I was sound asleep the 17th of December 2012 when the phone rang. I’d been up late that night and was sleeping in. Susan had gone to bed that night round 9pm saying that they’d worked her hard during physical therapy, that she was tired and that she’d call me early in the morning to wake me.
I grabbed the phone and exclaimed, “Boy you weren’t kidding when you said you would call early, how are you doing honey?” “Is this Frank? “Asked a strange voice. “Yes.” Frank this is (I don’t remember her name) the nurse at “Facility,” where Susan was recovering from a broken ankle and the rejection of her second kidney transplant.) Oh. Hi, what’s up?” “Frank, we found Susan at 6:30 not breathing and immediately began CPR the EMT’s came and took over trying to resuscitate her. They have been working on her ever since and she is not responding. “I asked how long she’d been without oxygen and she responded nearly an hour. I told her to tell the EMT’s to please stop. She said Frank I’m so sorry. Don’t worry… she will be here when you arrive. And then she said” Frank, don’t rush, there is nothing you can do. Please drive in here carefully, she is in good hands.” I set the phone down and sat there for a second stunned… then the realization hit me and I screamed at the top of my lungs, OH NO, GOD – NO!!!. I cried all the time I was shaving and dressing. I managed to stop long enough to get in the truck and begin the nearly two hour drive into town. By the time I got there I’d a glimmer of hope that they had somehow made a mistake and had the wrong room number, and that Susan would be sitting there like nothing had happened. The nurse met me at the door and again told me how sorry she was and led me back to her room. She left me at the door and closed it behind me. The bed was made up, with Susan in it, her arms folded under the covers and a blanket over her face. I lifted the cover back, and it was Susan! I screamed and cried and ran my fingers through her hair, and hugged her. I kissed her, put the cover back over her face, and walked out the door into the hall where I leaned against it for support.
I told the nurse I had some phone calls to make and that I’d be back. My youngest son, Eric, was undergoing dialysis further across town, and I called him and told him what had happened. I told him I’d be right over to pick him up. Then I called my oldest, Scott who lived in NJ, and told him and I said I’d call him back again later in the day. Then I called my middle son Chris who lived in VA and told him what had happened. I picked up Eric, and drove back to the facility. I went in with him and stood supporting him as he looked at his mother and cried as I’ve never seen a person cry before. We both walked out into the hall and the nurse asked me as kindly as she could what I wanted to do. I stared at her with a completely blank face, not registering what she was asking. She gently said that Susan could not stay there, where would I like her to go? Susan and I had discussed what we wanted when we passed, but she was only 64, this could not be happening. The nurse gave me a short list of mortuaries and I spotted one that I recognized and that Susan and I had talked about. I told the nurse my choice, and she told us to head on over, that she would make the phone call for us. When we got there a gal showed us into a room and sat with us until another woman came in and introduced herself. She told us that they were on the way to pick Susan up and we sat and talked. That woman picked up the mind staggering weight off of our shoulders and told us not to worry, that they would take care of everything. As a recipient of two kidney transplants, she wanted to be a donor, but with the length of time without oxygen that was out of the question. They gave us a brochure from Science Care, and said that this might fulfill Susan’s wishes. It did, and I signed the papers.
Before we could go home, we had to pick up Chris at the airport and then drive home. When we got there I broke down. I was home, no longer driving, and I’d started things in motion for Susan, I did not have to be the rock for a few minutes. I cried and I cried and even screamed and cried some more. I only stopped when I saw the looks on my son’s faces, they were terrified. They’d never seen me like this before and were afraid. They did not know what to do. I did not know what to do, and were afraid of what I might do.
Before Chris had left VA, he spoke with his minister about what had happened, talked with him for a while and between the talk and the trip out on the airplane, he’d come to grips at least temporarily and in between my crying jags he suggested that I needed to go to a grief group to help me. I knew I needed help. I sensed that this was not something could “man up” with. This was something I needed help with. Chris’s minister had gone online looking in the Denver area and had found a group that he thought would best help me. It was called “the Heart Light Center” and was on the east side of Denver. Well, winter set in and after taking Chris back to the airport, and dropping Eric at his home, I drove home and CDOT closed the pass after I went over it back into south Park County CO. It snowed, and then thawed and then snowed for weeks after Susan’s death.
It was nearly three months before the weather cooperated and the thawing cycle matched the grief groups’ schedule. In between, I had called and talked with the groups’ leader and she helped me through some of the really rough times so she knew I was coming and met me at the door. I’d arrived for the meeting my usual half hour early and she explained what a grief group was, and how they worked. As folks started to arrive I sat by myself drinking some ice water. Everyone sat in a huge circle and she asked me to sit beside her. She introduced herself and said that they would start out with folks who recently lost a spouse, and said that we did not have to say anything, or we could say whatever we wanted. “AND FRANK, you go first.”
Honestly I don’t remember much of what I said; it was like someone else was talking instead of me. The one thing I do vividly remember through all the crying and gasping… I remember placing the edge of my right hand on my right leg and moved my left hand from the one side of my right hand to the other side, saying “I don’t care what I have to do, I just want to get on the other side of this agony, this pain, I want it to stop!” Now, I did not know what to expect. I had no idea how long I’d be like I was... I just wanted it to STOP. As others spoke they all took a minute to acknowledge me and my pain, and then started to speak about their own situation. Most started out saying how long their spouse had been dead… a few weeks, months, a couple of years… I took some comfort in listening to them and seeing their faces as they spoke. Being in Electronics in the Navy, and after that Majoring in Geology, minoring Philosophy, and after my initial comments that night, I wanted someone to tell me that “After x amount of time” that things would be manageable. As the others went on, I began to think that after a year of so I should be back to normal. No sweat, as long as I know there is an end to it, I can handle it. As they worked around the room it was time for the woman directly across from me to speak. She started up with “It’s been 10 years since my Husband, died.” I like to have fell out of the chair! I fell against the group leader and sobbed. How can I possibly survive like this for all that time?
