Grief and Love and What Not To Say

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Photo by Felipe Cespedes

Tomorrow will be the 24th anniversary of my husband’s death.

We had no real warning. He’d had a mild heart attack a few days earlier but after an overnight stay in the hospital he’d been released with a laundry list of instructions of things to do (eat better) and to not do (smoke). They scheduled a stress test for the end of the month. We had health insurance, so naively, we assumed if they sent him home and didn’t schedule a follow up stress until test weeks later, then we didn’t have anything to worry about.

Mother’s Day 1999…the day my life fell apart. He woke me up and said his chest was hurting. We called an ambulance and I called his manager to see if he and his wife could watch our boys. The paramedics told me to get to the hospital right away after I told them I was waiting for someone to come and get our small children. I didn’t see him again until after he died.

What Not To Say

Losing a spouse is terrible. Such an obvious statement, I know. Losing a spouse when you’re young is a unique kind of grief, I think. Rick and I were together 5 years. He was 35 years old when he passed away and I was 25. Michael was 2 1/2 and Nick was 6 months old.

People actually told me, “Don’t worry, you’re young, you’ll find someone else and remarry.” Let me give you some advice: Don’t say that to someone who just lost their spouse. It doesn’t help. I had already chosen my person, I didn’t want to find someone else. Telling me it was God’s will was also not helpful to me. I didn’t need any help being angry at the world for our loss.

The Loss

I can’t imagine losing someone after being married for 30 or 40 years. They have a lifetime of memories and routines and shared stories. Losing someone early on in a relationship though, you lose out on possibilities and shared dreams. You’re suddenly celebrating alone when your kids do something great like scoring their first lacrosse goal, or getting accepted to that fancy private college, college graduations, scoring their first jobs after graduating, buying their first homes or moving out of state.

Losing a spouse when you have kids is another hurdle in the grief process. I hate the fact that my boys didn’t get the opportunity to know their father but honestly, I don’t think I would have survived losing Rick if I didn’t have my kids to focus on. You don’t have a choice about getting up out of bed in the morning and putting one foot in front of the other and trudging on with life when you have two little ones depending on you.

It was not an easy path raising my boys without Rick. I was fortunate to have a great village to help me along the way though. I am incredibly blessed to have great kids who have grown up to be great adults, who are incredibly patient and generous with their helicopter-mom. They put up with me and my constant need for pictures (because smart phones weren’t a thing when Rick was alive and I sooo wish I had more pictures of him.) Single parents, regardless of how you became one, are ALWAYS the bad guy but fortunately our grown up relationship seems to have survived any missteps I made along the way.

Another great blessing, at least most of the time, is the fact that both Michael and Nick in their own way remind me so much of Rick at times. Sometimes that’s not a good thing, lol, but most of the time it’s a gift I treasure. It might be just a look they give me. Sometimes it’s one of them knowing darn well he’s driving me crazy but he can follow it up with a a little mischievous grin and he’s forgiven and he knows it. And sometimes it’s just a tilt of the head and they look so much like Rick at that moment that it can take my breath away.

Another Year

What’s the point of this blog post? I’m not sure. As each year passes, I think to myself, one year May 9th and Mother’s Day (because that’s an extra perk of someone dying on a holiday that changes dates every year-you think about it twice most years) is going to come and go and it’s not going to be a day where I’m extra emotional. 24 years later, I’ve come to the realization that’s probably not true. If I’m honest, I probably don’t want it to be true. There are so many little things I find myself trying to remember about him that I struggle with now. May 9th or our anniversary passing as just another day might be the biggest gut punch of all.

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