Two months after the sudden death of her husband, Sherry Hayes-Peirce reflects on the day-to-day process of living with grief.
As I reflect on the past nine weeks since my husband died, so many people have said that I am so strong. One woman even said, “You are such a model for how to handle such a tragedy.” Really! Each person is different, and how they handle their loss shouldn’t be judged.
Sadly, it is, though. My beloved pastor said to me, “Remember it is okay to weep, no wailing.” I’m a wailer for sure, but he made the point that people feel uncomfortable with public displays of emotion. It impressed upon me that as the host of every interaction with someone I had to hold it together even though I wanted to wail.
Another revelation for me that was shared by a mother who recently lost a son in his late twenties was that people don’t seem to want to know how your loved one lived -- only how they died. So true! I had to stop sharing the details of how “Dude” died. It was emotionally draining for me to keep telling the story. His daughter also said instead of people saying, "I know," or "I can’t imagine how you feel," why don’t they just say, "How can I help?"
My sisters in Christ at my parish asked me how could they help, and after prayer and discernment I asked for someone to call and check in on me everyday for a while. They sent out a sign-up genius and for the next three months I will receive a daily call. The pearls of wisdom from each caller soothe my soul and broken heart.
Day-to-day life is very different now. I am struggling to redefine my daily routine as a widow vs. a wife. Simple things like having coffee in the morning were difficult, as my husband made the coffee for me and now it is something for me to do myself. He would give me my morning medication and we would sit in the living room to watch the morning news. Now, I watch the morning news in the guest room. As a couple, we both took care of each other in different ways. He handled finances, grocery shopping, cooking, car maintenance, and errands, as he was retired. I handled resolving problems, managing records on the computer, travel plans, and medical appointments.
Cinco de Mayo was the two-month anniversary of his death, and while my parish was having a gathering I really didn’t feel like celebrating. So my time at the party was short, but when I left to go home my tire was flat. While it wouldn’t have been a big deal before, it caused me to want to wail. You see, I would have called Triple A and then called “Dude,” who would have stayed on the phone with me until the mechanic arrived. In his absence I went into my church and sat with the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue to find comfort and safety to wait. While there, tears flowed and my heart ached with longing for him to be with me like he always had been. I whispered “God, why did You take him?”
A text alerted me to the mechanic's arrival and when he saw my tears, he asked if the call was more serious than a flat tire. I said, “No, but my husband died two months ago and he would be with me on the phone."
Then I burst into tears. He was so kind and asked if he could hug me, I said, “Yes, please.” I wailed.
Part of returning to daily life included my return to meeting with my spiritual advisor, and she helped me to discern that I was angry with God for not giving me enough time to process that my “Dude” was going to die. Even when they took me in the patient bay in the emergency department and I saw the machines and tubes, my brain still thought “Okay he is going to be in ICU for a while.” But then the doctor said, “we are going to stop the machines as we have been trying to get a heartbeat for forty minutes.” Less than a minute later they called the time of death 10:10 AM. Really, God?
My pastor said, "You have to be thankful for the gentle mercies in times like this." He mentioned things that I should be grateful for: That I was home when he collapsed, to call for help. That I was with him and he didn’t die alone, and last of all he didn’t linger in a coma for an extended period of time. But I would have welcomed at least a day in ICU to process the possibility that he was leaving me. As a believer and devotee of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I reflect on holy Scripture.
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
A friend from church also sent me a reflection that helps me to remember that he is still with me. It reads,
Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that is ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. (Anonymous)
Just as the reflection outlines, I speak to him, I call him by his household name of “Dude” daily. I feel his presence and know he is with me and helps me with things. Every day I say prayers for him and trust that he rests in peace. I pray for myself, that God will give me the strength to live day to day without him and to accept that he was called home in God’s perfect time, not mine.
Copyright 2021 Sherry Hayes-Peirce
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About the Author
Sherry Hayes-Peirce is a Catholic social media strategist, blogger, conference speaker, podcast guest and contributing author of the Ave Prayer Book for Catholic Mothers. She serves as Digital Engagement Coordinator for American Martyrs Catholic Community in Manhattan Beach, CA, and St. Monica Parish in Mercer Island, WA. Sherry has a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and is grateful to be a digital disciple of Christ.