Grief A Year Later … What Helped & What Didn’t

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/taratata

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/taratata

I write in a journal to Lou (my husband) since he has been gone and it has been very therapeutic. When he was alive we talked all the time about everything. I’ve found that writing to him has helped appease that need for conversation, so I write.

When you experience a death of someone very close, your whole life changes. So much in the day-to-day was incredibly painful. Slowly, I found ways of dealing with challenges that started to help. I think many people experience the changes I faced …

Here are some things I allowed to get me down at first, and a few things I found helpful:

6 Things That Got Me Down:

1. Being alone too much: To suddenly be alone at 67 years old took time to adapt. At first I hated it and went around in a fog. Now after a year, it is getting better, more enjoyable and allows me to accomplish things.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/MarlenaWagner

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/MarlenaWagner

2. Meals alone: My friend insisted I come for dinner several nights a week for the first few months. What a blessing! I helped with groceries and did dishes and it was great.

3. What to do with weekends?: Working the week with all my emotions stuffed often made the weekend not much more than a time of tears. I was kind to myself and accepted the pain, and it has gradually diminished.

4. Making all the decisions: The cars broke down, the computer crashed, the printer died, the wiring to the electronics went bad, the roof in Michigan leaked, I forgot to pay bills, one of the dogs died, and on and on. How to handle it all???

5. Not enough sleep: I dreaded going to bed, then couldn’t sleep. Too little sleep made my emotions worse.

6. Too much to do and only me to do it: At first I did not accomplish much. Now I make lists and do at least one thing a day.

10 Things That Have Helped:

1. Journaling: Writing out my concerns to Lou and then sleeping on it helped me come to the answers I needed often right when I woke up.

2. Prayer: I look to God to heal my heart and to give me purpose. Things that are too much for me, I give to Him in prayer.

3. Walking: Making myself go for a walk with the dogs clears my brain. Often it seemed to be a safe place to cry and talk to Lou while I walked and came back refreshed.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/arekmalang

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/arekmalang

4. Accepting all invitations at first. I took every opportunity to socialize and be with others. Even if I didn’t feel much like talking, I absorbed the liveliness around me and it lifted my spirits.

5. Remembering to eat: When I forgot to eat or ate poorly I felt worse. When I ate more nutritiously: salads, vegetables, meat and fruit, I coped better.

6. Music or Television. Background noise comforts. Unless I am reading, praying or meditating, I usually have music going.

7. Spending time with family: My daughter is very thoughtful to plan family time that includes me. This grounds me and helps me realize I still have a family.

8. Have a goal: I decided to attack the lofty goal of paying off the mortgage. It is daunting, but I put every extra dollar towards it and it gives me purpose and direction and keeps me from overspending.

9. Hugs, human touch: When I needed a hug, I gave a hug. When I needed to hear “I love you”, I said it to a family member or someone I was close to.

10. Remember: I have allowed myself to remember. I have embraced the pain. I stood out in the dark beneath every “Annie’s Moon” for the past year and probably always will. I watch the videos Lou left me. His chair is still on the sidewalk. I still go to Dana Point when I can and sit on our bench with our dog Bella. We even celebrated his birthday last month with a party.

I’ve decided that grief over losing your spouse is like trying to recover from something you don’t totally want to get over.
Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Gajus

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Gajus

You want to feel better, but not if it means losing any of the memory. You have to do positive things, mindful, productive things to move into a healthier place. You have to want to become useful again to yourself and others.

And yet, since Lou’s “Babe” is who I was for 73% of my life, it will never be something I can forget or lose. So I try things, see what does and what doesn’t work. I mostly try to be kind to myself. The one thing Lou said repeatedly in the short videos he left was: “Be Happy! Do it for me, Babe”

So, that is what I am trying to do.

 

|| what do you think?

Can you relate to any of these good or bad?

Has your journey differed from mine? What has it looked like for you?

