The unthinkable happened on September 25, 2014. After 5 short months of marriage preceded by almost 4 years of dating, I tragically lost who I thought was my forever life partner, Jennifer. I was shocked, I was in denial, I was angry, I was heartbroken and I was angry at God. Some days I experienced one particular emotion. The norm was I went through all these emotions on a daily basis in no particular order.
I remember all the questions that hit me like a plague of locusts ranging from the practical to the absurd and selfish. Would I date again? Was there a mourning period that was personally and socially acceptable before dating again? Would I quit my job and go on a cross-country drive across America and rediscover my purpose? Who would cook for me? Would I be able to be the primary caregiver for Jen’s dog, Belle the Love Spaniel? How long would it take to join the land of the living again? How would this loss affect my relationship with my “new” in-laws?
Shortly after Jen’s death, I started looking for a book on grief and recovery and found one by the author Susan A. Berger named “The Five Ways We Grieve.” She talks about the five types of grieving and how different people respond to this loss. The five types can be categorized as the following:
1) Nomads are struggling with resolving their grief and seeking closure to move on with their life and form a new identity.
2) Memorialists are people who honor their loved ones by creating tributes that keep their memory alive in the present tense.
3) Normalizers appreciate the shortness of life and tend to prioritize their values so they can return to normalcy and live a good life.
4) Activists try to make a difference in the lives of others and the world at-large by adopting a cause or participating in activities that reflect this internal crusade of the heart and mind.
5) Seekers seek the meaning of life. They look for answers in both the natural world and the spiritual realm.
Needless to say I never finished the book and put it back on my shelf in my reading room where it gathered dust until recently when I thumbed through it again and came to a realization that I didn't fall neatly into any one of these categories. There are too many nuances to mention within each one which result in feelings like you just don't fit into one category. One example is the fact that Normalizers, according to Dr Berger, may avoid the pain associated with the loss. They may also become aversive to risk-taking and conversely they can make hasty decisions. In my case those behaviors never applied. I faced the pain head-on, took more risks in 2015 than ever in my life and still carefully consider the pros and cons of every decision I make.
Survivors like us are all nomads, normalizes, seekers, memorialists and activists to some extent. We analyze and pick the best and worst parts of ourselves and create a new identity that will help us cope with death and the loss associated with it. We will never go back to the people we were before the event happened and honestly why would we? Loss forces us to make changes in our lives we were afraid to implement. Routines become established in relationships and marriages. This component can be both an anchor for stability as well as paralysis. Death of a loved one throws routine against the wall and shatters it into a million unrepairable pieces and forces us to adapt or to falter.
My simple advise on reclaiming your life after the death of a spouse is simple trial and error.
Go out and experience what feels comfortable to you.
If you don't like your course of action, stop doing it and go down another road of possibility and adventure. From the accumulation of those new experiences over the last 18 months, I've learned some nuggets of wisdom that might just help out someone trying to reclaim their life after loss.
First is don't be hesitant to share your grief with anyone and everyone. Find friends who you can trust and chew their ear off until it hurts. If they love you as a friend, they will always let you talk and not judge you. Be open to situations where you get to share with a complete stranger. I did this with a convenience store manager who it turns out she had lost her mother recently and was comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings. Post on social media. I posted pictures of Jen and shared with others what made her such a special human being. I referenced wedding anniversaries and birthdays as well as the day she passed away (still do) I also reached out (and still do) to people who lost a loved on and encourage them to share their feelings (your ability to do this will come with time, though). Be an open vessel and someone will eventually come along whose cup you will fill and they may just, in turn, fill yours.
My next life lesson is pray consistently and fervently to your God. I don't care who your God is. It could be the God the Father of Christianity, the God of nature and the natural universe, Buddha or to no particular God at all. Lean on your faith. If you lost your faith after such an event, be patient and re-establish it in your life again. If you never had faith, cultivate and develop this concept. It's perfectly acceptable to question the grand design of your Maker. He’s there for you in good and bad times, triumph and tragedy and during laughter and tears.
Finally don't be afraid to love again. There’s no acceptable timeline for seeking human companionship again, no matter what people say. The critics say put enough time between your loss and your decision to love again before you take the plunge in the romance pool. I say that you should ignore the experts (which includes your family and friends) and leave the door open to new possibilities. Your new partner, if she's a rock of support and stability, will truly understand your journey and new view of life after loss.
Death and loss will happen to us all-it's an inevitable date on the calendar. Accept this fact and you will understand what the author Anne Lamott meant when she wrote,
“You will lose someone you can't live without and your heart will be badly broken and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up. And you come through. It's like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly-that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
Some know Bob Sherry as an aspiring entrepreneur who finally escaped from cubicle life to pursue his calling. Others know him as a huge fan of the Avett Brothers, craft beer, and the beach. He's definitely a blessed human being and doesn't take life for granted anymore.
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