How do you deal with the unexpected death of a spouse?
June 21, 2009 8:40 PM   Subscribe

Have you lost a spouse at a very young age? How did you cope?

My wife of eight years (we'd been together for 11) passed away suddenly, unexpectedly, the night of Tuesday June 16th. Cause of death is yet to be determined; I found her in the bathtub (not drowned). Toxicology results may take 2-4 months to come back.

We'd been constant companions and best friends since 1998. My mother is here (Houston) from Oklahoma, and I've got lots of friends and neighbors (including MeFites - thanks again, pommegranate!) who are checking in on me and helping with anything needed. However, it's going to be rough next week after the funeral when everyone leaves.

Anyone have suggestions other than "stay busy"? My Masonic lodge brothers are going to keep me occupied, and I go back to work the 29th - but there's going to be a lot of quiet nights.
posted by mrbill to Human Relations (70 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I just want to say that I'm so, so sorry for your loss.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:05 PM on June 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

Go and see a psychologist, preferably someone who specialises in grief counselling. Getting some professional guidance to help navigate you through these very difficult times now will be a lot better in the long run than getting professional guidance in 5 years' time to help fix everything up later.

I, like most people reading this thread, wish you all the best in coping with such a tragic loss.
posted by tim_in_oz at 9:14 PM on June 21, 2009

A therapy group for recent widows/widowers might help you feel that you have some people who can really understand what you are going through. A lot of faith based organizations offer them along with local hospitals and various non-profits.
posted by rglass at 9:19 PM on June 21, 2009

I'm so sorry for your loss.

I haven't lost a spouse, but I've lost a number of very close friends. One of them had a fiancee that I've become quite close with. Her coping strategy was, essentially, to distract herself pretty much every day. Her friends all took turns with her - we'd take her out, go try new things, go to gallery openings, bars, dancing, whatever. She did this for the first year. She surrounded herself with friends, family, and anything else that could distract her at all. Now, at almost the four-year mark since his death, she's doing better, but we still talk about him often.

So - surround yourself with friends and family that you can talk to. Tell them how you're feeling. Share stories about your wife. Don't be afraid to show your emotions. They're all raw and confusing right now, so you need to lean on your friends and family. Let them do things for you and take care of the day-to-day stuff (which it sounds like you're doing). And if you feel like you need help, seek out some grief counseling.
posted by bedhead at 9:24 PM on June 21, 2009

I'm very sorry for your loss, and seconding the suggestion to see a grief counselor and a widow/widowers support group.
posted by Issithe at 9:24 PM on June 21, 2009

Response by poster: Go and see a psychologist

One of the first people I called was my shrink, who also happened to be my wife's doctor. I'll be making an appointment with her next week after the funeral.
posted by mrbill at 9:58 PM on June 21, 2009

I am so very sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you.
posted by Majorita at 10:04 PM on June 21, 2009

I'm so very sorry.

Houston Hospice appears to host a group for Young Widows and Widowers on the first and third Mondays of each month, though from the website it's not clear if the meetings are for anyone in the community, or just those whose spouses were hospice patients. Their number is 713-467-7423.
posted by lisa g at 10:11 PM on June 21, 2009

Give yourself a lot of time to digest the feelings. Your reactions may arrive in pieces, and over a period of years. I lost a very close family member, and it took about five years to fully digest it. My grief came out in very irrational, emotive ways. I vomited a lot for some reason, for example. I allowed the feelings to surface, pieced together and this process allowed me to digest the feelings. People who pressure you to join right back in with a party or get over it immediately do you a disservice. Just give yourself time to let it unfold and stay strong. Here's to hoping the healing begins soon.
posted by effluvia at 10:18 PM on June 21, 2009

Best answer: I'm so sorry for your loss. I lost a spouse at a young age (she was 24, I was 33) so I have some idea of what you're going through. Which sucks.

In terms of specific Things I Did, the biggest was getting counseling (which you're doing, good for you) and joining a grief support group - it felt cheesy and weird but it was a huge help and I found it well worth the effort. I was also a member of the Yahoo Young Widows Support Group - I assume some incarnation of it is still around. As with my grief support group, no one in the group was "like me", but when it comes to death that doesn't matter much, plus it was good for those late night attacks of misery. There's also something to be said for contact with people who have lost a spouse who are young - most of the people in my IRL support group had lost a family member but not a spouse, and many widows and widowers are much older and have different expectations than a younger person. (There was also a book for young widows and widowers that I found helpful, but I can't find the title right now - I'll post again once I locate it.)

