Looking back, I realize that I have spent a good part of my life trying to work with how loss has affected my ability to live comfortably and without fear that another important person will suddenly die or disappear.
The death of my mother when I was seven years old, impacted my view of the world and my sense of security until I was in my 50s and finally addressed the devastation that loss caused and how I denied it until a therapist focused my attention on it.
My mother’s illness caused financial problems for my father (he was a house painter) during the great depression. There was never an explanation for our frequent moves, but in hindsight, I realize that each move was to less expensive housing.
What it meant to a young student was having to fit into a new class, in a new school each year until the fourth grade. The summer after 3rd grade, when my mother had passed away, my father was painting a house and took me with him. The result was a change in my life of great significance.
Kay, the mother of two sons, came out to the back yard where I was sitting. She talked with me and gave me cookies and milk. She was very open to having a little girl live with her family when my father asked if she would board me. Thus, I went to live with this unofficial foster family for about five years until my father re-married and I went to live with a new mother and sister.
The next loss I suffered was after I was discharged from the Marine Corps and started my college career at Columbia University. In my senior year, I began dating a wonderful young man and we married after my graduation. It was a happy time, and even though we planned to wait to have a family, I got pregnant on our honeymoon! We were delighted! Diane was born the following August. Ken got a job as a salesman for a company close by and we were very content. Diane was an adorable baby, and my husband, a trained photographer, took many photos of her at Christmas.
Ken was a very active person who worked out at a gym and was in good shape. When he began complaining about stomach pains it was unusual because the only illness he ever had before we were married, was a tumor in his eye that was removed. A friend who was a nurse, was concerned, and said we should see a doctor she recommended. We did make an appointment and after extensive examination and tests, he told us that Ken had cancer of the liver. Thus, my second heartbreaking loss.
It went so quickly. He was hospitalized, had surgery and in six months, at the age of 31, he was dead. While he was in the hospital and we both knew the prognosis, I started a summer program that would give me enough graduate credits so that it was possible I could get a teaching job for the fall.
The company he worked for continued to pay his salary even though they knew he would not return. It was owned by Richard and Robert, two brothers, and they were so kind. Bob was particularly attentive and helpful to me as I juggled a new baby and teaching a second-grade class.
Time went on and my relationship with Bob began to be serious. One day, he proposed, and I said yes, even though I thought it was a little soon. We married in a small ceremony. I resigned from teaching, and we moved in together with toddler Diane. After a few years, our two sons were born. It was during these years that I saw a therapist for some past traumas and was devastated again when my therapist had a massive heart attack two days after our session and died.
Life and our marriage went on with the usual ups and downs. I went back to school when the children were in their teens and began teaching art in a private school, a career I loved, and by the time I retired in 1999, I was head of the art department. Bob and his brother closed the business the same year, so we had freedom to travel with friends and socialize more with them. The fact that only one member of the group is now alive along with me, is perhaps not unusual but sits heavily on my heart.
In 2017, on one ordinary evening, Bob complained of feeling sick. I said we would go to the doctor the next day if he wasn’t better. He awoke with a fever and cough. I called his doctor who said to go to the hospital and sign in for regular admission, not emergency room, which we did. The doctor met us there. What Bob described as “not feeling well” turned out to be full blown pneumonia and he was critically ill with his lungs full of fluid.
Doctors had to take the drastic step of putting him in a coma. This enabled them to pump out his lungs. He was dying at this point. He was in the hospital for some time before he was able to be discharged to a nursing facility for rehabilitation in 2018. He was there also for a long time and was put into Hospice when he was released.
He was in and out of Hospice for the next four years, slowly getting weaker as the years went by. On June 28, 2022, he passed away after being taken to a Hospice facility the night before. We had celebrated our 62nd year of marriage and his 91st birthday that year. After so many years of being together with someone you love, this loss is almost one I cannot really handle completely. However, the next short part of this letter contains the things I am doing to keep going and which I recommend to anyone in my place who may have suffered more loss than they can handle.
The final part of this letter is perhaps the most important part. What do I do or where do I turn when the loss of loved ones or close friends happens, and my initial reaction is feeling stunned.
I reached out to my family first where it’s okay to cry and act unreasonable because they understand and are comforting. Then, particularly with my husband’s death, although he had been ill for so long and it was not a sudden surprise, I felt as if, literally, I had been hit over the head with a hammer and my mind went blank; I felt frozen. But I was receptive to offers of help such as a group which met weekly to share the grief process as they were experiencing it. Things that helped, what didn’t and the social workers leading the group would give hand-outs and verbal advice describing common aspects of loss. It helped. I would recommend it. Another way I tried to get through the early days was to stay connected with people and groups I had been part of before. I did not hide away although I had more than enough private time to cry in private. That would be my advice to anyone who suffers a loss: stay connected with friends, family and therapy offered by professionals. Their guidance has helped me with my entire life of losses.
Check out Evelyn’s poem in the book “13 Poets From Long Island” on Amazon – It is free for those with Kindle Unlimited.