I talked to many social workers during the two and a half years that Michelle was sick. We spent so much time in the hospital between the surgeries, the treatments, etc. that while she was sleeping I would often ask for a various social worker to come to talk to me in the waiting room. My grief was so intense. The knowledge that her cancer was so rare, so aggressive and was not going to be beat. I needed to speak to someone, to cry to someone. To pour my heart and my soul out to someone.
For all of the amazing help that these individuals gave me – and they did – they helped me SO much – nobody ever told me the medical term for what I was experiencing: Anticipatory Grief.
A few months after Michelle passed away I stumbled across this article.
And it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Hey, that’s me! That’s what I had!
It finally made sense.
The grief that I endured while Michelle was alive was finally explained. Finally justified.
You can follow John Polo at http://www.betternotbitterwidower.com and on his Facebook page by searching Better Not Bitter Widower
The black hole of grief. This thought has been on my mind for a couple of months now. The idea of being in a place that is so vast, so dark and so void of life… is a sobering thought indeed. It is easy to believe, as a widow, we are in such a place. Our emotions pull us into its darkness, and for some reason we think that we are stuck there for eternity. It is not true of course… but we can be hurting and grieving so much that that becomes our truth. Wandering blindly in this dark place long enough, bumping into things and falling on our faces invites us to think that being drawn into this place of pain and loss is our end, that lie’s pull is just so strong.
In light of this terrible place we didn’t choose to be in… dear ones, I’d like to share a bit of hope. God is the maker of heaven and earth. He knows every black hole and every dark corner and is well acquainted with us in our darkest grief and painful loss. He will, if we let him, pull us out of this vortex we’ve been spinning uncontrollably in. His strong arms will carry us from the darkness to where we can see the stars and the sun again.
When my husband passed away, I lost my footing. I functioned as a zombie, mechanically moving through life painfully aware of my missing half of a heart and the chill of moving forward. Every day I wondered when the nightmare would end and I’d no longer be alone. The darkness of this black hole swallowed me and I thought I’d be lost forever. Until one day I learned the meaning of goodness and heard the audible whisper, “you’re not alone,” from other dear widows walking ahead of me.
I have a gentle dear pastor. He’s like a father to me. I’ve known him for years, he married my husband and I, and he was there at our side to support us as my beloved took Jesus hand and stepped into heaven. One day he shared of goodness… something I’d never pondered in my walk. Love, joy and peace had always seemed bigger and more important. But now goodness has become one of my favorites. Goodness is… Christ living inside us, the hope of glory. I know my beloved husband knew this and now experiences it. And I have that hope inside me… no matter how dark this hole is.
That whisper… “your not alone.” Oh how precious it was to hear this from others who’d walked this valley and spun in this black hole’s dark vortex. I’ve met some dear widows whose candles have brightly burned through this thick, ominous dark place. They’ve been light, precious God given stars in a place that was so void of any light and hope.
It’s been nearly two and a half years… and now I see my own candlelight joining others, burning into the dark corners of my widow sisters sadness and grief. I am blessed to share it and call attention to the hope that sparkles in spite of this black hole of grief.
“The Lord their God will save them on that day… they will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be!(Zechariah 9:15-16)
Sisters, this is you… black hole, deep valley, cave dwelling, stuck in grief mud up to your waist or in bed with the covers over your head. None of that changes who you are in Christ and how much He values you. You still sparkle in his eyes. Hugs and may you know hope.
“Well he never believed in God so now that he’s dead, I guess he knows the truth,” said the religious man. And so began the litany of awkward, insensitive, and of course ‘well-meaning’ condolence comments in reference to my husband’s suicide, that I would have to endure in addition to the constant vomiting and perpetual shaking of my hands for the next year.
Four days later it would be, “Well I can always take you out to dinner next weekend; I clean up nice” as another religious man rubbed my back a little too long for my comfort level during the obligatory, ‘hug-the-widow’ show that took place at the buffet table near the entrance of the reception.
My husband shot himself. Casseroles and hugs for everyone!
“You’ll remarry. You’re so pretty and young!”
Because if I were ugly and old I wouldn’t get that luxury?
