Survivor’s Guilt

10984528_10152782650499016_349880005645931066_oWhen is it okay to start dating after the loss of your spouse?

In 2012 I was widowed at the age of 55.  My late husbands Melanoma skin cancer had returned after 22 years and took him quickly within 4 months of diagnosis.  I was devastated, yet I knew I was too young to live the rest of my life alone but the thought of being with another man just didn’t sit right with me.

Survivor’s guilt settles in quickly once you are left alone after everyone returns to their homes and jobs, except you ~ the widow.  You start to feel guilty because you didn’t do more, or your should have done more, or you couldn’t do more.  Why am I alive?  Why did he have to die so young?

Perhaps you can relate and have experienced something similar.  These feelings of guilt are quite normal.  How we move past this guilt and when become the bigger question.  I recall thinking about this on New Years Eve 2012, just three months after being widowed. I was not going to drag my sadness and loneliness into the new year, and from the stroke of midnight I resolved to wake up the next day with a totally different mindset.

Having the right mindset and setting goals got me through so much in life so far, so I set out to make some small goals for three months.  Little did I know, that that positive attitude would turn my whole life around and within six months of my husbands passing I would meet another widower and start a new friendship.

The very idea of being with another man still haunted my thoughts however, but I missed real conversations and the warmth of human touch.  I enjoyed our dinners and chats before our group grief counselling sessions where we met as I wasn’t feeling so alone anymore; he understood my tears, my moods and my loneliness.  Survivors guilt returned in a bigger way, a way that took me completely off guard.  I’m a very strong woman, but the very thought of falling in love so soon scared me.

I loved my husband of 34 years, he was the love of my life and we had two children together and a wonderful marriage.  People often said “You are an amazing couple, the way love was intended.”  So how could I possibly be feeling anything for someone else, especially so soon?

We don’t pick the times in our life when change happens: change happens because of life.  Finding support among my family and friends was paramount and the only thing that got me through those horrendous waves of survivors guilt.  My good friend Ron gave me the best advice, he said “Life is for the living, and if I should die before my wife, I told Bonnie to hook up with one of the pallbearers.”  Now this might sound awful but at the time I was feeling so much guilt, I remember thinking how this statement made me feel better about being in a new relationship; not everyone thought I was a bad person, or that “it was too soon” etc.  Grief is individual: we all grieve differently.  I later went on to re-marry this widower three years later and to this day we never forget our spouses, those special anniversaries and went on to write books about our stories: “Love Found Me Twice” and “God’s Gift of Another Angel”.  Their pictures adorn a special room in our house where we can all still remember.  Our family and friends think it is wonderful that we publicly always talk of them in such a loving way.  Just because someone dies doesn’t mean you have stopped loving them.

Remember that love never dies.  Surviving the loss of a loved one is huge, but just know that if the tables were turned that you would want your surviving spouse to be happy again.  We only have one life to live!

Ultimate, Inspiring Survivor

 

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My Mom – 1 year before her 95th birthday.

Today would have been my mother’s 95th birthday.  She passed away 6 weeks ago.  I like to think of her as the ultimate survivor, because she endured so much loss in her life, yet was able to pull things together, bore 6 children and married 72 years.

Reading this I am sure you can relate to a similar loss in your life.  Perhaps you lost your parent, sibling, spouse, child, other relative or friend.  A loss is a loss and we all grieve differently.  My condolences to you if you are dealing with a loss right now.

My hope for you reading this is to know that better days are ahead.  These days are going to be tough, there is no doubt about it.  We miss our loved ones and not seeing or talking to them is hard.  Yes, we can talk to them in our dreams, in our thoughts and watch for signs that they are listening, but it doesn’t replace having them alive with us.

Keep this in mind: yesterday is the past, tomorrow is the future and today is what we must focus on.  You might sail through your grief quickly as I did with my late husband over 5 years ago, but you will never stop loving or missing them.  I decided soon after I was widowed, that I must be strong; stand up on my own two feet and move forward.  That might look different for you, and that is okay; we all grieve differently.

My mother lost her own mother at age 12.  Then soon after her father remarried and then enlisted in the army leaving her and her younger brother alone to deal with getting used to her new step-mother.  She lost most of her childhood, her sense of real family and fun.  The fond memories she shared with the mother she adored were replaced with tears, loneliness, anger and frustration.  Who could blame a young girl for any of these emotions; she was just learning how to deal with her own loss, her own grief at the time.

My mother is gone now, but the lessons in life she taught me live on.  She was tough on me, tough on people and was a tough woman to love unconditionally. She lived through the Depression and those tough times taught her how to be tough, frugal and to put herself first, because if you don’t put yourself first, then who will?  She never lost her regrets from the past and carried them forward into her future, living day by day in fear of being abandoned again or punished for something. Today we have a health care system that helps people deal with their loss and grief much better I feel.  My Mom just learned how to cope and deal with her losses on her own, and for that I think she is the ultimate inspiring survivor.

I admired my mother for enduring so much in her life while at the same time I resented her for being the tough matriarch of our family.  But that is the past. I just wanted to be liked and have friends pounding on my door to play with me.  I think people are often misjudged for their character or loss of character. If we only walked in their shoes for a day, I truly believe we would save more people from a lifetime of depression and illness that can be prevented.  It is much more socially acceptable to talk about stress and depression.  I myself contemplated suicide after a traumatic situation in my 40’s.  Fortunately I sought help and that is in my past now.

I am living for today and remembering the sweet smile you see in this photo above of my mother.  She wasn’t one that would shine to silliness.  Rather, she was the strict one of my two parents.  Somehow I managed to convince her that day to put this silly hat on with the red braids.  Maybe it was because she had flaming red hair, like Anne of Green Gables growing up (auburn as we call it) and we were joking at how white her hair was now compared to the old days.  I really don’t remember exactly, but I love her for letting me have fun with her that day.  It is one of my favourite photos of my mother in her last year because she was smiling; something I didn’t often see from her, because she was hiding her pain from her past and internally always dealing with it.

She suffered a great deal physically in her last year with back and leg pain and was hardly able to get around without her wheelchair or assistance.  She always wanted to live to a ripe old age and wasn’t really ready to give up the fight when faced with the inevitable.  She was remarkable in her final days facing her demise with courage. She taught me a lot about courage as a little girl growing up and as a grown woman, while I sat bedside with her in her final hours.

When we lose someone close to us, we must let them go, but on your own terms. Just let them go and not drag them with you into the future, because today is for the living.  They will always be in your heart and when you close your eyes at night in your dreams.  To help you understand the process of grieving better, I highly recommend reading “Understanding Your Grief” by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. This book helped me tremendously understand some of my delayed grief, that I experienced three years later.

Please find strength in knowing that love never dies.