Coping With Survivor’s Guilt

I managed to get through one of the “big dates” of my wife’s passing. March 24 would have been our 34th year together. It feels like you’re standing and cringing as that date approaches. How bad will the first one feel? Who will I get through the day?

The day started off as expected, emotional. But, friends and family came through and helped out, for which I’m extremely grateful. It would have been so easy for me to just stay in bed.

This first wedding anniversary without her made me realize the grief and guilt will not be going away soon. I fully admit that “survivor’s guilt” is a part of the pain and sickness in my gut.

Those two little words, “what if,” still run through my head. A lot of my guilt stems from not forcing my wife, Sally, to go to the doctor, just for annual checkups with she turned 50. I get it when I hear the saying, “you can force a horse to water, but can’t make it drink.” Still, I can’t help but wonder.

For a long time, she was healthier than me. Sally worked out on the elliptical in a room in our house. Her job required her to be on her feet all day long. She ate well, much better than me. Honestly, I set up our insurance and future based on the fact that I would be the one that would leave first. Life threw me and everyone else a massive “blindside.”

The thought that goes through my head is that if I would have been more persistent, this cancer could have been caught early and things would be different. My sister, who is a doctor, tells me that this type of cancer would have likely not made that much difference in terms of the outcome. Logically, I understand. Emotionally, that’s a different story.

I’ll never know if things would have been different. Perhaps not knowing allowed us to live life to its more fullest. We traveled a lot the few years prior to her diagnosis. Maybe her “quality of life” would have been far worse if we did know and went through the long and painful treatments. Regardless, I still wonder “what if.”

This process of grief is relentless. You can run, but you can’t hide. One of the steps I’m trying to work on is “forgiveness,” especially for myself. It’s far from easy. Happiness is something I don’t feel entitled to, at least not now. It’s a matter of trying to be “less sad.”

But, I try to press onward with each day. I try my best to be functional. Making plans for one, two or many months down the road is hard. However, I do make them, just to get some sort of sanity.

Now, I will be bracing for the next two days, her birthday and the one of her passing. I already know the road coming is going to be rough. Again, I’m doing my best.

 

How Necessary Are “Memorial Services”?

When my darling wife passed away last year, some people wondered why I didn’t have some kind of memorial service. Sally and I did not want funerals and she made a point to tell me that prior to her passing.

We lived for 13 years in the same area. We made some friends, but our families were spread out. We never had children as I think it just wasn’t meant to be. Therefore, I was mostly on my own to handle final arrangements.

There was one day in the spring that we had someone from the local funeral home come to our home to discuss her wishes.  Sally made her decisions and I went along with them, including not having a funeral. I just couldn’t believe that was happening. I still can’t.

Sally never attended any memorial-type service, including the ones involving close relatives. I went to two of them in my lifetime and found the experiences to be draining and upsetting. I just couldn’t bring myself to put together that type of event, or ask someone else to do it. Perhaps others will differ, even strongly, but I stand by my decisions and respected her wishes.

It was also extremely difficult to go to the funeral home and pick up her ashes. Again, I as on my own for this and even trying to remember that event is a bit of a fog. I also had to set a time and place to spread her ashes. It took about 4 months after her passing for me to go to the spot that she wanted to have this done.

My sister, who is also named Sally, flew down from Oregon to go with me on a 2-hour drive, one way, to the location to spread her ashes. It was one of her favorite spots and I would want my ashes to be spread in the same one when my time comes.

The night before the trip, I wanted to be certain that I can properly open the container. It was sealed too well and I had to literally get a hammer and screw drive to open up the bottom. Someone messed that one up. I don’t want to say this was becoming comical, but I could see Sally laughing as some of the ash “poofed out” and went all over, including on me when we got the thing open.

The small container, which is one she would like, still sits in my room. I know there’s a tiny bit of ash left as it was impossible to get all of it out. No, it wasn’t put in a plastic bag like they supposed to be, but I’m okay with that.

After this experience, I’m even more determined to say that I would not want a funeral or memorial service when my day arrives. I did tell a few people, though, if you want to have a big party with lots of wine, then make it a good one.20171011_125836

Why I’m Writing This

IMG_20160105_164038731_HDRI decided to write this blog about becoming a widower. I married my adorable friend and loving partner, Sally, with the idea we would grow old together. I always thought that if anything were to happen, it would be to me. I was obviously wrong. As I write this down, it’s been close to 9 months since the love of my life left this Earth.

Since that event, I sold my beautiful home in Idaho where my wife loved to live and left the area to be with family in California. It was a large home that overlooked the water. We both worked very hard to get into a place like that and just as difficult to maintain. The home made her happy, so I didn’t mind. But, I was starting to get to itch to leave as the long winters were getting to me, which led to occasional feelings of isolation.

But, I could have never imagined the pain of losing that one I planned to spend the rest of my life with. The feelings of isolation prior to her sickness don’t even compare to those feelings now. In this blog, I will write about this journey that I believe one can never prepare to take.

Receiving and processing the news in late 2016 was life’s absolute “blindside.” My beautiful wife, Sally, had to change her life. Her job had to be suspended and I became a “caregiver.” The hope if at least containing cancer after short and intense treatments was shattered when it had unexpectedly spread.

Since that agonizing day in May of 2017 when she passed, I have done things “out of the box,” including travel, gone to singles groups hoping to get insight from others sharing a similar experience, attended support groups for widows and widowers and even talking to mediums. I fell that if I’m going to tell the story, I should tell the entire sequence. My weight dropped 35 pounds from this experience, but at least some people tell me that I look good.

The purpose of this blog is not to depress or to gain sympathetic responses, but perhaps to use this to somehow lessen the pain and show others that you’re not alone.