The other thing wasn't so much an activity as an attitude, which was to just a) accept help and b) go ahead be sad. Not to wallow in my misery (I don't know if I was capable of it), but to just accept that the worst had happened and now I had to deal with it, and I was really, really sad. It was fucking hard, but you can't get around this stuff, you can only go through it. (Surely that's a cliche, right?) Also, people really want to help, and they won't always do it right - try to accept their gifts in the spirit in which they are given. Let people help you with dinner and the lawn and all that crap. You're helping yourself AND them.
Eventually, many people (including your dearest loved ones) will give you a grace period and after that they want you to stop being sad, but don't listen to them. People who honestly only want to see you happy may react as if you're doing something wrong, but you're not. Don't blame yourself and don't take it personally - it's just what people do.

Oddly, the thing I remember helping me hold on even in the blackest times wasn't anything I did, it just happened - I loved taking my dog for walks (and, incidentally, walking is supposed to be good for grief), and seeing her joy rolling around in the same grass every damn day was the only thing that made me happy for a long time. Look for that moment.

Hang in there. You'll make it. If you want to talk or just want more details on anything, please memail me anytime.
posted by smartyboots at 11:28 PM on June 21, 2009 [9 favorites]

Best answer: This happened to me. Twice. Once when I was a teen with a newborn, the most recent less than a year ago. Everyone's different. I still cope day to day.

Yes, counseling. Yes, support/grief groups. This kind of lonely... the kind that can't be fixed... aches you deep, and I think, always. I do believe it will all integrate some day.

Stay alive yourself. Don't drive distracted. Do good things for other people.

There's days when I want to run away to somewhere that no one knows me, so I don't have to face people who know how I'm grieving and treat me with such kindess and care. The impulse is so strong that I know it's not healthy.

I crave touch these days. My cats are nearly petted bald. (joke)

I'm so sorry, mrbill. There' are no words that can help, but there are many who do understand.
posted by reflecked at 12:32 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I can't say anything that hasn't already been said but just to reaffirm the counselling/therapy recommendation. A friend of my mother's suffered the incredible, sudden loss of her child a few years ago, and she went into immediate grief counselling the next day. I firmly believe this is the only reason she managed to hold onto herself. I know you said you'll be making an appointment next week, but perhaps (if possible) you could consider making one sooner rather than later? It might help more than you think, especially with the funeral, and give you a more productive way of spending your time than the ol' "stay busy" chestnut.

So sorry for your loss. Truly. Take care of yourself.
posted by saturnine at 1:07 AM on June 22, 2009

I'm so sorry. Please listen to the people with experience. All the rest of us can do is send you a huge hug over the internet, and that surely can't be enough.

I've only cried at two threads today in all of metafilter and yours was one of them. I rarely cry about anything on the internet at all. Please take that as a sign of love and respect. If some stranger emailing you or letting you email whatever you need to at them will help, please add me to the list. I can't imagine what you're going through.

My best wishes for you and so many sympathies for your loss.
posted by lilywing13 at 1:30 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

What a terrible tragedy, you'll be in my thoughts.

I've not lost a spouse, but I did lose a son (he was 20 years old). There is some good advice already posted here, there isn't much I can add. I'll reinforce the support group, if only to be around people who have survived (there will be times that you think you can't, seeing those that have made it months or years will be helpful, it's good to see that some people come out the other end).

Also, give yourself the time you need, as mentioned above, many people will expect that you'll be "getting over" this in a few weeks/months... perhaps, but not likely.. you need the time you need, there isn't a formula for it.

Try and avoid the alcohol/drug route, it's an easy way to escape, but, in the long term, not the best of ideas.

Be aware of the tendency to get into "what if's". In my case (my son died in a motorcycle accident) it was "what if I had been riding with him, it wouldn't have happened." or "what if I had never introduced him to riding.." . The what-if's only generate senseless guilt.. This wasn't your fault, no matter what the what-if's try to tell you.

And, feel free to contact me (mefi mail) if there is anything I can say or do....

hang in there...
posted by HuronBob at 5:19 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry.
posted by Silvertree at 5:19 AM on June 22, 2009

I am so sorry..

I have a friend who lost a spouse at a young age, and when another friend of mine lost his wife, the first friend sent me information to give to him. This is what she sent - I hope it helps.

Hospice offers a young widow/widower support group. It was so hard to go to the first meeting, but I can’t tell you how powerful it was to look into someone else’s eyes who gets it – you don’t have to explain anything. – This bulletin board website is available 24/7. You can connect with young widows and widowers from around the world here. Helpful for late nights. There is a section called Special Circumstances that deals with murder and suicide, but the general parts are good, too.

A book called I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye by Brook Noel. It is about losing someone suddenly.

I am a bit on the spiritual side, so I’ve had a few reiki healing massages. A very old woman was working on me, and when I started to cry for the first time since Dain died, she whispered in my ear, “There is more room outside.” So please don’t bottle up your feelings inside your little body. Let them go out into the universe where they can be absorbed. This is too big for one person to handle. (Sorry if I got too hippy dippy for you, but the old woman was so strong and so helpful.)
posted by thejanna at 5:29 AM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Bill, if I may say so: you seem to be handling it like a fucking champion at the moment. You're my age, and if I lost my wife, I'd have to be sedated to be stopped from joining her, and I've got two kids to live for.

