Monday, April 12, 2010

What Has Helped Me Through The Grief & Sorrow

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I will begin this posting with part of a conversation I had with Aaron Jr. tonight.
He was wearing a headlamp and he asked, 'who gave this to me?'
I told him, 'it was Daddy's.'
He asked, 'where is Daddy?'
I turned the question around to him and asked HIM, 'where is he?'
He said, 'in kevin'. (Someday he will remember that it is called heaven, but he cracks me up.)
Then, as he looked down, he said in a very sad voice, 'we don't have a dad anymore.'
I told him, 'Aaron, you still have a dad, he's just not here right now. But he misses you and he loves you and he can still see you and watch over you.'
Then he said, 'yeah.'
After that exchange, he went on to talk my ear off. I loved it.
* * *

Anyhow, I have been wanting to write this posting for a very long time.
It has been 2 years and 4 1/2 months since Aaron passed away and in that time, I have been contacted so many times by people asking me questions about this loss of my spouse. When some people find my blog, they ask for my advice. Whether they know someone who has lost a spouse and want to know how to help the surviving spouse? OR they have lost their spouse and they wonder if what they are feeling is normal? OR they are married to someone who is fighting a health battle and they know they will be losing their spouse very soon... so they wonder what to expect and ask for advice on how to prepare and how to cope.

I have always felt like the trials I go through are partly to be able to help others through similar trials. I know that I was helped when I was able to correspond with other widows. So, I have responded to each of these people who have asked for advice... and every time I do, I always plan to put the advice that I give them on my blog... then anyone who needs to know what I have learned can just find it on here. Well, last night I received another email from someone in Australia. I don't know this person, but this person will be losing their spouse soon and he wrote to ask me about advice on coping.

So, after writing back to him, I finally decided to go back through some of the emails I have sent as replies to people and compile some things I learned as I have gone through the heart break of losing my husband. Things I learned as I grieved and coped and survived. I am no professional about grieving or coping, but because I have been through it, I feel like I know what helped me. That is all I can share... what has helped me.

I have lost a lot of people close to me. Friends, Grandparents, a Brother, and a Husband. I have not lost a parent yet and I have not lost a child (although I have had a few dreams since Aaron died that I lost Aaron Jr as well... that was frightening). Anyhow, the advice I will be giving here in this posting has to do with my experience with losing my husband, Aaron. But I think most of this could also relate to other relationships as well.

FIRST of all, the Lord has been the most important aspect of my grieving process, but I want to share that at the end of this posting.

The rest of these are in no particular order... I hope I make any sense.


Those first days and months after Aaron passed away, it helped me to have people around me all the time... or at least AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. If I was alone, it gave me too much time to think and it made it so I was retreating and pulling away from the world. So, the more loved ones around me, the better. It didn't change that I was constantly thinking about who I had just lost, but having people around was a bit of a distraction AND it helped because they were there to talk to and get my feelings and emotions out.


Some people I have talked to have lost their spouse without having had the opportunity to have any children together. My heart breaks for these people. Besides having the Savior in my life, the fact that I had Aaron Jr. in my life after Aaron passed away was the other most important part of my grieving process. He was the one I found my joy in.
He was still able to make me laugh every single day and he still does. Having Aaron Jr. here made it so I still felt like I had an immediate purpose. He still needed me. I still needed to get out of bed in the morning to take care of him. I was blessed to have people around to help take care of him, but of course there are those times when he just wanted his mom... and I had to be there for him. If I didn't have him to take care of, it would have been too easy to just stay curled up in my bed and just wither away. I am blessed to have him in my life. He is a treasure and a priceless gift to me. He has been a hero to me through this grieving process.


It helped to be able to talk about Aaron. There were so many times when I was having a few moments of not crying and I think most people thought that if they just didn't talk about him, they would not remind me and make me sad. But because he was on my mind ALL the time anyway, the fact that people were avoiding the subject just made me feel worse. I WANTED to talk about him, I wanted to relive the memories I had and I wanted to hear as many memories from other people as I could. So, talk about who you have lost. Make sure you tell people that you want to talk about the person you have lost. Sometimes, those times when we were talking about him were the best times in those first few months. I remember a time when we were visiting my brother and his family in Oregon a few months after Aaron died and during dinner, one of Aaron's favorite singers got brought up. It began a discussion about that singer and about Aaron. I didn't even realize it, but later my brother said something to me about how I lit up when Aaron was brought up. He didn't realize that I would WANT to talk about him, but after that experience, he realized that it was not a negative thing to bring him up to me... that I actually really liked it.
So don't be afraid to bring up the person who has passed away... those who feel the most loss will most likely WANT to talk about the person. When it is fresh and even if some time has passed. The last thing I wanted to feel was that people were forgetting Aaron... and if people avoided the subject, that is what I felt like... like people were forgetting him.


