In the past 3 weeks, I’ve endured Father’s Day, Shawn’s birthday and our wedding anniversary. Today, it’s the 6 month marker since his death.
I woke up nervous, though I’m not sure why. It’s not like anything has changed today, and the specific time period of six months is a made-up marker anyway. But I’ve now lived a half of a year without Shawn, and that is something that gives me pause.
If you had asked me a year ago if I would be able to handle six entire months without my husband, I would definitely have said “no.”
And yet, here I am. I am not whole anymore, but I am not entirely broken. I am somewhere in the middle, I guess.
When I meet new people, or interact with people I haven’t seen since the funeral, many of them seem to expect me to behave in one of two ways. Some of them are surprised that I am able to move through life so easily, as they thought I would be totally despondent. They say things like, “I don’t think I’d be able to survive what you’re going through,” or something similar. I’m sure they mean it as a compliment, and I take it as such. But sometimes, when I hear that a lot, I feel as though I’m not being the “right” kind of widow.
Then there are other people who see me move through the world without crying every moment and think that I am much removed from the grief I felt six months ago. They say things like, “I’m so glad you are making new memories and enjoying your children!” I know they mean it to be encouraging, and again, I take it as such. But sometimes when I hear that a lot, I feel as though they don’t want to hear that I remain deeply unhappy in many ways.
The reality is this – I am not completely despondent and I am not completely recovered. I live in the space between.
Usually, I move through the world with a low-grade sadness. It is a sadness that I am able to live with, and it means that I am no longer crying when I take in my dry cleaning. But sometimes the intense sadness is still there. I don’t talk often about it on this blog, but I still have a really hard time when I think back on Shawn’s illness and death. It is something that I don’t carry with me moment to moment, but in the quiet hours of the night, memories of how he suffered stay with me.
Shawn was stoic and completely aware until the day he died, and for that I am truly grateful. But it meant he understood what was happening to him. He endured pain that I only felt three times in my life during the births of my children, and he did it almost every single day of his illness. Watching someone die is horrible, but watching someone suffer is far worse. Especially if it’s someone that you love. Especially if it’s your spouse.
He was still Shawn through it all, joking with his tearful family, “I’m not dead yet!” mere hours before he died. He squeezed my hands when he couldn’t respond at the end and he knew we were there and he was loved. But it is horrible to watch someone who was in perfect shape decline to his state. One of the doctors who operated on him in early December commented that he was really impressed with what thick stomach muscles Shawn had! Five weeks after that, Shawn insisted on walking to our car when we headed back to the hospital. His feet had swollen so badly they couldn’t fit into his Converse. But he wouldn’t let us carry him. He just put his feet partway in his shoes and gritted his teeth and got to the car. He died less than 24 hours later.
I think about that moment with the Converse often. I think about it every day when I tie Austin’s Converse that he wears because his dad loved them so much. I think about Shawn’s suffering and his intense ability to soldier on through it all. It is one of the hardest things about moving through grief for me. I remember his suffering, and that haunts me, even if there is nothing else I could have done when he was dying.
And so, at six months, I am better able to do the little things that others are so impressed with – I can travel with my kids and make dinner and go to Target to get new socks. But I still sit with terrible sadness when I think of how Shawn had to suffer. This type of grief does not keep me in bed, maybe because there is no other option. But it can keep me awake at 2 am.
I am moving forward in some parts of my life. In other ways, I am still stuck in a place that feels impossible to navigate. I want to take away Shawn’s suffering, but he is already gone, and so my horror over his pain has nowhere to go.
Last night, I was bathing Tommy and he was jumping up in down as he got out of the tub. He made a face at me that looked just like Shawn’s, and then he laughed. It was a perfect, joyful laugh of a 4-year-old, and I swear it was the best thing I’d ever heard. I tickled him a bit and he laughed and said, “again!” and so I did it again and again.
By the end, we were both laughing, and I covered him with an enormous towel and hugged him close. I felt joy – true joy – with my baby in my arms. I actually took a moment as we rocked there on the bathroom floor to feel a bit of bliss run through my body.
I do not know how to ease the grief I still carry for the suffering Shawn endured. But I do know that the moment with Tommy after his bath gave me real and true happiness. My hope for the next six months is that I can let the grief of Shawn’s suffering ease from my body somewhat. And that I can feel those bits of bliss just a little more frequently.
