BLOG SERIES: MY JOURNEY
Shortly after Ahmed died, I remember asking the question: What am I supposed to do now? Well the first thing I needed to do was plan the funeral. As this was Illinois in winter, the weather was not very forgiving.
Our family came up from Michigan to attend the funeral, and to offer moral support. But after the funeral, everyone left and there I was all alone. What do I do now? I had never been alone before.
The first few days and weeks went by in a daze. There were the phone calls from well-wishers, the cards, and people stopping by to check on me. But after a while, this all stopped. And there I was all alone.
People asked me what my plans were, and if I was planning to move back to Michigan. Well I knew that it was never a good idea to make a major decision, if you could help it, within the first year of something major and life-altering as the death of a loved one. But my plans at the time were to stay right where I was, and that’s exactly what I did.
I eventually went back to work, still part-time in the beginning. But eventually I was back to working full-time. The funny thing about losing a spouse is that your world seems to stop, as it is turned upside down, but the world around you keeps moving along as if nothing has happened.
You find yourself wondering how the world could move on so effortlessly around you when all you want to do is just sit down and take a break from life for a while. But you know you cannot. You have to keep right on living despite what has happened to you.
This can at times cause you to become a little bitter. People around you seem to be insensitive at times to your suffering. They’re still smiling and enjoying life while your heart has stopped beating.
Because Ahmed had taken care of everything for us I had to now learn how to do things on my own. I had to make sure the bills were paid on time, and I had to learn how to maintain our home.
I even had to mow grass and shovel snow for the first time. And if something needed fixing, I had to fix it or find someone to fix it for me. These were stressful times for me. I didn’t want to have to take care of all these things myself, but I knew I needed to.
About six months after Ahmed died, I decided that I needed to go back to school and finish up my degree. I only had a few credits left to complete.
I had previously started working part-time so I could go to school full-time, in order to finish up my degree. But after Ahmed died, and I started working full-time again, I had to go back down to part-time status at school, which pushed my graduation date back some past when I had originally planned to be finished.
But finally, about a year later, I was finally done with school. It was bittersweet. I opted not to attend the graduation. I didn’t really feel like walking across the stage. My attitude at the time was: just send me my diploma in the mail. I was not up to celebrating… and Ahmed was not there for me to share this moment with.
Because I was so busy trying to finish this degree that I had started so long ago my grief was a little delayed. But shortly after I had graduated, and that chapter was now closed, and I now had nothing to distract me, that’s when the grief suddenly hit me.
The weight of it all fell on my shoulders like a ton of bricks. This is when I made up my mind that I was going to take my time and grieve. I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything rush me through the grieving process.
If I felt like crying, I cried. There were days I could barely get out of bed. But because I still had a job, I had to try and force myself to get up and make it to work on time everyday. And I did it, even though it was a struggle at times.
But mostly, I was just going through the motions as my life, and reason for living, had died along with my husband. I had no passion for anything.
This is when I would find myself sitting for hours in a chair in our living room, that faced a big picture window. I would sit there in that chair watching the sun come up, and then watching it go back down again.
I had become a prisoner to the grief. But I knew I had to go through the grieving process, and I had already given myself permission to grieve. But I can remember being in this deep, dark, scary place that I would often tell myself, “Jeanita, it’s okay to be here now, but you can’t stay here long.”
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I had slipped over from grief into depression. And the depression was at times suffocating. But I knew that if I stayed in this dark place too long that I might never come out of it.
Sadly, some people are never able to pull themselves out of grief and depression, and it eventually kills them, if not physically, then mentally and emotionally. So I reminded myself that I couldn’t stay in this place too long.
I would say that it took me a good three or four years to come out of this. Perhaps the intensity of the grief began to lessen over time, but I was still in a deep state of despair.
I found no pleasure in anything during this period. But one day, I noticed the fog slowly starting to lift. I would take walks around the lake. I would plant and tend to my flowers in my flower garden. I would go to the park and just sit and watch the birds flitter through the trees.
This is when I finally decided it was time to move back home to Michigan to be closer to my family. So after agonizing over it for a while I put my house on the market, and quit my job. And approximately seven years after Ahmed’s passing, I moved back home. It felt good to be back home.
I would like to encourage those of you who have lost loved ones to not shy away from the grieving process. Grief is a normal state of life. It’s when we remain in a perpetual state of grief, or slip off into depression that it becomes unhealthy, and sometimes deadly.
Take your time and grieve, but don’t allow yourself to stay there too long. Force yourself out of that fog and allow yourself to see the light on the other side. And there is light on the other side of grief.
And to those of you who are married, I would encourage you to savor every moment. Don’t get caught up in the traditions of men, which tell us that our marriage should follow along with a set pattern. If you feel like renewing your vows or purchasing anniversary rings after only a few short years of marriage, do it.
Also, make an effort to spend quality time with your spouse everyday. Don’t allow a job, or anything, or anyone for that matter keep you away from the most important relationship you have.
Don’t assume that you have your entire lives to be together, because one really never knows. Make every moment count. Don’t hold grudges. Put all other distractions aside.
I’ve seen people suffer with guilt after losing loved ones. I never knew what it was until after I had lost my husband. I never had guilt because I knew that I had done everything I could do. Ahmed and I spent a lot of quality time together. We had a wonderful marriage.
But I began to see that some people, who are racked with guilt, or who are wishing they could go back and do things differently, or even say “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you,” grieve differently. This guilt begins to consume you and eventually takes over your life, making it difficult to move forward.
It’s never good to have to live with this kind of guilt. Most people usually live with it the rest of their lives. Guilt paralyzes you, making it difficult to move forward, which everyone needs to do eventually.
Say I’m sorry, today. Let go of grudges, today. Say I love you, today. Because when tomorrow comes, it may be too late.
When I moved to Michigan I set about making a new life for myself. I couldn’t live in the past any longer. I found a job, an apartment, and tried to make the most of it. It was different, but I made it work.
And today, I can truly say that I am happy and have once again found joy in my heart. This joy didn’t come from another “person,” but it did come from developing a closer relationship with God. God has a way of filling your heart with joy, which chases away the sadness. I still miss my husband, but I don’t let it consume my life.
Once the fog had finally lifted and I could now see things clearly, I realized that all the times I thought I was alone, I was never really alone.
All those times I cried myself to sleep, God was there with me monitoring every tear I cried. He was there comforting me, letting me cry on His shoulder, and quietly telling me that everything was going to be alright.
God shared my pain, and lifted me up when I didn’t have the strength to stand. He proved His love for me by sticking with me no matter how ugly the situation got, and no matter how much I resented the fact that He didn’t step in and spare my husband’s life.
God never left my side. He gave me a quiet strength.