An unwelcome but unavoidable tragedy far too often arrives to SunBird. The death of a family member, especially a spouse, is at the top of the trauma list. Much larger than divorce, lost jobs and other similar happenings, the loss will hammer at our brain and bring emotions and decisions we can barely understand or cope with.
A departure through death of a spouse may produce many side problems and ripples. My own brother died suddenly at age 44, leaving a wife and four small children. One can imagine the repercussions his wife endured. My father, who had survived the Great Depression, World War II and the death of those in his own family, said nothing in his life was worse than losing a son. My parents never recovered from the death.
Numerous SunBird residents have lost a spouse. Often, it happens to couples who have celebrated anniversaries of 60-plus years. And sometimes we attempt to console the survivor by saying, “But aren’t you fortunate to have had him/her all those years?” Wrong. When a spouse dies, the one left is not thinking of longevity. All that comes to mind is he’s gone, and I will never be able to tell him things, to enjoy time together, to be held close or ever see him again on this earth. Well-meaning people who have not experienced a spousal death may say hurtful or improper things, although their soothing attempts are sincere.
Does the duration of the illness reduce the shock and grief? We may have cared for a spouse who lingered a long time, perhaps with cancer. We become aware that recovery will not occur. Does knowing this reduce the aftermath?
Does it prepare us for the inevitable? Or is an unexpected demise more devastating in our attempt to recover? Either way, shock and deprivation have a solid grip on our mind and emotions.
We benefit and heal by being with others who have walked our path… someone who can listen and understand. Others prefer to be alone. Our family, church and even seminars may help. How fortunate we are to be among the caring, helpful people of SunBird whose empathy is boundless.
Eventually, at one’s own pace, the brain begins to function once again. We may wonder if we will ever be able to be alone in a house filled with its memories. Will we ever derive interest again attending places or doing activities we did as a couple? How do we combat the regrets of what we did or should not have done?
An excellent series of four booklets by Dr. Kenneth C Haugk, minister and psychologist, leads us through the stages the first year of our grief and devastating emotions. He was caretaker for his wife who died of ovarian cancer. The booklets are Journeying Through Grief and are extremely helpful. With time, support from family and others and faith in God, we eventually begin to function in a new life while still longing for the former one.
Note: Bob Neuman’s wife Ann died on April 5, 2013, with ovarian cancer.