The life partner of my nearest and dearest best friend died Tuesday evening of a heart attack. He was 43 years old and they have a four-year old son together. They were just getting ready to put their son to bed when he collapsed. A skilled lifeguard, she did CPR for nearly 25 minutes waiting for the ambulance to arrive but he was gone and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
This week when she should be making plans for the weekend to go sliding, or maybe to build a snowman, or perhaps to grab a movie, she’s making funeral arrangements and wondering how she’ll ever put the pieces of her life back together. My mind reels…
I lost a father at 16 and a mother-in-law at 34 – both suddenly in car accidents. I know what that shock and all-consuming grief feels like. I know the devastation. I know the anger, confusion, and pain. I know the fog and the distrust. I know the feeling that your world has just be blown to bits. I know the feeling of lost footing.
But I don’t know what it would be like to lose a life partner. Grief isn’t grief. Not every person grieves the same way, even when it’s two people sharing in the same loss. My brother grieved very differently than I did for our father and has had a 180-degree different experience than myself.
I also believe that the experience of losing different types of loved ones (parent, child, partner, grandparent) and how we lose them (slow disease ridden death, accident, murder, heart attack, natural, old age) is different and has a huge impact on the grieving process. So even though I have experienced my fair share of pretty intense, life impactful grief, I am not her, and I have never lost a life partner suddenly by a heart attack with a four-year old son to raise…so I know that I cannot begin to even imagine how she might be feeling or how she’ll move forward throughout the next few months and years.
When I lost my Dad, my life changed dramatically and the fallout from it played a significant role in the new direction that I took my life. A year after his death, my mother moved to a different city which allowed me to break out from the social stigmas I had placed upon myself in small town NB. This gave me the perceived notion of freedom to become someone new. I felt like I was able to start over with a clean slate and I took full advantage and reinvented myself (or more accurately, came into my own finally). For me, the change in venue allowed me to straighten up, go to college and university, get great jobs and pursue the life of happiness I have been able to create. Whereas, had my mom stayed in small town NB, I don’t know what my life would look like right now. Although I can say this, I don’t believe it would have be anywhere near as wonderful as it is now. I simply do not think that in that environment, I would have had the “cahonas” to make the changes needed. Maybe but…I doubt it.
Back to my point, I was 16 and although losing my Dad had great impact in a lot of arenas of my life, it didn’t entirely alter my view on my long-term goals or dreams. Although I had planned on him “being there” throughout my life and at those momentous occasions, his physical presence wasn’t required for me to get married, have kids, graduate school etc. Yes, he was missed desperately but he wasn’t going to be the main character in those parts of my life story.
Whereas for my best friend, she just lost the main character in her life story. He was her world. They had plans, dreams, goals. Everything in her present and future revolved around what “they” were doing and what they were going to do. Not only was he ingrained in her past and present, he was ingrained in everything in the future. And not just for the next month or two years, he was a part of every idea for the next fifty years.
That’s what we do with our life partners. That is the vulnerability we open to. That is the shift we make. We ingrain our life partners into nearly every aspect of our being; past, present and future. They become a part of us, an extension, and an integral player in our world.
So it’s not only the death of him in the present sense that makes her grief devastating but it’s the death of all the dreams, ideas, goals, and plans that she made that makes the devastation that much more mind-boggling. Losing a loved one at any time, in any way, is terrible but I think losing a life partner, or a child, has got to be the most heart breaking sadness there is.
In wondering how I can best support her through this, I think about how my mother might have felt having lost her life partner with two children still to raise. What helped her? What gave her small bits of peace? What comforted her, if for only a second or two? What eased her mind? What allowed her to catch a few hours of sleep? What made her smile, if only slightly? What gave her the strength to get out of bed? What gave her hope?
As I drive two hours to be at my BFFs side, I will ponder these questions. In all likelihood, in the end the only thing any of us can do for those around us grieving is to simply be there – to be an ear, to lend a shoulder or a hand, to share in some tears, and to spread the love.
How have you comforted grieving friends and family throughout your life? Or in your time of grief, what has brought you great comfort?
My request of all of you tonight, is to go home and tell your family how much they mean to you and how much you love them because forever is no guarantee.
P.S. I’ll be gone today through Sunday so likely no posts coming this weekend and I apologize if I don’t reply to comments until early next week.