“I just want you to know that I don’t blame you at all. It was his choice to shoot that gun.”
Thanks for reminding me that everyone else does indeed blame me.
“How are you?”
Fucking fabulous, thanks.
“I’m here for you”
Except for you won’t be about three seconds after the funeral reception when you return to your own life and decided that ‘here for you’ means occasionally liking my social media posts.
“He’s in a better place”
No he’s not. He was an atheist that denied the existence of God up until his final breath. I heard his final breath on the phone as he shot himself; trust me, he’s not in your version of a ‘better place’.
“His death happened for a reason”
Yes. The reason is, that when a bullet enters the body at point blank range, it kills you.
“I know exactly how you feel, when my great Aunt Agnes died…..”
Yep. That’s the same thing.
“Why did he kill himself?!”
While I appreciate your nosiness I’m gonna decline that question for now and ask that you please do not speak to me again until you have adequately researched suicide and mental illness. Idiot.
“I’m praying for you”
Great! While you’re at it, please make sure to tell God I no longer believe in him. Thanks.
What do all of these questions and statements have in common? None of them brought me comfort, and about half of them aggravated my already indescribable pain.
These people were not insensitive assholes (well except maybe the first two men I mentioned), they were just uneducated in the true needs of those who are in mourning. Years and years ago when I was normal, I too was guilty of using some of these cute little grief catch phrases. I am guilty in my past life of asking things I should never have asked and making promises to mourners that I never intended on keeping (Call me anytime of the day or night and I will be there for you!). I have said these phrases to children who have lost grandparents, and I have said them to Grandparents that have lost siblings. Most regretful of all though, I have said these things to widows. And then, I became one at the age of thirty-one.
Now that I’m living this experience I know better, and so, I do better; and doing better to me means spreading awareness of how to help those in mourning so they are not further injured on top of their life-long grief. I have talked to hundreds of widows in the last few years through social media and in person and we all mostly agree that the three things every widow/er needs you to say to them are:
- Nothing…followed by a statement about how you are not going to be saying anything. At all costs avoid words. Never underestimate the power of shutting the hell up, especially early-on. The only exception is if you want to acknowledge your commitment to silence by saying, “There really are no words for what has happened to you.” Or “I don’t know what to say” or, “If there were word in existence to comfort you, I would say them.”
- Nothing….followed by validation. If you are ever lucky enough to be the person a widow comes to, to vent, you have one job and one job only: to validate them. You can validate them through listening and nodding in silence with lots of eye contact and attentive body language, or you can validate them by saying things like, “Absolutely! This is not fair and you have every right to be angry” Do not offer unsolicited advice. Ever. More often than not, when people come to talk to you, they are not seeking answers, they simply want to be heard and understood. Let them know that every feeling they have is being heard and that they are not crazy.
- Nothing….followed by action. Yes, food and money in those early weeks are helpful. Do that. But also, be aware that grief is a life-long process and helping someone who is grieving should also be. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Two years after the funeral deliver (or have delivered) a meal on a school night. Find out when their wedding anniversary is and take them out for a margarita. Show up to their child’s baseball game. Five years (or ten or twenty) later randomly call on a Sunday and see if they need anything picked up from the store. Action.
Early on in my widowhood I could not identify my needs. I could barely identify which shoes were mine and which shoes belonged to my then, seven year old son. I am forever grateful for the ones who knew my needs and still fulfill those needs for me now, almost three years later. I try my best to pay it forward with all of you who come to me and share your horrible stories of loss on facebbok and instagram, but I wish I could do more. I wish I could respond to every message and read every facebook comment, but I can’t. I will keep writing though, and hopefully this is enough to help you see that you are not alone. You are understood. Your feelings are valid and important. Widowhood sucks.
Love to you all,
© Copyright 2017 Michelle Miller
I have a right to my anger, and I don’t want anybody telling me I shouldn’t be, that it’s not nice to be, and that something’s wrong with me because I get angry. – Maxine Waters
*I wrote this seven months after his death. It’s a bit rushed and I reformatted it a bit, but heck, I was angry.