Anne

About Anne

The youngest of 8, I was born in a tiny town in the Keeweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan in the late 40’s. My minister parents died 6 months apart around the time of my 5th birthday. My older siblings raised us in the family home until all were graduated except me. Gradually only the boys remained, so at the age of 10 I moved to other homes. My childhood was rich with experiences that sparked my young imagination. When I finally read the Anne of Green Gables series, I totally identified with Anne. I have just celebrated my 46th anniversary with my dear husband, Lou. Our daughter, April, 4 grandchildren and one great granddaughter bring our family a lot of joy and reasons to be thankful. I have worked at O’Connor Mortuary since 1996 where I handle the accounting. The Mortuary has become extended family and it is a source of satisfaction as a job I thoroughly enjoy. We attend the Village Church and that is another wonderful extended family, one who not only worships and learns together, but loves and prays for one another at the drop of a hat. We live in a retirement community and enjoy taking our two dogs, a Bernese Mountain Dog and little Cocker Spaniel, to Dana Point Harbor for Sunday jaunts. I absolutely love participating in the Mortuary Blog. I have found my voice! Thanks for following me.
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  • Anne,
    I love your honesty & the courage that you’ve summoned over this last year to face these great fears and pains and struggle through them in such a way that you emerge with wisdom, compassion & a heart full of understanding for others in similar shoes.

    Having experienced grief on a smaller scale I cannot fathom the different world that faced you without Lou. Your approach seems so honest & real to me – there’s the excruciating pain and then there is also hope and finally a striving for balance. But it’s precisely that balance that I believe is the hardest path to find. Like you said, we don’t really want to recover because that seems like it means we forget – it’s one of the most painful parts of the process.

    Thank you so much for writing this blog, I have no doubt that so many will benefit from your experience & your willingness to share it.

    Love, Molly

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Thank you, Molly. I have to say the graphics you added show such insight and that you “get” what I was trying to convey. I love the creativity gifts you bring to our little blog.
      Balance is what I need now. I feel like I am finally seeing a bit further down the road than at first. Hopefully, that will help me grow in all the areas where I need to spread my wings. Slowly, but surely… and hopefully able to help others with their losses, if only to listen with understanding.
      Love
      Anne

  • Greg Forster

    Hi Anne!

    This is quite an undertaking that you have taken on. I admire the strength that you have and share in your journey of writings, feelings and actions.

    Writing, itself, in the right time and place, when time is still and emotions are quiet, is very healing and therapeutic. When we write, we are immersed, engaged. We are involved physically, mentally, psychologically, and, if done well, emotionally. We are absolutely committed and we have the pleasure of acknowledging that we own this moment. We are in charge. We have something to say and no one can tell us that our thoughts are not important. The action and place of writing, if done well, is a comfort action; like eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes is a comfort food. (For me, I like Libby’s Corned Beef Hash and a good stiff drink…appetizing…huh?)

    The place..the action…the moment…and then you realize..yes, indeed, you are in charge.
    You are in charge… of the moment, your house, your routine…and why not? your life.

    You, Anne, show us every day your willingness to move forward and take charge.

    And…as your friend…I rather think it’s time for you to hurry it up and spread your wings a little more….your love, Lou, is watching…and so are we.

    Greg

    • Anne

      Greg,
      I asked God today…who will give me that daily hug when Greg is gone? I know you will soon move on to other horizons, but someone better step up, is all I can say. If Lou were here, he would say “Thanks, Buddy. I approved.”
      Writing my journal helps put me back in charge. It takes time, but when I do it, I sleep better.
      And you are right: I AM willing to move forward. The steps back are disconcerting but the forward motion is all good. I had some this past weekend. It was good.
      Hugs,
      Anne

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Anne,
    Before I could even respond to you, I first needed to forward these beautiful words of yours to my sister-in-law. I could not help but think of her grief and the many ways it parallels yours as I read every word.

