In This Issue

From the newsletter

Letters from Readers

Readers write about love lost and how they coped

October 8, 2010

A Journey through Grief

As most senior citizens, I have experienced grief — the loss of my parents, one grandchild, sister, brother, my late husband, relatives and friends. My husband was an insurance agent and believed in preparing for the future with financial security. He purchased auto and homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance and life insurance.

You are still left with the heartbreak from the loss of a loved one. Though family, friends and church members gather around you, it is mostly a grief that is suffered alone.

I remember driving down the street on an errand and wondering why the sun was still shining, birds were singing and others were going about their business as though nothing had happened. Don't they know that everything has changed? Don't they realize that the world has come to an end? Or is it just my world that has stopped? Yes, that's the problem. After the funeral others have gone back to their lives (as it should be) but my life is in limbo. And if I hear one more person say it's God's will, I will scream no, no, no and no. Why would a loving God want me to suffer this way?

Grief was so real I could even visualize it as a loose gray, swirling ball that either traveled up and down my throat or lodged in the pit of my stomach. If I could only visit the bathroom and up-chuck all this hurt, then I might be able to eat or drink something and feel better.

One night I dreamt that my husband had not really died. We just had an argument that could be worked out and life would go on as before. I awakened feeling happy until I realized that it was just a dream.

Emotions resemble a roller coaster. One day you feel that just maybe you'll survive (though it doesn't really matter) and the next day tears flow over nothing. You wonder if things will ever improve because you seem to have fallen right back into the depths of despair. Though it may not be apparent, you have progressed. Mood swings are farther apart and do not linger as long. Much later you may recall happy memories with a measure of comfort instead of the previous sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.

One evening you're invited out with friends and you find that you are smiling again. Could you actually be enjoying yourself? Heaven forbid! Now comes the guilt trip! Others' words echo in your mind, such as: life goes on, time heals all wounds, you can't give up, this too shall pass. So you tell yourself that since you are with friends you can't disappoint everyone. And even as you chide yourself, you hope the words, though trite, are still true. And someday down this ever-twisting road, you will feel alive again. You will find contentment and a reason to go on. And then you really will be on your way to recovery.

-Alma E. Ream
Mt. Lake Park, Md.
July 12, 2010

Grieving in Different Ways

Your words ring true when you said that each person has the freedom to heal in their own way. I found this to be true three years ago this month when my paternal grandmother passed away. This was the first death in a family since my wife and I had been married, and we each had very different reactions.

At the bedside in the hospital, after my grandmother had passed, my wife was upset and tearful. I, being less emotional, had my mind on more immediate things at hand; funeral arrangements and cleaning out a house that had accumulated 67 years of things. My wife became angry at me because I wasn't upset or crying. I had to explain to her that my process of grieving starts with taking care of what needs done and then, when all is quiet again, I can reflect and grieve for the loss of the loved one in my own way. After I explained this to my wife, it helped to better our relationship.
Thanks for the article, it was insightful.
-Christopher J. Bobak
Marianna, Pa.
July 13, 2010

The Difficulty in Learning to Cope

I have to disagree with Mr. George A. Bonanno and his opinion/research of The Science of Sorrow. I do not believe human beings are "pre‑programmed" or "know innately" how to deal with loss. Rather, we learn coping mechanisms once we come face-to-face with the issue. I believe this through my own experiences, as well as relating with others that have experienced similar events.

My husband died suddenly — 16 years, 10 months and one day ago. He was doing what he loved the most — fishing. It was a beautiful, early fall day, but there were dark clouds off in the distance. I was told he mentioned to the friend and colleague that was fishing with him that he had a "bad feeling," and that it was time to leave the river. The friend sat down in preparation to leave. My husband had to take a minute to clean algae off the blades of the motor; then he stood up. It was ironic as he was always teased about being the shortest man in the fire department, yet he was the tallest person on his boat that day. Lightening came out of nowhere and struck him on his head. They tried to revive him, to no avail.

When I was told in the hospital, after rushing there, thinking he was just injured, my world exploded. He was my life. I was not "functional" for quite some time afterward. He left me with a 5-year-old and a 16-month-old to raise. Life insurance did help, in terms of the bills and keeping a home for our children, but more importantly was our mental and emotional well-being. Thank God for family, because without them, I would hate to imagine where our children would be today. I might not have gotten to where I am today.