Grief Group folks attend for as long as they need. In some cases they stop attending and months or years later they start coming back. Many have reached the point where they are stronger and are no longer where they were when they first started coming to meetings, now they come and want to help and encourage the new folks. It was a couple of meetings (months) later when talking with her, I found out that was why she was continuing to attend the meetings, to help and encourage. I told her that she scared the ever loving stuffing out of me that day, and we both laughed. Grief Groups are like any other group of people, but they are all speaking our language. They all use words like stunned, pain, agony, breath taking pain, adrift, lost, insecure, etc. Our group meets the second and fourth Wednesday, and once a month the group meets for dinner at a restaurant in the Denver area. This gives us a chance to meet socially, outside of the facility. At first, I could not go out to eat even with folks I was starting to get to know. It took me about three more months before I felt I was strong enough to go out like that.
I believe that with a properly run Grief Group, with a trained staff can work wonders for us. Now, At 6 years I was able to write my first Christmas Cards, write Merry Christmas on them, and mean it. The day I was able to walk away from leaning over her grave to keep the snow from falling on her, I knew I no longer had to protect her. At 6 months, I knew it was time to remove my wedding band and put it in the strong box along with hers. Two months ago, I knew it was time to start sorting through all the boxes that we’d brought up from storage. I’ve taken three truckloads of Susan’s clothing, shoes and coats, yards and yards of fabric, skeins and skeins of yarn, now I have to figure out what to do with four or five sewing machines. I reached the bottom of the pit of loss and agony, and realized that I had to do something. Instead of thinking of all of the holidays, and Anniversaries, Mother’s Days, etc., I decided to remember our Wedding Anniversary, the day we became “Man and Wife.” I celebrate it by taking out our Wedding Album, and I sit down in the living room and go through it page by page, talking to her as if she were sitting beside me as I discuss each picture, what was going on, and my feelings. When done I thank her and the Good Lord. I thank her for saying “Yes, I Do,” and for the 35 years we had together. I thank the Good Lord for bringing us together and helping me remain positive and encouraging through her Double Bypass, nearly going blind, three sessions of hemodialysis, two kidney transplants, five spine surgeries, and all the times she fought with me as I tried to help get something into her when she was crashing from low blood sugar.
“My Grief Group” was the primary force that helped me sort through all of the feelings and emotions and supported me when “I decided it was time” to act. One of the biggest things they helped me with was getting me to stop gauging my “progress” vs others in the group. Shortly after Susan passed, I actually asked when I should change the bedding. Her fragrance (perfume) still remained. I was told “Frank, you will know when it is time.” I asked the same question about my wedding band, and was again told, “Frank, You will know when it is time.” In view of my state of mind, that was probably THE most frustrating thing someone could have said to me. As I said earlier, with an electronics and science background, I wanted a specific date, 6 months, a year. As time has gone on, I have found that it is true, at some time in our journeys we will suddenly realize “It is time” and we will act. One day, I won’t say how long after passing, I got out of the shower and was teasing two cats by dripping water on them when I looked over at the bed and thought to myself.” You’ve got to change that bed today… you can’t put this clean body in that bed” And so I did. It was like that with my wedding band. I waited till after October 2013 and then as I drove past the jeweler who special made her 30th anniversary ring I pulled into their parking lot and after some crying and talking with an understanding sales woman, I had them remove my ring and then resize it. I took it home and it is in the strong box with her rings. I hedged my bets with her ashes as well. I purchased a thumb size urn and had them fill the urn with some of her ashes, and it too is in the strong box.
Right now, loneliness is my worst feeling. Since I was five and I walked in on my mother breast feeding my brother, she hollered at me to “GET OUT!!” I ran from the house and sat on the curb separating our home from the one beside it. I had brought a bag of walnuts and fed my “pet” squirrel and cried. I wasn’t wanted, I was in the way, and no one loved me. I’ve fought that feeling all through my life until I met Susan. Now, I’m alone and again those thoughts and feelings have started to creep into my mind and life. A part of me is telling me this lonely feeling is part of grief and recovery; adjusting so to speak. I need to reinvent myself as a single person. Stop wishing for the past, and start anticipating the future. Don’t rush toward a relationship. I’d like to meet someone, preferably a widow, who wants to talk, to walk, hug, hike, and do things together and If we become best friends that would be great. Only then might we move on, together.
I’m beginning to think that the loneliness that is coming to the forefront is a stage in the wheel of grief…a plateau or step along the wheel. After we have been through some of the stages, things start to come to the forefront. It’s like falling and injuring your back and the pain is so intense and wide spread that you don’t notice the bruising on your thumb until the pain of the back diminishes to where you can notice other pains. Our pain, shock, grief, is completely overwhelming. For me, it was hard to breath, to think, to comprehend Susan’s death. For days I cried, sometimes screamed. Somehow, I got through those first days, the first week, the first month, and the first year. It’s been 6 years now and now I’m recognizing the loneliness. I am alone. I cannot argue with myself that she is away on a trip, or in an assisted living facility. She is dead…and I’m alone. When I was single, I had friends, but, I was alone. I fixed my own meals, did my laundry, worked, and was a bachelor, I was not “looking for a wife.” 35 years later, I’m alone again and I need to get used to it. I need to rebuild my life as “Frank” a single person. I need to find (discover) new friends and eventually become used to my new life.
I owe where I am to the Grief Group I attend. They listened while I vented, answered when I asked, and supported me when I needed it. In return, I’ve grown, and I have begun to help others by listening, supporting, and encouraging the new comers just beginning their journey.