    Your ability to be so open and honest helps others realize that, they too, may begin to see how they can not “recover” from grief but find “renewal”. The most powerful words for me are when you talk about how grief is like trying to recover from something you don’t totally want to get over. The fear of not remembering can be stifling. I remember someone close to both you and I sharing with me that one of his worst days on his grief journey was when he realized half way through the day that he had not thought about his son who had died the year before.

    Thank you for sharing; thank you for being honest; thank you for helping us realize that we don’t have to have all the answers and that “trying” is the best thing to do sometimes.

    You are a blessing!
    Becky

    • Anne

      Becky,
      I really hope what I wrote can help your sister-in-law. I do have a desire to help others even indirectly.
      I thought I was done writing about this, and then realized “NO!” there is still a list of things. If we have someone who just lost their husband or wife, we need to realize, they don’t like it when it is the time they always did a certain thing with that loved one and everyone goes off and does their own thing. And there they are…alone. They may not have the courage to go do whatever it was “alone”. Maybe a call or an email waiting for them is just the thing that will carry them through that weekly time. Also, contact them on the anniversaries. Even if you have to calendar it, realize what days might be hard and plan to connect.
      Hugs,
      Anne

  • Jeff Turner

    Anne,
    This is so touching and helpful. Opening a window into your grieving path is a very kind and vulnerable thing to do. I know Lou is proud of you. We all are. As we have been witness to your “work life”, I am amazed at how you have continued to give your very best even in the personal struggles that we don’t see.

    I love you dearly and will be more diligent to pray for you each day.

    Blessings and comfort be yours,

    Jeff

    • Anne

      Jeff,
      Thank you so much. Prayers and hugs. That helps a lot. As far as the work ethic, that’s just old fashioned mid-west mentality. The structure and routine are actually important to my mental health, what there is of it… haha.
      I love you, too
      Anne

  • Chuck Ricciardi

    Annie,

    “I’ve decided that grief over losing your spouse is like trying to recover from something you don’t totally want to get over.”

    This statement really resonated with me. Of course you never want to forget or “Get over” your loved one, we want those precious memories to live on, and they will! But we almost feel guilty when we feel healing and the grief journey getting just a bit easier as time marches on and our actions help us heal. One of my most profound moments when I grieved my son Matthew’s death came around two years after he died. I looked back on my day and almost felt ashamed, I had not thought about him today! I was mortified, how could I go a day without thinking of my precious boy? Then I began to realize that this is also part of my healing experience. 19 years later I think of him often but not daily, but not one memory of his short live has diminished at all! We miss Lou and know you have been doing all you can to help yourself on this journey. God Bless!
    Love,
    Chuck

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Chuck,
      I guess what it really comes down to is a sort of guilt…afraid I will forget. Not wanting to lose any of the memory. That you are 18 years ahead of me and assure me I will not, means a lot. Thank you for that. It is something I needed to hear.
      Love
      Annie

  • Shayna Mallik

    Annie,
    Wow, what an amazing blog!!! Thank you for sharing your life and grief with us. This was so touching and helpful on how you grieved and also what worked and didn’t work. You are such an amazing person and so open to telling your entire story, which I thank you for! I am so lucky to have you in my life and if you ever need a hug please feel free to come to me!!!
    Love you!
    Shayna

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Thanks, Shayna,
      I will definitely come by for hugs. At least until you move to Alaska! 🙂
      Love you back!
      Annie

  • Fitz

    Hi Anne,
    What a great blog with really helpful walkaways for dealing with loss. They are such simple items yet so important and can be applied in all facets of life when things get tough. Lou is looking down on you with a smile knowing you are making great strides in your journey without his physical presence. He will always be in your heart and your mind.
    Thank you for being so open and honest.
    Love,
    Fitz

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Fitz,
      Just came in from standing beneath my Annie’s moon for this month. What a treasure to have something in nature to look forward to on a regular basis. Just like you said: It put Lou right up there, front and center for a few minutes in the dark, in my heart and mind.

