Last Kiss: Stories of loss from our readers

 
Updated 4/23/2018 11:30 AM
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  • Randy Swearingen and his wife

    Randy Swearingen and his wife

  • Rita Mathern of Naperville and her late husband Tom shortly before he was diagnoses with a malignant brain tumor.

    Rita Mathern of Naperville and her late husband Tom shortly before he was diagnoses with a malignant brain tumor.

Randy and Arlene

Whether the death of your spouse is imminent or comes as a total surprise, you never can be prepared.

My wife and I were told in May 2014 that she had stage 4 lung cancer. We did everything possible to save her. She wasn't strong enough to tolerate chemo so the oncologist had no choice but to send her home and to keep her as comfortable as possible with hospice care. She died five months later at 74.

We had been married for 30 years and lived our lives with lots of love and fun.

I along with her sister gave her a grand memorial service fit for a princess and an angel. I grieved for a few weeks and then said, "I have a life to live for her." I had her favorite tree, a crimson king maple, along with a memorial plaque planted in the front yard.

A small display of her memorabilia is in my office along with a prayer from her that I got from her sister.

In December 2014, I adopted a rescue dog to take care of. She gives me great comfort in knowing that I have her to take care of. She's a 45-pound lab mix that needs lots of exercise so we walk every day at a local dog park.

I am now 77 and she is 3. Both of us are in good shape.

If I were the wife losing a spouse, I would get a smaller dog. Traveling with a pet these days is easy with all the pet-friendly places to stay.

I stay in touch with family and friends and I joined a club. I hope this is of some help to those who lose or have lost a spouse.

Randy Swearingen

Naperville

Charlene and Bob

Charlene and Bob Dahl of Elk Grove Village
Charlene and Bob Dahl of Elk Grove Village

My very kind, gentle, loving husband Bob died early Thanksgiving morning in 2016. Our whole family had planned on being here for dinner, and because of my terrible early morning call, many were able to come sooner. Our Thanksgiving dinner then became a celebration of his life. We all laughed and cried, with each recalling a favorite memory.

For weeks before, I realized he was failing, and since my religion is very important to me, I did what I have always done in difficult times; I turned to prayer. My prayer was the he would receive the Blessing of the Sick, that whatever was ahead would be easy for him and that he would not suffer. And all of those prayers were answered.

Our parish priest came as soon as I requested his visit; Bob died in his own bed in his own house; Bob's suffering was minimal. My Catholic faith and my family have continued to help me cope with this loss. I still go to church every morning, as I have done for many years.

My whole family -- my three children, their spouses and my grandchildren -- have been very supportive, each in a special way. When possible, they include me in many activities.

Another way to cope is to keep very busy -- volunteering at church, the hospital, etc., going out to lunch with friends, working on my computer. Even with all of that, it is still very lonely many times. There is always that empty chair when returning home and it's no fun to cook for one.

While his death is my ultimate loss, after 56 years of marriage, I have experienced many deaths and have realized that you must help yourself cope. People are not interested in hearing woe-is-me with complaint after complaint.

I have not attended any grief sessions, but I feel no need for that now. Because of my prayers and my family, I am at peace.

Charlene L Dahl

Elk Grove Village

Wink and Bill

Wink Heller of Arlington Heights and her late husband Bill.
Wink Heller of Arlington Heights and her late husband Bill.

In December 2005, my husband, Bill Heller was diagnosed with stage 4 brain tumors. He had glioblastome multiforme. A death sentence.

He died on March 28, 2006 at the age of 51. Bill was stoic through the whole ordeal. He showed me what true faith meant.

Not once did he complain or say,"Why me?"

Coping with the loss of the love of my life was difficult but watching what his loss did to my two children was horrible.

I coped, with the love and support of my family and friends. Whenever I am faced a daunting situation I would ask myself, what would Bill want me to do?

You have two choices when faced with a loss. You can wallow in self pity and grief or live your life as your loved one would want you to.

When sadness hits me, as it does from time to time, I think how lucky I was to have known Bill and have him in my life. Some people never get a great love.

I also find that working to find the cause or cure for brain tumors through fundraising gives me a sense of purpose. I wouldn't want another family to go through what mine has. A positive outlook makes all the difference.

