before the family arrived at 11 and in the end they would choose cremation. I unloaded the van and awaited them to show.
The widow and her mother came through the door. And we found out the deceased was only 36 years old. Five years older than me. Too young.
My phone started ringing. I went back to another room and answered it. It was Nicki, my wife. “Can we come to the funeral home and show Pop-pop Jeremiah’s Halloween outfit?”
I thought to myself, “Well, the family is here. And Pop-pop is meeting with the family, but why not?”
“Sure”, I said. “Bring Jeremiah over.”
A couple minutes later and Jeremiah was coming through the front door with his dinosaur outfit on. And all of a sudden he was the center of attention. The widow and mother came over, he smiled at them, they smiled back and their eyes started to tear up. They laughed. Jeremiah laughed. More tears. Their mind had momentarily forgotten their grief, but their body had not.
Tears were all they had.
A smile from a dinosaur allowed them to relax enough to cry.
As the tears rolled down their checks, and as Jeremiah’s smiles waned, they remembered. Small talk ensued for a minute or two. Small talk isn’t natural around death.
They looked at my dad and he ushered them back to see their deceased beloved a last time before I took him to the crematory.
You walk into a house full of fresh grief. It’s fresh because the death just occurred. Your best friend’s husband went out to the bar last night, drowned his hard day in hard drink and he never made it back home. Fresh. Because both you and your friend have never experienced death this close.
You open the door like you have so many times before, but this time the familiarity of the house is unexpected different, dark and lonely. What once housed parties, life and love now houses something you’ve never known before. Like a river, everything is in the same place it was when you last saw it, but this home has changed.
You see your friend’s children sitting on the sofa, staring into space.
You ask them, “Where’s your mom?”
And as you reach to hug them, they snap back to reality and whisper, “Upstairs.”
Each step brings you closer to what you know is only an apparition of your friend. The nerves build. Fear begins to build. You repress it as you ready yourself to meet your closest friend who has all of a sudden become someone you may no longer know.
“Can I come in?” you ask. No response.
You push open the cracked bedroom door and see the body of your friend collapsed on her bed, with used tissues surrounding her like a moat.
You tip-toe into the room, slowly sit down on the bed, and not sure if she’s awake or asleep, you reach for your friends shoulder and begin rubbing her back. Her blood shot eyes open, look at you and then, they slowly look through you.
You fill the weird silence with an “It’s going to be alright”.
“It’s not”, she whispers. “I’m alone with two kids and no job.” Her voice suddenly raises as anger courses through her body, “Why the f*** would he do this to me?”
The curse word chides you into recognizing that you’ve not only misspoken, but you’ve spoken too soon, so you decide to wait in silence. She starts to cry. You respond to her tears with your own. Even though you want to respond with words, you know this isn’t the time for words. There’s no perfection words here. There’s no perfect anything here. And so you wait.
You stay. Listen. Silence. You take her pain into your soul. Hours pass. She rises out of bed and makes the children dinner.
You’ve spoken, not with words or advice; not by trying to solve the problem; nor by placing a limit on your time. You’ve taken the uncomfortable silence, allow the grace for tears, for brokenness; you’ve allowed yourself to sit in the unrest without trying to fix it.
With your presence. With your love. In your honest acknowledgement of real loss, you’ve spoken the language of grief.
Although the language of grief is usually spoken in love, presence and time, sometimes it’s spoken in words. And when it is, here are five practical “do”s and “don’ts”
1. At least she lived a long life, many people die young
2. He is in a better place
3. She brought this on herself
4. There is a reason for everything
5. Aren’t you over him yet, he has been dead for awhile now
1. I am so sorry for your loss.
2. I wish I had the right words, just know I care.
3. I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in anyway I can.
4. You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.
5. My favorite memory of your loved one is…
There’s a reason why so many choose to symbolize loss with a tattoo. When it comes to death, many of us try to forget, so that we can forget the pain … only to remember years later, that what we fought so hard to move past and “forget” is something we should really remember.
It’s an innate desire for humanity to remember what we can forget with symbols. It’s an innate desire for us to remind others with symbols.
In Judaism, observant Jews wear a phylactery around their heads and their wrists. It’s both for themselves and for others … in order that they (we) might remember.
Religion has always used symbols. And these symbols are often deemed as “holy” because of what they represent and what they remind us of.
Like religious symbols, there’s a sense that when tattoos are used to remember the dead, those tattoos are holy … maybe even just as holy as religious symbols. Memorial tattoos symbolize our heritage, our love, our loss in a way that we and others must remember what we too easily forget.
Here’s some examples of holy tattoos:
Today’s guest post is from Brenda Lee. This post was written on November 11th, 2008 … two weeks after her husband’s death.
I kind of feel guilty saying this, but overall, today was a good day. Despite not wanting to get up this morning (facing the official 2 weeks since…), I eventually got my bum moving and went to lunch with a great friend. Afterwards, I went to the interview and it went surprisingly well. I have no clue if they’ll hire me, but they’re flexible with when I want to start. The only concern I have is I think it’s only 20 hours instead of 24, which means I may not qualify for benefits. So…we’ll just see what I’m offered and go from there.
