The problem with Death is Absence
My husband, Craig, died suddenly one ordinary Monday morning on August 22, 2016. He collapsed due to a Pulmonary Embolism in the hallway of our home. The last words I heard him say were, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” Complete devastation is the only way to describe what I immediately experienced and continued to experience for longer than I thought I could bear. I was traumatized. I was lost. He had been my soul mate for 32 years. Now, fifteen minutes after he woke me out of a deep sleep, he was gone; absent from this earth.
Eventually, as I began to wake out of numbness, the only thing I thought to do was seek out others who had felt the tsunami of sorrow and chaos that kept pummeling my heart. An estate attorney, who was helping me work through the chaos, also led a widow’s group and had for some thirty years after her first husband’s death. Two months after Craig died, I pulled into the parking lot of an old, stone church and walked slowly toward the big wooden doors. It was a chilly November morning and everything inside me was screaming, “I don’t want this! I want Craig back! I want our life back!”
One particularly bad evening, my best friend looked into my tear-filled eyes and said those words to me. “You want what you can’t have, and what you have, you don’t want” This truth resounded in my heart at that very moment. It took a great mustering of courage to walk beyond those doors.
Inside, I knew no one, except the attorney who had invited me. She greeted me from across the room. I removed my coat, and as I turned to hang it on the back of my chair, I heard two widows from behind exchange a greeting. I didn’t know them, so I’m making up their names, and I didn’t even turn around to look at their faces. Rather, I stood frozen, trying to process what they had just said, because it hit me like yet another tidal wave:
Linda, in a kind of overworked sentiment, as if she had asked the question a thousand times: “So, Jane, how ya doing?”
Jane, in a kind of resigned sigh, “Oh, you know, just trying to keep myself busy.”
Linda, with the same resignation: “Yeah, I know.”
I heard nothing after that.
Maybe that seems normal or rational to some, but all sorts of thoughts rose up inside me. Was this going to be me at some point in the future? Is this the only thing I have to look forward to; the only tool in grief’s toolbox to help me cope with my devastation? Just keep busy!?
Busy with what? What else could possibly occupy my thoughts?
In my inner being I knew this could not be the way to truly mourn my husband. It’s not the way to deal with any problem, really. I was not going to continually distract myself from the pain I felt from losing a wonderful man and all the love we shared; from the world losing such a kind and conscious human being. If the death of my spouse wasn’t worthy of expressing all my emotions, was I really being honest? If I chose to avoid the pain, was I truly honoring him? Right then and there, in that room full of strangers, I decided: I was not going to dishonor my husband’s life that way. I was going to make this journey of grief worthy of his death. I was going to grieve deeply, and I was going to grieve well. Whatever that meant. However that looked.
This blog, these writings, are my unique experiences as I coped with such a monumental loss, and the transformations brought about by Craig’s absence. This is not a “how-to-overcome-grief” blog, which may be what brought you here, because we are desperate to end the pain we feel. I understand this. Maybe it’s more of a “ways-to-grieve” blog, or more to the point a, “how-to-honor-my-Love and-Myself-BY-grieving” blog.
My hope is that as I share my experiences, you will be comforted knowing someone understands the depths of your pain, as well. When all we want is to shut down, I hope these pages help open your spirit, just a crack at first, to what the pain, this Absence, can bring to your life. I hope it inspires you to pay attention. May you see small rays of light in what feels like a never-ending darkness. I trust this tension will gently unravel, as you find sacred ways to honor and grieve well your lost Love. They are worthy of this. And so are you.
Cindy K Steffen