October 4, 2012
Five years ago I was married. Today, I am widowed. My husband of 23 years passed away of cancer February 24, 2012. In April of 2011, he suddenly found himself with a bad cramp in his stomach which turned into severe pain. I remember that day that I received a desperate call from him all too well.
Two Weeks Notice
I was working for a cable broadcast company and I had just given my two weeks notice. An offer came to me that I could not refuse. I had worked with the company for two years and had taken a drop in pay. Our household was struggling and we both needed to work towards obtaining additional money. A recruiter called me out of the blue about a great opportunity and well, I took it. I was about a week into my two weeks notice when I received the dreaded call.
My husband was sick. He told me that he was going to the Urgent Care center because he didn’t feel well. He later called back to tell me that they had referred him to the ER. I left work to meet him.
After going to the emergency room and having to be checked into the hospital, the X-ray showed a tumor behind his stomach. It was downhill from there.
I was in and out of the office for two weeks. They were kind and gracious and understood although they knew my final day on the job was nearing. It was refreshing in a way because I would begin a new journey in a field I loved by working from home. God worked out everything because He knew that I needed to work remotely with the new company.
We were told that he needed a biopsy, which would tell us what the mysterious mass was. We had the biopsy performed during outpatient surgery. I was in the operating room but left due to emotional distress; I didn’t want him to see me. After waiting a couple of hours, the doctor finally came in. He took me to a private room. It was there he told me that Herb had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I didn’t know what say or do. I was alone. And…I had to be the one to tell Herb on the drive home that he had cancer. I didn’t want to and hadn’t planned on telling him until the time was right. But when would be a right time to tell someone you love that they have cancer? That was the doctor’s job!
He was slowly coming around and the medicine was wearing off. On the drive home, he asked me, “What did they say?” I ignored him. “What did they say?” I ignored him once more. “Come on what did they say?”
I stuttered until it finally came out.
“They said you have cancer.”
“Cancer? What? Awh man,” he said calmly. He didn’t scream or cry. He was taking it all in…calmly. But he was still a little groggy from the surgery.
Our lives were turned upside down. His mom immediately got a plane ticket and flew in to live with us for seven months. She was a God-send.
I Hate the ER
After three months of aggressive chemo treatments, (ending a few weeks before Thanksgiving), most of his lymph nodes were gone, with the exception of some in his neck. Then, at the end of January, he woke up with severe pain in his groin. The pain restarted. Since then, we’ve made several trips to the ER, one via ambulance and it didn’t get better. The pain in his groin ended up being Lymph nodes on his spine, which impaired his ability to walk. He was prideful and for several weeks he limped on his own until the hospital offered us crutches. It helped…a little.
Unfortunately, we were back again in the ER, this time it was for a lump on his head. The Lupus doctor told us he couldn’t do anything because it wasn’t his area (yes, he had Lupus for over ten years). He suggested we go back to our oncologist, go figure. But our Oncologist suggested we go to the Lupus doctor, so we were in limbo. At the ER, the woman doctor looked at the lump on his head, heard our story and sent us on our way…no MRI, no CT Scan. Again, we were in limbo. Since then, we were in the hospital three more times. In seven days we went back…he couldn’t stop screaming from the pain in his groin so I called the ambulance. They took us to CMC-University. There, we waited for about 2 hours in a room and Herb was screaming intensely. I had started screaming as well and crying out to the nurse and doctor that they help us. The screams didn’t seem to matter. The doctor didn’t come until an hour later. They gave him pain medicine. It subsided a little and he rested. I went to McDonald’s to get him something to eat as well as myself. I came back and Whitney Houston’s funeral was on. I finally broke down and called his sister. She drove from Mobile, Alabama that weekend. She sensed something was seriously wrong with her brother so she took leave from work and there she was that Sunday morning, with her daughter, my niece.