It helped a lot to have people to talk to. People around who were okay with me telling them how I was feeling and sharing my thoughts with. There were times, though, when I began feeling like I was burdening others with my feelings. I am sure they didn't feel like I was a burden, but I felt like a burden. So... I began to write.
The first few weeks after Aaron passed away, I could not imagine being able to post anything to my blog again. So far, the things shared in my blog were the happenings of our FAMILY. But now, 1/3 of our family was gone and it didn't seem like we would have happy things to report anymore. BUT, a few weeks later,
when I needed to get some feelings out, besides being able to TALK IT OUT with people... also I would write. The things that were too personal to share, I would write in my personal journal... but the things I was comfortable sharing, I shared on my blog. It allowed me to share memories WITH photos. So, WRITE. Write your feelings. Write about the memories of your family that involve the person you have lost. Add photos and funny memories and also the sentimental or sad memories.
I shared
my thoughts, my feelings, my grief, my hurt, my pain, my triumphs, my joys. I shared the happenings as well... but with those happenings, I shared how I felt about Aaron not being there. After I started doing that, I felt better having that outlet.

As time went on, I began sharing as many photos and memories on there about my husband as I could. I wanted to share his life with the world. I wanted to have a place where I could put those memories down so that I can print those for my son someday. So putting memories of ours on the blog was a healing thing. It made it so I was reliving all of my greatest memories with Aaron... and that was a wonderful thing.


In those first few months, people would try to get me out of the house. It was kind of them. They were being thoughtful. They would invite me to lunch or to dinner or to a movie... but leaving the house was the last thing I wanted to do. It was so difficult for me to be around people that I didn't know. It was difficult to be around people that didn't know Aaron... people who had no idea that I was going through the worst time of my life. So, there were a lot of people that I said NO to. Luckily, they understood and knew it was nothing against them... but don't be afraid to say no, if you don't feel like you are ready for something. It is not an easy thing for me to do... in my normal life, I don't usually have an easy time saying NO, but when I was going through those first months of grieving, it seemed easier to me... because I knew that it was not something I was ready for.


That whole first year, I did everything I could to create new memories for Aaron Jr. and me... while still remembering and writing about the old ones with Aaron. That whole first year on my blog was mostly dedicated to remembering the things Aaron and I did together and trying to create new memories to add to those with Aaron Jr.

Something else that helped me in that first year was trying to get away often. It helped to get away from my life at home. The life that had been completely shattered and was no longer anything like what I knew. I would find friends and family to go and stay with. It was a way to be away from the place where 'normal' had taken on a different meaning. I didn't want to face 'a new normal'... I couldn't... not yet. I wanted to just get away from the ABNORMAL that my life had become. So, we went on trips together where I could create new memories and new experiences with Aaron Jr. Anyhow, I was grateful to have places to go and people to see.


Now, this is one that I am still trying to figure out. There have been times when I have felt like we have found our new normal, but to be honest... I don't know that I will feel like life is normal again until we feel like a complete family again. I know I may get some comments about this from people telling me that I need to become comfortable in my life the way it is. BUT, the thing about this is... I want to get married again. I want to have more kids. I want Aaron Jr. and me to have that joy in this life that comes from having a growing family... a family with a mom and a dad, a husband and a wife.
Of course, Aaron Jr. and I can get used to our circumstances and even find a little contentment as we move forward in our lives... but I will not feel like life is normal for me again until we have that person in our lives to share our lives with. Someone to be my partner and a father to Aaron Jr.
So... I am not the best person to give advice on this subject... because truthfully, I don't want to get too comfortable in my current situation. I want Aaron Jr. to feel stability in whatever circumstance he is in... but I want him to to have a family... siblings, a Dad to bond with and learn from. And I want to have a family like that as well.
Moving on... :)