Maybe it's numb shock keeping you going. But you're probably going to crash soon, probably some time after the funeral, or maybe you'll hang on for the tox screens. You won't be twittering shit, that's for sure. I don't think anybody can give you advice on how to get up once you're down there, and once you are down there, I'm not sure anything said here will be on your mind.

Most people I know who lost someone say it was like being in a hole, or covered in a wet, black blanket forever, and then one day they just weren't anymore, and they went back to their lives. Except the ones who never get over it and are pretty much broken in some way forever.

Outside support doesn't seem to correlate well with recovery in my limited experience - I've had a friend who was surrounded by love every minute who's never got over it, and one who just got through it pretty much on her own. I suspect it'll be pretty much down to you just keeping on breathing and eating until you're through it. I'd say take as much time as you need, but it's not like you'll have a choice. Maybe that's all you can say: I'm doing the best I can, even if that's very poorly, and I can't expect anything more of myself right at this moment. Hopefully, one day it'll be different.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:45 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry for your loss, and you are in my thoughts. I recommend the book How to Survive the Loss of a Love which I found great for dealing with the different stages of grief (and it applies to both breakup of a relationship and loss through death).
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:26 AM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: I lost my husband suddenly when we were 25. A lot of good thoughts above. I'd say that what helped me the most was spending A LOT of time- like days and days- with our close friends and his family- telling stories, sharing memories, and crying... sometimes drinking... I didn't want to be alone so I always had someone with me for a while there...

It takes a long time to grieve. Don't let anyone try to rush you. Go easy on yourself. I'm so sorry.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 6:30 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

There is a great memoir by Rob Sheffield, writer for Rolling Stone, about losing his wife suddenly at a young age called Love is a Mix Tape. Maybe too soon to read it, but when you are ready, it might help you feel less alone.
posted by kimdog at 6:32 AM on June 22, 2009

I'm so sorry about your wife. It's terrible, but you'll make it through.

I've never lost anyone unexpectedly like that, but immediately after my girlfriend died of cancer I spent a lot of time doing physical activities. Things like rock climbing and skateboarding work best for me. They wore me out physically and kept my brain focused on the present, not the future and not the past.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 6:39 AM on June 22, 2009

You've done a lot (On The Internet) for a lot of people, so it's time to accept some company and help. :7)

Reflecked wrote, "Stay alive yourself. Don't drive distracted." Once upon a time I heard the reminder not to make decisions when you're Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired -- with HURT the mnemonic device to remind you how you can end up. In your case, my friend, if you notice yourself heading into that territory, call a friend (local or far-off) or family and just talk about anything -- work, weather, old times. They'll know why, that's why we have each other.

And don't do anything drastic, like throw out all of your beautiful pens, just because you were working on them around this time.

Take care, Bill.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:19 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry. You are in my thoughts.
posted by 2X2LcallingCQ at 7:28 AM on June 22, 2009

My heart breaks for you. I am so sorry for your loss. You are in my thoughts.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:57 AM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: I'm so sorry. While I haven't experienced anything like this myself, I think this book- The Year of Magical Thinking might be something to look at. Joan Didion was much older when she lost her husband, but it was also very unexpected, and she also soon lost her daughter. It goes through a lot of her thinking of "if only I had done this, or this" and how she worked through it.
posted by zara at 9:00 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

My great aunt wrote letters to her husband after she lost him in the war. She knew he wasn't there to receive them, but writing them made her feel as though she was still talking to him, since that was how they'd been communicating for the past several years anyway. Perhaps you might use your pens to write letters to your wife when you want to talk with her.

I'm so sorry to hear about this. In the obituary you linked to on your blog, it says memorial gifts may be made to an animal care and adoption center in Chattanooga. Is there anywhere in Houston you'd like memorials to be sent?
posted by ocherdraco at 9:07 AM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the suggestions so far. Here's the obituary that her father placed, although the date of graduation is wrong. She graduated in 92/93, and was 34 (just five months older than me).

Some favorite pictures are here.

It makes me sad that it already says 'single' on your mefi profile. Doesn't it make you sad too?

I don't even remember changing that - but I know it didn't have a "I'm a widower because I found my wife dead in the bathtub and I was in the next room working on the computer" option.

don't do anything drastic, like throw out all of your beautiful pens, just because you were working on them around this time.

I'm going to use the restored 1941 Parker Duofold along with a bottle of Noodler's "Legal Lapis" ink, and some of Amy's nice stationery, to write a copious number of thank-you notes in the next couple of weeks.

