“I want people working through grief to know they are strong, capable, resilient human beings who have the strength to survive the death of their spouse and find themselves again—maybe even for the first time.” -Diane Dettmann
After the death of my husband in 2000, my world as I knew it splintered into tiny pieces. Everything in my life changed including myself. I wanted my life back the way it was. I hated the new world I was thrown into and fought the changes imposed on me.
I missed our evening visits over a glass of wine after a long day at work, his smile as we said goodbye in the morning and the love notes he left on the refrigerator when we were apart. My new social status changed who I was. Some friends stayed by my side even in the hardest moments of grief while others bailed on me. Everywhere I looked were couples in restaurants visiting over a romantic meal or hand-in-hand strolling down the sidewalk. Just the sight of them made my loneliness worse.
Trying to make sense of my life, I read books about the “stages of grief” and honestly believed when I got through the first year, I would be fine. After months of tears, anger and pleading with God to bring my husband back, I finally accepted the truth-John was gone forever. Whether I liked it or not, I needed to find meaning in life again. The process of rebuilding took a great deal of energy and soul-searching. I spent six years alone rediscovering activities I enjoyed before I met John. I created an art studio in my basement where I could dabble in painting. Eased myself back into exercising by starting with short walks and eventually adding more steps. Grief is like exercise, easy to avoid, but once you lace up your tennis shoes and take the first step more steps follow.
During my years alone, I took a variety of road trips. On my first solo adventure, I drove to Montana to visit a cousin. We had a great time catching up and touring Yellowstone Park. Back home in Minnesota, I often took weekend excursions to a Lake Superior resort where I hiked and spent time writing late into the night. I poured my pain, sadness and grief into notebooks. Those entries eventually evolved into my memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal.
As I wrote the book, I questioned why I was sharing such a personal story with the world. The book took seven years to write with lots of starts, stops and doubts. In 2011, I put my fears behind me and released it into the universe. I have shared my story with a variety of groups over the years. The Kok Funeral Home in my local community invites me each year to share my grief story with others who have lost a loved one. After one presentation, the after care director wrote: “You are such an inspiration for grieving hearts. Your transparency and down to earth wisdom are deeply appreciated.”
I cannot believe it will be eighteen years since John died. The grief has softened over time, but even now the months of May and June trigger flashbacks of the hospital and the last pain-filled weeks we spent together at home before he died. As my life moves in a new direction, the cherished memories of John will be with me always. I will grasp the glorious morning sunrises and make the day the best I can. Life is a process of sunrises and sunsets; in between, you live and breathe what life brings you.
Diane Dettmann is author of Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story Of Love, Loss and Renewal