When I began my grief journey some 20 years ago, I remember the feelings of complete loss and desolation. I don’t think I ever felt as alone as I did those first few months. There was a terrible numbness about my world. Although I was surrounded by loving family and good friends, the emptiness was always present.
A few weeks after my wife died, I returned to work but dreaded Friday afternoons as I would hear coworkers discussing their weekend plans. I remember the gut wrenching bitterness as I walked into what was our home at the end of the workday, to the terrible quiet. I’m sure my dog sensed the situation as he never left my side. His presence helped, but I was at the bottom.
“It takes a great deal of introspection to try to identify who you are as a single person again”
I discovered it takes time. It takes a great deal of introspection to try to identify who you are as a single person again; no longer part of a couple. Everyone heals at their own speed and I needed to start thinking in terms of years, rather than months.
Now as I work with hospice patients and family members coming to terms with circumstances they’re facing, I find that most patients are at the acceptance stage. Early on I was surprised by the gentle humor I found in quiet conversations with many patients when we were alone. While I suspect it’s a defense mechanism, it seems to serve them well in their final days. Although they understand, other patients display an occasional flash of anger, due to fears their family members may not cope well.
As a survivor you need to continually remember you are going through a process. Never be afraid to reach out to friends and family. While their presence and relationships are vital, some may encourage you to “get on with your life.” As well-intentioned as they may be, those words may not be helpful. You need to heal at your own speed.
Find an established support group through hospice, your church or medical professional. One benefit you may find is that you’re surrounded by others experiencing the same emotions you are. Some will be behind you in your journey and others will be ahead of you but can provide a great sense of understanding. Rest assured, you won’t be walking into a room filled with doom and gloom. You’ll most likely be amazed at the humor and laughter you’ll encounter as everyone shares fond memories and funny stories.
Your journey is yours. Embrace it, heal, and when it’s time you’ll have the opportunity to return the support to those on their own journey.
Chuck Owen is a Sylvania, Ohio, resident and has been a hospice volunteer at ProMedica Ebeid Hospice Residence since 2013.