Grief: One big death followed by many tiny ones

The following was originally published on my personal blog, May 12, 2013. With the recent death of my fiancé’s mother, it seemed timely to repost.

I am a widow. My husband died at the end of September 2008 after almost 6 months in the hospital. Those months hold many stories about perseverance, love, advocating, healing, self-discovery, vigil, self-care, dying and death. They also hold the first chapters of my experience with grieving the loss of my soulmate; my Master Class on loss and bereavement.

One of the lessons I have learned about loss and grief is that the primary loss is followed by many smaller, often unexpected, “deaths.” In the weeks after my husband died I spent a lot of time mailing out death certificates and filling out forms. Every account that was closed or transferred into my name alone felt like I was severing another thread in the rope that had kept he and I so happily anchored in our life together. Not only was there grief but there was panic too. What would happen to me and my life if all those threads got torn and I was set totally adrift? At the time it was too much to contemplate.

Eventually the accounts got settled. I went back to graduate school. I started my internship.

And then the music stopped.

For several years my husband had subscribed to an internet radio site. Over time he had customized his two stations, which he cleverly named “hard” and “soft,” to play the perfect combination of 60s and 70s rock, surf rock, blues, and Celtic meditation music. He loved his music and I loved listening to it with him. After he died I renewed the subscription and spent many hours listening to his music and remembering. Unfortunately, this radio site was bought out and the custom stations were not transferred. In one fell-swoop I lost one of my most unique and precious connections to my husband. It was like another death, and I cried and grieved anew.

Since then I have come to accept that I will likely continue to experience “little deaths” for some time. Even now, four and a half years later, I occasionally get surprised. Today, for example, I received new checks in the mail that for the first time have only my name on them. I didn’t cry, but I did experience a wave of sadness and a tug on what’s left of that rope anchoring me to my old life.

There is so much I loved about my old life and I will be forever grateful to have had those experiences and to have shared them with such an amazing man. I also like what I’m building now, my new life. I’m helping people. I’m growing spiritually and emotionally, and I’m integrating what I’m learning into my counseling practice. I now understand dying and death, loss and grief in an intimate and personal way. As I meet counseling clients who have faced or are facing similar life challenges I will be far better prepared to help walk with them through their own process of healing and integration, and to warn them of the “little deaths” along the way.

Peace,
Sarah

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