Going Through The Five Stages of Grief

June 22, 2010 by  
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The more we define ourselves as part of a specific group or type, the more we can relish a shared reality. ~George A. Bonanno

I look around and see a world full of hope. Friends dealing with life, looking for direction, wishing they had a blueprint for which way to turn. I have nights when I can’t go to sleep, then mornings I don’t want to get up. I pray for my family, friends, and for myself, to have courage, confidence, wisdom, and balance.

Psychologist George A. Bonanno has written a book based on research for those going through the death of a loved one. “The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells us About Life After Loss” talks about one’s capacity for resilience, the ability to thrive in the face of adversity. Filled with the words of bereaved individuals, the reader can’t help but be touched and learn from their journey through loss.

I knew that Helen Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief model was initially developed for helping dying patients cope with death and bereavement. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For years those five steps have been linked with grief support counseling, as well as emotional response to trauma. Definite stages of emotion that I experienced when my husband got sick. I dealt with denial, anger and bargaining especially when his congestive heart failure accelerated and he was accepted as a candidate for a heart transplant. Depression, absolutely.  Acceptance? Now this is challenging. I do accept that he’d physically gone, yet is “he” gone?

I had an experience a few nights ago as I was looking through my husband’s cds.  He always talked about having to listen to an entire cd to hear one or two specific songs. So on February 2007 we burned two cds, of songs by his favorite male and female artists. I had totally forgotten about this but listening to them now has given me a sense of comfort. This happened at a time when I had been reaching deep inside for strength.

There are times I feel my husband is still protecting me. He always told me I was hurting myself through often compromising my needs and continually tried to teach me how to set limits. Recently I’ve gone through several situations that made me think how he would suggest I handle things and I found myself having confidence, to take action, and stand up for myself, focus and expand my capacity for resilience. Something I know I desperately need. I think we all do.


My Husband, My Guardian Angel

June 19, 2010 by  
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There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief… and unspeakable love.

~Washington Irving

To look into my husband’s eyes… I remember vividly, fifteen years ago, riding down the escalator in Albuquerque, knowing that I would soon be looking either into then again my husband’s eyes, or into the eyes of the man I divorced three years before. When I signed the papers to end our marriage I knew I was still in love with the man I had married. Our world had spiraled out of control and ended with neither of us knowing who we were anymore. In the three years of silence we both had focused within. Sifting through years of sadness from our childhood, we both resurfaced more grounded and at peace with life.

There are days I spend a lot of time looking at photos of my husband, looking deep into his eyes. My favorite photos are the ones I took of him.

One of his doctors’ compared my husband’s heart to a tire. There is only so much tread and when spinning normally, there is X years of life. But nothing had been successful at stopping my husband’s adrenaline from racing, which in turn was spinning his heart out of control. We were in the final laps of the race. A heart transplant before the tread ran out. His new heart didn’t come in time. Hospice came. At times there weren’t any words, just long looks into each other’s eyes knowing our time together was running out.

Today marks 18 months since I looked into his eyes… There are times a song will come on the radio and I find myself closing my eyes and remembering the very first time we two-stepped out together. We looked deep into each other’s soul and our hearts connected for the love of a lifetime… A man I fell in love with when I was 26 years old.

My husband. My Guardian Angel. Always.


Being Familiar With The Angels

February 12, 2010 by  
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This journey through life is a winding path. We can’t see how many turns it will make before it ends. Until two years ago I felt thoroughly grounded on my path. I was living a life that was beyond my dreams. In 2003 I began a career in higher education. My husband retired after years of constant travel. While I was at work, he played golf. We helped each other balance. We were all things to each other. Our life together was more than I had ever imagined was possible.

Then the “T” word entered our vocabulary. Transplant. Someone needed to die for him to live. My husband needed a new heart.

The United Network for Organ Sharing, UNOS, offers transplant statistics in real time. There are currently 105,743 people waiting, 3,071 of them are waiting for a new heart. In 2008, 177 people became too sick to survive the surgery, 378 people died before a donor was found. One of those was my husband.