I'm remaining active on twitter/facebook/MeFi/forums/etc, because its (a) one way to keep in touch with friends, as we didn't have a lot of "in person" friends here in Houston, and (b) Amy would say "don't cry for me, get on with things."

Amy lost her mother due to a heart attack/stroke in '97, and it always bothered her greatly - she was paranoid about drug interactions, etc, and was worried that the same thing would happen to her. She said "you know, we don't mourn for the person who's gone, we mourn for ourselves, and that's pretty fucking selfish." She also said "You know, when someone dies, everyone brings PIE! That's all anyone brought over! Someone shouldn't have to die to get good pies, but damn I got tired of eating pie!"

She'd be laughing her ass off - it's been a week, and I haven't seen one pie or casserole yet.
posted by mrbill at 9:17 AM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: If at any time you feel like you are in danger of harming yourself, please, please, please don't hesitate a moment – immediately take decision-making out of your own hands and call 911.

I'm not the kind of person to do self-harm. In any case, I'm on medication already for anxiety and depression (a lot of which was caused by our financial situation, which unfortunately will be vastly improved by the current circumstances). Today I'm making sure she made the car payment, making sure all the bills are paid up, and just Getting Things Done. She always said I was good with a crisis and I was the "practical one". I'll be making an appointment with my shrink once we get back from the funeral later this week, and I have LOTS of people calling to check on me.

I just changed my profile status back to "Taken" - like I said, I don't even remember changing it. There needs to be a "widowed" or "other" option.
posted by mrbill at 9:30 AM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: with a sleeping tabby cat next to him

I have to take care of these guys.

Although I joked on twitter last night:

"A year ago I lost my dog.
A week ago I lost my wife.
I'm a living Country/Western song."
posted by mrbill at 9:31 AM on June 22, 2009

Echoing the sorry for your loss chrous. I've lost my grandma, sister and dad within 4 years and all I'd like to add is that don't be surprised at how you grieve. I have a nasty sarcastic side and I usually cope by making jokes about the losses. Other people are usually surprised at this, but it's my way of coping and it is how it is. If you're not a pastel colors Kumbaya weepy person, don't do that when you're grieving. What works for some does not work for all. Be well.
posted by ShadePlant at 10:07 AM on June 22, 2009

I wanted to add my condolences. I lost my fiance unexpectedly when I was 20; while I don't exactly understand what you're going through, I think that I can empathize to a point. Please don't do what I did: ball it up and not deal with it. It doesn't seem like that's the path you're going to take, which is fantastic.

You are in my thoughts.
posted by Aleen at 10:23 AM on June 22, 2009

I'm so sad to hear about your wife.

I recommend the book "Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief." There is one quote a day followed by general thoughts about the quote. There were religious tones to the book, but I still found it helpful even though I am completely non-religious. I found that the book helped me feel like I wasn't the only one who had certain thoughts going through my head.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:35 AM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: The link (to photos, I presume?) didn't come through
posted by mrbill at 10:47 AM on June 22, 2009

Nothing new here, but it can't hurt to hear from more people: spend time with people and animals who love you, do things that keep you from feeling too miserable, and above all give yourself time. I only had to deal with a divorce, and that took me over a year to even begin to start getting over. My thoughts are with you; keep on keeping on, and lean on whoever is available. That's what people are for.
posted by languagehat at 11:07 AM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: I'm so terribly sorry for your loss.

Have you lost a spouse at a very young age? How did you cope?

I'm going to answer your literal question here, and to do so, I'm going to quote myself here, from this heartbreaking thread. I lost my [partner/ best friend/ it's complicated] in our twenties, and this is how I coped. I hope you understand why I'm quoting rather than restating: though your grief is individual and deserving of individual response, frankly I cannot face writing these sentiments again at the moment*.
Grief is highly individual, and I would not presume to know how you experience it. But maybe I can send you a small token of encouragement. My partner died in 1997, and I could not imagine continuing the suddenly empty path of daily life. It seemed so banal.

That banal daily path is what pulled me out of my own dark spiral. The nuts and bolts of planning the memorial service, responding to condolence notes, going through his things... all the small and seemingly insurmountable tasks helped keep me moving at a time when I wanted to lie down beside him and die. I now believe that those rituals exist to guide us through a time when we could easily become lost. If that helps you, embrace it. If not, perhaps another ritual or observation would help. Plant a garden? Paint a portrait of him? Go out with friends and toast your love with espresso shots? His life was special, and yours is, too.

In the depths of grief, I knew in my head what I could not feel in my heart: that someday the howling pain would soften and diminish, if I could only hold on and keep going. I thought of my grief as a street on which I was walking, and the end of pain was around one of the many corners. "Of course you can't see it," I told myself. "It's around a corner! You'll come to it. Keep walking! You'll turn the corner somewhere." Keep going. Keep going.

