Bonnie D. Norman
Written March 24, 1998

Grief touches everyoneís life. It can happen through the loss of a friend or child that moves away, the loss of a job, the end of a marriage, or the loss of a loved one through death. No two people are the same; therefore, no two people grieve the same. Our environment, family systems, social and work worlds all have a bearing on how grief affects us. Sadly, itís the one issue that no one prepares us for. Throughout our lives we are taught a variety of skills, but this subject is left untouched. Death is a part of life. My surroundings were always supported with positive thoughts, so that helped me get through one of the most difficult times in my life.

 I had been touched by numerous losses through death, but none as severe or debilitating as the loss of my husband. After all, we were in the midst of a new direction in our lives, the children were very close to leaving the nest and it would soon be time for him and me to plan out the rest of our lives together. Isnít this the way itís supposed to be? I soon learned that God had mapped out my life differently than I had planned; now it would be up to me to struggle with His plans or make an effort to grow from the changes.

 In March 1990, my world, as I had known it, safe and protected, "my cocoon", had just ended. In a phone call, everything important to my existence had just disintegrated. I went to the hospital not knowing what to expect. My husband was taken there by ambulance from his job. Had he been injured or had a heart attack? Would he be disabled? All this and more crossed my mind as I drove the 30 miles to the hospital. We would deal with any or all of the above. Death was out of the question. Upon arrival to the hospital, I was scurried into a side room. The worst of thoughts now began moving in. When a tall, slender doctor and nurse entered the room and sat beside me, I knew then, all our hopes, dreams and plans had just ended. How could I survive without him?

 After the funeral, reality began to move in. Now the words, that were mere thoughts before, began to immerge. I always prided myself on my independence. But after my husbands death, I found I was incapable of making even the simplest of decisions. Getting out of bed for the day was an accomplishment no one could possibly imagine. My self-esteem had just hit rock bottom. How could I go on?

 Change didnít come easy, but I knew deep in my heart that I had no alternative. Society doesnít know how to deal with persons going through grief. No one knows what to say or how to react if that person cries. The people I thought were my friends avoided me, or at least it seemed like that. Perhaps I was running away from my world, as I had known it, desperately seeking a new world, something better that didnít have pain.

 I joined a self-help, support group; I went to private counseling. I joined a singles group, after all, thatís what I am now. I resented the divorce world, I kept telling myself, "I wasnít here (single) by choice". I learned, as I grew, that most divorced people didnít choose to be single either. Weeks turned into months and I began facing each new day with a new awareness of life. Every day presented a new challenge. At one point, I considered giving up all forms of liquid to try and dry up the tears. I was able to laugh at that, but then felt guilty for the laughter.

 So many people would tell me, "it takes time". I didnít have time for the pain; I wanted it (the pain) behind me. Let me go on with my life. As time passed, and it did, the pain began to lessen and I began to appreciate what was meant by it, although I highly resented those words from people who had no idea what it really meant. They had never walked a mile in my shoes.

I developed several new concepts. All of which helped me grow through the grief, as I understood what was happening to me. I began reading article after article, trying to gain some kind of perspective. Iíd never had a panic attack before, but Iíd never experienced anything as devastating as this before either. Iíd lost several other family members and friends previously, but this was different. Poetry took on an entire new meaning in my life. Life itself became more important, like never before. I took on the attitude that what happens and is said today is what counts. I knew tomorrows have a way of not being there, so I make today the best it can be. Trivial things were no longer overwhelming. The serenity prayer took a new meaning. God hasnít finished with me yet, I still have a purpose and my husbandís death is helping me find that.

Grief work, as it is commonly called, is hard work. It would have been easy to take a pity me role and let the world go on, but I was determined to conquer this. I learned I had to be like the amputee, I would never get over the loss, but I would and I could learn to adjust to my new life, but it was all up to me. No one else could do it for me. I began helping me, by helping others. I started presenting seminars on "surviving death". I talked and I talked, always with a positive attitude, that life does go on. I began to laugh again. I displayed an enthusiasm for life that even won me an award. Sure, lots of people survive death, but building a new and better you is the hard part. I read once that after death, the survivors come back after the grieving one of 3 ways. Weaker and helpless, allowing themselves to wallow in self-pity; or the person returns to as close to normal as before; or they become stronger, more independent and self-assured about life and their surroundings. I chose the third choice with a determination that I would be a winner.

I began to look at my past life as a learning tool for my future. He gave be strength. He taught me independence. He gave me love, for which Iíll always cherish. We shared something unique. And now, because of that, Iím able to move forward into a new beginning and meet new challenges. Without his death, I would have never considered presenting a seminar about surviving after a loss. I wouldnít have moderated discussion groups for those who had lost a spouse and I certainly wouldnít have considered a psychology class. I hope to be able to continue to help others find their Ďpositivesí after experiencing a loss.

I identified with the symbol of the butterfly, reflecting a new beginning. Eventually I found I wanted, not needed, another man in my life. I missed the companionship, hugs and conversation. Because of the love I had shared before, I found love again. I now believe that life does go on and that there will be a tomorrow. I also know that there will be pain again, but I am a survivor and I will go on, again and again, learning more from each new encounter.