There are numerous resources of support honoring organ and tissue donors and their recipients. What about the loved ones of those who died, waiting for the gift of life?

I’ve often thought back to when my husband and I began our journey, living in a new condo that had a small fenced in area. I watched him transform that space into a peaceful retreat. Planting a miniature Japanese maple in the corner, he designed a brick patio with flowerbeds of small hybrid rose bushes outlining the fence.

Yesterday a friend said, “I put something in your office, but just know, it’s really not from me.” She told me about about seeing this plant and feeling like she was supposed to get it for me. But what if getting flowers this close to Valentine’s Day upset me? Not being able to put the thought out of her mind, she went back for the plant the next morning. I was touched. How sweet of her to think of me.

The plant from my friend yet as she prefaced, not really from her — a small hybrid rose bush.

Reflecting on the words of St. Francis de Sales…

Make yourself familiar with the angels, and behold them frequently in spirit; for without being seen, they are present with you.


It Is What It is

October 21, 2009 by  
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All things for a reason… A quote I have said for more years than I can remember. A quote that I honestly always believed in. 

But now I don’t. Because if that was true then why? Why didn’t my trio of saints answer my prayers? Saint Rita, all things are possible, Saint Anthony, all things can be found, Saint Jude, all things will glorify God’s name. I prayed to them every morning, asking that through the intercession of their prayers and God’s perfect will, my prayers would be answered. But when I prayed the hardest I had ever prayed in my life, they weren’t answered. Or were they?

In March 2006 we thought my husband had a cold. The EKG showed several silent heart attacks. Stents were put in and life didn’t change; for him or for me. Or so we thought.

January 7, 2008. I left for work at 7AM. A few hours later I get a message to call my daughter. “Call her now. It’s important”. Somehow I knew, even before I ever heard her voice. “He’s been trying to reach you. He drove himself to the hospital. Not to worry though, he says he’s fine”. But I knew he wasn’t, or he wouldn’t have gone to the hospital and then life changed for both of us; an open heart surgery had taken place.

For the next 3 months our lives did not include an alarm clock. We went for daily walks and slowly he rebuilt his strength. Short walks became longer ones. He told me he wished I was retired too, so this could be our life. I did wish it too. We slept late and took naps. We spent 24 hours a day together. Our world had been rocked hard and we now realized just how fragile life was and how fragile his heart was.

September 2008. My husband listed for a heart transplant. It helped that he always took care of his health. Complete physicals, eyes, teeth, flu shots, each year and every year. We ate healthy; wheat not white, pepper not salt, grilled not fried. A window had been opened with the opportunity of a new heart. We had renewed hope. 

But is this really happening? What if I just pretended we were living in the Truman Show? If I unzip the sky, could we escape from this world spinning out of control?

I had never experienced such a deep paralyzing fear.  I thought to myself; can I kiss him goodbye and let them take him, knowing they are going to take out his heart and put in a new one from a donor? He always taught me quality over quantity, always. So asking for a new heart for him, were we really then asking for quantity of his life over quality?

But I never had to make that decision… In 2 months while waiting of a donor his heart had become too weak. There was only one decision left to make, return to the hospital or call Hospice. I didn’t have to ask my husband. I knew his answer. I told his doctor I was taking him home.

I am eternally thankful for the time we had and that he didn’t have pain and his dignity to the very end. Never showing sadness or fear, he humbled me with his strength. He never lived like he was dying. He held on to my knee as I sat beside him on the bed. I knew he didn’t want to leave me. December 19 at 4:00 AM while I held his hands he left. No longer would he walk beside me in this life.

So really, how can all things be for a reason? For what reason wasn’t a donor found in time? For what reason was our world torn apart? Why during the most devastating situation I have ever faced, was the person who loved me more than anyone not by my side? How could all that we went through be for a reason?

Gone are the days of playing make-believe. Situations will enter our world that we have no control over. No matter how much we try, we can never run fast enough to avoid them. We will have questions yet never receive answers. Maybe the reality is that all things are not for a reason. Maybe the real truth is simply, it is what it is.