Tonight I got out of the house with a friend for coffee and it was just GOOD. One vice I have picked up is a new coffee addiction, but I figure that’s better than any of the alternatives!
Pray for Linda as she had a rough day and really needs support. We all have bad days and good days, and, of course, they aren’t always going to correlate.
I’m very adament about taking my own timeline on things. After discussing everything with my friends today, I am on the “right” track. The fact is, for the past 4 months my minute by minute job was taking care of Kevin. That WAS my job whether it was official employment or not.
My life is gone. I don’t say this to sound hopeless, because I am not hopeless. In fact, for whatever reason, God handed me a clean slate, a new life. As much as I want my old one back, I don’t have a choice. I no longer have a job, a home (that’s “mine”), a husband, a routine, even my car is different. The only thing I have left is faith, family and friends. My triple f, which is helping me immensely.
So, for me to go to a “routine” and “get back in the swing of things” isn’t going to happen. There is no SWING OF THINGS. As I said, I am hopeful, but it’s not going to be easy. Everything I do from here on out is new and different and will take even more time adjusting to. Starting a new job is NEVER easy, let alone when you’re an emotional basketcase and a new widow. In time, I’ll want to find my own place, in time, I’ll have a new routine. In time.
So….in time, this will happen. But I’m not going to rush it. I’m going to take weeks…maybe even months to “get back in the swing of things”. I am putting this out there because for me, finding a job, a “routine” isn’t really helpful to me right now. It scares me to death, and trust me, I’m finding things to fill my time with. I don’t have an immediate need to go back to work, to set a schedule. My immediate life right now is getting through each minute and doing things for myself.
..and that’s what I need to do. So thank you for respecting that and giving me this time. Thank you for allowing me this because this is all I need right now. Faith, family and friends. Everything else will fall into place as it is supposed to, and I’m not going to rush a thing.
So..it’s been a good day. And I pray tomorrow will be as well.
Brenda Lee is a freelance writer and blogger whose topics include travel, events, and businesses in central Pennsylvania. Widowed at just 24, Brenda is now an advocate for sarcoma cancer, and is working to change how society discusses grief and accepts those grieving at an early age. She is an award winning writer and is currently editing the first draft of her memoir, “Keepin’ it Kevin” detailing her love and loss story.
Today’s guest post is from a writer whose blog I have read through twice in it’s entirety. It depicts one of the more honest and heart-wrenching stories you’ll ever read. Gayle’s love for her husband Jim and her commitment to him underscores all that is good in humanity; and her writing … her writing brings death to life.
And, as a preface, I want to forewarn you that the honesty you’ll read in the following post has words that were made to express Gayle’s situation … words that are neither intrinsically wrong nor meant for everyday use. So, if you’re offended by strong language, I kindly ask you to skip this post.
Jim, my late husband, at the time this post was written, was believed to have had a rare form of frontal temporal dementia. This isn’t the kinda of dementia where grandma doesn’t remember who you are anymore or where grandpa sleeps in a bed all day and is feed applesauce. No, no… Jim wasn’t that lucky.
This dementia turned Jim into a caged lion.
“Our” world, the one our minds govern with common sense, intellect, and compassion became his cage. And he fought like an aged lion tiring to escape it. Trying to find peace and freedom, from his mind. His fighting had caused him to be kicked out of dementia related nursing homes and denied entry into others. Caregiving agencies refused to come help and hospice had refused to admit him. The only option was for him to be placed in a State Mental Hospital.
I knew he would leave this world soon and I was determined to let him feel love and peace at the end. Three weeks before he passed he was allowed conditional entry into a dementia nursing home, my own mental health was fading and I could no longer speak. These were my thoughts 3 days after he was admitted…
While lying in bed staring at the ceiling this afternoon (kids were taking a nap) I came to a strange realization about myself. NOTE-this is not deep, i attribute it to the pills i take.
Anyhow, I’ve always thought those people in the zombie movies who keep their afflicted loved ones chained to the wall, or chair and feed them bits of once living things were nuts. Or down right fucking crazy. I mean what is the point of keeping them around? First off, whatever made them who they were (their spirit) died, and secondly, they might or will kill you when they get the chance. So they should obviously get the hell away from them or make it so they can’t kill others (basically just kill them).
So when i think of what jim (or what was left of him) & what I had been through in the last 7 months I realized that I am that fucking crazy person or at least was. Jim was sick with no hope of return and i was seriously putting myself at risk. I was choked, hit, almost raped, ect. by a loved one who was losing his brains. It was rational to have him placed in a secure facility. But every time he was released from his 5150 holds I fought to bring him back. Why? That’s fucking nuts. He could have killed me if he wanted (he is 6’6″ and i’m 5′ nothing). Was i crazy? did i think i could bring him back? would I follow him to the ends of this earth? did i?
I did not act rationally then and knowing that is what is holding me together now.