A Journey Well Taken:
Life After Loss by Elaine Williams

Living a Half Life
Elaine Williams © 2008

After my husband's death, I enclosed myself in an emotional shell. A hard cased, untouchable cocoon of nothingness. I wanted to be numb, I wanted to be left alone. Many days my self-imposed prison made me want to be loved by someone. Some days I lived and breathed by rote. God kept me breathing when maybe I took that for granted. It sank in one morning when I woke and asked myself what do I do with the rest of my life. I decided I probably had another forty years to go. Where do I go from here?

I felt an overwhelming disinterest in life and living. I had three boys, so I put one foot in front of the other and took care of the things that needed doing. My kids were my first priority. I was and am so blessed to have them. And yet, I felt bad that they lost their father. My youngest was ten, and I just wanted to fold up some days and hide in a corner for sadness. But I didn't. I decided, subconsciously, my children needed me more to be straight and unbroken then I needed to crumple.

I avoided people sometimes because I didn't want to talk about and therefore confront my grief. I didn't know who I was anymore, now that I was alone. And I felt very alone and isolated, even from family. Isolating myself, I just wanted to be left alone. Sometimes others didn't know what to say. It's just the way it was.

I read with gratitude the cards and letters friends and family sent. Many of them wrote about how much my husband had meant to them, and expressed their sorrow at his passing. Those were the letters that meant so much.

I understood acquaintances' awkwardness with my grief, but there was nothing I could do, beyond trying to alleviate their unease with my own sense of caring.

Gradually I grew into my life, a new life where I carved a niche for myself. Over time, I grew to enjoy living again. Some days when I thought I had progressed so very far, I would suddenly go into a depressive state of mind. I hated when that happened and tried to think analyze why it happened, but some days it just came unbidden and pulled me down.

At about three and a half years after my husband's passing, I began to feel a noticeable lightening of my spirit, as if I'd suddenly found new purpose in my life. I had been doing some dating, and had reached the point where I decided to empower myself by not dating men who were not in the same space mentally and emotionally as I was.

By four years, I knew I had made it on my own this long, I would continue to be alone until the right partner came along. No more rushing into dead end relationships. My writing career took on new life, giving me a sense of purpose once more. I truly began to enjoy my life as I developed new friendships and took on interesting job endeavors.

The little whine inside me that protested my circumstances, became quiet and almost content. Somehow, I had skipped over some milestones in the last several years and made my life my own. I am proud of myself for where I have gone and where I will go. It's been an interesting journey, and totally unpredictable, a journey I expect to get better with each day.

A Dream About Dying
Elaine Williams © 2008

My husband was ill ten months with cancer when I had the dream. I had been taking care of his needs for almost eleven months, and even though some days there seemed to be progress, in hindsight I see it was really a steady progression on a downhill curve.

One night I had a dream I was upstairs in our two story house and looked out my youngest son's window, which faces a large back field. I could see a large machine coming inexorably closer and closer toward the house. It made a terrible racket, almost like a threshing sound. With fear, I knew that it was going to come into the house through the back, into the kitchen and to the corner of the living room where my husband sat. I tried to call out and warn everyone, but I couldn't speak. I ran downstairs, hearing it get closer and closer.

When I got down to the living room, my husband's chair, where he always sat in the corner, was totally gone. The machine had come through the back of the house as I'd feared and swept him and his chair away. It continued around the front of the house and across the side yard.

I heard my youngest son talking out side to a friend of my husband's, and the talk was normal, as if nothing had occurred. I wanted to cry out, but it was no use. When I awoke, I knew with certainty my husband was going to die.

I never told him about that dream. I couldn't talk to him about it. I was afraid to acknowledge what I knew it meant. I was doing the best I could to keep my husband alive, but in my dreaming state, I knew he was going to die.

That day was the first time I acknowledged the truth of his impending death. That afternoon our regular hospice nurse arrived, and my husband asked her quietly, without fanfare, how much time she thought he had. I just stared at him, not saying a word. She said based on her experience, probably two or three weeks. I went into a numb state. I was not expecting him to confront his own death and mortality in this manner. And yet, it was only natural he would know the end was near. I had been denying it to myself.

When the nurse left, I walked outside with her. I told her of the dream I'd had. She put her arms around me in my distress. I faced the truth that he was going to die.

That week, my husband refused to let me put any of the protein rich formula I had been preparing for him, into the enteral pump, his only source of nutrition. I tried to argue with him, but he was quietly adamant. I still see the expression on his face. He simply said, "No more." That was it. That was his way of telling me this is the end. Two weeks later he died. It wasn't discussed, we didn't' tell the kids he no longer wished to receive the little sustenance his stomach could take. It was just done. Should we have discussed it with the kids? I don't know. We talked with them about everything else. Most importantly, their father continually told him how much he loved them.