It was only from a long period of time in relating with other people, their grief and learning how they handled that I healed. Yes, it still hurts when recalling memories of him; that will never go away. But I now know and accept that it is part of life; it enables us to appreciate and treasure the good things in life. Without the "bad," how would we know what is good? I have finally learned the key to living is how we choose to handle the “bad.” Do we choose to learn from the experience or do we choose to make it our anchor that holds us in a deep, dark well?

I did not have that innate ability that Mr. Bonanno talks about, to deal with his death and move on. If I had followed my innate feelings at that time, I certainly would not be here today.

Unfortunately, as a result of my lack of "innate ability" to handle his death, our children lack this ability as well. I believe this is due to learning from my "handling," or lack thereof, their father's death. I see evidence of this in my daughter's inability to deal with the loss of her long-standing boyfriend. She, now, is learning better grief techniques through therapy.

Perhaps we must consider adding required courses in the school system to teach techniques (behavior modification?) to various situations that could be traumatic to people. The ramifications of teaching these techniques to the young could only benefit them, and society, in the long run. Think of the possibilities: lower suicide rates? Lower crime rates?

Mr. Bonanno gives one the feeling that human beings are simple machines, reacting to events with pre-programmed responses, that we all "continue to function" or "get over it" in time in our own way. No, we all do not get "over it." Some have chosen to end life; some spend the rest of their life making bad choices as a result of not facing their grief. What is life if you are just "functioning" like a machine?

-Jeannette Keller
A Maryland Reader
July 9, 2010

The Many Faces of Loss

I lost my wife to Ovarian Cancer 3 years and 4 months ago, and during that time, I find that all the bereavement people have missed the boat.

None of you can deal with bereavement until you have been there. And “being there” means the specific loss, not losses in general.

Tell me the feelings of a parent who has lost a 20 year old son to Hodgkins disease. Tell me the loss of a person who has lost a parent. Somehow the researchers feel a universal bereavement approach is the same for each of these losses.

We all lose our parents. We expect to outlive our parents, and while the loss is happening, it was a foregone conclusion and the grief passes soon. Do you think for a moment it is the same as in reverse? We seldom look behind us, and anticipate the loss of a child. Not only that, but the needless loss to a disease or an accident is devastating. How does a parent cope with the loss of a child? The foregone conclusion of someone who has lost a parent cannot comfort a parent who has lost a child.

And what is said to the husband of 52 years, who suddenly loses a wife? Sure it probably was also a foregone conclusion but periods of remission, periods of health and fun, cloud the coming loss. The loss is compounded by the status of the surviving spouse. Did he learn to cook along the way? Did he even know where the washer and dryer were located? Did he dust, clean and generally keep the home fit?

Each of these painful new events brings to the front the enormous size of the loss. It seems those in the bereavement business lump all losses in the same category. Compare my loss to the parent of a suicide son, or the eldest son who loses his parent, and you have missed the boat.

-Jack Lynett
Akron, Ohio
July 15, 2010

Loss in the Great Depression

My first encounter with the grim reaper occurred when I was but six years old, in 1932. My father died. He left my mother with six children to raise. It was in the depths of the Great Depression. My father had lost his fortune in the Crash of '29. Fortunately, he had invested in a life insurance policy — $1,000.00 I think it was — which was on account of his best friend, our next-door neighbor and insurance agent, Mr. Kissinger.

I quite well remember that period of my life of more than three-quarters of a century ago. Life insurance was practically non-existent; ditto to home insurance. If a house burnt down, neighbors and kinfolk helped build it back. I remember Mr. Kissinger saying Ben Franklin started the first insurance company in Philadelphia.

One thousand dollars was a lot of money back then, but that amount would provide but a modest funeral. Today it costs about ten times that.

I have been fortunate in my 84 years of blessed life. Six years after my father's death I turned 12 years old and therefore, eligible to join the Boy Scouts, thus pledging myself the motto, "Be prepared.”

Starting with my first encounter with death and grief I've learned to console the bereaved, counsel those asking for directions and, most important to my own wellbeing, "face-the-facts" about life and death. Grief is as inevitable as death. However, a wise person seeks to salve such occurrences with preparedness.

The Bible gives good advice. One of the greatest stories in the Holy Bible is the one telling of the building of Solomon's Temple. King David was aging and battle-weary, so he commanded his young son, Solomon, to build the most magnificent sanctuary imaginable to honor God. The secret of that successful completion is summed up in 1 Chronicles 22:5, with the words: "And David said, Solomon my son is young and tender, and the house that is to be built for the Lord must be exceedingly magnificent, of fame and of glory throughout all countries; I will therefore now make preparation for it. So David prepared abundantly before his death.”

The key word there is "prepared.”

