Excerpt from Three Months: A Caregiving Journey from Heartbreak to Healing by J. Dietrich Stroeh (FolkHeart Press 2012, www.threemonthsbook.com).
As I write this, it has been almost three years since I lost my wife Margaret to pancreatic cancer, and in some ways, it still seems fresh.
At the same time, change has been an important part of the healing process. Until you have gone through the kind of loss that breaks your heart and tries to break your spirit, you can’t know what gets you through it.
It began way before I was even vaguely aware of it. I had to try and write Margaret’s obituary. The day after she died I spent much of the day sitting and attempting to put into words her amazing life, and at the end of the day I had failed terribly. However taking the time to write it distracted me from the reality I was facing and helped me to face the loss head on. Making arrangements helped me get back into a frame of mind where what I was actually making things happen. I started to make preparations for the memorial, dealing with the church, the reception and planning how things would work. The will and trusts, the legal end of things, had already been taken care of.
I started working longer hours at the office. While Margaret was sick, I was working between 20 and 30 hours a week, but now I was up to 40 hours a week. It was good because I was busy. Again, my focus was on moving ahead. I don’t think it is healthy to sit in a dark room by yourself alone with a heavy heart. You need to get out, stay busy, push yourself just a little past what feels comfortable.
The thing that is true while you cared for your loved one is still true after they are gone, life keeps rolling along. And while people are even more willing to cut you slack and sympathize with your loss, the world keeps spinning. You have to be in it. It’s important to begin talking with people, putting yourself into situations where you will move beyond your loss a little.
In the days and the weeks following Margaret’s death I honestly didn’t know what I could do and I thought my life was destined to be pretty difficult. But I worked hard, put myself out there a bit and gradually things seemed to get better. I started going to functions, getting back into things that had been important to me before Margaret got sick. A number of months after I started getting back into work, I had dinner with a woman who regularly attended business related meetings, thinking the companionship was nice. From that friendship, over time, a romance grew. Today, we are happily married.
I have no regrets and I’m not ashamed that I found someone after I lost Margaret. Just because I have found love with another person, doesn’t mean that I stopped loving Margaret or that our life together loses something. To be honest, if I hadn’t been so happy with Margaret, I don’t think there is any way that I could have become involved with anyone else.
Losing Margaret was the hardest thing I have ever gone through emotionally, when I was in the middle of it, trying my best to take care of her on the outside and struggling mightily on the inside, I didn’t know how I was going to get through it. Now as I look back, I realize that it’s a long process and maybe the most important thing you can do is put one foot in front of the other, moving forward one day at a time. I don’t think that means you move away from your loved one. Rather, it means that your life keeps going and you take their love and that experience with you.
Adapting to change, especially when it’s after such a heartbreak is never easy, but time does heal all wounds. We think happiness is an option when really it’s a choice.