Wink Heller

Arlington Heights

Diane and John

Diane and John Kerruish of South Elgin
Diane and John Kerruish of South Elgin

Losing a spouse is like riding a wave. Sometimes smooth sailing, sometimes it pulls you under.

I don't think it matters how much time passes, as there are days that the loneliness consumes you. The sunshine coming through the window takes you back to a special moment, a certain smell recalls a time gone by.

I lost my husband at the young age of 40. Two sons, one in high school, one in sixth grade. How would I or could I do this?

It was up to me, the mom, to be both parents to these boys.

Our circle of friends changed during the first couple of years. Our friends continued with their lives, uninterrupted by a death that tears you to your core. Family helps.

Strength and faith carry you through the bad days.

John died in April 1995. Eighteen days later was our wedding anniversary and one week after that was our son's 16th birthday. Around the next corner came Mother's Day and so on. Memories are what we have now.

The life I had imagined was not to be, but my life is good and I am blessed beyond words.

Diane Kerruish

South Elgin

Judy and Joe

Joseph and Judith Lopez of Naperville.
Joseph and Judith Lopez of Naperville.

I lost my husband almost three years ago from prostrate cancer.

I was lucky in the way that I had two and a half years to share and prepare with him before he was gone.

Many people lose their loved once instantly or without any notice.

The most important advice I could give anyone is make sure no matter how young or old you are, you have life insurance for you and your loved ones.

Second, if married, both you and your spouse should handle the finances. Leaving it for one partner to handle is a big mistake.

If the one left behind has no idea how to handle the finances or the home, they are not only lost without you, they will financially struggle. They won't know where anything is or what to do, which increases the depression and struggle from the loss of the loved one.

It is critical that both you and your partner know where everything is together as far as paperwork on the house; bank accounts; how you pay bills; if online, what are the passwords, how can I access the sites, etc.

Always plan together and never do anything alone for you never know when that day will come when the worst day of your life happens.

This especially goes out to women who always let their husbands handle the finances. Big Mistake!

Please make sure you both sit down and go over where everything is and what each of you want if that day comes. It makes a difficult situation so much less complicated and less stressful.

Another suggestion is never be afraid of going to see a therapist. They are wonderful!

Most people feel they don't need them and can handle anything on their own, like how I felt.

When I did go to a therapist, it was a way for me to vent what I was feeling and to get expert advice on so many topics, not just grief.

They are there for you to have someone who will listen to your pain, assistance and direction for your next steps and a way to feel you are not alone.

Judy J. Lopez

Naperville

Emily and John

Emily Monroe of Arlington Heights lost her husband John to cancer more than 20 years ago.
Emily Monroe of Arlington Heights lost her husband John to cancer more than 20 years ago. - Courtesy of Emily Monroe

How does healing happen when a spouse dies? Every situation is different.

What does healing mean? The pain of the loss is more than any physical pain, and it can last for years. Healing means being able to cope with the changes in your life.

The life you know is shattered. All hopes, dreams, wishes, and fantasies you had are gone.

For some, it is like it is a clear sunny day and you do not see the train coming. For others, it is like a clear sunny day and you do see the train coming, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. No matter when it happens, you are not prepared.

Someone said to me that the pain would go away, but the void remains.

The pain can last many years. Healing does not mean forgetting. Healing somehow occurs when you can tell what happened without reliving it.

Support groups are a great help. Some need professional help. Some need medication.

Many have told me the second year after the death was harder. There is no right way to grieve. It is unique to each person.

It helps to tell the story of your loss many times. This is where a support group helps.

Friends, family, and work colleagues know what happened, but they do not want to hear what you need to say again and again.

The "they" out there expect you to be your normal self in two weeks, certainly by six weeks. Healing is finding a new normal. It is who am I now, and that will take the rest of my life.

Alone and lonely are not the same thing. Being in a group of couples after the loss, heightens the sadness. Grief is part of life. Losing the love of my life does not mean my life is over. There are still things to learn and adventures to find. Life for me is a gift.

Emily Monroe

Arlington Heights

Eileen and Tom

Tom and Eileen Reading of Rolling Meadow
Tom and Eileen Reading of Rolling Meadow

It is very personal for me. I have been a widow for almost nine years now.

We were married 39 years and my husband was 65 when he passed.

