Sherry Hayes-Peirce recaps the first five months of her journey through grief after the sudden death of her husband.
The grief journey begins with the many thoughts that cross your mind from the first minute you learn that your loved one dies. In my case there were less than 10 minutes for me to wrap my mind around the reality that my beloved “Dude” would die. Admittedly, my personality is such that words are very literal for me. While so many opt to refer to a loved one’s death as a “passing,” I felt the sudden loss deserved a real versus metaphoric description of how I lost him.
Each person I shared the news with heard the same phrase: “Brad died.”
It was too much for me to see my husband lying on a bed in the ER lifeless with tubes everywhere, so I asked them to take me out. As I sat in a waiting room, my mind realized, that wasn’t the image I wanted to be my final one of him. So I asked to see him one more time without the tubes. They escorted me back into the room, where a sheet covered his body. The chaplain was on one side of the bed, while I was on the other, and she helped me pull the sheet back to expose his head and shoulders. He looked like he was sleeping, and a sense of peace came over me as I kissed his
forehead, both his cheeks, and that big nose of his one last time.
He seemed to smile at me and I proclaimed to the chaplain, “Look, he’s smiling at me.” She looked at me as if I were crazy, but what I saw was the Holy Spirit giving me what I needed: to see he was at peace.
Your mind immediately struggles with the physical presence of the one who died really being gone from this world. The first night a lamp went on in our bedroom in the middle of the night as I laid there crying and unable to sleep. I immediately thought it was “Dude” trying to tell me something. A few days after his death I met with his friends to tell them what happened and as I approached the group, one of them looked like “Dude.” He was there!
Two weeks later following the funeral I moved out of our bedroom, and when I headed into the guest room I heard his voice in my head saying, “Sleep in our bed.”
I argued with him and said, “You know I can’t sleep in there.”
Then he said, “Sleep in our bed.”
I yelled back out loud, “ No, you can sleep in here!”
Weeks later while visiting our grandchildren, the morning I was traveling home I heard his voice again in my head, but also felt him spooning me in the bed of the guest room at his daughter’s house and he said, “Sleep in our bed.”
I said, “I will try.” That night I slept in our bed and slept soundly for the first time in over a month.
It wasn’t until month three that my mind really accepted that he really wasn’t coming back and that day was really hard. I was still questioning what I could or should have done to keep him here on earth with me. As August ushered in month five it also shifted my mindset. I finally mustered the strength to go to his doctor’s office to drop off thank-you notes. Again sitting in a different waiting room: a revelation! I was watching a pharmaceutical promotion about A-fib and
how those with it were more susceptible to blood clots and I thought, "What if I saw this before: would it have changed how I helped him manage his health choices?"
In that moment the realization of my faith helped me to know that nothing I did would have changed the will of God in when He ordained for my husband to be called home. “Jesus, I Trust in Thee.”
My appetite for food disappeared. Though the food kept flowing into my home from family and friends, my body began to shrivel. In those early days, all I could stomach was a banana. My stomach has shrunken so much and I am fifteen pounds lighter and weighing less than I did on my wedding day almost ten years ago.
Less than a week after “Dude” died, his brother was the first to verbalize that he could see that I was losing weight. My brother, knowing that I am a very logical person instead of imploring me to eat, explained the physiology of what was happening to my body and that was the catalyst for me eating at least a banana every day.
Almost a month later my pastor noticed my weight had dropped and he asked if we should start a food train for me and I said “No, I’m having to throw food away.”
He scoffed, “Throwing food away is a sin.” This caused me to that now had to go to confession on top of my grieving. He could see I was upset, but compassionately reminded me to see my doctor and cautioned me not to be a burden to my mother.
That snapped me into the need to eat. It caused me to make a doctor’s appointment with my endocrinologist to make sure I was okay. It seems that just like college students experience the Freshmen “15” there is a Grief “15” too. Sadly, my vitamin D levels were virtually zero, which caused my low energy.
My doctor said to eat what I want and not worry about the calories, fat or sugar: just eat! My goal is to gain at least five of the pounds lost or maintain the weight so that by my next visit my check-up should see my levels back to normal.
For the first time in my life I needed help to sleep and taking 10mg of melatonin is all that allowed me to sleep through the night. One of my parish women’s groups sent me a basket of things I would need to get through this valley of grief and melatonin was one of the things tucked inside. I tried it to sleep. The Holy Spirit was with me in this!
The scariest thing was to receive so many bottles of wine and offers of Xanex to help me get through too. I declined all offers of pharmaceutical drugs to help me get through this, but did open the bottles of wine. To my dismay I drank one whole bottle one night and it scared me! This can’t be the way I manage my grief. Then I heard “Dude” say, “Chick, you can’t drink like this.” I made a vow not to drink like that ever again.
My journey from “Why did God take him from me to 'Jesus I trust in you'” was a process. Again, my parish has a ministry for that. We have “Spiritual Directors” available to guide us through such a process and in every meeting the Holy Spirit is called to reveal the actions, thoughts and feelings to explore as I work through my grief.
I had an established relationship with a spiritual director before Dude’s death and our monthly meetings shifted to bi-weekly to help me navigate my feelings. As many of you know the journey starts with denial and then anger. Initially my feelings of anger were directed toward my husband, but in speaking with my spiritual director she helped me to realize my anger was really directed toward God. Working through those feelings of anger really taught me how important it
was to write things down. Writing my feelings down and seeing them written on paper brought such clarity around accepting the will of God for me.
As the weeks passed, my sense of loss was amplified and having a guide to reassure me that what I was feeling was normal, fine and okay was so helpful. In fact, my journey took me down a path of feeling that my husband’s death was punishment for something I had done or not done. The Holy Spirit was there and with the help of my spiritual director the notion of punishment was shifted to discipline. For me, the shift meant that I was not trusting the will of God versus thinking I had done something sinful to be punished for.
Time with a spiritual director also provides a safe space for you to talk about how you feel and be as emotional as you want without fear of making someone uncomfortable. I have shed so many tears in our meetings and the release has been so healing for me. Prayer during this time has also kept me focused on growing my relationship with Christ and seeking Him to find peace in living my life without my husband.
This journey is one that will never end, but in time I will find the road to be easier to travel alone.
Copyright 2021 Sherry Hayes-Peirce
Images: Canva Pro
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.