Surviving the death of my spouse
By Joan Swee
Henry battled with two cancers over an 18-month period. He had been my friend since we were teenagers and before we even courted. We were blissfully married for 13 years and enjoying the best of our life as a couple, a young family in Hong Kong. So, when he died in 1994, I lost a dear friend and husband. I lost my soul mate.
The immediate months were completely unbearable for the family: my pillow was wet every night for about three months and my children (only 6 and 8 years old at that time) were in emotional chaos and full of anger. They were struggling with new life patterns of living in Singapore, which they have never known as home. Singapore has always been a holiday place – now it was a sad place. No more Papa to swim or ride the bicycle with. No more big-daddy hugs.
We had no home in Singapore; we had sold our HDB flat as it was intended for us to live in Hong Kong indefinitely. I was grateful and blessed that my in-laws were generous and loving. We lived with my brother-in-law, his wife and their three sons for nine months. Their home was a shelter from the storm. Their kindness was medicine to our souls. Despite my sons’ “bad behaviour”, including breaking cups and plates when they are unable to control their anger, my sister-in-law would just hug and love them. We were gradually nursed back to health and I am forever grateful for their compassionate love.
I remembered the many drives I took in my car to a secluded part of Old Holland Road where I shouted and cried out to God. Subsequently, I joined a gym club because I figured that I would not bump into any familiar faces there. For about three or four times a week, I would expend out all the negative energy through exercise.
It was healing for me because I could go there without needing to say hello to anyone; there wasn’t a need for any small talk.
The process was necessary for me – the “sparring” sessions I had with God and the gym workout.
These helped me to unload my emotions so that I could be available for my boys and take in all their ventilation and turmoil.
I was then interested to search for books that would help me through my grief and also to understand how my boys felt when they had to lose their Papa at such a young age. I remembered desperately looking for a book that would provide me the necessary tool and insights to help them. One day as I walked into Crest Bookshop at Far East Shopping Centre, I scanned through the shelves and my eyes were drawn to one book. I picked it up and it said, “My Daddy Died and It’s All God’s Fault.” How apt! The book became a healing balm for the boys as it helped them to open up and talk. Helping children grieve normally and giving a voice to their pain is vital for such great loss.
I remembered about two months after the funeral, I requested a time-out period for myself and asked my sister-in-law to look after my sons. I checked into Rasa Sentosa and brought my Bible, some Christian praise tapes and some books. One book helped me very much – Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy. I cried. And I laughed. And I cried some more.
Another precious season was when I took a trip to Israel in November 1994 with some church friends. I needed to know if God still loved me. I had so many unanswered questions. Why did He take my Henry away from me? What will He have me live for? I was glad for the intimate experiences with Jesus, as I stayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Caiaphas’ dungeon, at Galilee and at Golgotha. I felt so loved by Jesus. I was healed again by His redeeming love. Nothing can separate me from the love of God – not death or life – nor anything present or in the future. Nothing can take God’s love away from me – not even losing Henry. Nothing. Absolutely nothing!
For one and a half years after my husband Henry went home to the Lord, I did not have a single friend who was widowed. I was surrounded by happily married couples – my sisters, my in-laws, my close friends – and I was happy for them that they were happy. They ought to be happy. But I was crying inside most of the time. I was missing Henry.
Since the episode, I have been journaling my deepest thoughts and emotions, gone for personal counseling sessions, continued to read books, co-founded a non-profit organization in 1996 to provide bereavement support to widows and children. I returned to an exciting corporate training career from 1999 till 2012. I went on to obtain a Master of Science in Professional Counseling, while still working during 2008-2010, starting at age 50! I’ve served the non-profit group as Board Member and counsellor for 20 years till March 2016. I’ve gone on to receive certification training in March 2016 as a Grief Recovery Specialist to help people with all losses in life.
TO LIVE AGAIN
So, I thought grieving will never end. But I have since learned that we can all move beyond losses and grief to recovery…of new dreams and fulfilling lives. Hence, I am grateful for the precious relationships of family, loved ones and friends. For those I met with over meals, and those I travel with, enjoying a wonderful and purposeful life.
Here’s to new beginnings, new dreams, new relationship to live again!
Beginning Again …. Again….and Again
Life is filled with beginnings and endings.
As fall begets the fading tree and flower, so spring bursts out with new life and hope!
Life flows with nature’s eternal rhythms.
Changes, endings, and deaths are unavoidable, but rebirth and beginnings are inevitable as well.
In travelling life’s journey, do not be discouraged by the endings in your life.
Rather live with an attitude of constant beginning!
Begin again by approaching each new day as an unexpected surprise!
Begin again by seeing open windows instead of closed doors!
Begin again with hope in the Divine and confidence in yourself! – Robert J.C. Miller –
Note: 19 July 2017 marks 23 years after my beloved husband Henry died. As I recalled the past years, these were the helpful ways along my journey of loss, grief to recovery, which I hope will encourage some readers of this website. I want to thank my family, close friends and others who reached out with genuine love and compassion. END
This article was originally published in Montfort Care, Good Death website on 30 August 2017
Joan with Chow Kheng, a widow and trained counsellor/social worker has a registered ministry called Whispering Hope Singapore. They have certification with Grief Recovery Institute (USA inc) and are their Certified Grief Recovery Specialists in Singapore.
Whispering Hope offers grief recovery, an action based program with specific tools for anyone above 21 years old with all losses in life – divorce, death, infant loss, major financial or health losses, even pet loss, end of relationships. www.griefrecoverymethod.com Since August 2016, they have conducted two group programs and also individual programs. Charges: $35 an hour for the early bird group program, (normal fee $50 an hour for group); and $90 an hour for individual. Each program runs 4 weekly sessions of 3.5hrs for the group program; and 4 weekly sessions of 1.5 hrs for the individual program.
See their Facebook @whisperinghopesg