Beautifully written as always my dear Marjorie. Your words gave me chills because I actually had those thoughts this morning. Our days are getting better in dealing with losing our son , but the way he died & suffered still wake me up at night. A mother is NOT supposed to bury one of her children first …but then I am not the first mother who had to suffer that heartache. Some are so surprised that I am still in my garden, that I still teach my prenatal classes, that I still make cherry tarts….that I still smile a bit. But you know, Shawn wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time & he would want his mom to continue to make his cherry tarts. Love you.
Oh yes – he SO LOVED those cherry tarts! Definitely keep making them. 🙂
And yes….a mother is not supposed to bury a child. God, if there’s something I wish could always be true, it would be that. xo
I hate that he suffered and so wish you hadnt had to live the slow motion crash. What I do think is amazing is that he “braved through it” (like you now <3) and it sounds as though he shielded you as best he could. If that doesn’t show who he was and the strength of his character, I don’t know what would.
That’s so true. Shawn never wanted me to have to care for him – he wanted to do as much as he could on his own. It’s why I went back to work during his illness – he thought it was important.
Marjorie, I posted last week in reply to one of your other entries and have spent part of my weekend reading your entire blog. This entry caught my attention because, well, because July 9th is my husband’s birthday. My husband also suffered during so much of his treatment which went on for 18 months, especially at the end and he too did his best to be brave and strong, often telling me to calm down and that it would be ok. It was the hardest, most heart-wrenching thing to witness as he did his best to survive by enduring chemo, radiation, embolizations, scopes, blood tests, port insertions and transfusions repeatedly. The day before he died, when he was heavily sedated and on morphine, the nurses asked if there was anything they could do to help us and I thought of one thing. We have a spunky little mini dachshund whom my husband adored. In fact, she sensed that he was sick and would never leave his side when he was home, opting to sit on his lap and his lap only. Anyway, the nurses let us bring the dog to the hospital to say goodbye to him which was unheard of, and I think they were angels for doing this. When we put her on the bed she immediately wagged her little tail and kissed him all over his face. It was the last time he smiled or responded to anything. He knew she was there, and it was just one small thing I was able to do to ease his suffering and give him a glimmer of happiness. I don’t know where or how our husbands got their strength or why they had to suffer, and remembering what we witnessed is rather like PTSD. I think it takes a long time to come to terms with the fact that although we will always wish we could have done more, we did our best, Marjorie, as our husbands did. The smile on my husband’s face that last time is what I have to remember when those painful memories rear up. Remember your husband’s smiles, Marjorie, because his life with you was filled with more smiles than pain.
Melanie, this is an AMAZING story that I could completely picture in my mind when you told it. I love, love, love this story, and I love that you shared it here. And yes – my husband also said, “it will be okay” more times than I can count. It was amazing. Sending love to you. Thanks for reading my words.
Just found your blog a couple weeks ago, and discovered your post on six months as that marker arrives for me next week. You suffered horribly watching your husband suffer and we all wish a magic wand could have taken that pain away. For me, my six month grief is much like yours… how have I been able to manage six months without my Bob. Your words ring true. People are worried about me but yet tell me I am doing amazing. Quite the paradox. Yes, I tackle every day, put one foot in front of the other and pick up the pieces. And yes, that low grade sadness is always there. The sadness that Bob isnt here and I never had the chance to tell him goodbye and I wasnt home. Your words bring tears to my eyes but great comfort on that I share the same feelings, no matter the circumstances. Thank you.
I’m so glad that my writing has been somewhat helpful, but yes, the 6 month mark can feel really strange. You are past what I call “shock grief” and can carry on with daily activities, so people think you’re doing fine. But the grief remains – sometimes very intense grief, though it does come in less frequent waves as time goes on. Take care. This time period is hard. It does get easier overall.
Dear Marjorie, I very much appreciate this blog. This is the 6th month mark for me losing my husband Norman unexpectedly at age 43. It is different losing your partner in the middle of your lives, still raising young children, still in the middle of building your life. The low grade sadness I relate to a lot,– some days I am fine to busy as a single working mother with time to sit down much, there is always something to do,…. but sometimes the house is too quiet even with the kids around, adult conversation is limited, and the person who remembers the inside joke is not there anymore. Thanks for sharing your story its really helping me get through knowing others have gone through the same.
I’m not sure if it’s helpful to say, but 4-6 months was my lowest point. I think it’s because the shock wore off and I didn’t see a future. But there is some light ahead – I promise. Go easy on yourself right now.