      Love,
      Anne

  • Joe Lavoie

    Anne
    What I appreciate the most about your blogs is that you are never at a loss for very meaningful words and thoughts to help others, you are truly an inspiration for everyone to get through tough times in their lives. There is a lot to relate to and the sharing of your journey has helped me on numerous occasions as I have told everyone you have always been there too listen to me when I have needed guidance and prayer and I can never say enough what a special person you truly are , thank you for taking time to help me in my own journey.
    Sincerely Joe Lavoie

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Joe,
      If what I say inspires you, then what I wrote was worth it. We are more than team mates, we are friends. I love to see you grow and do well. I hope you know I always want to be “here” for you when the need arises. You too, are further along and you have your present wife and the new babies, but that doesn’t mean old pain won’t rear its head now and then.
      Hugs
      Anne

  • Christopher Iverson

    Anne,
    Having shared in your journey of love and loss, I am so pleased that you continue to remain so full of hope and a willingness to participate in life without Lou. The journey is continuous. The experiences available for us to experience are only as limited as our perceived limitations. I say live life fully. Breathe in the sweet fragrances. Taste the delicate flavors. Touch the mysterious. See the possibilities. We have wonderful lives. Let’s live it!

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Chris,
      I truly am trying to live my life in the now. Of course my love and desire for what I had with Lou pulls me back. Yet, I am thankful also for today, for what tomorrow may bring, the blessings, the growth, the friendships, the new experiences and opportunities. I don’t want to limit myself. I don’t want to limit God in my life. It is a challenge, that’s for sure.

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Annie,
    You touch my heart in so many ways. Thank you so much for for sharing this part of your heart and soul. I admire you, and appreciate you. You and Lou have been such an inspiration of hope to me.

    Prayers, love & hugs!
    kari

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Kari,
      Hope is huge. There is a scripture that says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”. I have often thought about that. We want what we believe to be good and right, and we want it now! Deferred hope has a lot to do with faith and trust.
      Love you back
      Annie

  • Amy

    Anne,
    Thank you for helping me deal with my new grief. Having walked it yourself not too long ago. Your words of encouragement, words of wisdom and permission to grieve has been so very helpful.
    I admire you for your hope and ability to keep your love with Lou alive. He truly is your soul mate. I will continue to look to you for support as my journey takes on new turns.
    Thank you for reaching out to my mom. I hope you can be a support for one another.
    Love you,
    Amy

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Amy,
      The biggest thing that will help is just what you said…Giving yourself permission to grieve and the quiet time and space to feel it, let it wash over you and drown you. It won’t last. Then you will be fine for awhile. To deny it or ignore it will damage you.
      I hope I can be a friend to your mom right now. I liked her. I think we understand one another. She can call me any time and I will check on her once in awhile myself.
      Love
      Anne

  • tgastelum@oconnormortuary.com

    This is great information to share with other people and help them along there journey. I believe we are, by nature, social beings and need to sustain ourselves when we are with others. And, this requires the ability to trust and create relationships with other people.

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Tom,
      You are so right. We can’t be BFF’s with everyone. Not everyone will be faithful to that. Yet, surrounded by a few who are real, who care, who honor what we share and hold it holy, is the best and most we can ask from this world. I wish that for each person I know.