Preparation is insurance. Insurance is preparation. The modern world still has a lot to learn from the wisdom of the Ancients.

-Mathew J. Bowyer
Roanoke, Va.
July 10, 2010

When Loss is Drawn Out

About three weeks ago, I experienced a great loss. My husband of 50 years passed away due to lung cancer that went into the bone. He was diagnosed in November of 2009. He suffered a horrible, painful death. Through his illness, he never complained. He went through tons of radiation and chemo and all that goes with it. But my husband found the Lord several years ago and he was steadfast in his faith. He never complained. He kept working for the church and serving the Lord. When he passed, after a grueling, painful death, something came over me and I had a sense of peace come down over my body. I miss him very much. Everything reminds me of him. I am so thankful that the Lord took him and put him out of his terrible pain. That is the only thing getting me and my family through this — no more terrible, terrible pain! The Lord is getting me through this and to that I say Amen.

-Mrs. Nancy Richardson
Bellaire, Ohio
July 29, 2010

When a Mother Loses a Son

When I read your article, "The Science of Sorrow," I immediately thought of my precious son, Denny Clark. He was 18 years old when he died from a brain tumor on October 24, 2008. He fought it for two years. Denny had surgery to remove the tumor three times. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation. He had numerous health problems from birth, but you would never hear him complain. He was such a wonderful person and such a great joy to be around. Teachers told me all the time how they wished all their students were like Denny. To me he was perfect. All the other students at his school elected Denny as King of the Senior Prom. It meant the world to him; sometimes I think it kept him going as long as it did. He was so happy. At Denny's graduation commencement his principal, Martin Ringstaff, gave the senior speech, "When Life Throws You a Curveball." It was about Denny's outgoing personality and how he always had a smile on his face.

I prayed for Denny to be healed harder than I have ever prayed for anyone in my entire life. I asked God to let me take his place. Any parent would gladly take their child's place. That's just the natural order of how life is supposed to go.

A loss this difficult can seem unbearable at times. I try to tell myself he is so much better off, but that doesn't keep me from missing him like crazy. He went through so much in his short life. He is my hero. I know that Denny is safe in Jesus' arms and I will see him again one day.

It really makes me mad to hear someone say the "grief process" is only supposed to last for six to nine months. I think that is crap. When your heart is broken it just can't be fixed that easy. You simply have to keep on keeping on and put one foot in front of the other.

People grieve in so many ways, and when tragedy strikes it is like a nightmare. You see and hear things, but it is like you are in shock. You just can't believe it is happening. The loss of my Denny has been the most difficult I have encountered. I think because everyone is different, it's difficult to determine how to cope. My faith, family and friends are very important to me.

Some suggest going to grief support groups. To me everyone's grief is different as well as how they grieve. Personally I'm not willing to bear my soul to a room full of strangers. It is a matter that is a personal decision. I try to write a lot and keep busy. I like to cook, but I'm nothing fancy. Gardening is my passion. I love my family so much. Being a grandma is absolutely wonderful. I just simply try to get by.

-K. D. Meadows
August 2010

Helping Others after a Loss of Ones Own

I lost my father to cancer at the age of 51. I was 28 years old, and I had a younger brother who was 22 at the time. As a nurse and a certified pharmacy tech, I took care of my dad with a lot of help from coworkers at all hours, and he was able to pass at home.

I was a wreck trying to take care of my father and doctors that I worked with put me on antidepressants. I took myself off them after a week because I was felt like they made me walk 4 feet off the ground.  

I married a couple of months later and moved to my hometown two miles from my mother to help her out. A year and a half after moving, she was diagnosed with cancer. I went part time at work for a second time, now to take care of my mother, who lost her battle with cancer at age 52. I was 32.

When my mother passed, I was depressed for a good two years. I didn’t try any medications. I was able to get through day by day, but no one understood why I cried all the time. We then lost one of my mother’s brothers six months after, on my son’s birthday. Losing my uncle helped because some of my family finally understood what I was going through, and I felt losing my uncle on my son’s birthday was a sign from above. (I had lost belief in religion; why would both of my parents be taken from me at such a young age?)

Then, a 12-year-old boy who went to school with our oldest son was diagnosed with cancer; my sister-in-law and I and a friend helped us run a fundraiser for him, raising $1451. I now read about people who have gone through worse things than myself, and I feel for them instead of myself.

-Karla Costenbader-Kovach
Leighton, Pa.
July 27, 2010

Peace in Poetry

At 89 years, I coped with the loss of my husband, George, 91 years, after 67 years of our marriage.

