It has been one heck of a year! Lots of ups and downs… but what happens when we get slammed with grief just before the holidays… how do we get through it?
…one day at a time.
I’ve been on hiatus from my ABJ blogs and newsletters since the spring – apologies for that. At first, it was because my life was so busy with travel, events, work for the nonprofit, teaching GRM grief recovery classes, etc. Then, I mad a great addition to my life, my first grandchild, Brent Michael, named after my son, his uncle Brent who I lost at age 21. My husband Jim and I were thrilled about being grandparents. Also, Jim’s adult children were visiting us move over the summer, and we attended a friend’s wedding. LIfe was busy but good!
Jim had a heart attack while driving to work and he did not survive it. He was my second husband, the love of my life and we’d been together 12 years, married more than 11 years. Thankfully, Jim was near home and not in traffic. He passed out and hit a parked car while driving but no one else was hurt. Jim was already unconscious when they pulled hm out of his car, as its wheels kept spinning in place. A local store owner and police officer started CPR. Quickly, EMTs from the fire department arrived, but they were unable to revive him after several attempts.
Jim left happily that morning at 8:30AM and he was declared dead at the local hospital by 9:15AM… a complete shock for me, his children, siblings and all of our extended family and friends. Jim was positive, kind and honest — he will be sorely missed. He was loved by everyone, including his elderly and handicapped clients.
Previously I’d lost both parents and three children separately, but each new loss is unique. I’ve learned much from my experiences, and from those I work with to help them recover from grief… but Jim was my other half, the person I relied on daily. I was familiar with mechanics of what had to be done, but realized I must acknowledge the difference and look for ways to get through the holidays.
I’m very fortunate to have a good support system of friends and family. The first month was a blur of people, food dropped off, the wake, funeral… and practical necessities like getting medical coverage (I was on Jim’s plan at work). Then, the mountain of paperwork loomed as I got death certificates, closed his accounts, notified others, and started to figure out estate and impact to family, and myself.
Coincidentally, I’d just committed to the busiest 2-months of events for my nonprofit, which were all publicly announced and not feasible to cancel. So I was extremely busy getting through those, all while my brain seemed to be in slow motion from my grief. I felt the usual numbness at first, which helped get through the obituary, wake and funeral, but it began to wear off after everyone left.
The first hard hit was when I drove to New York for a class and went to call Jim to tell him I had arrived safely. The reality threw me into a tailspin for the evening. Then, the first few mornings I was alone at home – I had no one to share coffee and conversation with… followed by nights when I couldn’t make him dinner or talk with him about his day or mine. It hurts, but each day gets a little easier.
I am a person who needs to take action to move into whatever my next phase is going to be… that is not the right approach for everyone. So… I went through Jim’s clothes, packed them up and gave them to one of his brothers. I gave his car to his other brother. I went through his estate with his adult children, and I decluttered the house to make it easier to maintain without him. It kept me busy, had a practical result and was what I needed to deal with reality. There is no right or wrong here, some need a long time for action and that is okay for them.
Another thing I found helpful was posting photos of Jim on Facebook, like little tributes at key points — after his wake, or funeral… or at a monthly anniversary of his death or the anniversary of when he proposed to me. It allowed people to get to know him better and gave me much supportive feedback. Luckily, I took many photos together, so I had tons of memories to cherish and share. Photography and communication is so powerful in grief. I found a special photo we took as part of my Portraits of Loss (TM) two years before he died that really struck me and had got a big reaction. It was him leaning over me with his arms around me saying “Take Nothing For Granted”. How true is that?
I hosted our kids and their families for Thanksgiving dinner and we toasted Jim. I accepted every friend’s invitation to lunch, dinner, a walk or an escape for a few days… to allow myself to change the scenery and heal. I invited friends over to help me put up the Christmas tree. I took some gentle yoga classes and restarted my meditation practice. I am trying to eat better and get more regular exercise, so I don’t get ill… and I write about my feelings. It all helps in some way — it is so important to take good care of ourselves while we are grieving.
I always host Christmas Eve dinner for my extended family and usually do too much, end up exhausted. This year, at my son’s request, I will simplify and spend more time with the people, than the food and chores.
This blog is already too long, but I wanted to share a personal transition piece, then get back into regular blogs and newsletters with the new year. I will reach out with ideas, tips, stories and resources. Getting through the holidays may be more difficult; but just like other times, it requires self-care and an open mind to try new things that might help. Remember to reach out for support from family and friends. Enjoy the holidays and your memories as much as possible.
Our loved ones lives are a gift to us… not just a loss.
…supporting your recovery from grief.
Barbara J Hopkinson
President & Executive Director