I knew when I married him that he had a heart condition and he would always mention to me that he would go before me.

I am not sure if he was a realist or sometimes a pessimist but as the years went on, his condition worsened. After many surgeries and procedures, he prepared me both mentally and physically for being alone.

When things needed repair around the house, I was there listening and taking notes. We worked together on several maintenance issues on the house and I had many years earlier, taken over the financial issues with input from him of course.

He was my best friend and my rock but I knew the time would come when I would stand alone.

He was a people person and introduced me to many of his community friends that he made while I was still working.

So when the end came and God called him home, when he did not wake up one morning, I felt I still did not want to let go but knew he did. He tried everything he could to continue living for me and our girls.

So after a period of grieving, life went on and I thanked him many times over for allowing me to take charge in our marriage, to take care of him and other matters.

I believe I have grown personally and have gotten more confidence in myself in many ways. I still have a great support team of family and many friends.

Life goes on and I am too young to not enjoy life to the fullest.

Eileen Reading

Rolling Meadows

Julie and Paul

Paul J. and Julie P. Schlueter of Deer Park.
Paul J. and Julie P. Schlueter of Deer Park.

Stoic.

That's what my family and friends think about me since the loss of my husband three years ago.

They think it means I am accepting, reconciled and tolerant of my situation and because of those traits, I am able to move forward.

They are wrong. I am only strong on the outside because I need to be.

I don't have a choice. I can't just quit life, though at times I want to.

On the inside, I am still working through my grief. The phrase "working through my grief" implies that there is an end point, that once you get through, you're done. This is also wrong.

There is no done, but you do become more aware of your new normal. Your new normal includes times of sad feelings about your loss.

But your new normal also allows you to laugh occasionally and most importantly, it sometimes allows you to glimpse into an optimistic future.

While there are many lonely times, there are sporadic times of delight in your new found (though forced) freedom. No more sharing the remote! A small thing for sure, but it initiates a spark that points to a lighter outlook.

Allow yourself to relish those moments as they will help carry you in your new normal.

Julie Schlueter

Deer Park

Anita and Ken

Picture of Anita and Kenneth Steinke at a wedding in 2014.
Picture of Anita and Kenneth Steinke at a wedding in 2014. - Courtesy of Anita Steinke

I had a wonderful husband, father of our five children, who died in one breath on August 30, 2016.

He was 85 years old and had a stent put in two weeks prior to his death. He had remarked the day before that he had 16 years to live because it was 16 years previously that he had a stent.

We sat down on the day of his death. He thought the Cubs would be playing, but I looked it up in the paper and the Cubs were playing that evening. His last words were, "I just wanted to watch the Cubs."

I was shocked when he didn't answer a question I asked and in five seconds looked at him and he had taken his last breath without making a sound.

I screamed and realized he was dead and called the paramedics who worked on him but could not get a breath from him.

I met him when I was 17 and he was 20. After we went together for seven months, he was called to the Korean War conflict. After two years, he came home and we got married seven months later.

We had a picture-perfect marriage. He always called me his "treasure" or his "bride." Now he was gone.

Both of us had a deep faith in God. We went to St. Raymond's Catholic Church. He had converted when he was in the service. He definitely had a strong faith in Jesus and we prayed together often.

Now this wonderful husband and father, grandfather of 14 and great grandfather of 14 was not with me.

After the initial shock, I decided that I would spend the first hour or two in prayer. I became closer and closer to our Lord and beyond that, my children made it clear that I would always have help. Each one took a day, one to get me to church, one to get the shopping done. Every Sunday, they would make sure I would have something to do.

My kids have been unbelievably helpful. They are always calling and making sure I am OK.

I am amazed that I grieved terribly, but only for about three months because of the attention my children and even grandchildren have given me, and how my love for God has increased by more and more dependence on God.

I give all praise to God and find myself talking to Jesus. I know Ken is at peace and still think he is watching over me.

I encourage anyone who has lost a spouse to pray like they never did before and walk much closer to God than they ever did. I will see him again, but I have to go see him; he cannot return to see me.

This is my story. I still miss him terribly, but I do not weep and I am at peace. All glory to God.