      Thanks for reading. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Neil

    HI Anne –
    As you know I have not walked the path you are walking right now. I do believe you have offered a lot of insights to anyone regardless of what path they are on. Your experience and wisdom is sound advise for all. Many times we get lost in life and forget to take care of our own needs. We can only give what we have to give, and if we have zero energy or positive vibes that will reflect in our relationships. I have been making an effort to be mindful that I have only one body, mind a soul to nurture. Our journeys are different yet the advise is the same. Thank you for sharing your life with me! XOXO

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Hi Neil,
      You are on a path of building… Building a business,
      building your family, building a son’s future, mentally, spiritually,
      emotionally, financially. I am on a path of giving back, reflecting,
      sharing, mentoring, shaping, nurturing. And first of course, is
      figuring out how to heal the broken parts as completely as possible in
      the process.
      I am becoming thankful again. That is the best part.
      Love
      Annie

  • Lori

    Anne,
    It is hard for me to even imagine the extent to which your heart has been broken by the loss of Lou. I have loved deeply, but not had a soulmate such as your Lou to do life with. I think of what it will be like to lose those closest to me, but it can’t compare because they are not with me every day as he was with you.
    I am grateful that you share so much of your journey with us. I love your complete honesty, not only about what the last year has looked like, but right to me about what I can and can’t do to help. It takes true love and friendship to be willing to be ourselves and tell others specifically what we need. I am honored to have that kind of relationship with you.
    I am here for as many hugs or “I Love You’s” as you need.
    Big Hugs,
    Lori

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Lori,
      Now you’ve done it! I have it in writing and you are right around the corner, so I expect a bunch of both over the years. I am so thankful for each and every one of my work family. You all have helped me in more ways than you know. Thank you for being there for me in many ways, all the way back to the beginning of this journey, when it was food from Mother’s Market.
      Love
      Anne

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Anne,

    First off, thank you for continuing journey with us all. I find your words to be very comforting in their honesty. And, thank you for sharing for the community to read your experiences that they may use as well. One thing that stood out very much to be is the fact that Lou made some videos for you to watch. That is amazing!! I didn’t know this and it just touched my heart. Gosh, just the thought of your emotions as you watch this is incredibly touching to me. Thank you for sharing Anne!!

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Joanna,
      I was touched at church today when my pastor, Mike, said “You need to keep writing about this from your perspective. There are a lot of people out there who will benefit from what you have to say, as more time passes” That was surprising, because I thought maybe I was done on the subject. I guess I will keep my mind open to that.

      Yes, the videos are very short, and he looks terrible, physically, but what an amazing gift from Lou. Right in the middle of radiation and me wanting to spend all our money on “cures”, Lou wanted to go to Costco and buy video equipment. I couldn’t see the point at the time, but I didn’t know what he was trying to do. There are about 3 where nothing took, but I do have 3 that did. I can’t watch often, but when I am ready again, I do.
      Love,
      Anne

      • Joanna Ramirez

        Wow! That is amazing!

        • Anne

          Joanna,
          Yes, I am totally bless to have them and boy do I know it!
          🙂

  • Erin Fodor

    Anne,

    Thank you for writing this blog. Without really thinking or realizing, I have experienced some of these good and bad emotions. And it really put things into perspective of how my mother felt losing my father. 14 years later and she still battles the 6 things that get you down. I will suggest the journaling; I think that is a great avenue to continue the journey of grief. Unfortunately the accepting invitations have come off a little harder than it should for her but she works on it. They did everything together, so the struggle to find herself has been overwhelming at times. I try to be there as much as possible to give her the love and support she needs. I love that your daughter is so thoughtful; and plans family time. I think that is a major benefactor.
    I myself am constantly listening to music; some music is to reminisce happy and sad, and some is just to simply get lost in the noise. All the while very therapeutic. Thank you again for sharing your journey and things that have helped you along the way.

    Much love,
    Erin

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Hi Erin,
      I am glad to hear you can share some of this with your mom and also that it gives you better understanding into where she is at. I have a girlfriend who is a 14 year widow and she does ok, but not all the time. It is difficult for her to show her vulnerabilities which I think short-changes her. I am willing to let it all out, so to speak and I think others who care for you, want to help if they know what you need.
      Sometimes everyone finds it easier to cocoon than to expose. We did everything together, too, so I get that, too.
      Thanks for reading, Erin
      Love,
      Anne

  • Mike Bayer

    You’re doing good Anne and writing about it helps all of us. I think of Lou often and miss his dry dead pan humor. It’s great to see your smile and energy. Keep on keeping on.