And, for me, this stupefyingly simple idea came true. My life gradually regained flavor and meaning, and I one day realized that I was --- oh, how astonishing --- happy. I will never be the woman I was before I lost him, but I like this woman better. She's smarter and stronger, more patient, more appreciative of love and of friends. He would have liked her.

I highly recommend grief counseling, or any counseling. In retrospect, I wish I had begun counseling immediately after my partner died, instead of struggling through the first few months alone.
I'll add some purely practical suggestions.

Your friends and loved ones want to help, but they may not know how. You can tell them, if you can think of anything they can do. Most friends would be relieved to be given a concrete task, whether it's helping you mow the lawn or bringing over a sack of groceries or listening to you tell stories or sitting with you in silence for an afternoon.

If you can't think of what they can do (and I found that I simply didn't have the energy or imagination to think of tasks), let them think up something. Tell them, "I know I coulld use your help, but I don't know how. Can you help me think of something?"

A friend who is in crisis right now told me that when friends offer their help, she responds, "Sure, you could come over and stack wood with me for half an hour." If they demur and do not think up some other form of help, she knows they're not really offering to help, just uttering the words as social form. This is a useful distinction to make.

I will also say this: it gets easier. It does get easier. It does get easier. Take care of yourself on this journey.

*A bittersweet footnote to my own story: as much as I love and miss my late [partner/ bestfriend/ it's complicated], and though he will always live in my heart and in the stories I tell my friends and family, I'm now preparing to marry someone I love deeply and in a different way. For that reason, this subject is far too emotionally complex for me to revisit at length right now.
posted by Elsa at 11:53 AM on June 22, 2009 [14 favorites]

Response by poster: A friend who is in crisis right now told me that when friends offer their help, she responds, "Sure, you could come over and stack wood with me for half an hour." If they demur and do not think up some other form of help, she knows they're not really offering to help, just uttering the words as social form.

One of my Masonic lodge brothers has already told me, "you're going to be coming to the Lodge on Sunday nights from now on, even if you don't help us cook, you're going to keep us company and have some bullshitting time."

There's no words to express the gratitude I feel towards everyone (neighbors, Brothers, relatives, MeFites, etc) right now.
posted by mrbill at 12:08 PM on June 22, 2009

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by sarcasticah at 12:49 PM on June 22, 2009

Bill, I'm very, very sorry for your loss; I subscribe to your weblog's syndication feed, and when I read your brief post about becoming a widower, I was pretty taken by it... we don't know each other at all, but something reached across the ether and grabbed me. I don't have much to add beyond what others here have -- I haven't lost a spouse or similarly-close person in my adult life -- but I've lost a lot of patients with whom I've grown very close, and each time I find the grieving is entirely different except for one thing... I find that celebrating the person in whatever ways he or she would have appreciated is what has gotten me past it. That sounds banal as hell when written, though, so I feel like I've contributed little to this. :/
posted by delfuego at 12:53 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Is there anywhere in Houston you'd like memorials to be sent?

Just donate to a no-kill animal shelter or rescue society of your choice in her name.
posted by mrbill at 2:36 PM on June 22, 2009

I'm so sorry.

When I've dealt with deaths what's helped me most was getting really busy with art or photography - but particularly something I could mindlessly do repeatedly and deaden my thoughts a bit. And then again, sometimes a long walk just looking around and listening to the birds helped. It's going to depend on what makes you happy, and may have to be something that won't automatically remind you of time the two of you spent together. Maybe volunteering? It'll also depend on whether you want to be around people or not.

My Texas relatives were big on bringing over a pound cake. As shorthand for "I really wish I could do something to help, and I know nothing will - but I care and so here's this cake." Which is possibly why I feel such affection for pound cake.
posted by batgrlHG at 2:42 PM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: I'm so very sorry. My husband died, very suddenly, after we'd been together ten years. I never expected to be widowed before I was thirty.

It was the little things that caught me. The first time I went to the store, shopping for one (I lived on frozen dinners for a year, I think.)

The next day I had people all around me, and they wanted to do something, anything. I asked one to put in the garbage disposal that was next on the honey-do list. I couldn't put away the laundry myself the first time, knowing he still had socks in the dryer. Silly things, but its the little things that make up your whole world.

What helped the first year was knowing I'd only have to go through each first once. Which I guess is a bit simple-minded, but so was I for a while.

That's probably not much help, but the only other thing I have to offer is my all-purpose reply when well-meaning people asked how I was. I couldn't bear to tell the truth, and I couldn't exactly say "fine" so "functional" was as accurate as I could be.
posted by korej at 3:42 PM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to you, and glad you feel like you're doing OK. FWIW, I did lose a partner at 22; it wasn't like what you're going through but I did learn some things I can share with you.