We were in the hospital several more times. When we called the oncologist and complained about the several visits and severe pain, (oh yeah, his doctor was out of the country for 2 weeks so we had to deal with his nurse), they finally ordered another MRI. His last MRI about three weeks prior showed nothing developing but the final MRI (it was on a Wednesday) showed lymph nodes. After our scheduled MRI 7 am that morning, we returned home at 10 AM. At 10:20 am, the nurse told us immediately go to the Main hospital – it was a matter of life and death. We went again to the hospital to the ER, only this time everything was done for us. His temporary room was ready. I, his sister and my daughter and niece were all there. Herb felt ok…he was just taking it all in and joking. Then a team of doctors surrounded him and asked him questions. It was time for his permanent room but not before they did a scan of his head to see what was going on. I held his hand as he was in the hall waiting to be next. His sister held his hand. We had his mom on the speaker phone so she knew what was going on (remember, she had left at Thanksgiving. She didn’t want to leave but Herb thought it was time for her to leave). After the scan, they said he needed to go to the thirteenth floor. What’s on the 13th floor? ICU.
I Hate The ICU
We finally made it to the ICU room and they served him fried chicken, macaroni, and jello. He ate it all. I shared his food, too. He ate and joked. His sister and I were happy. She left to get some rest and I stayed. The doctor’s plan was to keep him through the weekend and monitor his brain activity and go from there.
It was a rough night. He began to vomit. The pain in his head was unbearable and they allowed him to medicate himself through the touch of a button. Whenever the pain would come, he would press the thimble. Then he would vomit. This was a vicious cycle. An awesome male nurse took care of him. Herb yelled over to him and asked if he knew the Lord. The nurse respectfully replied, “Yes, sir.” And Herb praised God during his pain. It was then time for me to go home at 6 am – when the ICU shift change occurred. All visitors had to go. I kissed him on his forehead and he looked at me as if in a daze. I said, “Bye, Herb. I’ll be back in the morning.”
I went home and told his sister who was on the sofa that she should go – it was her turn. I needed to take a shower. She said ok. She asked me if I thought he was getting better. I told her no and started to cry.
I woke up my daughter and calmly told her that I thought daddy was about to go to heaven. She cried heavily. I hugged and comforted her. Toni (his sister) had left to be with him at the hospital.
About an hour and a half passed and Toni called me in a panic. She told me that I needed to get to the hospital. I called my pastor’s wife and I then drove to my son’s school to picked him up.
When I arrived at the hospital, Herb’s eyes were rolled into his head. He was unconscious. His sister was crying hysterically holding his hand and never letting go. I guess I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do or how to react. I called my son in Winston-Salem and told him to get to the hospital immediately. My pastor and his wife came. My girlfriend Rita came. My pastor’s son who is the minister of music and youth minister came. We all prayed. The doctor told us that he was in a coma. The only thing keeping him alive was the ventilator. We needed to make the decision of keeping him on the ventilator or taking him off. Herb had always told me that he never wanted to be on the ventilator. The doctor frankly told us that he was already gone. Earlier, around 9:45 am he was with his sister and finally started snoring. His sister was thankful….but, it wasn’t snoring. Cancer in his head had grown so large overnight that his brain shifted. His brain shut down.
As a last resort, the doctors said they would perform several tests to see if he would react to any of them. They came. He failed all of the tests. I took out my iPhone and played Let it Rain, by Micheal W. Smith, in his ear. He didn’t respond.
The decision was made. It took about an hour and a half for his body to shut down. We all cried. My son cut a piece of his cloth to take with him and we all left the hospital.
I Hate Funerals
He had two funerals, one in Charlotte, North Carolina and one in Mobile, Alabama where:
-the city of Mobile made the day of his funeral, Herbert Robinson day
-three people came to Christ
-he was laid to rest next to his favorite cousin that he lived with when we first met
And just like that, he was gone. I HATE grief!
As an adult I sit and think back to my childhood, I realized that we didn’t talk much. Well we didn’t talk about the things that would soon infect my life. Most importantly we didn’t really talk about the sudden death of my father. At the age of 6 it is hard to truly understand what death really meant. The one thing that I knew was that my father was gone never to return. Even though my mother was married to another man she was truly devastated. I can recall how she would cry at times or when I would ask about my father the look on her face as if someone was stabbing her in the heart. But most of the time as a child I missed her pain because I was drowning in my own pain. How could I get pass the pain when I couldn’t share how hurt I really was? I often wanted to know was anyone thinking about me? That thought haunted me for the greater part of my life.
