My name is Lauren, a fellow loss survivor and (in my mind) a professional rambler and motivator. On November 27, 2016, my husband completed suicide, and I became an instant widow, joining the world of the left behind. Living in the Afterloss is complicated and messy but it’s not impossible, and you don’t have to travel the road alone. I’m no extraordinary human, no better than the next person dealing with their grief. I’m just a companion, a friend, a shoulder to cry on. I never want someone else to be left in the darkness like I was. I never want someone else to feel alone. I’ve turned my experience into (sometimes) helpful ramblings via my podcast, Death Gone Wild.
November 27, 2016 … A day that will live in infamy … at least for me. This was the day my life completely changed. The day my husband ended his life. The day I found him and literally began the clean up. The day my life as I knew it ended and a new one began. From the moment I dialed 9-1-1, everything moved at warp speed, yet I seemed to stay in place, watching it all pass by. I felt stuck, but time kept on moving. You know how it goes: 99% of me didn’t want to do anything but sit and mindlessly pass the time away. But there was a piece of me that knew this was only temporary. This darkness wasn’t permanent. Somehow I’d find my way out of this dark, twisty forest back into the light.
In life, my husband and I weren’t on the best of terms. It was an unhealthy, heartbreaking, deceptive marriage headed for the end. Of course, I had imagined the end would be an awful divorce that led to a new start for us both. But he had a different plan in mind. In his mind, his death was the only way he could take care of me and stop hurting me, the only way to give me a second chance. My husband’s death set me free from our marriage at least, but freedom comes with a price, and we both paid greatly. I now had a chance to start again, to move on but not without pain, struggle and anger.
On that infamous night, once the work with the police and the funeral home was complete, I ran away from everything to stay with my parents. I was with them for almost four months. At first, they just gave me my space. I slept a lot. And when I wasn’t sleeping, I was on the couch watching Netflix 10-12 hours a day. I didn’t change my clothes for days at a time. I didn’t shower for the first month (part of that related to the PTSD I experienced from finding him). But after a week or so, they slowly and gently started nudging me forward. It was the simplest things — let’s go throw the ball for Koda (my dog) for five minutes; let’s go feed Rebel (our horse) some carrots; let’s bake some cookies; let me braid your hair. Soon it became a little more — let’s go to the mailbox; let’s go to the store for some groceries (you can stay in your pajamas); let’s go buy a new outfit; let’s go to a movie. Most days I didn’t talk, but I went along with it. If I said ‘no’ once, they’d usually ask, “Are you sure?”, and I’d agree. Some days, I wanted nothing to do with the world, and they respected that.
Time passed and continues to pass. Just know that “this, too, shall pass.” Time does heal. I still don’t feel whole. I don’t know that I ever will. And I am nowhere near finished with the grief process. That may never end either. But I have continued to push forward. I was given a second chance — though it was packaged in a less than desirable way, and I can’t let someone else’s choice be a choice for me.
Along with my parents, my best friends were equally as important in the beginning and to this day. Though I couldn’t be physically present with them at all times, each of my friends reached out constantly with warm reminders, a simple “hello” and silly distractions they knew were exactly what I needed. If you have these kind of people in your life, don’t let your grief shut them out. They will understand you need time, and they will respect the process. They’ll feel helpless that they can’t make it better all of the time, but they won’t abandon you. These are the people you need to surround yourself with. Find your pillars, find your foundation and built up your house of hope, your house of healing and recovery. It doesn’t have to be a lonely place.
Grief sucks. Grief is complicated. Grief doesn’t come with a manual. You have to navigate it independently, but you NEVER have to navigate it alone. There are no rules on how to recover from loss, on how to heal and move on. So make your own. And for what it’s worth, here are a few things that have kept me from drowning these past three years:
- Therapy. Therapy. Therapy. In-person, online, professional, amateur, talking to your dog … just talk to someone. You have to talk to someone you trust, someone you’re comfortable with and someone that can be objective and supportive.
- If you have pets, embrace them. They can literally heal your pain. They can make the worst heartbreak a little lighter. If you don’t, go hang out at your local shelter. Or do both! If I could turn Koda into an emotional service dog, I would. I don’t think I’d be as functional as I am today without my furball.
- Find the silver linings. Most days will feel like dark storms, like a never-ending wave crashing down on you. But the tide has to rest, the clouds have to break, even for a moment. So find just one thing to hold on to. Find that one thing to celebrate. You are victorious.
If you made it this far, you are amazing. And you didn’t fall asleep to my words! I hope at least one thing had an impact, offered even the slightest glimmer of hope and support. No one’s experience with loss is the same, but that doesn’t mean you have to take the journey alone. If no one else wants to sit with you, I will. Just remember that this, too, shall pass. And you are victorious.