From the moment of my husband’s cancer diagnosis in July 2009 until a few weeks after his funeral six weeks later, events unfolded quickly. The disease was in control, and doctors were doing what they could to temporarily corral it. My role was to take care of my husband, do what I was told, answer any questions I was asked, and put one foot in front of the other as needed. In the days and weeks after Steve’s death, the doctors were replaced by life and health insurance representatives, his employer’s human resources personnel, and other assorted paper-pushers. I worked through insurance documents, financial and legal paperwork, and even headstone worksheets on autopilot. I didn’t think ahead; I couldn’t. In short, I operated almost totally in “reactive mode”.
A few weeks after the funeral, though, I switched from almost mechanically dealing with things as they arose to operating very little at all outside of work. For the next seven or eight weeks, I made only the most basic decisions and only when I had no other choice. Every few days I retrieved the mail from our mailbox and set aside anything that looked like a bill; unable to deal with anything else — unable even to cull the junk mail from the stack — I stuffed everything else into the bottom drawer of my desk (and letter the 2nd-from-the-bottom drawer). Once a week I forced myself to pay any bills that needed to be paid, and then I was done with decisions for six days.
Eventually, though, I dug all the mail out of the drawer and worked my way through all of it, listed our home and acreage, and began hunting for a full-time job. Over the next eighteen or so months, I functioned rather normally; for the most part, though, I was still only going through the motions. I had no interest in the future or in how I was going to live the rest of my life. What motivated me to get up, go to work, eat, and interact with others was my children. Nothing else really mattered.
It was not until more than two years after my husband’s death that I began to think ahead to the next year and even beyond. I didn’t feel any sense of anticipation yet, but I began to feel a stirring of interest in my life and what it could be. That was enough. I grabbed hold of that small sense of what I can’t even categorize as hope, and I ran with it. And I’m still running.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve suffered a devastating loss, one that completely changed the landscape of your life. I know that for me, my faith and the love of my children and my love for them kept me “hanging in there”. What has helped you cope when things seemed the bleakest? I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments section.