I read and reread When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d by Walt Whitman. I had taken a sprig of blossoming lilacs to my husband's gravesite. Walt Whitman spoke often of lilacs in his eulogy of President Lincoln.

I donated to charities that had benefited my husband.

I looked at pictures of my late husband every day.

I tried to keep sending letters and cards to friends.

As George A. Bonanno says, "The pendulum swings back and forth between sadness and happiness.” I think that I'm finding equilibrium.

-Marjorie N. Dague
St. Clairsville, Ohio
July 13, 2010

With Help from Above

On October 1, 2004, I lost my precious husband after 64 years of a happy marriage.

At first I felt lost in the world without him. For weeks I cried myself to sleep in the bed without him beside me.

One morning I woke up and realized that my beloved wouldn't want me to feel sorry for myself. I prayed that God would help me through the days. Since then, God has helped me through my grief and sorrow.

In September I will be 89 years old. I keep busy with my house and yard work. I live alone.

With God's help, I have passed my days and nights of grief and sorrow. I know my husband is watching over me.

Every day I thank God for the years he loaned me my husband.

-Mrs. William N. Hays
Hughesville, Md.
August 17, 2010

P.S. My insurance did make it easier to pay the final bills.

When Life Insurance Wasn’t There

In 1999, life was at its peak. My husband, Steve, was 44 years old, and I was 42 years old. We had the American dream of the white house, picket fence, dog and our beautiful son, Matthew. My husband was the soccer coach of our area recreational league and president of our school booster club. Along with other coaches, he had organized a county-wide tournament of all ages for soccer.

On that day, as the games were ready to begin my husband had a heart-related sudden death near the fields.

As one could only imagine, your loss is not only the loss of a broken heart of losing a spouse, father and best friend, but is compounded by the loss of income to the household.

While Steve had many health issues during his life, he did have a life insurance policy we had gotten when we were first married. This policy was nowhere close to where we were advised to have but was all "we could afford.”

We also had taken the bank up on a life policy to cover the mortgage should one of us pass before it was paid, and with that the bank kept all the paperwork while we paid our quarterly amount.

But when the time came, our bank, having been bought and sold at least four times, was unable to produce a copy of the paperwork. Imagine my disbelief when they told me that there had been an error — we had disability insurance, not life insurance, on our mortgage. How could this be? My husband was disabled when we took out the mortgage — would they give disability insurance to a person already disabled?

After months of fighting, I could either hire a lawyer with money I didn't have or pick up the pieces and move on. I moved on.

My son, Matt, now 26 has just purchased his first house. Very strongly I have reminded him and all of his friends of this story.

Matthew, I said, get yourself a good term policy to cover your mortgage with a reputable agent. God forbid, don't put your loved ones through what happened to us.

-Patty Androsko
August 2, 2010

Find a Purpose

In June 1983 my husband died from cancer at the age of 53. I was 52 years old. I spent several months mourning and not doing much of anything. My husband had a good insurance policy, and I did not need to find employment.

But, you must find a purpose in your life. Your life has changed dramatically after the death of a spouse. I had four children and five grandchildren at that time. It does not matter how much family you have, you need to look in the mirror, realize you are alone, and do something about it.

I live next to a volunteer fire company/ambulance service. So, I decided at the age of 53 to go to school to become an emergency medical technician. In April 1984 I became certified and having been volunteering with my company ever since.

I also became involved with the Senior Center as a line dancer and joined the YMCA for water and floor exercise.

I am very active in my church with Sunday Church School and am a lector and greeter for the church. I also volunteer to do blood pressure screens for the parishioners. I belong to the Women of the ELCA and a quilting group called "The Knotty Ladies.” We knot quilts to be sent over to Africa and Asia. I also belong to a singles group that goes out for dinner and fellowship once a month. My graduation class of 1948 meets once a month for lunch.

I still have my four children, eight grandchildren, and I am expecting my ninth great-grandchild in August.

Sometimes I go to bed at night and can't figure out how I did what I did all day. One thing I do not worry about is "dust.” It will be there when you return. You cannot, or should not, stay in the house and sulk. Have yourself a good pity party, cry it all out, and move on. Be active.

And most importantly is: Remember God loves you and He will be there for you - good times and bad.

-Mary Jane Horner
Johnstown, Pa.
July 17, 2010

These statements were excerpted from letters submitted to Eriesense by ERIE Customers. In appreciation for their submission, each received a copy of The Other Side of Sadness, by George Bonanno. The submission window for stories is now closed.

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