Teresa, I'm so glad you agreed to this interview, and I want to thank you for sharing your life and the many things God has brought you through. I know you've paid a high price, yet you inspire me to keep on keeping on for the Lord. It's really worth it! Would you share with my readers how your story began?
Thanks for having me here today, Ferree. My husband Clyde passed away at our home in San Diego, California thirteen years ago as the result of a work-related traumatic brain injury caused from falling over 25 feet off the top of a building. However, it has been nearly twenty years in this cycle of loss. The loss of my husband is actually a two-part story. First was the night we lost him due to the accident at work; it left him severely disabled for six and a half years. The second part is when he died peacefully at home as a result of those injuries in 2001.
I'm so sorry, Teresa, and you had seven children too, ages 10-24 at the time he passed. If I do my math correctly they were about 4 - 18 at the time of the accident. What was it like?
I was Clyde's only caregiver for the first 4 1/2 years. I had to return to work in order to pay for his meds, making due with neighbors helping him, and then part-time caregivers through grants from various charities and eventually continuous care from hospice.
Meanwhile, during those 6 1/2 years the children were growing up and launching out as young adults: the oldest moved to Arizona, the next son was away at college where he had a football scholarship. Our eldest daughter was in bootcamp for the Air Force; my middle daughters were attending school in Seattle where we'd previously lived; and the youngest boys were at home with me when Clyde passed.
If you would have asked me back then how I was doing I would have truthfully told you (in all confidence) that I was doing a lot better than expected. The sad truth revealed, in looking back at that time, I can honestly say I was a train wreck. I don’t know how I managed to keep it together and keep going except that I had all these little eyes watching me, depending on me, trusting me to ‘make everything alright’ for them. After Clyde died, the silent tears (when no one was around), afraid to go to sleep at night because of the sick feeling waking up each morning realizing (and reliving) his death and absence – but I kept going; there were no other options for me. I thank God for that because He really did get me through it.
Is it hard to believe it’s been 13--or 20--years already?
I'd have to say both Yes and No. It’s difficult to describe. On one hand, it feels like a lifetime has passed and I am still in the process of “reinventing” myself. On the other hand, there are times that it seems like just yesterday. Many of the events had been buried away in my mind but are now so clear that it can’t possibly have been so long ago.
You describe the nature of grief so well---it's not something with a simple start and finish line. And there are at least three distinct entities that affect our grief journey:
- the grieving person herself
- the people around her
- faith in the Lord
What was the most helpful thing that the people around you did?
The most helpful thing actually occurred the night my husband died and the week or so following. I mentioned before that he died at home; he was on hospice. We already had a plan who to call, etc. My darling neighbor and her lovely mother were there; sitting with me, making the calls, caring for the children and during the next two weeks, they received the visitors, coordinated all the food and flowers and made sure the children and I were all taken care of during that initial shock. Even though he was on hospice and we knew the hour would come, there is no being “prepared” for that moment. What was the worst thing people did?
I would have to say the worst thing was being fired from my job and some of the careless things people said; such as, “get over it,” or “you have a dream house, dream car, and dream job, what do you have to be upset about?” (I hadn’t told anyone that I lost my job).
(Teresa, I wish people understood that there's a lot of silent suffering in our world. I'm so sorry you lost your job too! Maybe we can hear more of that story sometime. I know of other widows who've lost their jobs as a result of these circumstances. And then there are the widows who need to start a job for the first time in many years. The workplace can be very difficult for widows!)
Now let's consider the part you yourself played in navigating widowhood. What did you do that helped you the most?
Keeping busy, staying in prayer, being involved in church activities, trusting in God. And, I asked a lot of questions. I think I must have driven most of my friends and family nuts! Also, I wasn’t able to find a grief group for widows near my age, and there was virtually nothing on the Internet 13 years ago; but I did read a number of books on grief and on God’s promises (and the Bible of course).
And finally, how did your faith in God help you through this?
I am very deeply rooted in the Word and the Church. Without that stabilization I don’t believe I could have survived any of this. With each new experience along the road of widowhood many of the Scriptures that I've learned and taught over the years have taken on a deeper meaning – like watching a flower bloom, opening one petal at a time. A Scripture verse I've found very comforting is Psalm 28:7 -
The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart rejoices, and I praise Him with my song.What is the hardest thing about widowhood for you?
I have to say that the hardest thing for me now is really very different than what it was in the earlier years. In the earlier years it was adjusting to solo parenting (we still had young children in elementary school when he passed). – Now it’s adjusting to living alone, learning to cook for one, and figuring out this “dating” thing.
What would you like most for others to learn from your experience?
You are stronger than you think you are and with God you can do some pretty amazing things, such as survive this widowhood journey.
Thank you, Teresa, I look forward to hearing more about your experience tomorrow and some of the good tips you have for widows. Your radio show airs tomorrow too! I hope everyone will tune in to catch either the live program at 2:30 (EST) or the rebroadcast in the evening at 7:00. It's always fascinating! Tomorrow's topic is so timely and needed: Bah Humbug: Overcoming The Spirit of Christmas Past. ♥ ferree
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