Marie and I have been married for 35 years when her health began to fail. Many visits to hospitals and to various consultants brought little improvement and I finally brought her to casualty on December 28th. Marie was admitted and stabilised overnight. The next day, a Sunday, she was comfortable and smiling. She enjoyed a few family visitors and then, quietly and peacefully, she fell asleep and died. Neither of us had any idea that death was so near. But I know that the manner of her dying, quietly and without fuss, would have pleased her.
The funeral, amidst snow and ice, was a Godsend. It kept me busy for a month and I sailed along keeping up a façade of coping. I worried about how my daughters were coping. If the roles were reversed, Marie would have wept with them, consoled them and eased their pain. But I found that difficult to do.
At the end of January, my daughter returned to America and I was now in the house on my own. It was then that I really began to experience the pain of my grief. I felt lonely, sad and heartbroken. Many nights I cried myself to sleep, for the anguish of Marie’s last few months were always with me.
I felt angry; angry with the doctors who appeared uncaring, and I felt guilty; guilty that I had not done enough for Marie. Above all I felt bewildered. Nothing in life had prepared me for this situation and I felt totally devastated.
Other people seemed to be able to cope with death. Why wasn’t I? I began to think there was something wrong with me. Was I too soft or was I being irrational? I found it hard to remember the good times as people suggested I should do. All I could remember were days and weeks and months of poor health and crushing setbacks.
I missed Marie terribly. I wanted her to be there for our grandchildren and particularly for our daughter when she had a miscarriage. I felt so inadequate; Marie would have known how to support her.
After the funeral my own brothers and sister stopped mentioning Marie’s name. It was as if she never existed. I know that they didn’t want to add to my pain, but their reluctance to talk about her in those early days was puzzling and hurtful. I got a wonderful response when I plucked up the courage to talk to them about this. Now we can get together and reminisce about times we shared.
In many ways the second year of my bereavement was the most difficult, as I expected to be over the worst of it by then. I was only beginning to learn that the pain never goes away completely.
At one stage I yearned for companionship, but this has passed to some degree. I still feel wistful sometimes; especially when I see couples walking hand-in-hand or when I meet old friends of Marie’s. These encounters can still leave me feeling sad.
I came to realise that I had done the best I could for Marie when she was ill, and I can now remember the happiness she brought into my life.
I remember her wonderful voice, her infectious laugh, and the many crazy times we went swimming in the sea at Donabate.
A number of years later, a long-closed window of my mind opened, where Marie’s last conscious act surfaced in my memory for the first time, she could no longer speak, but as we left her hospital room that Sunday, she lifted her chin and tilting it higher with her fingers, she bade us with impish good humour to ”keep out chins up”. Her farewell message; something to be remembered and cherished forever. So why had it remained hidden for so long? I can only conclude that the shock of her leaving, so suddenly and unexpectedly, had blanked it out, only for it to return when true and lasting healing had come out.
What helped me:
- Finding someone who understood my pain and was prepared to listen no matter how long it took
- Setting small goals and challenges for myself to focus on (one was running in the city marathon at nearly 70 years of age)
- Getting back into hobbies, such as walking and swimming, that I used to enjoy before Marie go sick.
What I learned from this experience:
- I learned that the seemingly endless pain of bereavement does, in time, ease
- I learned that understanding can often to be found in other who have had a similar bereavement
- I found ways to strengthen and nourish, once fragile, faith
- I learned to be less afraid of what may lie ahead for me
These stories were contributed by the Irish Hospice Foundation and are published in their book, Irish Stories of Loss and Hope, 2007, edited by Dr Susan Delaney. Many thanks to the authors and the Irish Hospice Foundation for permission to reproduce their stories on this site. Further information on bereavement, including downloadable leaflets and audio recordings on grief, may be accessed on the website www.bereaved.ie