Grief Through the Rearview Mirror

This big, horrible thing happens. You lose the person with whom you chose to partner for the challenging, amazing, and, sometimes, scary thing called life. Each of us has our own unique experiences of the grieving process. Yet, it’s normal to feel like you have no idea how you’ll go on without them.

Whether I like it or not, nearly twenty years after my husband’s death, I am living and breathing without him. I couldn’t imagine in the early days of losing him I would eventually have a life I could love again. It wasn’t easy. I needed to do a lot of soul-searching. It also required a lot from my circle of people who carried me through the darkest days. I had to find my footing in a world without Gary in my own time and my own way.

Spring Cleaning

Sometimes I forget how far I’ve come. But, with spring in the air, I decided to clean out some old files. The files were buried deep on my computer. They contained details of wrapping up the end of Gary’s life and starting out again as a single woman on my own. There was correspondence with a car broker who helped me. I needed to sell both cars and buy something more reliable with lower repair costs. There was a checklist of all the financial details I’d sent to our accountant six months into widowhood. It outlined steps I’d taken to clear up outstanding charges on his credit card, business taxes, and transfer of accounts.

The World Doesn’t Wait While We Grieve

We live in a very unforgiving world. There was no respite from bills, mortgage payments, or accounts to be closed or changed over when I was trying to breathe through the crushing weight of the loss of him. Waiting costs money when you’re dealing with financial accounts. I didn’t have the luxury of taking time off work. I was a freelancer in the film industry who had just recently moved up into a new position. To avoid the risk of being replaced, I returned to work three days after Gary’s memorial.

I read through the old files. It was amazing to see what I had been able to manage on my own during the most difficult time of my life. In looking in the rearview mirror, I caught a glimpse of me nearly two decades ago. I saw myself finding the strength to take charge of my financial wellbeing even when, at times, I found myself on my knees wishing for the life I thought we were going to have together. We never know how much courage we’ll have to face life’s challenges until they happen. We can’t guess how we’ll manage until our world comes crashing down and we’re without a blueprint of how to put it back together again.

We’re Stronger Than We Know

I did not know that even when I was feeling at my weakest, I would find the strength and energy to do the best I could to pick up the pieces and create a life for myself. Most days now, my focus is on being present in the moment and creating extraordinary experiences as often as possible. But taking a moment to look back at how far I’d come and acknowledge myself is important. I didn’t do it all perfectly. I didn’t get it all done at once. But I managed the most important things and, though I didn’t know it at the time, in doing so I was already slowly beginning to rebuild my life.

There will always be the missing of Gary. And, he will always be my inspiration for the work I do as a patient/caregiver advocate, as a grief recovery coach, and as an expert who works with healthcare professionals to train them to communicate more consciously with patients and their families. I didn’t get to choose a whole life with the love of my life. I did get to choose to honor him by finding a way to live as big a life as possible. My glance in the rearview mirror helped me to see how resilient the human spirit is and how creative we are in finding our way even when big, horrible things happen.


Tambre Leighn

More Articles Written by Tambre

Tambre Leighn is a leading expert in coaching grief recovery. She is also a published author, speaker, and outspoken patient/caregiver advocate. Her background as a professional athlete and her personal experience caregiving for her late husband along with her struggles with grief-related depression after being widowed inspired Tambre to become a coach. Tambre’s online course, “Grief as a Pathway to Transformation,” recently launched on the personal development website which also features courses by leading experts such as Deepak Chopra and Debbie Ford. Tambre has developed a model for Grief Recovery that helps clients design a path to address external changes loss initiates as well as internal emotional work that is a part of healing from loss. A key component is helping clients reconnect with a passion for life so they can find purpose. Through this work, she assists clients in designing a future they can be excited about while honoring the past and what has been lost in a healthy way. Reach her at [email protected]


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  • Jim Omel says:

    I have been at this for six months. You…….20 years! You’ve already taught me that I have a long way to go. Thank you for your wise words.

  • Jude says:

    Thank you so much for this piece. At the 15 1/2 year mark, I’ve just had an unexpectedly intense wave of missing my husband (prompted by searching for a used car online, of all things). This gave me a hankering for a forum to discuss exactly what you’ve described as using the rearview mirror. I’m not big on online organising, but would welcome the thoughts of others about their ongoing relationships with their late partners. It’s fair and understandable that most pieces focus on the immediate aftermath and early stages of (re)building one’s life. At the same time it reinforces the idea that we all ‘move on’, leaving our late partners behind, rather than taking them, in this ethereal form, with us. – Or so it seems to me.
    Thanks again, Tambre. I’ll sign up to follow you.

  • Jude, I agree that it’s understandable that there is more focus on resources for the years closer to the loss. Grief is layered and can be complicated. The process of learning who we are without the other takes time. There can be a fear that as time expands between waves of emotional sadness that we are forgetting them or leaving them behind. This just isn’t true. They will always be with us and a part of our story. I’m glad this piece came at a good time for you and that it helped to validate your loss experience years out. Hope Edelman, the author of “Motherless Daughters”, does a beautiful job looking at the long term impact of loss of a mother for women. I feel she acknowledges well the experience that it doesn’t go away and that there are pivotal life moments that bring us back to that loss. Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts. I do wish you well.

  • You’re very welcome. The timeline and experience of grief is unique to everyone. We have to find our own way, but we can also find possibility in the stories of others who have walked ahead of us. It is important to only take from them what serves us best and let go of anything that doesn’t resonate.