Now, finding joy in life IS something I know about. In the beginning, it was difficult to feel joy because you just feel so much pain and sadness and heart ache... BUT as time has gone on, allowing myself to feel the joy even in the midst of the pain was very important. In the beginning, I felt like showing any joy at all meant that I was not properly missing Aaron. I felt like if I smiled or laughed, somehow I was not honoring his memory and I was not showing how much I was missing him.
But I came to remember that the purpose of this life is to have joy... I began feeling more and more joy... even through the pain.
As far as finding the joy in life... each person finds joy in different things. But there are some sure ways of finding joy in life. Serving others... that is a great way to forget about your own troubles and find joy in life. Being a mom to Aaron Jr... helping HIM to feel joy always makes me feel joy. Reading the scriptures, attending church, going out with friends, hanging out with family, taking time to develop your hobbies... we all know what we find joy in.


Okay, so this one was one that I never ever wanted to hear. It annoyed me when people told me that time would heal my wounds... that time would heal my heart. Not only did it sound super cliche, but hearing that TIME would help did not help at the time. It didn't help to hear it, but after time has passed... I do know that TIME DOES HEAL. But it is hard to believe until some time HAS passed.
I do have to say though... try not to get too annoyed with people when they offer advice. Most people have not experienced the type of loss you may be experiencing, so they are just wanting to give comfort the way they know how to... because they care and because they love you. So, accept their love even if you are not sure how you feel about their advice. They only have the best intentions at heart.


This is another one for me that is easier said than done. In the beginning, I accepted a lot of help... but as time went by, I had a more difficult time accepting help from people. Most of it had to do with my way of thinking. After Aaron died, I felt like I had to prove that I could do everything on my own. I felt like if I was put in this position... obviously it was expected that I handle things on my own and take care of things on my own. I know I don't have to prove anything... but I still struggle with this, so all I can do is offer this advice to myself while offering it to you. Accept help. Allow people to serve you. They will be helping to bless your life and, in turn, you will be allowing them to serve you and receive the blessings that come from serving.
I hope to conquer this one... hopefully sooner than later.


This one is mostly advice for BEFORE you lose someone close to you. A lot of people have asked me if I would have preferred Aaron's death to be sudden and completely unexpected like it did happen, or if I would have preferred to have my husband pass away from an illness so that I had some sort of warning that it was coming. I did not experience slowly watching Aaron die from an illness, so I only base this answer on my opinion... but I think I would have preferred to have some warning that he was going to die. I know that there is suffering that comes with it, having to watch your spouse suffer through an illness. I just know I wouldn't have had so many regrets to live with if I had been able to see it coming. I believe that my regrets have been half of my battle. Well, maybe not half... but they are a huge deal to me. If I had any warning that I was going to lose Aaron, I could have had that time to just BE with him. I could have told him how much I love him and made sure he KNEW it. Instead, all I could think of were the regrets of not telling him enough times how much I love him. Not being able to spend those last moments WITH him. I am sure other people might have a different opinion on this, but based on the regrets I had... I would have liked to have some warning.


One of the amazing women who has written to me while she was going through the illness of her husband and then after he passed away... she would write to me and ask me questions... well, one of her questions was: 'Is it supposed to be this painful?'

This is part of my response to that question:
Yes, it is supposed to be that painful. I know it is lame that I say that and tell you that it is normal to feel that horrible... but it is. At least that is how it was for me. From the beginning, I decided that no one was going to tell me or advise me on how I should or should not be feeling at any given time. Everyone experiences it in their own way. If I wanted to feel horrible one day, I was going to do it. If I wanted to mope around and show the world that I was in EXTREME pain, I was going to do it. Aaron Jr. was the one I felt like I needed to hide some of it from.
Don't avoid things that are going to make you feel sad. Some days, I just really needed to cry and feel awful. In fact, I have NEVER avoided anything to keep from getting sad. Photos were SO painful for me. Because Aaron looked so alive in the photos, it was physically painful to look at them because it felt as though he should be here in the flesh looking as alive as he did in those photos... laughing like he was in the photo... or whatever he was doing. But I never avoided them because I wanted to feel the pain. I wanted to feel the pain as deeply and as painfully as I possibly could so that I was at least feeling SOMETHING. If I wasn't feeling the pain, I sometimes just felt numb. I really felt as though letting myself feel the pain as deeply as it was going to go helped me. I wasn't going to push the pain away... or avoid it... because I felt like if I pushed it away or held it in, it would just hit me later anyway. So why not feel it here and now?