You should be aware that you're sort of on the treadmill right now. There are Things To Do and a lot of people there for you and that's all very critical right now and keeps you putting one foot in front of the other. You should be prepared for a time to come when this may not be the case. Things will come up like birthdays, anniversaries and holidays and they will all be so vastly different and difficult. Take all the help you can get, like others have said.

In other words, it's OK if it doesn't slowly get better - it's OK if it gets worse for a while before you can move forward a bit again. It's a long process, but eventually you can reach a point where though she's always with you, what's mostly there is the good memories. It just takes a lot of time.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:23 PM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: Oh. The cat link didn't come through.

The black and white cat is Siffycat. Amy had her before she met me. I had to pass the "cat approval test" before we moved in together.
posted by mrbill at 9:03 PM on June 22, 2009

Best answer: mrbill, there are no words to express my sadness for your grief.

The advice I have for you is twofold:

1) Grieve. I know that sounds simple, but here's the thing. No two people grieve alike. Allow yourself the right to grieve as you come across it--however it manifests itself is right for you. Don't listen to people who tell you that you should be over it; don't listen to people who might say (with the best of intentions, but still) "you seem to be moving on!" if you're not. When someone I loved dearly died, I spent a lot of time talking about great clothes I found on sale. People were mystified. I can't give you an explanation, but that was a part of how I dealt with my heartache. It may make no sense to others--hell, it may make no sense to you. But give yourself permission to do and say things that may not be quote-unquote normal.

2) I do not know your sense of humor, or the humor that you shared with your spouse, but I did find that joking helped me a lot--especially jokes that others found in "bad taste." Why? I don't know, but it helped me. Black humor is free therapy for many people. If you are one of those people, go ahead. What other people think at a time like this in your life should be the last thing on your mind.

I guess what I'm saying is do what you gotta do, and damn convention or other people's opinions.
posted by tzikeh at 12:48 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I am so sorry. I've not had a comparable experience, but this is an Ask Metafilter comment that has stayed with me, from someone who has.
posted by granted at 3:41 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, for the kind suggestions so far. I just got back to Houston late tonight; we laid Amy to rest after a beautiful (and short, as she would have liked) ceremony graveside in Chattanooga this morning.

I'll go through and mark some Best Answers over the next couple of days - but please, don't stop commenting if you've got ideas.
posted by mrbill at 11:30 PM on June 24, 2009

Response by poster: Where can I ask potentially embarrassing questions about some of the emotional rollercoaster I'm going through the past few days? I dont' really want to do it here.
posted by mrbill at 10:24 PM on June 25, 2009

You can ask them anonymously here, though I can understand how you might worry that it would be obvious which questions were yours. We're here to help, though. If you feel you're up to it, I'm sure you'd receive thoughtful responses.

I don't know of another good forum style site like AskMe, but there are a number of advice columnists and "ask a psychologist" places that might be helpful. Answers aren't guaranteed, but you might try Ask Dr. Robert and Cary Tennis's "Since You Asked" at Salon.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:20 AM on June 26, 2009

Best answer: I understand being embarrassed to post here, but we're here and want to help if we can. Please look into the group mentioned by lisa g upthread, or a similar group. It might help to be able to just talk with people who are in the exact spot you are in right now. And, talk with your counselor. Talk to a minister, if you are so inclined. Lean on people right now, even if you aren't usually the type of person to do that.

As a general answer to the question you didn't ask about the emotional rollercoaster... Are you familiar with Kubler-Ross's Five Stages of Grief? The focus is on the grief of a dying person, not a person left behind, but I still think it's true.

It's funny that people don't talk much about the "unacceptable" feelings you might have. They are completely normal. You might feel angry at her. You might feel angry at other people for just being alive. You might feel relieved. You might feel like she's still in the next room. You might feel a moment of happiness. You might feel like knocking out a wall. You might feel ashamed that your feelings aren't "acceptable" or "normal". My point is, everything you could possibly be feeling right now is completely normal.
posted by Houstonian at 5:51 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much, pomegranate and houstonian. Your visit really helped.
posted by mrbill at 10:09 AM on June 27, 2009

Response by poster: And thank you so much, EVERYONE - the outpouring of support, Twitter messages, MeMails, etc, has just been incredible. I'm keeping strong.
posted by mrbill at 12:03 AM on June 30, 2009

Response by poster: And once again I'd like to thank pomegranate for her third weekend visit in a row, bearing the best bagels in the universe.
posted by mrbill at 1:38 PM on July 5, 2009

Best answer: I have lost a spouse at a young age myself.

I must say that you have asked a question that's very hard to answer, "How did you cope?" Really, sometimes there is no coping other than to keep on living one day at a time. Experience your emotions when they arise, and don't push yourself to act a certain way to meet other's expectations. Expect that your emotional state will be all over the map in the months to come, and don't feel that you "should" be in any particular place.

