Some of the Lessons Learned These Past Two Months
Make sure your partner/beneficiary knows about any life insurance policies you might have. Likewise, make sure you know about any policies you have. (This advice comes courtesy of the small policy Amy had through her union, which I learned about more than a month after her death.)
“What do I do with all of her belongings?” Remember there’s no rush or deadline. You don’t have to go through your loved one’s belongings in the first week, the first month, or even the first year.
I’ve been going through a little bit at a time. There are things I’m keeping, other things that go to our kids or family/friends. As for the rest, a few options…
- ThredUp – An online shop for secondhand women’s clothing. They mail you a postage-paid bag. You fill it with clothes in good condition and mail it back. They do the work of selling, and you get a small commission. Amy had a fair amount of new or near-new clothes and handbags that wouldn’t fit anyone we know.
- Local Shelters – Amy had a bunch of hair-care and other products, along with things like the small bottles of baby shampoo you get at the hospital. We weren’t going to use them, so I spoke with a friend at a local domestic violence shelter and donated several boxes worth for their clients.
- eBay – This has almost been more hassle than it’s worth, but I’ve put a few things up for sale on eBay. I don’t think I’d do it for small items, but to pick an example, Amy had all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls on DVD, new and unopened, and none of us were going to watch them.
- Goodwill – Not my first choice, but better than just throwing things out.
This is a long, difficult process. Even when I think I’m doing okay, I’ll come across something that knocks the emotional wind out of me. This week it was the big teddy bear Amy had when she was a teenager. I had no idea she still had that tucked away in the back of the closet…
Don’t try to tough it out and lock the pain away. We do such a lousy job teaching people, especially guys, how to cope with pain and grief and other emotions. “Don’t cry.” “Be strong.” “You’ve got to get over it.”
Screw that. It’s been just over two months, and it still hurts every day. Some days are easier than others. It’s not a straight path. It still hurts. It’s still unfair. I’m still pissed. She’s on my mind all the time, either in my thoughts or right below the surface, waiting.
Let yourself hurt. Let yourself cry. Let yourself grieve.
It’s okay to get help. In my case, it’s a support group I’ve been attending for a little over a month, and I just started going to see my therapist again.
As my support group facilitator says, the grief is going to come out. Either you accept and work to manage the grief, or else it’s going to manage you.
It’s all right to be happy sometimes.
I have guilt about being alive and relatively healthy when Amy dealt with a lifetime of various health issues. I wish I could have taken some or all of that burden for her. But I know she loved me, and I know she’d want me to be happy.
Easier said than done.
It’s harder when it feels like there’s nothing to look forward to. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and remember once again that Amy’s gone. I’ll go through a few more of her belongings and deal with the pain and guilt of that process. I’ll make dinner and be reminded once again that she was better at it than I am, and that she should be here too. It sucks. Why would anyone want to wake up for another day of that?
So I’ve almost had to force myself to create things to look forward to. I bought Star Wars tickets for myself and my son, along with some friends, so we could see the movie together. I’ve got an appointment in a month to start on my first tattoo, which will be a tribute to Amy and our kids. I signed up to attend ConFusion in January, my first con in about a year and a half.
None of it will be right without Amy. But they’re things I know I’ll enjoy, even if that enjoyment is mixed with pain and guilt. And I know she’d want me to keep living and keep trying to find things that make me happy.
Talk to your partner/loved ones about what you want to happen if you die. Amy was so focused on getting better that we barely talked about the worst-case scenario. Even acknowledging it out loud felt like giving up. Logically, we knew it wasn’t, but logic doesn’t always beat emotion.
But those few brief conversations we did have helped so, so much.
Sitting there in the funeral home as the funeral coordinator asks question after question – burial or cremation, what kind of ceremony, where should it be held, what kind of prayer cards do you want, what about flowers, and so on – it’s overwhelming.
I didn’t know everything she’d want, but I knew the basics. Knowing the memorial service we put together was something she would have appreciated, it helped a lot. Bringing Amy’s parents and our daughter along to the planning session (they all wanted to come) helped too – together, we knew Amy well enough to figure out the best choices for the things Amy and I hadn’t discussed.
But I wish we’d talked more. Preferably before she got sick, which would have eliminated that fear and sense of giving up…
I’ve been forcing myself to say yes to pretty much every social-type invitation, mostly people asking if I wanted to grab lunch or dinner or whatever. I also pushed to get a few friends on board for a monthly game night, which should start in another week or so. I know I need some social interaction, to get out of the house and interact with people who care about me. Even when it would be easier to just stay home and crawl back into bed.
Be gentle with yourself.
I had to clean out Amy’s office this week. 50+ boxes of stuff to go through. That was hard. For the rest of the day, I skipped exercise, I didn’t try to write, I pretty much just read and watched TV. I’m trying hard to be okay with that, with allowing myself to take breaks and recognizing the toll all of this takes. (Or, you know, with letting myself go weeks between blog posts, aside from the Cool Stuff Friday links.)
All things considered, I think we’re doing all right. It’s hard – grief doesn’t have an expiration date – but we’re still living our lives each day, which is what she would want.
October 31, 2019 @ 3:48 pm
Thank you so much for sharing this. My thoughts have often been with you–I see a book of yours on my shelf and hope that you are finding peace and some happiness. I also appreciate the resources and advice a lot. Many hugs to you and your son!
