Ed. Note: This post is more like a podcast. I recorded it in my home studio, so I recommend listening to it. A transcript is available below.
Hey everybody! This is Joseph Ross, and this is my most recent update for the blog. This is gonna be a different kind of update because I am gonna be answering a series of questions. These are frequently asked questions that I’ve gotten over the years. Some of these questions I got early on from other people, some of these were questions I’ve gotten more recently, and some of these are questions that I had for myself, trying to make sense of this journey that I was on through grief.
I do want to make it very clear–this is my disclaimer before I go too far into these questions–I am not a trained grief counselor. I am not a trained counselor of anything. And so this is just me sharing my experiences. This is no substitute for going and seeking a professional grief counselor or other kind of support group. So I want to make that very clear from the beginning.
QUESTION: How did your wife, Kristen, die?
The first question that people would always ask me is how did your wife, Kristen, die. I have a series of blog posts detailing that. I created five different parts to that blog post. You can find them on this web site. The basic gist of it is that Kristen gave birth to our second child, our son, on February 21, 2013, she developed complications after we came home–so we all came home together as a family, the four of us–and then after she’d been home for about five days, she developed complications. We rushed back to the hospital, and we were transferred from one hospital to another because she was having some neurological issues. She was essentially bleeding in her brain, and after we got to the second hospital and they ran all those tests on the morning of Friday, March 1, her heart stopped beating and she did not get blood flow to her brain for 3 minutes while her heart was stopped. The hospital staff, they were able to resuscitate her, get her heart going again, but after that, she never regained consciousness, so they officially pronounced her brain dead on Monday, March 4, 2013. So that was about four years ago, almost four years ago.
QUESTION: What was your grief like?
Another question that I am asked from time to time: what was your grief like, what was the grieving process like?
For the first three months after she died I cried every single day, usually multiple times a day, and for me it was usually at night, so nights were the hardest. If you are a parent and you’ve got kids, you know that when you finally get the kids to bed, you can relax a little bit with your spouse and enjoy the evening together, and for me that was the hardest time because I didn’t have anyone there. I was by myself. So nights were very difficult. That’s usually when I grieved the most. A lot of tears, a lot of crying, a lot of trying to figure out how to make it through this journey by myself with two small children.
QUESTION: How did I cope with that loss? How did you do it?
Next question. How did I cope with that loss, or the way that a lot of people would ask it would be, “How did you do it?”
I heard a lot, in the weeks and months after her death, people were constantly asking me, or they would say to me, “I don’t know how you do it.” My answer would always be God. I’m able to do this because of God. I’m a strong Christian believer, and so I believe that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And I had a lot of support from my church, so the people there were constantly lifting me up in prayer, taking care of the kids—babysitting—when I needed it. A lot of people were there just to offer their support. They would give me food, they would just give me hugs and encouragement and a lot of love, and that helped a great deal.
I also coped through writing. I enjoy writing, I enjoy writing in my journal, and all of that made sense for me to have my own blog. So a lot of my writing would appear on my Facebook page, but after about a year of that, I decided to have my own blog. I wanted people to be able to read the story and hopefully find encouragement. That’s my goal here is to try to encourage other people.
So the best answer I can give to coping with the loss is my spiritual beliefs helped me to lean on God and other loving people, family and friends and a lot of good people at church.
QUESTION: What were the holidays like after your wife died?
Another question–I was asked this question very recently–what were the holidays like after your wife died?
So Kristen died March 4, 2013. We then had holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. just a few months later, and you know, by that time, so from March to November is eight months and then Christmas was the next month that was nine months later. It wasn’t…I wasn’t grieving as intensely by that point, but that first set of holidays was hard. I remember feeling, just not knowing how to feel, not really understanding how this was going to work. So it was a challenge. I mean, it certainly wasn’t something that I enjoyed, but I needed to put the kids first. I wanted my children to enjoy the time that they had with family. And basically, it was kind of like turning off a switch. I just had to kind of turn off the grief switch in my mind and in my emotions and take care of the kids and make sure that they enjoyed Thanksgiving, and definitely I made sure that they enjoyed Christmas, and then after the holidays were over, I could flip the switch back and I could continue to grieve. But I didn’t want my children to be worried or upset because their dad was having a hard time with the holidays. So I tried to make it seem as normal as possible. And since my son at that time was only eight or nine months old, and my daughter was five, I don’t think that they noticed anything. I think that they probably felt that it was a normal, fun, happy Thanksgiving and Christmas. That doesn’t make it easy for me, and if anyone out there is listening and you had to go through that just a month ago or two months ago during the holidays, no, it’s not easy, but I love my children, and I didn’t want them to a have a bad Thanksgiving or Christmas, so I really felt like we did the best we could. And a lot of people, again, a lot people at church, a lot of people at work, a lot of people in my circle were providing the kids with a lot of love and attention, so I don’t think they missed out on anything.