You won't be able to follow that advice. You'll want to be around people when you are feeling so down that no one wants to be around you, or you will want to talk about what you are feeling after everyone else has moved on and gone back into the happy little place that most people live where we pretend that death isn't going to get us all one day, or if it is it certainly won't take our spouse, at least not until both are very old. But don't stuff your feelings down inside of yourself and hide them when you are alone, at least, and find someone to talk to about this.

I found that friends my own age had a lot of trouble dealing with the idea of death. I got a lot of bad reactions from people that had to do with their own fear of death, which made me feel very alienated. You are older now than I was, so I hope that this won't be as much of a problem for you.

Support groups are good. Check your local paper,, or with hospices or community mental health centers to find them. You might find a young widow/widowers group that's made up entirely of people a fair bit older than you, but try a few sessions anyhow. There are also online support groups. Supposedly counseling is a good idea but I found that counselors seemed upset to discuss the topic. Maybe you are in a large enough area to find one who specializes in grief counseling. (I see that you have a counselor who sounds like they will be very helpful, but perhaps someone else reading will need that advice)

So you are good with a crisis and practical. (I bet your wife really admired those things about you) These are useful qualities for dealing with things in the immediate aftermath of her death. They are less useful as time goes on, and you wake up to find that your spouse is still *not here*, in the terrible new reality of life. You have other qualities latent within you that you will learn about at these times, things you will learn about yourself. It's a journey, and a challenge. Go ahead and cry if you feel like it, it's a part of this journey, I'm sure Amy would understand if you need to at times. Sometimes crying is what needs to be done. You will be on this journey for a long time and there are times to cry as well as times to get on with things.

Feel free to memail me, including but not limited to any questions you don't feel like posting here. Houstonian is absolutely right about what you are feeling now being completely normal. Do not run from these feelings, experience them. I found that walking and drawing were very helpful for working through my feelings, but do whatever seems to appeal to you. Know that working through your feelings is not at all like "putting yourself into a better mood", it's a non-goal directed process.
posted by yohko at 10:34 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: FYI, those of y'all whose addresses I have, should be getting a thank-you note in the mail sometime in the next week. I spent four hours tonight handwriting and addressing sixty-five of them.
posted by mrbill at 11:30 PM on July 19, 2009

Response by poster: An update - I heard from the funeral home yesterday (they were calling to ask how many copies of the final death certificate I wanted). The official cause of death on the final (non-"pending") death certificate is "drowning".

WTF? Amy was 6'2" and 245lbs or so. When I found her, her head and shoulders were above the top of the tub. Leaning against the wall, in fact, as you'd expect with someone that tall (or any reasonable adult) sitting fully stretched out in this tub. Also, the drain plug wasn't even *in* the tub - the water was running, but it was going directly down the drain.

Wouldn't "drowning" have turned up in the initial autopsy, not in the toxicology results almost two months later? I think they don't know what happened, and just pulled that out of a hat to put on the form because she was found in the bathtub.

I spent most of yesterday alternately raging and bawling.
posted by mrbill at 2:00 PM on August 4, 2009

Mrbill, I don't know. But if I guessed, I would think that all autopsies are done according to a procedure. That is, the doctors and other people perform the same actions for each, and don't issue a final report until all the actions and tests are completed.

Another guess, about the cause of death. If a person is in a car accident and their head hits the dashboard, causing a concussion, causing a death, then their cause of death (officially) would probably be something like blunt force trauma to the head. But when you and I would think about it, we would say the person died because of a car accident. So, I think official cause of death means what specifically and immediately happened right before the person died, not what actually led to the circumstances of a person's death.

The Harris County Medical Examiner's office has a website. It has pages there that help define cause and manner of death, and an FAQ page that talks about why it takes a long time to complete an autopsy and how you can reach somebody there with questions you might have.

When someone dies, it's difficult to understand why and the mind constantly questions and tries to make logical sense out of something that just isn't fair. Raging and bawling is a completely normal reaction, regardless of what they put on the form.

Hang in there. In time, it will get easier.
posted by Houstonian at 6:19 PM on August 4, 2009

Response by poster: Houstonian, thanks for the link. It looks like getting copies of the report(s) won't be difficult at all.
posted by mrbill at 8:04 PM on August 4, 2009

Once you do get copies of the reports, I think you should make an appointment with your family doctor or your psychiatrist to go over them. Those reports are very technical and having a doctor help explain terminology would be very helpful.

I am so, so sorry you are going through this.
posted by rhapsodie at 10:33 PM on August 4, 2009

I am wondering if she could have died from what's called secondary drowning, wherein a person respirates water into his/her lungs but remains conscious for a while, sometimes days, afterward.

My thoughts are with you, mrbill. May you find comfort in your family and friends.
posted by cerebus19 at 1:06 PM on August 5, 2009

Response by poster: Death certificates just got here in the mail.