Anita Steinke

Mount Prospect

Phyllis and two losses

Don and Phyllis Thomson of Huntley with their grandchildren at Christmas 2014
Don and Phyllis Thomson of Huntley with their grandchildren at Christmas 2014 -

I am 73 and have now been widowed twice. My first husband died in 1977 after a 12-year marriage and three children and my second husband died in August 2016 after a 36-year second marriage. My first husband died of thyroid cancer and had been sick before we got married, but they said he was cured and had radioactive iodine treatments and was cancer-free.

I was alone for three years and actively sought out a second marriage partner and father for my three children, who were 7, 11, and 12 when we married; he had no children after a 22-year marriage and ill wife.

My second husband was ill with leukemia for almost a year and a half before he died.

My two experiences were very different. The first time I was overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising three children with little family support. We had moved out East to Philadelphia for a job and I moved back home to the Chicago area with my children after my husband's death.

Finances were frightening and I had never even paid bills before. I went back to school to become a registered nurse as I had to go to work and had not prepared for anything.

I think one of the more important things I did was to find some young widows like myself to cope with similar experiences.

During that effort was when I kind of accidentally met my second husband. Life was so full and my mother and father were ill, and the time bended into hours, days, and years before I could even look around.

My second husband supported me through my schooling and over the years of our marriage, I worked as an RN and continued on to school to finally achieve my Ph.D. in nursing.

I am still working and teaching nursing in a master's program -- mostly teaching research and nursing education as arthritis has limited my ability to do clinical experiences with students.

The second time getting widowed has been harder. I realized that I have never lived alone. And at 73, I have achieved major goals and am lonely and struggling to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

Thank goodness for my two daughters, who are constantly there for me. And for my five wonderful grandchildren.

However, they all have their own lives. I see them on a regular basis but everyday life is in actuality just me and my two little Toy Poodles and my crazy Parrot.

No one knows where I go or when I am due home or wants to know what is for dinner.

The waves of emotion at this point come unexpectedly -- like when I sold my larger home and moved into a smaller one; I went into tears when there were two places to sign on the paperwork and only one signature was needed. Only mine.

Over the years, sometimes keeping busy stalled off and packed away the grief, but one must go on.

Everywhere I look, all I see are older couples and I am alone -- especially in church and in the grocery store. Where church could be a support, it feels lonely now.

I am OK, struggling with some health issues, but I am mostly determined to stay independent and not bug my daughters.

I don't go out much anymore. It feels funny to go alone. After years of being outgoing and talkative, now I feel shy in a group.

Grief is work and constantly picking oneself up everyday and trying to find a new direction and identity -- still feeling and remembering but trying something to find joy in everyday, something to be grateful for every day.

Phyllis D. Thomson

Huntley

Patricia & Jerry

Jerry and Patrica Eitz of Arlington Heights, a few months before Jerry's death.
Jerry and Patrica Eitz of Arlington Heights, a few months before Jerry's death. -

We were together since we were sophomores in high school and were married for 47 years.

Although in my head I knew that day would come, in my heart I never expected it would be so soon. That was almost eight years ago and now I know the pain will never go away.

But I also knew that I had to move forward and I do so every day with a part of me missing.

I've read grief books, had short term therapy, went to grief meetings, took classes, kept working for two years, connected with old friends, developed a new spirituality, made new friends, remained in and take care of my house, retired, help out with my grandchildren, joined book club, meet with friends often, took trips to Europe, had a few surgeries, started volunteering, changed up holidays, tried to be supportive to other widows, became politically involved, celebrated family and friends events, etc. over these years; and none of it fills the hole.

I wanted to just be grateful for those years Jerry and I had together instead of being sad. I thought that would fill the hole.

I can say today that I truly am grateful for those years we had and our life together. I will always be sad but that sadness has become incrementally more manageable.

I have recently realized that I have found "my own voice." That may be for me the gift of widowhood. It's not that I didn't have a voice before Jerry died; but more that we were in many ways symbiotic.

A piece independence that always was a part of me allowed me, during this time of grief, to reinvent myself and become more decisive, courageous and introspective.

Patricia Eitz

Arlington Heights

Gina & Lew

Lew and Gina Hubbard of Hoffman Estates
Lew and Gina Hubbard of Hoffman Estates

Lew and I met in college, married as soon as I graduated and shared 34 years together.