I LOVE this poem written by President Spencer W. Kimball :

"Pain stayed so long.
I said to him today, 'I will not have you with me anymore.'
I stamped my foot and said, 'Be on your way,' and paused there, startled at the look he wore.

'I who have been your friend,' he said to me. 'I who have been your teacher - all you know of understanding, love, of sympathy, and patience, I have taught you. Shall I go?'
He spoke the truth, this strange unwelcome guest; I watched him leave, and knew that he was wise. He left a heart grown tender, he left a far, clear vision in my eyes. I dried my tears, and lifted up a song - even for one who'd tortured me so long." -Spencer W. Kimball

So, my advice is to FEEL IT NOW. Don't avoid it. Embrace it... and while you embrace it, ask for strength from the Lord so that it doesn't overcome you and swallow you up. It is okay to feel the pain as long as we don't let it take over. So we need to ask for the Lord to help us bear the burden and give us strength to work through and overcome the pain. We know that He has already felt it all for us and He has overcome it for us, so it is possible. We will overcome it as well. What a blessing.

We are not given trials that are larger than we are. We will be given the strength to overcome IF we want it and accept it. That brings me into the next thing I wanted to share...


'Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee...' -Psalms 55:22

So, what helped me the most was staying close to the Savior. He knows what we are experiencing, so He is the one who will be able to comfort us and bring us the peace that we need. I have a testimony that the trials we go through in this life can shape and mold us into what the Lord needs us to be. The trials we endure in this life are to help us learn and grow. We are walking through the refiners fire. We are being refined to become more like our Savior. The better we endure, the more Christlike attributes we will acquire.

"The injured should do what they can to work through their trials, and the Savior will “succor his people according to their infirmities.” He will help us carry our burdens. Some injuries are so hurtful and deep that they cannot be healed without help from a higher power and hope for perfect justice and restitution in the next life. Since the Savior has suffered anything and everything that we could ever feel or experience, He can help the weak to become stronger. He has personally experienced all of it. He understands our pain and will walk with us even in our darkest hours."
~President James E. Faust


'I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.'
- Abraham Lincoln

I have felt this way many, many, many times. I have cried to the Lord for help. There have been times when I felt like I would go crazy. I felt like my life was spinning completely out of control, so I would pray. I would get on my knees and as I sobbed, I would pray out loud and ask my Father in Heaven to comfort me. I plead with him to let me feel the peace that we have all been promised. He knows our needs... He sometimes just waits for us to ask for our needs to be met. This is for all of us. Not just when we are grieving... prayer is a blessing to all of us, anytime, anywhere. Our Father in Heaven wants to hear from us. He loves us and wants to bless us. I am so grateful for the power of prayer. I use it daily. Some days I pray to show gratitude... some days I pray to be comforted. It calms my troubled soul.

'Sometimes God calms the raging storm... but sometimes He lets the storm rage and He calms His child.'
- Author Unknown


I have not always been good at this. It is always easier said than done. But the Lord WANTS to help us. He wants to give us the peace and comfort that we desire to feel. He is waiting for us to allow His comfort and peace to come into our lives. So... this advice is for me as much as it is for anyone.... allow the Lord to comfort us and allow His peace to come into our lives.

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
~ John 16:33

"Commune with the Lord, He is your best friend! He knows your pain because He has felt it for you already. He is ready to carry that burden. Trust Him enough to place it at His feet and allow Him to carry it for you. Then you can have your anguish replaced with His peace, in the very depths of your soul."
-Elder Dallin H. Oaks

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Now after all that I have written here in this posting... this extremely long posting... I will say this: I am grateful for the people in my life who have helped me as I have endured this trial... the loss of my husband. Of course I will miss Aaron throughout my life, but I know that he is where he needs to be. I cannot imagine a more difficult trial than what I have been through already in my life, but I have a lot of life yet to live and what I have learned through this experience will help me through the trials that come into my life.

Like the poem talked about, I do hope the pain has taught me to be more loving, more understanding, more patient. I hope this experience will help me to be a better mother, daughter, sister, friend... and when the time comes... a better wife.