    • Anne

      Hi Mike,
      Boy, it sure means a lot to me that you take the time to read and post. You got me re-thinking about writing more on the subject. I had thought I was done when I posted through Lou’s death and the funeral. Then I realized I had something more to say since I survived the first year. Then, Sunday when you asked Geri how long she had been without her husband and what that was still like, I realized you had a point. There is probably more to be said. Lou’s humor follows me around. I usually know what he would say in certain situations. I have my marching orders: Be happy! I am trying to work on that one. The inkling of how to reach it seems to be tied to gratitude.

  • Mark

    Anne….Thank you for your insights on Lou’s death and how it effected you….I heard Pastor Rick Warren say, “Death is not something you ever get over, it is something you get through”….Your blog reminded me of this fact….thanks for your personal thoughts….Mark

    • Anne

      Hi Mark
      Yes, you and I are both trying to get through this stuff, aren’t we? So when you need to talk, just bring over a case to work on, set it down, and say what’s really on your heart. I am several months ahead of you and I may be able to help.
      Hugs,
      Anne

  • Elsa

    Anne,
    Wow, Thank You for sharing with us. It is very easy to take for granted all those things on that list that didn’t help. From eating alone to weekends alone and even handling big responsibilities. Those are the things that you never really think about until you have to experience them. Thank You for sharing such a personal experience.

    • Anne

      Elsa,
      Maybe some of this will help when face to face with members of your own family and what they deal with. Hope so. We are here to help each other.
      Hugs, oops, I mean mental hugs,
      Anne

  • Lauren

    Anne, thank you so much for sharing this. Your advice is honest and comes straight from the heart. I especially loved advice #4 accepting all invitations and how spending time with people lifted your spirits!
    Sometimes when I’m doing something, a memory of my mom will pop into my head and I’ll write it down. It’s nice to read through them once in awhile; it’s funny but the memories of my mom doing simple tasks a certain way are the ones that are the most comforting.

    • Anne

      Lauren,
      I read a story once about how a family passed down how to cook the turkey because mom did it that way and because grandma did it that way before her. They all had to cut off the tail of the bird before it was roasted, thinking it made it taste better. It turned out that the truth of the matter was grandma did it because it happened to fit in the pan she was using for the size of the bird that year. Thus, a tradition was started, even though it was for the wrong reason.
      Your mom’s traditions, no matter what her logic was, can comfort you as you follow them.
      Love,
      Anne

  • Carrie Bayer

    Dear Anne, this blog has me in tears. I love reading your blogs about your experience of losing Lou to cancer. You have a way with words that really resonates with me & I know it’s the same for the others that also enjoy your blogs. I can’t thank you enough for baring your soul in each & every writing you have done. You are so inspiring- you give hope by expressing your pain- so many are nourished by your truth. Thank you for being one of the most amazing women I have ever known. I love you. Carrie

    • Anne

      Carrie,
      You also have a way with words. And when you write so tenderly, as you did in your comments, you nourish and feed my soul and I love you for it.
      Annie

  • Rosemary

    Dear Anne,
    Thank you so much for sharing yours and Lou’s journey. Your honesty and down-to-earth suggestions have not only helped you so much through your pain, but will also go a long way to help others to find their way through to healing. You are amazing and an inspiration to me every day!
    Love,
    Rosemary

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Gosh, Rosemary, thank you! I am glad to know I inspire you. It feels good to start seeing some good out of something so sad and tragic for me, anyway.
      Love
      Anne

  • Mitch

    Anne, thank you for sharing all those things with us. We just don”t realize how debilitating a death can be. Thank you for being so open and honest.

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      I guess Mitch, it is a bit different for everyone. I keep thinking I should be better than I am. Hope it helps you, as you help our families. And I hope it doesn’t get more personal than that for you for a long time.