The death of a loved one is such a shock to the body and mind, you may wonder if you’re going crazy. You aren’t going crazy; you are grieving. In 2007, after four family members died in succession, I wondered if I were going crazy. More worrisome, I wondered if I could survive such sorrow. Where would I find the strength? Would I ever be happy again?
Recovering from multiple losses takes longer than recovering from one. Four successive losses brought me to my knees. My elder daughter, (mother of my twin grandchildren), died from the injuries she received in a car crash. Two days later, on the same weekend, my father-in-law died of pneumonia. Two months later, my brother, and only sibling, died of a heart attack. In the fall, the twins’ father died in another car crash.
His death made the twins orphans and my husband and me their guardians. Raising grandchildren while grieving for four family members is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. While I was grieving, I continued to do my grief work. To my surprise, I made a crucial decision. I decided death wasn’t going to win, LIFE was going to win. This decision guided me through the darkness, towards the light, and the new future that awaited me.
I’m glad I made this decision, for in 2013 my husband’s aorta dissected. He had three emergency operations and, during the last one, suffered a spinal cord injury that suffered a spinal cord that paralyzed his legs. Still, the fact that he survived was a miracle, and even his doctors were amazed. After being hospitalized for eight months, my husband was dismissed to my care, and I moved him into the wheelchair-friendly town home I built for us.
Few people recover from spinal cord injury. A nursing supervisor told me my husband would never walk again. After being home a year, he received an appointment notice from Mayo Clinic rehabilitation. I wondered what rehab could do after he had been sedentary for a dozen months. Thanks to dedicated, determined therapists, my husband learned to stand, stand and pivot, and take some steps with a walker. On his last day of therapy he took 85 steps–another miracle.
In the last few weeks my husband has been hospitalized twice, once for acute asthma, and once for pneumonia. He was referred back to Mayo Clinic rehab for a tune-up. I was familiar with the gym and all of the equipment there. This time, however, there was a new notice on the wall: YOU NEVER KNOW HOW STRONG YOU ARE UNTIL BEING STRONG IS THE ONLY CHOICE YOU HAVE.
Wow! This sentence summarized my grief recovery journey. I didn’t think I would survive multiple losses, but I did. I didn’t think I could raise the twins and grieve, but I did. I didn’t think I could maintain my writing career, but I did. This is my 20th year as a caregiver, and my fourth year as my husband’s caregiver. I’m amazed by his unfailing courage, and the miracles that have come to us.
Today, the Mayo Clinic notice hangs on the wall opposite my computer. I am living proof that you can find the strength you need, create a new life, and be happy again. So I urge you to believe in yourself. Say yes to life. Tap the wellspring of strength inside you. You are stronger than you realize. Your loved one would want you to live each day to the fullest. Get out there and do it!