I am at the 5 year mark after my husband unexpectedly died one late summer evening.   Grief was not in our plan.  We had made some plans and looked forward to our years as empty nesters.  We didn’t always agree on our plans, but we were going to do them together: retiring and traveling were topping the list as we reached our fifth decade in life.

 I never did get to say goodbye that night. 

The stages of grief outlined by Kubler-Ross are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Originally written as a progression of emotional states, Kubler-Ross later noted that the stages are not a linear progression but often unpredictable.

I read a lot of books after Mike died about how to deal with his death.  10 Best Grief Books .I wanted a how to book. How to be a widow?  How do people go on living after their spouse dies?  Who has done this before? What steps needed to be done?

Reading books helped. Joining a bereavement group, participating in widow and widower Facebook pages and visiting a grief therapist also helped me on my grief journey.

Here is my experience with the 5 stages of grief:

Denial

This one was indeed in my emotional state initially.  I kept thinking if I could just convince everyone that this should not have happened, it would be over. This was all a big mistake.  This was ridiculous.  I left his flip flops by the door for 2 months. I was sure he would come back and even dreamed that he came back on several occasions.  The dreams were so realistic.  I would tell him that everyone thought he was dead and I didn’t know that he was going to come home but we carried on as usual.  I was quite confused.  I unconsciously refused to believe that this had really happened.

Anger

I did some journaling those first few months and that helped me express myself.  I wrote Mike letters and had him write back to me.  I wrote letters to the people who killed him.  I never sent those letters.

I even did some crying and screaming. I cried in the car.  I screamed. I yelled at Mike.  I hear that is normal so I guess it’s OK to admit that I sure did those things.

My anger turned up in jealousy as I saw couples together in those first few months.  I felt sorry for myself and angry that Christmas was coming.  Everyone was acting like nothing happened but I was pissed off.  The decorations were going to have to wait.  Typical traditions were avoided and instead I took my kids on a cruise for Christmas.  I showed them!

Bargaining

I did not have a chance to make a deal with anyone before he was gone.  When death is sudden, maybe we skip this stage. I did not believe that he had really died because in my mind it should not have happened.  Pursuing a civil law suit continued to emphasize the fact that this was all wrong. 

Learning how to function by being kind to myself was key.  Understanding that I was going through grief and that some days I would not be able to handle the strain as well as other days was a revelation and I just let myself have some down days when I needed them.

Depression

A woe is me feeling can be very overpowering.  Also just waking up everyday can take such an effort.  I would listen to positive affirmations.  I would read pages from self help healing after loss books.  Taking the puppy for a walk on the beach helped break up the day and sometimes make me smile.

But often a simple trigger could send me to the restroom with tears rushing uncontrollably down my face.   Depression is awful and that is why there is therapy and medication.  If it is something that is preventing you from living your best life, you need to take care of it.  It doesn’t have to be a crutch forever, but it is OK to ask for help.

Acceptance

I do not like that term.  I will never accept that it was Mike’s time to go.  I know everyone has a time to go, but since his death was deemed a homicide I don’t think it should have happened.

I have learned, for my own sanity, to “acknowledge” that he is gone.  That was an important milestone for me.   We had always agreed that we would be cremated but we never really talked much more about that.  A few days after the funeral, I was called by the funeral home to collect a box full of my husband’s ashes.  I placed the box in the passenger seat, drove home and then carried the box up to my bedroom.  I wasn’t sure what to do next.

My kids had gone back to college.  School had started and I was taking an extended leave to mourn and take care of all the paperwork and stuff.  Since I still was in the denial stage, the idea of doing something with the ashes wasn’t so important since in my mind I was still trying to change the past.  Convincing others that I should not have a dead husband was my primary focus.

It took over a year to truly acknowledge that he wasn’t coming back.  I felt that the ashes needed to be blessed by a Catholic priest since he always connected with his Catholic upbringing.  

So, I took some ashes to the Vatican City in Rome .  It felt like the right thing to do. My son and I visited St. Peter’s Basilica and then since it was Sunday, stayed for the pope’s blessing at 12:00 noon.  We had brought along some ashes so I counted that as a blessing for Mike.  

One month later on Father’s Day the boys and I took the blessed ashes out to sea and said Goodbye.  It had been almost 2 years but I felt it was time.  He will always be with me.  I believe he is looking over us and sending us good things for our future.  I have faith that one day I will see him again.

So, maybe I will never really have to say goodbye.

5 stages of grief - saying goodbye