Unexpected Loss: Surviving Grief Through Reflection

Dealing with the unexpected loss of her ex-husband, Stacy is focusing on the good and moving forward. This is her story.

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Like so many others, I have always wanted to be a writer. I’ve dabbled in fictional short stories, journaling; often thinking my life would make a great screenplay (in a completely non-narcissistic way, of course). The reality is, I am not a writer. I have never gone to College or University to further my education in the world of literature—life got in the way. I am simply a woman who loves words and using them to express my feelings; to give instruction; to release tension and stress; and now to possibly share my trials and tribulations, as well as my joys and fun little anecdotes. I recently had a friend suggest that I start a blog in order to release some of my thoughts from my sometimes overwhelming mind. I think it was her nice way of suggesting that I need to go therapy.  She knows me well enough to know what usually works for me and for that, I am grateful, not offended.

I find myself once again at a point in my life where I feel confronted with new challenges, some of them overwhelming to me – and while I feel like I am managing these tests pretty well… there is obviously the need for me to explore my inner self; to try to come to some type of peace with myself.  So, I figured I would give it a shot, write some thoughts out – maybe even share it with those who are close to me… depending on where I go with it and what I find myself disclosing. 

My family recently suffered a hugely unanticipated loss.  It’s truly an odd situation for some of my family, but for some of us, it has really hit home in a pretty hard.  In my case, my response was very unanticipated. Here is the Coles notes background in 10 sentences or less;  I was married for twelve years, to a man I had known since we were 14 years old.  We didn’t hang out much throughout high school but we each knew who the other was and had similar friends.  Once high school was over, we ran into each other at the bar, started going out, moved in together and eventually got married.  We had a beautiful son and went through the motions of life.  Like so many other stereotypical young marriages do and after what felt like many ups and downs, twelve years later we ended our relationship and both moved on.  It was difficult at times to be civil to each other, both of us often pushing the others buttons out of frustration and anger.  We were now exes, so that was normal, I guess.

That was almost seven years ago.  Our son is now 17 and until recently chose to remain living primarily with his father.  This was a very difficult thing for me to digest and live with as a mother, but I will save that story for another day of writing therapy.  My current spouse and I live close to five hours away from him, but we made the trek, seeing my son every other weekend, sharing holidays and summers for five years.  We made the best of the situation and maintained a great relationship with my son.

 

On November 1st of 2015, my son texted me that he was on the way to the hospital (me being 4.5 hours away – yes, this was a mothers worst nightmare).  He then told me that his dad had ‘collapsed’ at the hockey rink and they were rushing him to the hospital.  Not sure of the extent of the collapse – in all honestly my initial thought was dehydration or something as such – a quick visit to the ER and he’d be home. I texted my son back, telling him to let me know if he needed me to come down, asking if he wanted me to have my mom meet them at the hospital as she lived in town.  Mildly concerned, but not really stressing it, I continued on with my afternoon assuming I’d get an update later in the day. I was so wrong.  Five minutes later, my 16 year old texted me – six words I will never forget.

“I need you to come down.”

My heart jumped into my throat, adrenaline pulsed through me and I went on high alert.  If you have a teenager, you know they will seldom will admit to ‘needing you’ for… anything. 

I called his cell immediately.  He was dazed sounding when he answered, but soon passed me off to my former mother in law, who was in tears.

“Judy.  What’s going on?  Is Nathan ok?”

 “H-he collapsed at hockey.  They found him in the locker room… they defibrillated at the arena, then did an hour of hard CPR here at the hospital… they couldn’t bring him back… they couldn’t bring him back…” Through her tears.

My ears rung. My breath hitched and adrenaline pulsed.  I felt the blood rush to my head, not fully understanding what she wasn’t saying. 

“What do you mean – they couldn’t bring him back?  Judy!?  What does that mean?”

The rest was a blur.  No one actually said it.  For the next few hours, I convinced myself that Nathan was on some type of life support.  That there was a way out of this.  That he was coming back. 

I packed a bag, jumped in my car and started the 4.5 hour drive.  Dazed and in shock, I drove.  In hindsight, probably not my best decision that day; thank god my car knew the roads well enough to seemingly drive itself.  Halfway down, I called my son again… not sure what to say, but needing to check in on him; to reassure him that I was almost there.  Still convinced that there was a way out of this spiral we had been thrown into.

