“There’s grief and then there’s the loneliness of grief. The way it’s yours and yours alone.”
I had not planned on writing about the death of my husband, Bill, on October 22, 2021. After all, he didn’t die by suicide and this is a letter for “survivors of suicide.” But some people have called, texted, and or emailed me asking when I was going to do just that. When I’d tell them that I had no plans to do this, the response was, “Yes, but this is part of your journey, right?” Ok. You have me there.
This Friday, February 11, marks 16 weeks since Bill died. Knowing the grief process and going through it again are 2 entirely different things. My mom’s death was sudden and so many years ago. Bill had been in declining health for several years. He had so many health challenges, so many ER visits, so many Dr. visits (often 4-5 in a week) and so many hospitalizations. Yet, he always came back. He was determined to “get better”, to “get my legs stronger”, to figure out why he had so much fatigue.
The rheumatoid arthritis was “active and acute” when we visited the Mayo clinic in 1997. The peripheral neuropathy began after chemo for colon cancer in 2013. The double pneumonia in 2017 almost took him. But I think it was my open heart surgery in February of 2020 when the deep decline came. I came home from that surgery after 4 days when the surgeon told me I’d have to be hospitalized a minimum of 5 days.
“Valentine’s Day is on Friday”, I’d said to him.“ I’m going home on Valentine's Day. “ I haven’t missed a Valentine’s Day with Bill in 34 years. The Dr.’s skepticism along with his words that “of course Bill can come here to see you” didn’t change my mind one bit. If they told me I had to walk around the square halls twice in a day, I’d walk 4 times. I did the walking, the exercises, and followed the routine to the letter. I went home on Valentine’s Day.
While I’d made Valentine’s Day a family event while the kids were growing up and, even as adults, with their children, Bill and I always had our special moments. Just us. Silly little gifts and meaningful cards. And now what?
He died at home, as he’d wanted, surrounded by his books, his cats, and his family.
Those first 2 weeks, my days were filled with writing the obituary, planning the Celebration of Life, and doing the few necessary details that follow a death. The Celebration of Life was just that: a “Celebration”. There was laughter, there were tears, there was music. There was food and there were lots of people to eat it.
It still is true that after so many weeks, people stop reaching out, checking in, or dropping by. Sherry Bryant, my dear friend and the Founding Board President of SPS sends me a card every now and then. I quote from her last note:
“I know when all the official routines are over, the task remains to live without our loved ones – hour by hour. I know that you can only be comforted by others -while you just want Bill back. “
There it is! The nail has been hit squarely on the head. I just want Bill back. l’ve written for years about “the goneness”. The “loneliness of grief” is all-consuming and devastating. I am lonely for the one person who is not here to listen to me or to comfort me. Our routines, our patterns, our togetherness is no more.
Going home is hard. For the first 8 weeks, I’d drive anywhere after work but home. The problem is, as you well know, eventually I had to go home. No greeting yelled from the living room. No big smile or the words asking me how my day was. No one to go to with questions, problems, or simple conversation. Why cook? Why grocery shop? Why? Why? Why?
Many other people also loved and miss Bill. But grief is not a shared activity. It’s good to hear people’s stories. It’s good to both laugh and cry with people. Our relationship was just that: OUR relationship. That relationship makes the loneliness of my grief paramount.
I no longer smell coffee when I wake up in the morning. My cup full of coffee is not sitting on the warmer by my chair. When my eyes pop open I have those few seconds of feeling good and then the hammer comes down. I reach for him at night. I look for him when I come home.
Unlike the sudden death of my mom, I had several years to “prepare” (gee, I hate that word). Watching his decline was hard but he was still there with his brain at full function. We could still talk, hold hands, smile, laugh, and discuss anything.
And now I see how important it is to write about the death of my husband. My dad died 2 years and 5 months before mom took her life. Her first and only prior attempt was 4 months after his death. Mom, I get it fully, now. The death of your husband…the beginning of the end. Even after surviving that first attempt, you were handed so many losses. The things dad did that you then had to learn how to do in addition to not having him beside you was the beginning of your end.
Have I thought about suicide? Of course. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. I am not going to kill my-self. I’ve always said that I felt it was my job to live out mom’s life in a better way. This feels like the last big piece that I’m to understand but then maybe it isn’t. I have many more options than ending my life; it’s my job, now, to find my new path (words offered by my therapist.)
I get signs from Bill. I see him in the 3 deer that come to our backyard. I can feel him. He’s still in the house. I’ve hung his jeans and shirt on the end of the bedpost where he always had them ready for the next day. His sandals and socks are there as well. This brings me comfort.
I am lonely. For him. I am on a grief path, yet again. It’s different but it’s still a long, bumpy road that awaits me. I am not sitting at home in my sweats. I go to work, I have family functions, I read, I get together with friends. Within me is a big- no a HUGE” hole. My heart is broken. Half of me is dead.
I will end this with the words of Connie, Bill’s sister.
“Bill needs to know you will be ok.”
Bill, I promise you, I WILL be ok. (But can’t you come back for just one more hug?)