I know I will experience more heart breaks and more heart aches in my life... but I truly hope for happiness in my future. Joy and love with someone else... whoever that may be. I have SO much love to give and I look forward to a time when I have someone to give that love to. I hope to love more deeply and live without regret.
.. as I move forward.

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LL said...

your strength is amazing!

amanda said...

You really are an inspiration. I feel your pain as I read, I feel your faith, I feel your growth. You truly inspire me to be better. Thank you!!

Momza said...

I hope you are asked at sometime, to speak at a forum like BYU's Women's Conference. You have a wealth of information and insight and such a beautiful way with words and teaching that I think many many others could benefit from sitting at your feet.

Thanks for sharing!

Kristi said...

Wow, that was an intense cliff notes version of a book you should write on grieving.
You have come such a long way Leslie. We are proud of you and love you.

Anonymous said...

Well done Leslie. That was fantastic.

I have watched and read since Aaron died, and have always thought you were an amazing and eloquent woman.

I am proud of you. I wish you all the happiness and love you can possibly fit into that large heart of your's.



Rebecca_Adams said...

Thanks for this post! I needed to read some of the things you wrote because of the trial I'm going through in my life (infertility). I love you! You have such amazing strength, and I hope I can be as strong as you are one day! I have my hard days with my own trial, but I'm trying to keep my faith strong! You are truly an inspiration to many people!

Allred Mom said...

Thanks for sharing, Leslie!
I know that this post will help many as they struggle with the loss of a spouse, special loved one, friend, family member, etc. We don't choose our trials, but we do choose how we handle them. You have done an amazing job! Isn't it great to know the Savior carries us through each one. We just need to allow Him and recognize it.
Thanks again!

Jen said...

I couldn't agree more with your list.

I have prayed before in my life, but never like I did starting the day Shawn died. I didn't know how I was going to get through living without Shawn, so I prayed and prayed and prayed and it really helped me.

I also totally agree with "the time heals" really, if one more person told me that I was going to scream. When it is so fresh and new, those aren't the words you want to hear. However at almost 20 months I now know, that yes, time does heal. I tell people that time doesn't take the pain away, but rather it gives you the perspective to handle and process the pain in a different way.

Finding the new normal. This is something I'm still struggling with. What exactly is the "new normal" Is it learning to be Jenny without Shawn, is it learning to do new things on my own, is it creating new memories for myself. I just don't know, but like you, I want to find love again and I'm not sure how "comfortable" I want to get in my current situation, although I'm in a much better place now than I was a year ago.

I know I don't comment all that often, but I do read each and every post. Like you, I get emails from people all of the time asking me how I made it through the grief and how I'm continuing to live my life without Shawn. I have shared this list with many many people. Through all of the pain I am glad that I'm able to help other widows in my situation. I feel like if you have lived through it, than you can give knowledge and information because there is no better person to get it from. Your list is wonderful and I agree with all of it.

Know that I think of you often and I wish we lived closer, I would love to meet you one day.

I hope all is well and I look forward to talking to you soon.

kerianne said...

know I am saying this through tears... you have no idea how much I have worried for you and how you're coping with what you've been forced to go through.. I have felt so helpless through all of this. Reading this post makes me feel overwhelming gratitude. I am so grateful to know that someone has been by your side the whole time. Someone who understands every bit of pain that you've experienced, and who's been teaching you all along the way. You've always been a strong person, but the growth I have witnessed is nothing short of amazing.
Love ya, Les. I'm so honored to call you my friend.

Claire said...

I really, really have no words. I hope that you and Aaron Jnr are blessed in your new normal and all your dreams and hopes for the future come true.

Lake-Allen said...

Hi, you don't know me and sorry if I intruded. I was blog hopping and found your blog. I am a therapist and have lost my husband,suddenly,of eleven years. I am now a single mom of three beautiful children. You gave great advice to others. You have a generous heart. I'm sure you have helped many people. My blessings are with you.

Amy's Kitchen said...

You are really amazing. I am sure that you are touching so many lives by sharing your experiences, and what a great way to do it.
I love your blog. I feel your saddness and pain everytime I read your posts. I hope that life if getting easier for you.
I think of you often and hope that you are doing well.

Shootie Girl™ said...

I just lost my 87 year old Grandfather, and someone sent me to this article. I can't thank you enough for sharing your heart. Blessings to you and little Aaron.