October 31, 2019 @ 4:03 pm
Planning for the end is always painful. As I watch my father’s effort to do the same thing, I realized that it is something that takes time and energy. He has been very detail-oriented which has been an eye-opener for much of the same questions and answers you mention above. It was a stark contrast to the hour we had to figure out things when my spouse’s father died and we had no clue what to do.
That’s one reason I ended up creating a “death file” at home. It has things like bank account numbers, key passwords, people to ask for help, and general plans. Copies of insurance policies and where to find things like the safe deposit keys or my bank’s swipe pattern. It’s worse since I’m the primary manager of those things in our household so I know that if I get hit by a bus (Bus Factor), I have to do something to make sure the family goes on.
I update it on the same week I do taxes (“death and taxes” quote).
The hardest part was always finding time to *talk* about it. To get everyone lined up to create a will, to figure out plans, to memorize the lynchpin password. And then to bring it up enough so it can be remembered when it needs to be. But, like putting a seat belt on, after the fact is sadly too late. 🙁
October 31, 2019 @ 4:16 pm
Do you have any shelters that might take the clothes etc? Would be better than Goodwill. Also, for makeup that’s not liquid (unless unopened) or loose powder (ditto), there’s Project Beauty Share: https://projectbeautyshare.org/
October 31, 2019 @ 4:34 pm
Thank you for sharing this.
October 31, 2019 @ 6:41 pm
So many hugs. Grief is a bear. Some days you get it, some days suck. But thanks for sharing these words of wisdom. I wish I was there to give you a hug in person. Please reach out if you ever need to. Or, you know, just play Words. xxx
November 1, 2019 @ 10:13 am
I’m not sure some encouragement from a random stranger on the internet is good for anything, but you are doing very well in how you’re coping.
My mom died nearly two years ago, and my dad (he’s 82) did better on the practical side of being alone than she and I had feared; before her death he was leaning very heavily on mom to make the decisions and do the practical stuff, however much she tried to teach him.
On the emotional and spiritual side, my agnostic scientist dad changed completely, pushing the loss away by suddenly becoming deeply engrossed in receiving messages from angels, Jesus, Eve, sungoddess Ra etc., first through his mystic sister and later on his own, all to constantly keep talking to mom and keeping the feeling alive of being in daily contact with her.
His sister has been mystically inclined all her life, and she started channeling ‘messages from mom’ the day after she died. The content was clearly not something mom would ever say, but dad became an instant and fervent believer in any and all messages his sister chose to forward.
This completely sucked him into his sister’s strange mystical world, where he has to sit or lie quietly for hours because the angels are taking his spirit on a visit to mom in heaven, trying his hardest (unsuccessfully) to see if he can see, hear and remember what that other world is like; then he phones his sister do she can channel a conversation with the angels about what has been happening up in heaven while he was there.
His sister suffers from war trauma, still dreaming of shootings and bombings quite often, but can’t acknowledge or seek help with that as she has “forgiven all those who wronged her, so it’s not a problem anymore”. So every two months or so that trauma would show up in the messages from the angels, with them predicting that Putin or Erdogan would bomb the Netherlands or Paris or Europe next wednesday, or in two weeks, or something like that. She had grown used to such alarming messages not panning out, because the angels have no sense of human time and made a mistake, or because she sent a lot of Reiki and love to Putin so he changed his mind, or whatever. But dad, being a new convert, took them all incredibly seriously and was quite scared, each time; he wouldn’t listen to any reassurance because his sis got her information straight from Jesus so she couldn’t be wrong (even the second and third time…).
It took a year and a half for the fervency of that ‘spiritual life’ to diminish a bit; from hours each day to just one or two contacts a day. Now his sister is busier with her own things, dad is finally regaining some space and some of himself. He still goes on a walk each day (the angels told him to, one good thing they did), and believes mom is with him on his walks, and when he’s falling asleep and waking up – he talks to her on his own then, and tries to feel her response: a much healthier way of dealing than constantly phoning his sister to ask her to ask mom, and channel her reply…
Still, the sense of his wife still being close, and being able to ‘talk with her’ (and get a concrete response, through his sister and later his pendulum and alphabet note) did help to preserve him from falling into a deep depression and going into a decline, so though I’m mad at her for unintentionally scaring and upsetting him on a fairly regular basis, I’m also partly glad he found her to latch onto this tightly, both to help him avoid the bleakest depression, and so I only needed to be his crutch in practical things, not in this too, as I don’t think I could have helped him to avoid that.
So despite my father doing almost as well on a practical level, your way of handling the grief and the whole situation looks much healthier to me, and I applaud you for managing it without going to such extremes.
November 6, 2019 @ 7:54 am
Thank you for the update. I think often of you and your family. I know that being there for your kids must be a very big reason to get out of bed every morning. Wishing you healing and peace and good memories.
November 9, 2019 @ 2:44 pm
*deposits large quantity of hugs into your internet bank*
You are doing so, so well. You are so right about letting the grief bombs take you. As time goes by, their duration wanes if you let it out when it hits you.
About six months after my husband died after being in the ICU/hospital/care center/back to the ICU for a total of 4 1/2 months, I realized that in living through memories every horrible moment of his illness, that while he had indeed suffered all those weeks, he only went through it once, while I had put myself through it all like, 500 times, every night sleepless, second-guessing everything I did and tried to do for him, every day where something bad happened, every time the medical staff let us down (most were great, some I could have slugged, gladly.) When I realized that, I let go of it. Torturing myself like that served no useful purpose for anyone. That was a huge step forward for me.
I think about you and your family every day, Jim. You are definitely not alone.