March 23, 2013 started out like any other day. I left my house to do errands like I’d done so many Saturdays before that and while I was away, my husband Glenn suffered a massive brain hemorrhage.
We never spoke to each other again.
He was rushed to UCLA Medical Center where I was immediately told there was no hope. “He’s got a brain bleed,” the head trauma physician said. “As bad as they come. We’ll try and operate, but he’s already in a coma. Say your goodbyes now.”
Glenn survived the surgery but after sitting vigil in the ICU for 3 days, more bad news. Glenn had 80-90% brain damage in his brain stem. Your brain stem controls your primal bodily functions, like breathing. There was no coming back from this. I called his family in NY and gave them the grave news. We would keep him on life support long enough for them to come out and say goodbye and then we would let him go.
I never met anyone like Glenn before. He loved me from the start and never got tired of the chase. He would draw hearts on our bathroom mirror with my nail polish and not a day would by without Glenn letting me know how much he loved and adored me.
Glenn was well educated, had traveled the world over and he was also a simple man. Long before I met him he had figured out the formula for a happy and fulfilled life. Love and family mattered most to him. He was also grateful and would tell me almost daily how grateful he was for our life together.
Just a few nights before his brain bleed, Glenn and I were having one of our many late-night conversations in bed. We thought we had decades to go and looked forward to growing old together. We joked about how that will be for us. I fell asleep that night with a sense of knowing that no matter what the future would bring, we would face it together. Our love was strong. We had made it.
Less than a week later I was a widow.
My life changed in a flash. I had no idea what I was in for.
The first few months after a loss the body gives you the gift of shock so you can get through. The movies are wrong. You aren’t bed ridden with grief at the start. You don’t wail and cry at the funeral throwing yourself on the casket.
I sailed through Glenn’s funeral even writing and reading his eulogy and speaking at his memorial service. I even read the 13 psalms at his burial! I was the Rabbi, the preacher, the hostess. I didn’t feel like a widow…. yet.
By July of that year with funeral and memorial services behind me. Cards and condolences had stopped coming. I thought I was free of grief and that I could simply glide into my new life as a widow. It wasn’t so bad, I thought.
Then boom, shock was gone and grief came over me life a tsunami.
Picture your perfect life. You work hard to get it and it’s yours. Then one day you must walk out that front door. You can’t look back. You can’t say goodbye. For no reason, no reason at all. That’s what it’s like to lose a spouse to sudden death.
I didn’t want to be a widow any more. I wanted Glenn to come home but the silence was deafening and the world kept moving forward without him in it. I felt alone. I felt misunderstood. I felt hopeless. I felt lost. I felt unloved. I felt invisible. And where was Glenn? Where had he gone? Was he okay? Did he live on?
I read every grief book I could get my hands on (hundreds). They all left me feeling flat. Most are written as self-help books. I wasn’t depressed so making lists of positive affirmations wasn’t ever going to bring Glenn back. The ones that helped were memoirs by widowed authors who just wrote about their daily life after loss because I could relate and when I read about others who went through what I was going through, I knew that I wasn’t alone and Glenn wasn’t singled out. He wasn’t the only one who tragedy came calling.
I also started noticing that I could no longer speak of Glenn. I’d get long bouts of silence with staring glares as if I said a bad word when I talked about my love. Well-meaning friends would gently suggest that it was time for me to “move on.”
Glenn was an amazing man. He lived a purposeful life. He touched many. I still loved him. I didn’t want to stop speaking of him as if he never existed.
I found myself in this sad and lonely place where I secretly kept Glenn’s love and memory alive while pretending to be “moving on,” yet suffering in silence. It was torture.
I soon knew that to find my way through this thing called grief, I would need to find others like me. I needed to know how others felt. What others did with their grief?
I went to support groups and started meeting others online. I learned that I wasn’t alone. I found this whole underworld of people that felt just like I did. Everyone I met said the same thing, they still loved their loved one who had died and everyone else just wanted them to “move on,” when they just wanted their loved one back. They too felt the deep despair that I did.
Every year millions of Americans — women and men, straight and gay, old and young — are thrust into the role of bereaved, forced to learn how to cope on their own. Losing a spouse (and any loved for that matter!), is one of the worst kinds of loss imaginable. It’s like being cut off at the knees and being forced to walk.
I started researching grief and learned that “moving on” simply, put DOES NOT WORK. But instead what does, is having an ongoing relationship with your loved one. Just giving yourself permission to think of them, to talk to them, to honor them, can help ease the depilating pain of this thing called grief. There are other tools too that can help. I will share them all with you on this site.
Grief is the price we pay for love. Love is beautiful. Love never dies. There is hope. You will find it here.
- Rachel G. Greenberg