QUESTION: When did your grief get better? How long did it take for you to feel “normal” again?
Next question. When did your grief get better, or sometimes the question would be how long did it take for you to feel “normal” again?
This varies from person to person, so for me, after about a year, I started to feel like I was healing more. I don’t know if I felt normal yet, but I was starting to feel like I was healing. For most people–this is the average–so for most people it takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months before you start feeling normal, but that depends on a variety of factors. It depends on how your spouse died, if it was a sudden death as it was with my wife it was very sudden and unexpected, but other spouses die from long bouts with cancer or other terminal illnesses, and so all those different things factor into how long it takes to feel normal again.
It’s not easy to lose someone that you love, but you do the best you can to continue to live, and that’s the thing that I kept trying to remind myself of is that, you know, Kristen is not here anymore, but she would not want me to just stop living. She would want me to continue moving forward with my life and my career and also to continue parenting our children. I mean, she would very much want me to continue going on. So I just, the grief, it took time, it takes time. You can’t rush it. I wanted to rush it. I wanted to just try to snap my fingers and feel like I was better, but it really didn’t work that way.
I used…I went to counseling for several years after Kristen died, so professional counseling–and I saw a Christian counselor, which made a big difference for me being a Christian believer–professional grief-counseling helped me a great deal, and so I recommend that for everybody. I saw a counselor one-on-one for several years, and then I also went to a bereavement group that the Hospice around, near my house, the Hospice center organized a bereavement group for people who had lost a spouse. And that was free, and I didn’t, and it didn’t even have to be for people who lost their spouse who had been in Hospice care. It could be for anyone in the community, anyone who wanted to come who had lost a spouse, could come and share and be in that support group. So both of those things helped: individual one-on-one counseling and the group bereavement counseling helped a great deal. So I encourage anyone out there listening, if you’re suffering a loss–losing a spouse is what I know best ‘cause I’ve been there–but if you’ve lost anyone you love, I recommend counseling because I believe it helps. It has certainly helped me.
So, anyway, for me it did take about a year to start feeling more normal, and then, I just, it’s day-by-day. One day at a time, and I started to feel like I was more myself again, but before that time was over, I did struggle a lot with a lot of things that were frustrating for me. For example, I am a very organized person, and I’m an educator, and I teach college. I like to think that I have a good memory, and I can focus on things, but, you know, when I was grieving, all that went out the window. I would forget a lot of simple things that I would never forget under normal circumstances. I felt like I was in a fog, and apparently that’s common from what I’ve learned from grief experts, that’s pretty common to feel like you’re in a fog, like you just can’t really seem to focus. And that wasn’t pleasant. I hated that, but, you know, one day at a time, and the thing about grieving that I had to learn was that I couldn’t just, I couldn’t just make it end. I had to go through it. I had to face it, I had to cry and be upset and be confused and frustrated and at times angry, but once I went through those experiences, then I was able to make it to the other side. And what happened was when I finally got to the other side of my grief, then I was able to look back, and then I was able to see how I made it to where I was, and now I can see how I’ve made it to where I am today. But when I was going through it, every day was a struggle, every day was difficult, and I wondered, “Is this ever going to end? Am I ever going to make it to the other side of this?” But I did, and it wasn’t like I could just jump to the end. I had to just go through it, as hard as it was, and finally I made it to the other side. I don’t know if I can point to a specific day and time when I said, “Ha! I made it to the other side. Here I am. I’ve arrived!” But by looking backwards after a year, after two years, after three years, I could see, “Oh! I’m not struggling like I was before. Oh! I feel happier. I feel like things are better than they’ve ever been before.” And so that’s all the advice I can give is that it’s not easy, it wasn’t easy for me, it probably won’t be easy for any of you out there who are grieving, but it is possible. It IS possible to make it to the other side. And I’m gonna come back to that in just a second. One of the questions I get is how were you able to move on, and I’ll mention that in a second.
