The First Few Weeks: Losing a spouse
On the Life Change Index Scale1 losing a spouse scores 100 points, meaning it is the most stressful event you could ever have to deal with. Being through it, I would say it is one of the top two, the second being the loss of your child. There are instantaneous changes that you aren’t prepared to make and decisions that need time, but which must be made almost immediately. Future events swirl in your head, what did you get done on that bucket list anyhow? Becoming a widow, or widower, is a new life whether you like it or not.
There are obviously so many circumstances around death, none of which truly make sense when you are grieving the loss. If it was a long-term illness, you may have had time to come to terms with the fact that death was coming but if it was a short, unexpected illness, then that prep time was not included. The same is said for an accident, which I have also dealt with having lost my son thirteen months after my husband died, but even this scenario is different than sickness. Supposedly, we all know that we will not live forever but when that final day has come it is not an easy time for anyone.
The death of a loved one after a long-term illness is extremely hard, especially if it is a child. All the months or years thinking about that final day and how you will react, how you will feel, how you will survive, all go through your head like a continuous whirlpool in the great river of life. I lost my mother to Cancer. She had been sick for about ten years. She went into remission once, had a bone marrow transplant once, and died…once. From the first day of learning of her illness I still remember thinking, what am I going to do without a mother? Who in their right minds thinks this when previously life seemed as normal as can be? As the months went by and chemo treatments ensued, questions as to how long this torture would take came up quite frequently. In your mind you want to hope it would all end, but in hoping that are you hoping the one you love will die? No! You just want the sickness to end, the turmoil, the bump in your smooth road of life. But when you wish for the end, you don’t know if God knows which end you are wishing for.
Time passes, sick days prevail, some good days sneak in, and during this whole debacle you are given the opportunity to realize all the situations that are being laid before you. What happens after? How do they want to be remembered and what can I deal with for the rest of my life? Whose say is it anyhow, once they are gone? Will they look down from Heaven and think, “Hey, that isn’t what I wanted you to do with my ashes!” Unfortunately, the answers to your questions never come with any certainty, only hope.
Flip over to the short illness and all the troubles and questions you may have had with someone ill for a long time are suddenly thrust at you on top of the chaos your life is already taking on. As I sat next to the hospital bed, I kept watching for a sign. I don’t know what it was going to be a sign of, just something! My late husband died on the operating table after undergoing a liver transplant. The liver transplant was supposed to save his life and I guess if he hadn’t had uncontrolled bleeding that could have come to fruition. It was only five short weeks from realizing he was sick to dealing with his death, in which terror frequently arose in my mind, wondering what life would be like without him.
You are supposed to stay optimistic in situations such as illness or injury, but even with the optimism there are questions that need answers and must be asked. Trying to find the appropriate time is the tricky part, a time that never seems to happen. You think about finances, children if you have them, your home, your current life and schedule, everything! There seems to be no good time, however, that you can turn to your sick spouse and ask them if they want to be cremated or buried, if they want a memorial service or viewing hours at a funeral home. These decisions, if you hadn’t spoken about them before this, all seem to be so urgent, yet can’t be talked about at this moment in time because if you talk about them, they might just happen. Luckily, I knew Vincent wanted to be cremated, he did not want a wake with a casket, and he assumed he would be too old to care anyway. Things don’t always work out as they should, hence, turmoil.