The road back from any loss is crooked and wide, and sometimes even circular.  My experiences as a primary caregiver in my home (with hospice support) with my husband, my father, and my female best friend all affected me in different ways.

I’ve read that the depth of grief is equal to the degree and depth of love and caring for that person.  I was devastated with the loss of my husband, grieved little for my harsh father, and still long for my friend.

Yes, death or other losses can knock us flat on our backs.  In my case, it was flat on my back in bed with a never-ending supply of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  With each loss, there was accumulated weight gain.  With my husband, I gained about 20 pounds, my father 5 pounds, and friend Linda another 10 pounds.  Yet, I know others who actually lose weight with grief.

The way back is crooked because it takes many twists and turns, and we are never the same person that we were before the loss.  Unfortunately, some never find firm footing again.  With each of my losses where I was the primary caregiver, I would take a step forward, two steps backward, then do the sideways two-step.

I do see a pattern in my crazy dance steps. I began the journey back each time with an assessment of what I had left. With my husband, Gordon, I took an early retirement immediately upon hearing the devastating news of his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and prognosis of a few months to live. I was in no shape to work and knew that I wanted to spend whatever time we had together.

I do not regret the decision; however, with his death, I was a young widow with no professional identity.  My “perhaps list” consisted of two things: (a) rock sick babies in the hospital, and (b) go to graduate school so I could teach at the college level.  Achieving the goal of rocking babies was relatively simple; I called the nearest children’s hospital and began volunteering.  Getting the gumption or insanity to attempt graduate school was a serious and sobering endeavor.  Somewhere I found the nerve to attempt one class, then two, and the rest is history.  The outcome of this crooked path was a wonderful ten-year career of teaching.

The path is wide because we can ultimately choose Ben & Jerry’s or rewarding work.  It would have been so easy to choose Ben and Jerry as my constant companions.  Even those who only see a narrow path of despair, when challenged, will admit to having more choices than they first see on the table.  With each choice to put one foot in front of the other, to go to the grocery store, or to seek out a friend to with whom to talk, we gain ground on the road back.

The path is circular because just as each grief is different, we do not visit those textbook feelings of denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance in any particular order — and may repeat several or all.  With each subsequent disassembling of my bed to install a hospital bed, I would revisit prior losses as well as grieve the current one.

It has been two full years since the death of my friend Linda.  After an initial setback of Ben & Jerry’s (yes, I have a slow learning curve), I’ve joined a gym and completed a year of study to become a certified grief counselor.  Why visit others when death is knocking at there door?

  • Because I know there is a road back.  Each of us must find our own and within our own timeframes.  Just knowing that someone has felt the magnitude of loss and has the strength to get dressed and soldier on has some encouragement attached to it.
  • Because I believe no one should die alone.  I also believe that unless it is the caretaker’s wish, no caretaker should be alone while a loved one is dying.  Everybody is there to welcome a child into the world. I believe that support should be there when one is leaving this world.

After the loss of my friend, becoming a grief counselor showed up on my “perhaps list” without any devining on my part. With a year of hard studying behind me, I move to a brand new road. So wish me well on this new endeavor of being a grief counselor. Never in my wildest imagination would I have envisioned starting on this particular journey.  I want to be the person whom I would have wanted to have beside me during my losses.

Wish me well on my new crooked, wide, and circular journey.  I’m back.

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Kay Clowney

Kay Clowney

Kay Clowney is a Certified Grief Counselor in Arkansas. She served as primary care-giver in her home with hospice support for the deaths of her husband, father, and female best friend. She is co-author (with Dr. Larry Cole) of the book, "The TeamWork Dictionary," (LifeSkills Publishers, 1997). She has written many articles and has degrees in Human Resource Development, Business Education and English. She is a certified facilitator for What Matters Most for the Covey Leadership Center, and been director of the VA Regional Office in Little Rock, Arkansas. Reach her at clowney199@comcast.net.

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