 “Hey bum… is there anything new?  Any change?”  Silence.  Angry silence, if silence had an emotion.

“Mom… he’s f***ing dead!  What’s going to change??”

My heart breaks.  There they are.  Those words.  And I had just forced my son to say them out loud.

 “I’m sorry honey… I didn’t know for sure… No one said he had actually died… I was hoping life support or something… I’m sorry honey… I’ll be there in 2 hours…”

Two more hours of driving – my son’s heart breaking a little more with every minute that passed.  And there was nothing I could do about it.

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After two emotional weeks, a viewing, a celebration of Nathans life and some of family drama that comes with the passing of a loved one, we took the next step.  My son moved home with me, leaving his school, his friends and his home in his twelfth year of school.  So much heartache and change for one kid to handle, with no way pf preparing for it.

It’s been a challenge for us, to say the least, for both for him and I. Shifting from occasional part-time step-family to full-time requires adjustments; never mind when trying to deal with loss of your father, grief and a new town, new school.  Then over to me trying to sort through the odd range of emotions that unexpectedly reared their head inside me when my ex-husband died.

Our lives are filled with constants; people that are in some way there every day; that we expect to always be a part of our lives.  We see a future with them in it, whether we always want to or not.  It may not always be in the same capacity… from high school classmate, to friend, to love interest, to spouse, to partner in parenting, to what once was.  Maybe eventually one day back to friend.  When you share a child with someone, you accept that those people will always be a part of your future, for the big events at least. Whether you still even like each other or not.

As parents, whether living together, married or separate, you try to collaborate on education, discipline, activities, holidays – all the big stuff.  When one of you struggles you just know that you might have the other to bounce thoughts off of, if you have to.  Maybe even someone to count on.  At the very least you know that they sometimes feel the same struggles as you.  There is no manual that teaches us how to be great parents, or even decent ones. We always follow our hearts and hope our children will learn from that.  Sometimes we really do just wing it and hope for the best. But we do so with confidence because we know we have a partner in crime. There’s someone else that shares that unconditional love for a child that we created together.  We did that.

We had both moved on, years before he passed away.  As a couple, we no longer were compatible.  It no longer ‘worked ‘ and hadn’t for so many years.  Our son was really the only remaining link.  Now he is my link to a chain that is forever broken.

It’s so strange, the emptiness where that constant should be.  Like a big part of what I thought the rest of my life would have in it – is suddenly missing.  Gone. The impact from that missing piece is quite simply; shocking.   There are fleeting moments of every day when that emptiness can become overwhelming.  Like a hollow wave rising up, crashing into me and enveloping my core.  And I have to stop and catch my breath. Most times I can stop the wave before it crests, but not always.

It’s weird, I can sense Nathan with me in every decision I make and everything I do for our son.  With me when I try to help our son to cope with his emotions, his grieving, when I push him to get up, to create a new routine. To move forward, live the life his dad and I always saw for him – or at least some new version of it. It makes it a little bit easier to think that Nathan’s with me, going through this with our child; to reassure me in those moments of doubt – and I try to pull extra strength from that when I feel depleted. 

I know his dad would do the same if our roles were reversed – or at least his own version of the same.  Am I glamorizing our parenting collaboration now that he’s gone?  Maybe… I do know that it wasn’t always friendly between us… we butted heads a lot. Said and did some really crummy things to each other.  Sometimes, I think we fought because that was all we knew how to do.  That’s who we had become together and that’s why we didn’t last any longer than we did.  We were too young and inexperienced to realize we should actually change together, not alone and in different directions.  But, I try not to focus on the negative these days – I push the memories of fighting to the back, the bad times go unidentified… not because I want to forget them or to make Nathan some type of martyr; putting him on a pedestal, but because I already lived those bad moments, dwelling on them now won’t change them.   I know the reality of our relationship – both the good and the bad.   And I will never forget either, because I lived them both.  But these days we only focus on the good, because that’s what we need to do in order to heal and move forward.

 

Stacy is a mother of four, in a blended family. Her philosophy is to embrace the little things in life that make her soul and spirit sing.  With a passion for cooking that has evolved into a hobby of canning, Stacy recently launched The Little Things Canning Company in Pembroke, Ontario.  Follow Stacy on Instagram and her Little Things Canning Company Facebook page, for products and life anecdotes! 
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