Immediate cause of death: "Accident" due to "Drowning"
Other Significant Conditions Contributing to Death but not resulting in the underlying cause: "Left Anterior Descending Coronary Thrombosis due to Hypertensive and Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease and Obesity"
Describe how injury occured: "Became submerged in bathtub".

Nevermind that there wasn't but maybe an inch of water in the tub when I found her, and her head/shoulders were above the top of the tub.
posted by mrbill at 3:04 PM on August 6, 2009

Response by poster: I think it was more "heart attack" than "drowning". She'd been having chest pains earlier in the day (which is why she went to the ER), but attributed them to a pinched nerve in her arm. I just wonder why they didn't catch it on the EKG, etc.
posted by mrbill at 3:13 PM on August 6, 2009

Response by poster: My mother emailed me - she just got off the phone with the Harris County ME.

The ME said that Amy had water in her stomach and lungs, and that her head *was* below the top level of the tub, and that the pictures indicated that tub had been full of water at one point (well duh). She's ordered a copy of the autopsy report and will let me know when it gets there.

I remembered her head being above the top of the tub - but then again I was panicky and may be wrong. I don't know why the tub had no water to speak of in it when I found her.

However, I know that the basic cause of death was a heart attack, and that if "drowning" was the official cause of death, the heart attack caused the drowning.

Is it bad that I keep thinking that bickering with the ME about the cause of death isn't going to bring her back? She's gone, and nothing I do or any paperwork will change that.
posted by mrbill at 10:41 AM on August 10, 2009

Were I in a similar situation, I'm sure that I, too, would want to know why it happened. Knowing how Amy died won't bring her back, sure, but it helps mitigate one of the worst aspects of the whole situation, the lack of reason and explanation for why she's gone. Humans, in general, have a deep-seated need to know how and why things happen; it's the basis of most religion, of our drive for knowledge. It does not seem strange at all to search for certainty in the cause of her death.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:08 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Talked with mom on the phone. She said that the ME insinuated that maybe the tub had been full of water when I found her and that I let the water out, and that I was just misremembering things.

When I found her, the tub was drained, the faucet was on, but the water was going directly into the drain. There wasn't more than a half-inch of water in the bottom third of the tub. I may have misremembered exactly where her head was, but no part of her body was submerged when I found her.

I'm sorry that I keep going on about this, but I just have to vent about it.
posted by mrbill at 12:48 PM on August 10, 2009

You don't need to apologize for going on about it. Those of us who don't fully understand certainly won't mind, regardless.

I assume the faucet and drain are on the opposite side of the tub from where Amy's head was. Is it possible, then, that she could have kicked the drain open as she realized she was in trouble?
posted by cerebus19 at 12:38 PM on August 11, 2009

Response by poster: Is it possible, then, that she could have kicked the drain open as she realized she was in trouble?

Possible. We'll never know.

She was laying there very peacefully, as if she'd just fallen asleep - so I think it was a heart attack that resulted in drowning, and I can pray that it was quick and painless.
posted by mrbill at 8:27 AM on August 12, 2009

Response by poster: Just a followup, since this is still open. A week or so after my last post, I ended up with the best support I could have ever found.

In short, met a new friend online (just intending to make new friends), we talked a lot, finally met in person, and really hit it off to the point that last weekend we made the decision to be more than just friends.

She lost her husband two years ago, and knows *exactly* what I'm going through. It's also nice hanging out with someone who isn't going to go "Can you please stop telling stories about your dead spouse?" because she tells the exact same kind of stories.

I talked with my shrink (who was also Amy's doctor) last week about how "Some people will probably look down on me for getting involved with someone so quickly", and the doctor looked at me and said "Amy wouldn't have been one of them."

It makes me wonder if Amy had talked with Dr. C. about this, since she mentioned now and then about "If something ever happens to me you'll have to find someone since you're such a typical helpless man."
posted by mrbill at 12:09 PM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And three months later, I'm single again. Just can't get a break.
posted by mrbill at 1:14 PM on December 14, 2009

Response by poster: My friend and I are no longer in a committed relationship but we're still close friends and see each other occasionally. Good friends are all I can ask for.
posted by mrbill at 5:16 PM on December 28, 2009

Response by poster: I've made it six months. Thank you, everyone, for your love, caring, and support. I couldn't have gotten this far without you.

I've gotten out. I've been social. I've made friends. I'm learning how to have fun.

I'm finding the person that *I* want to be, rather than the person that someone else thinks I should be. See my post "Thoughts on Personal Happiness and Sacrifice" for more details.

My fears of "I'm fat, ugly, and nobody will ever love me again" have been, um, thoroughly disproven *cough*.

I got my first tattoo!

Again, thank you.
posted by mrbill at 12:07 PM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

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