Somewhere early into the second year following my husband Bill's death, the gut wrenching pain of losing him took on an additional layer. The pain that permeated my entire being in those early months seemed to weigh a ton and felt like it had ripped my heart from my chest. By the second year I began to experience what are called "secondary losses" making the second year more difficult than I ever dreamed it would be. These secondary losses had been there all along but I paid little to no attention to them because I was lost in the fog and gut-wrenching pain of Bill's death as it demanded all of my attention and energy. I was in survival mode.
As that fog lifted, I began to recognize these secondary losses; things like how long and lonely a Monday evening was, something I never felt when Bill was here even if he was not home. Others include/d figuring out who might want to go to a movie; eating alone in restaurants more often; learning how to rewire a lamp and sobbing when what I did worked; calling someone to bring soup when I had pneumonia twice in 14 months or someone to assist me when I tore my rotator cuff and broke fingers in a fall. They did not end there. I had to deal with financial strain with the loss of half of our income and car repairs that I never gave thought to before. There was no one to share a symphony with, a special someone who is also moved to tears by the same composer and no longer did I have an "automatic" companion to go anywhere with. Then there was talking over household concerns with the person equally invested in the house and of course no longer did I have a vacation partner, one I really wanted to be with. This list could go on forever and new secondary losses still appear unexpectedly and frequently. I soon learned that as lovely and caring as my friends are, they each have a life of their own, most of them shared, if not with a spouse or partner, with adult children, grandchildren or other extended family in the area. I am not the first one to pop into their minds upon awakening as I was with Bill. And well...it was Bill I wanted to be with anyway. I was no longer first in anyone's life.
After doing psychotherapy for close to 40 years, my professional focus now includes a strong emphasis on death education, end of life care, grief counseling and grief support. My commitment to thanatology is the direct result of what happened during the final weeks of my husband Bill's life. My hope is to help prevent or minimize the unnecessary pain and confusion we experienced in those final weeks.
In spite of all of my efforts Bill came very close to dying in a noisy, institutional hospital setting instead of peacefully at home as we wanted. Thanks to one "fill-in" psychiatrist, he was able to die at home having been transferred via ambulance just five days earlier. Those five days were precious gifts allowing Bill to die peacefully in the quiet of our home wrapped in my arms with Bentley, our Golden Retriever, curled up at his feet.
I spent all of that Holy Week preparing for his Holy Saturday funeral and burial, choosing a simple and lovely wooden casket made by monks at the nearby Trappist Monastery and walking in a sad daze that I barely remember. So sometime after the anniversary of his March 27 death each year, I find myself reliving and remembering his death and burial on Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter, all forever linked to Bill's death.
As spring finally approaches, I have been thinking about butterflies and besides looking forward to seeing some this summer, I get concerned about whether they will survive the damage we humans are doing to our planet. The life cycle of the Monarch, in particular, has always intrigued and delighted me. My first office as a therapist back in the mid 70s was surrounded by trees. The one immediately outside of my window was a resting spot every year for hundreds, perhaps thousands of Monarchs migrating for the winter. It was truly astounding to see this tree covered with orange and black ethereal and delicate creatures and it always surprised me on that one day every year when I walked into my office and was greeted by this miracle of nature.