If you Google the term grief, you will find that there are anywhere from 5 to 8 stages of grief. I can only talk about the stages that I went through. I do not believe that I went through them in any sort of order, but I can confirm that I revisited several of the stages more than once. When I thought I got through something like the anger, it came back in another form and I was forced to go through it again. We never know what might spark the feelings that are associated with a stage. This is why I believe we need to educate ourselves on grief and what we might expect. It allows us to recognize what we are feeling and why. This will help us get through and feel more control over our behaviors.
The very first thing, I believe everyone feels is shock. I think back to the moment that those words came out of the agent’s mouth…you’re husband is dead. A feeling shot through my body that is hard to describe, but it started in my heart and spread like wild fire to the bottoms of my feet to the top of my head. I only cried for a few moments. I believe my body was not ready to handle all the pain that was coming with my husband’s death. I adapted into a project manager to make sure I had taken care of all that came with his death until his funeral. I still cried a lot…every time I spoke with someone of his death, when I laid in bed, spoke with my children, discussed the funeral and many other moments.
I saw my children go through shock. Moments after I told my son, his father was dead, he stopped himself from crying and wanted to watch Sponge Bob Square Pants. It was his way to save himself from the life changing news I shared with him.
In the mornings, I would sit on my patio saying to myself, I cannot believe he is dead. I wanted to deny any knowledge of his death. Not one ounce of me wanted to believe that he died. There was no way my husband would have died. He was too strong to die. For so long, I believed I would hear the garage door swing open, hear the deep clump of his boots and see him walk into the kitchen. He would give me a hug, telling me to smell his stinky arm pits and laugh (it sounded like crusty the clown’s laugh), take his duty belt off and I would watch him in his green uniform walk up the stairs to put his gun in the safe. I NEVER wanted to believe that this would not happen again.
I wanted to see him after he was killed, but no one would let me. They thought I could not handle it; that I did not want to see him like that. It was easy to deny his death, because I did not see his dead body until I went to the funeral home. There I did not see his injuries; I saw his lifeless body with a lot of makeup covering his face. It reminded me of the picture I saw of him when he was sleeping on the floor and a few people thought it was funny to put makeup on his face. I reached to grab his hand and it was hard and cold. Those were not the hands that I held so many times before.
It was not until I asked the investigator to show me all the pictures of the crash, which included the pictures of Mike. Reading the autopsy report and EMT report did not provide the proof to me that he sustained the extent of injuries that would have taken his life. Those were only words on a piece of paper. I needed to see if for myself.
Recently a friend asked me why I would want to look at those pictures. I told her that I needed to see if I would have been able to go to him and hold his hand. That I would have seen him no matter what, embraced him and kissed his forehead. I was able to validate that I would have gone, that it did not matter what he looked like. I needed to tell Mike goodbye when there was some resemblance of life, not after he was embalmed. I thought that was the only reason until I began to write this blog. Now I know that I also needed to understand and see his injuries with my eyes.
My husband’s sister lived with us for a while after Mike’s death. My two year old would ask his aunt to bring his daddy home to him every time she left for work. He would see her uniform and he knew where she was going. I know you may believe that a two year old may not understand what happened completely, but denial happens to all of us. He turns five soon and he still asks me where his dad is. I tell him heaven. Other times he asks, “Daddy, is dead, right?” I tell him yes, every time. I wish I could say no just once to see him smile, but it is not our reality.
I bargained with my own life, just to have my husband back. I was willing to replace his death with my own. If I could have turned back time and needed him to stay home, then it would not have happened. Talking to the life insurance company made me sick. I thought that if I did not accept the money, there may be a chance he would come back to his children, back to me. But I would look at my children and it would bring the reality that I alone was now financially responsible for them. I bargained for days, weeks, months, except there was no one that could bring Mike back.
The pain that came with his death was unbearable. There were moments I could not breathe. The pain gnaws away at you. It over powers your body, your brain and even your heart. It takes away all the control you had. I thought that the pain may take my own life way. My children’s whimpers, in the middle of the night, were even more painful to hear then my own. There was a decision that I had to make. I had to decide that I wanted to push through the pain and live.
The guilt that I felt when Mike died was for anything that I might have done in my life that could have been deemed as “bad”. I thought that maybe if I hadn’t done this or that, then I would not have been punished. Fortunately, I did not carry too much guilt or ponder it for very long. What I felt were the many regrets. The heartache that came with we could, should or would have done this sooner if we knew what was going to happen. The hardest regret to overcome is the little baby girl that we planned. We had two amazing sons and all we needed was a little girl. She would have had Mike wrapped around her little finger (just as his two sons did), I often told him. He would laugh and I would say your little princess.
The anger that I felt towards anything and everything was the most negative stage that I experienced. I was mad at Mike for dying. I was angry at the lady that killed him. I was angry at my children for not grieving properly (so I thought until I educated myself on the ways a child grieves). I was angry at the cashier, at anyone that would smile and laugh, that was living their life when I was lost.
A story I shared in Crazy Courage, was about this cashier that I did not treat so well. I refer to it as an episode. I was in the grocery line, paying for groceries and I was using several gift cards I had received. As I was taking them out and swiping each one, the cashier started to giggle. When she did this I literally wanted to slap the giggle out of her. I could not understand what was so funny. She said “wow did you just get married?” I looked up and gave her the ugliest glare I could give and said with a snarl, “No, my husband just died!” The look on that woman’s face turned from smile to a look of humility and she was horrified and unsure what to say. I actually felt better for making her feel bad for saying that to me.
Anger is so hard to control and has a way of consuming you. I punched my pillow many nights. It’s a good thing my pillow’s bruises did not show. My son would beat our red punching bag, sometimes with a plastic bat. When he left the exercise room, he usually left the anger there. With rips on the bag to mark where he had released it.
Depression and loneliness hovered over me like a plague. It was hard to recognize but my behavior was a tell-all sign of it. I did things that I would not normally do and just wanted to have someone with me. I did not want to be alone, because it would remind me that Mike was gone. I wanted to interact with people and feel the loneliness drift away. Only at night I would find, lying in my bed, the loneliness would appear seeping into my pores and filling my body. I would look over and see the empty space. It would force me out of my bed to the corner of my room to cry. To curl up in the fetal position, just wanting this all to end. For all of it to be over!
There were moments when I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was having an upward turn. I thought that I was getting passed all the pain, denial, guilt, regret, bargaining, anger, depression and loneliness. I would feel “good”. But I would continue to experience the feelings over and over again. I thought they would never go away. Although the period of time that I would have “good” days would increase compared to the other days. I believe we can all expect to relive the feelings more than once.
Accepting Mike’s death was hard. So many times, I believed I had accepted it, but I had not. I spent time not wanting to accept it. I refused to accept it. I did not want to lose any part of Mike. I thought all the memories, the way he smelled and the look on his face when he found out I was pregnant would fade away. I was scared. I had no hope, I thought that I would just have to “deal” with it all of my life. When I say deal with it, I do not mean in a positive way.
Accepting his death was a slow process. It happened over time, almost like pieces of a puzzle. I started by putting it together, building the outside first, then working towards finishing, searching for the right place for the inner pieces. It was hard to figure out where they all belonged, but I did it. I began accepting my life without him, accepting that I cannot control everything. Writing helped me with this. I accepted my path and walked with one foot in front of the other. There were many days that I took far more steps backwards than I did forward. Finally, I accepted my life story was not over, but Mike’s was.