The last week is a mixed collection of jumbled memory. My husband didn't sleep well, since he dozed on and off all day. He developed a bed sore that we were trying to cope with, but had to be incredibly sore. His focused turned inward. There was little verbal communication, and I stayed by his side most of the time. At night, he would be awake at two or three in the morning, and he'd drink cups of water at a time. It was amazing, considering he hadn't been able to drink or eat in three months or more. He became incredibly weak, and I could no longer lift him to help him onto the commode, even as light as he had become. My heart cried inside, but there was nothing I could do, except love the man I had married twenty years before. I was exhausted, and knew I couldn't take anymore. I wished for him to go to sleep and asked God to take him. His passing was relatively peaceful, but I always wondered if it would have been easier if we had talked more about him dying.

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Does Your Caretaker Need Caregiving?
Elaine Williams copyright 2008

I just read an article stating research findings about how caretakers are at risk mentally and physically during and after the care of another, whether that person is terminally ill or not. Okay, to me, a caretaker of only 11 months, this is a no-brainer.

Ask, interview or interact with any family caretaker and check out their stress level. It's only common sense that the caretaker is the one carrying the burden. I recall the time when my husband was ill, 98% of my entire focus was solely on him. I didn't dare relax that vigilance for fear of doing something wrong. Missing a doctor appointment, juggling medicines and narcotic prescriptions. The onus is on the caretaker to follow through with doctor's orders and even daily life, which may end up meaning daily survival for the ill person.

I'm a little puzzled as to why research is coming out about this now. I knew this four years ago and I didn't have to do the research. This should be (and perhaps is) common knowledge among nurses, hospice works, medical professionals such as doctors and their staff. And yet, in all that time, only one person asked me, as a caregiver, if I was okay. It was my husband's holistic doctor, and he inquired as to my health because I had laryngitis for almost two months.

In all honesty, I stated I was fine, even though I wasn't, and pretty much brushed aside his concern. But for an older caretaker, I would be very worried for their health. Many times while you're in the thick of caregiving, you just keep going. You give no thought usually to how you're eating, what sleep you're losing. You just know there is another pill that has to be administered, one more feeding to take see too, another test result to look over. It's your full time job that you volunteered for. There was no sign up sheet. It's just the way it happened.

Children Reacting to Grief
Elaine Williams copyright 2008

I have three boys who were 11, 18 and 19 when their father died from cancer. They all reacted differently to this loss, and many times I felt at a loss myself in trying to determine the best way to help them through their grief.

My oldest son moved away from home a year and a half after my husband's passing. It was a move for the best, a need for him to establish his independence, but at the time it was very difficult for me. My son had relationship problems, moved into a dumpy apartment and associated with people I didn't know. He fell into a drinking and partying lifestyle.

My middle son retreated emotionally, becoming distant. Even though he still lived at home, I had to wonder many times what was going on in his mind and his heart. I knew he was as wounded as I felt at the passing of his father, but he was unwilling to share even the most minute details of what he might be feeling.

My youngest son clung to me as if he were afraid to let me out of his sight. He asked me once what would happen to him if I died, as his father had died.

I calmly reassured my youngest that I expected to live a long time, I still had a lot to accomplish. But I also reassured him that his grandparents or aunt would take care of him if something did happen to me.

Being newly widowed, at times the struggle threatened to engulf me. Day-to-day living felt hard and there was no getting away from it or retreating. Frightening, hard, taxing, tiring, exhausting. In the beginning. The first two and a half years I now look back and realize yes, I came through it, as did my children, and I would never want to live through it again, but we did okay. We lived it each day doing the best we could.

We made some bad choices, but we learned and came away with something valuable. Speaking for myself, I felt ripped in two many days. When I made dating mistakes, it hurt incredibly, and yet the biggest wounds, after my husband's death, were the wounds of my children. I felt like I could handle anything at any time that happened to me, but when it involved my children, all bets were off. I wanted to take away their hurts, soothe them over, make everything okay again. But that's not how real life is, and indeed, it's not how it should be.

My kids grew through their own experiences, and that's how they learned that life does go on. Mom supports them and helps to a degree, but they have to learn to deal with their own things that come to them in life. We held together as a family and I like to think my husband is still watching over us, keeping us safe in his way, and admiring how we've all come through this trial of grief and loss. No one ever said it would be easy, but then again, no one every really brought this subject up before we had to experience it first hand. That's just he way life is, sometimes it smacks you in the back of the head and you don't see it coming, other times you see it but hope it's going to miss you. If we're lucky, we rise to the occasion in the best way we know how, without bitterness or undue pain.

Life wounds each of us in various ways, it's how we come out of the wounding that tells the truest sense of who we are, or can be.