See the way I was raised was to just keep things to yourself. If you were hurt get over it and move on. The one thing that I still hate to hear is that time heals all wounds. Who was the fool that came up with this saying?? Time did not heal my wound because even to this day it still hurts but I have learned to deal with it. What would have helped me to move forward a little better would have been the chance to share my heart with my mother or my grandmother. I would have felt a release if I could have shared just how angry I was. I was MAD AS HELL!!! I can recall a family member saying well you didn’t really know your father like that. Well guess what I knew that I had a father and he was gone. I also knew that all my friends had their father’s and I longed to have that in my life. People can be ignorant when it comes to death this is why I wished I could have been open about how I was suffering. I had an argument in school one time and this child told me, “that’s why your daddy is dead!” I punched the boy in the face and I didn’t want to stop. I was so angry as a kid. I never really shared with my family how the loss of my father was pushing me over the edge. How could they look at me everyday and not ask if I was okay? Did anyone ever think that there was a war raging on the inside of me? Had we been open and honest with one another about how my father’s death was bothering me some things would have been different for me. A child should never have to walk around holding all of that pain on the inside. Now there were times that I couldn’t bring myself to talk to my mother because of the pain I saw on her face.
I wanted t know all about my father. Was he kind, what he liked to eat, what were some of the things he like to do? Was I in any way like him? How was he as a father in his short time with me? Did we spend a lot of time together? How did others view him as a man? What were some of his dreams? Why didn’t the relationship work? Just so many questions and I never felt like I could go to my mom with them. I wanted to share this with you because I will never know the pain that you are experiencing as the widow but I do know the pain of the child. It is hard for us to watch you suffer as mom trying to navigate your way through but it is also hard for us. Sometimes we don’t know what to say or if we should say anything at all as not to upset you. But just know that as children there are so many things that we would love to talk about when it comes to our fathers. Not all children will be ready to talk but it is always nice to know that the door is open.
Today’s Episode of Widows Wednesday is entitled, ‘Widows Blood Clots & Life Extended’. Sue shares a story today about her husband’s experience with brain cancer. She says, “A true miracle and doctor testified, we were given life extended”.
Visit her website: http://www.sueborrows.com
Stress & Discouragement: In this episode, Sue talks about two real events that happened to her and one ended with her up in the ER and the other brought hope.
For all those who talk about their late loved one. For all those who talk about their loss.
This is why we talk about them.
**Hint: It is NOT for attention**
We talk about them because we love them. In life, and in death.
We talk about them because they are still a part of us. And always will be.
We talk about them because the love we shared and the loss we endured have shaped us into the person we are today.
We talk about them because we find it therapeutic. For our minds, for our hearts and for our souls.
We talk about them because it helps us, and we hope it will help others.
We talk about them because the memories make us happy. And we need to feel that.
We talk about them because the memories make us sad. And we need to feel that.
We talk about them because we want the world to know the struggle.
Of cancer. Of suicide. Of drug addiction. Of heart disease. Of sudden death. Of terminal illness.
The struggle of loss.
We talk about them because we want you to appreciate what you have. Because in hindsight, we realize we didn’t.
We talk about them because they are still ours. And we are still theirs.
We talk about them because in the day to day grind that is life, we sometimes feel them drifting away. And we know that talking about them will make us feel closer to them today.
We talk about them because we want to.
We talk about them because we need to.
And yes, sometimes, we talk about them because nobody else is.
It is now our responsibility to carry on their legacies.
We talk about them because we take that responsibility very seriously.
When Michelle was sick and dying, she would often tell me of her fears that everyone would forget her. That she would become a distant memory. That nobody would speak of her anymore. That it would be like she never existed.
Nope. Not going to happen. Not on my watch. Not now. Not ever.
We talk about them because we won’t let them be forgotten.
© Copyright 2017 John Polo
You can find John’s blog at http://www.betternotbitterwidower.com and his FB by searching Better Not Bitter Widower
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