QUESTION: What did you do with your wife’s things?
Next question. What did you do with your wife’s things?
OK, so, we attach a lot of sentimental value to the things that we own, the things that our spouse owns. So for the first year after Kristen died, I had all of her stuff. It was all still hanging up in the closet, all of her clothes, all of her shoes, all of her perfumes, all of her jewelry. Everything that she had ever written down–I was keeping all of her handwriting just so I could still see it and still feel like I was connected to her through those things.
After about a year, I had a wonderful group of ladies at my church volunteer—and they asked me ahead of time if they could come over and help me clean up the house, and I said “Sure.” And one of the ladies said, “Will it be all right if we donate Kristen’s things to charity–Salvation Army or Goodwill, or something like that?” And I said, “You know what, these clothes have been hanging up in here for over a year and they’re just taking up space.” So I said, “Go ahead. Let someone else benefit from these things. Maybe someone else can be blessed for these things.”
So after about a year, year and a half, I mean, just, I finally felt like it was time to start getting rid of things that I did not need, my children did not need, and that process is still going on to this day. I mean, I still have things that belong to Kristen. I’m still trying to decide what’s the best way to deal with those things. Should I hold on to them for my children? There are some things that I’ve kept specifically for my kids, and I’ll hang on to those things for the next 15 or 20 years until their old enough to really appreciate them.
I still have Kristen’s engagement ring and her wedding ring. People might be surprised to hear that because you might expect that she would’ve been buried with those things. This is the only reason I still have them. This is a pretty personal story that I haven’t really shared with a lot of people, but when Kristen was in the hospital before her heart stopped, so she was having bleeding in the brain, we knew that, and we were at the hospital, and they were getting ready to do some scans, they told me that she could not wear her rings in the MRI machine. So I had to help her take those rings off. Kristen had essentially had a stroke. I mean, bleeding in the brain is a bleeding stroke, and so because of that, the left side of her body was essentially numb. The left side of her face, her left arm, her left hand, her left hand fingers. That’s where we wear our wedding rings. So I had to help her get those rings off of her hand. So I took them off, I put them in my pocket, and that’s the only reason I have her rings. I decided that I was not going to bury her with those. I decided to keep them for our daughter. So I thought that she might want them someday.
And so there are some things that I have that I’ve saved for the kids, and hopefully they’ll appreciate them one day when they’re old enough to, but, you know, this is a very personal, individual thing. I cannot tell you what to do with everything that you might be holding onto from someone you love, whether it’s a spouse or a parent or a child. Only you can decide what you want to do with those things. I can tell you that, you know, I just, I didn’t feel the need to hang on to all those things, her clothes and things like that. You know, I just, I didn’t see why I would have them, and I’ll come back to this in a second, but I’ve also remarried. I have a new wife who is absolutely wonderful and fantastic and I love her dearly, and it did not make sense to have all of those things from Kristen when I’ve remarried and I’m with Lauren now.
So anyway, that’s a very personal decision, and you don’t have to rush it. You can hold on to those things for a year or two, or as long as you feel like you to need to hang on to them. But just, I would encourage you to don’t become so attached to those things that you feel like you’re living in an unhealthy way, and that’s a difficult thing to be able to figure out on your own. This is why I encourage counseling. A counselor can help you to determine, “Am I holding onto this for an unhealthy reason or not?” Because when things begin to control our lives, I don’t believe that’s very healthy. So I would just encourage any of you listening that you don’t need to hang on to everything forever. There may be some things you hang on to for the rest of your life and you pass down to other people, but some things I just think you have to let go of and move on.
QUESTION: How were you able to move on? How did you know it was time to start dating again?
This is the next question then: how were you able to move on? How were you able to move on? This is tough. I mean, and this is connected to the next question, too, which is, you know, how did you know it was time to start dating again? So I’ll try to answer all these together, all of these questions together.
To Be Continued…check back next week for PART 2.