Monday, July 15, 2019

Voices of Experience: Surviving Complicated Grief

Sydell with her husband Rex, 2013
By Sydell Weiner, PhD

The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief ~ but the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.  ~ Hillary Stanton Zunin

Even though she is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Sydell Weiner writes that when her husband died nearly 3 years ago, "I fell apart. I was fortunate to find a 'Loss of Spouse' group at the Gathering Place, a service provided through Trinity Hospice at Providence Little Company of Mary. No sooner had that group ended, that a workshop called 'The Write Way' began. It provided guidance on how to use writing as a way of healing and working through grief. I have a blog on my website which had one or two counseling articles, but they were soon replaced by a series of blog posts that allowed me to express feelings too raw to talk about." The following post is taken from that series, and is reprinted here with Sydell's permission.

The hospital smells of disinfectant, trying to mask the presence of illness and grief. I walk into my husband’s room and give him a hug. I hold on tight, and even though he’s too weak to reciprocate, I relish the familiar touch and feel of his skin. How, I wonder, will I find the strength to witness his decline. He promised he’d never leave me, that he’d love me forever. But now he has cancer and promises are a thing of the past.

Six weeks later my sweet husband, Rex, passes peacefully at home. Even though I’m with him when he takes his last breath, I just stare in disbelief. Grief takes on many forms, and for now I feel like I’m watching a scene in a really bad play. I walk through the funeral, burial and reception like I’m a robot. I engage in conversation but I’m not really present. There’s a blanket between me and the rest of the world and nothing’s getting through.

When the feelings start to come they are complicated and not what I expected. The anger kicks in first. I tear through Rex’s tools and start packing them away. When I find corroded duplicates, I go to the dump and toss them out frantically. I call in a friend to take down the walls of his make-shift office in the garage. I clean out the space with a vengeance, furious at the mess that he left behind. If I’m going to be alone then I’ll do what I want, so don’t get in my way.

My kids are adults with families of their own, and I don’t want to burden them unnecessarily. But toughing it out on my own is harder than I thought. Out of nowhere, with Rex gone 6 weeks, the tears start to come. They come at the supermarket when I can’t decide between peaches and plums. They come when the light turns red and I’m going to be 5 minutes late. I cry when the gas tank hits empty and I’ve forgotten to fill the tank. And again when the dishes pile up in the sink and the dishwasher hasn’t been unloaded. It doesn’t take much, but for the next 8 months grief feels like it’s never going to end.

When the fear kicks in I suddenly feel very old. How will I navigate this next phase of my life on my own? Will I be lonely for the rest of my days? What if I get in an accident and nobody knows about it until it’s too late? Will I have enough money to live comfortably if I need long term care? Who can I talk to when I’m feeling worried or sad or even happy and excited? Rex was my heart, the one I shared everything with, and now I have no idea where I’m supposed to turn.

I’m independent to a fault and resist reaching out, until I see a card from The Gathering Place. Provident Little Company of Mary is offering a “Loss of Spouse” Grief Support Group. Even though I’m not Catholic, it’s close to my home so I agree to give it a chance. I go to the group for nine weeks and start connecting with other women. I start to make friends and surround myself with people who understand. “How did you deal with Social Security?” “Do you have to take your husband’s name off the mortgage to set up a trust?” “What are you doing with his clothes?” “Who do you talk to when you are feeling hopeless?” And most importantly, “Tell me about your husband, what was he like?”

It’s two years since I lost the love of my life, and although I’m still grieving I have begun to have hope. I journal every morning to stay in touch with my feelings. I honor my husband by sending him loving prayers throughout the day. I’ve learned to reach out and ask for help when I need it. I know who I can really talk to and who just wants me to move on. But mostly I’ve learned that I have not been abandoned. I have been loved and cherished by a man I adored, and that love gives me the strength to make it on my own.

© 2019 by Sydell Weiner, PhD

About the Author:
As her blog posts about her personal loss grew in popularity, Sydell Weiner started moving towards grief counseling in her therapy practice. She volunteered at the Gathering Place, and soon began facilitating Loss of Spouse grief support groups. Since then she has led several 9-week groups, offering tools and suggestions to participants. "But most importantly," she says, "we are there to witness each other's pain without judgement or advice." Find more information on her website, Sydell Weiner, PhD, or go directly to her blog, Sydell notes that if anything she has written resonates with you, she would love to hear from you, either by email at or in the Comments section below.

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