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After the Storm

On February 17, 2017, my life and the life of those she loved changed forever.  My wife had been battling clinical depression and lost that ...

Monday, April 17, 2017

Two Months

Today is two months exactly from when I came home from work during that stormy night and found my wife.  Two months have passed, and quite a lot has happened since then. 

I have had to deal with insurance companies, leasing offices, credit card companies, FAFSA, Verizon, to name a few.  Still taking steps to be able to sell off Elaine's car and get it out of my parent's driveway.  My home was upended-I am no longer the head of household, but living in the same living situation when I was a teenager and in my early 20s.  I have gone through all of the difficulty and emotion of selecting a plot, ordering a grave marker, and all of the decisions that come along with that.  I have had my community come around me and support me financially and with their time and gifts. I have been through intensive group therapy, learned much about cognitive behavioral therapy (I encourage you to look this up as I feel EVERYONE can benefit from this), and a bit about dealing with stress at work.  I have met with a lot of people, some new relationships, and some old relationships.  I've developed some new healthy habits and on a lot of the days, struggled to make sure I am making the best use of my time.  Every day is a bit different and I still feel like I am navigating through uncharted waters.  I had mentioned Chris before who I met at the support group, the other widower.  He is my similar age who lost his wife six months ago.  Tonight, he and I met for drinks and appetizers.

It was a very refreshing experience to meet with someone who is going through the same exact feelings as I am-well about as close as you can get to the same exact feelings.  We met at the suicide survivor support group a few weeks ago and we were talking about how even with the people there, it is somewhat difficult to relate.  I think tonight was a breath of fresh air for both of us.  We talked a lot about guilt and the what-ifs and we both realize that hindsight is 20/20.  My therapist told me to tell myself every day these words - "I did the best I could with the knowledge I had at the time."  And I try to tell myself that constantly, especially when feelings of guilt come up.  

Chris and I talked about moving forward, and how we both feel an empty void that our wives used to fill How a lot of my insecurities were overcome in large part to my wife.  How each of us feel bleh in terms of questioning all of our big decisions we have made.  

We also talked about dating.  We talked about how does that look for us.  Will we compare our late wives to the current person we are pursuing? What is our timeline for getting married again?  How will women view us as widowers?  Will they judge us for the fact that our wives died by suicide? Will we be less desirable?  I had a conversation with my dad a few weeks back.  Chris and I are both in our mid 30s and my dad talked about the three situations a "single" guy might be in at this age.  If they are divorced, it begs the question "why?"  If they are single and never married it begs a similar question, "why not yet?" But for the widower, its more of "he had no choice in his singleness."  I think for me at least, this brings me some relief and even more so, Chris added that women could potentially view this as a benefit since they know we can be in a successful long-term committed relationship, and we both were, up until "death do us part." We both agree that it will take time and a very special person to come our way that can not necessarily empathize with us, but be understanding and embrace what each of us have gone through.

We also talked about how difficult of a time we are having in our faith right now.  We both struggle when we go to church and try to listen to a sermon.  Personally, I am looking for some connection to what happened to Elaine, but there never seems to be one.  It is a feeling of doubt that is difficult to explain.  I feel that both Chris and I are in similar places, trying to understand the overall "why?" in both of our wives' passing.

We also shared about how setback in our life stages we feel.  One day, we were the men of the household with our own family, and in a moment, everything changed. 

We talked about the difficulties of our current and future relationships and how we don't really know how we will react when things are brought up intentionally or unintentionally.  We both agree that it will take time to figure all of these things out for ourselves, but I am glad to meet someone who is on a similar journey as me.  I look forward to this new friendship, and I appreciate Chris' willingness to let me include him in my sharing on this post.

I do want to talk about something important, addressing the stigma of depression:

"I am so sorry your wife passed of cancer.  Why did she have cancer?  What do you think caused the cancer? Were there any signs while she had cancer that could have prevented her death?"

Not that anyone has said these words, but this is oftentimes how these types of questions are perceived by someone who has lost someone to depression.  I know no one is malicious in asking these questions, but what we need to realize is that depression is a mental illness that affects the brain, much like cancer, heart, or lung disease is an illness that affects our physical being.  Cancer's terminal moment happens when someone's body just cannot function due to the irreparable damage to the cells that is caused.  Heart disease's terminal moment is when the heart gives out and no longer can pump blood to the vital organs.  Lung disease's terminal moment is when the person can no longer utilize what the lungs in our body were designed for-to breath oxygen in.  Depression's terminal moment is when as a result of their brain chemistry, someone makes an irrational decision to take their own life.

The stigma of depression not as severe as any one of these other horrible destructive illnesses needs to be addressed somehow.  And to assume that it is caused by any current situation or stress alone is just a matter of ignorance.  I don't mean that to insult anyone, but in the way that our society does not place a greater emphasis on mental health awareness, and as a result, how people don't want to get the help they need for fear of judgement.  Where does this fear come from?  Is it the way we portray success?  Is it how we bring up our children?  Is it the way movies and TV define popular culture?  I don't really know good answers to these questions but I feel like we need to do everything in our circles to make sure people are aware.  If you see a friend hesitant to seek help, even for something as seemingly minor as stress, please encourage them the best way you know how to seek help and treatment.  It would be an amazing society we would live in if we would treat mental illness the way we treat physical illness.

I wanted to leave you with a memory I have of Elaine.  Whenever Billy Joel's "My Life" (actual song starts at around 1:00) came on the radio in the car, Elaine always mentioned her favorite part of the song was when the high key on the piano played several times (at around 2:00 and 3:30 in the video).  In addition to being a great song, we always had fun pantomiming we were playing the note on the piano.  Chris has been six months in and he shared with me that he is starting to really appreciate these types of memories as positive things and things he can look back on fondly.  I know I will start to as well.


  1. Thank you for sharing Paul. As a young widow in 1975 I felt many of these emotions, had similar questions. And felt there were no other widows my age. Glad you have Chris to talk to.

  2. Hi Paul,

    I've been touched deeply by your blog posts. Words can't really explain all of my thoughts and wishes for you and your loved ones, but I'm blessed and encouraged by your openness and strength and vulnerability.

    When you mentioned cognitive behavioral therapy, I immediately thought of this book: The Feeling Good Handbook by Dr. Burns. I recommend it to everyone. It's a great workbook and helped me immensely when I was going through depression. It also helped me with my anxieties and insecurities. I'd encourage you to look into it and doing the exercises in the book

    Many thoughts and prayers to you.

  3. Hi Paul,
    I have been thinking about you often these past months. Jag and I am truly sorry for your loss. Your blog's genuine heart wrenching honesty demonstrates your compassion and love for Elaine and humanity. I wish you much strength as you continue on your own recovery and path.
    Education about depression and other forms of mental illness need to be part of our lives from childhood. Your example of the insensitivity of the stigma of depression and mental illness was spot on. There needs to be greater understanding that depression is neither a choice nor something to be embarrassed by individuals suffering from it.
    I also want to let you know Jag isn't aware of your blog. I think it's your choice how much to share with the kids if and when you return to school.
    With warm regards and prayers for you,
    Rita Patel