He was 58 years old when he went outside on a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon more than four years ago and, true to his character, helped out a neighbor by mowing their lawn.

He had been in excellent physical health, so it came as a shock to find him in our den, unresponsive.

We had been enjoying time together that summer as we were both high school teachers. School was to start up just a week later.

Our three children had all graduated from college and Lew was determined that our life as empty nesters would be a time of reconnecting to each other and to the activities that we so enjoyed in our early marriage.

One of my first challenges after his death was trying to sleep in the same bed that always held the two of us.

I hated having that empty space next to me and decided to take advice from George Burns. I started sleeping on his side. I kept pillows on my side of the bed.

Somehow, it fooled me enough that I didn't awake as often with a start and have to retell myself the story over and over that he was gone.

Something else that was helpful was having a lifetime of being surrounded by supportive people. We were part of a small group that met weekly in our home for the previous 25 years.

All it took was one phone call and my living room was filled with people who were there to share the burden of hearing the paramedics' news that Lew could not be revived. Everyone needs people they can count on. My family lived far away and gave me their own support that I treasure, but the community around me was incredible in practical ways.

I was not used to being asked out for meals as much as was happening in the weeks and months afterwards, but I accepted each invitation and offer of help.

There were days that I wanted to hide away, but getting out was the best thing to do. I found that talking about my feelings was helpful, even if it meant a few tears in front of others.

I began the school year on time that year. I wanted to keep putting one foot in front of the other and knew that if I didn't begin that first week, I would have dreaded having to face everyone the longer that I stayed away.

Getting back into a routine and being surrounded by witty, albeit corny jokes in my department was therapeutic.

Paperwork was incredibly challenging to face with changes to financial accounts and just about everything requiring staring at that dreaded death certificate.

So, my advice is to give yourself time. You don't have to do everything immediately. Ask someone to walk you through things about which you are unsure.

My brain didn't register a lot of things initially. Fortunately, some of that was the depth of my grief. Slowly, the reality of missing Lew sunk in. When I was at school, ready to have a grief burst, I tried to find a moment to compose myself and pushed it off until I got home.

It could happen anywhere. The grocery store where I saw his favorite nectarines caused a gasp and the waterworks began.

I scheduled time on Saturday mornings to look at memories through videos and photos and to cry as much as I wanted.

Lew was a beloved art teacher and the outpouring of cards, messages and wonderfully creative expressions of students' sympathy filled me with more and more love for him. I had never felt such opposite emotions of joy and sadness simultaneously.

I kept expecting to feel a rage against God for taking the love of my life. What I learned was that I didn't go through all of the "stages of grief" that I had read about. My overwhelming emotion has not been one of "Why me, God?" It was more, "Why not me?" So many others have suffered much more intensely than I. How many people can honestly say that they enjoyed 34 years of marriage? Every time I begin to think I should feel sorry for myself, I am instead reminded to be grateful for friends, family, my job, my home and the incredible community that I have been privileged to enjoy.

Some days it takes more work to adopt that attitude, but I know it in my heart to be true.

Gina Hubbard

Hoffman Estates

Kathleen & Richard

Kathleen Jordan of Arlington Heights and her late husband Richard in their 1963 wedding photo.
Kathleen Jordan of Arlington Heights and her late husband Richard in their 1963 wedding photo.

One never gets over a death of a spouse, but you learn to live with it.

I joined a group at Northwest Community Hospital a short time after my husband passed away. I became a facilitator in the group and was with it almost four years.

The first of all celebrations are very difficult

We shared our story and supported one another. I am still friends with some of the people.

I read books on grieving, kept a journal and had loving family and friends around me. They do not understand how deep your feelings are. It is a long, slow process and you work through it the best you can. Do not feel guilty about having a laugh, going out with friends and being kind to yourself. Everyone goes down the path at their own speed. Your spouse would want you to continue life to the best of your ability.

Kathleen Jordan

Arlington Heights

Jeanne & Darwin

Jeanne and Darwin Jura engagement photo, 1991.
Jeanne and Darwin Jura engagement photo, 1991.

Loss, death. If one lives long enough, exposure is inevitaable. My first encounter was at the tender age of five when I came home from first grade to see my 37-year-old mother pronounced dead from a heart attack. A month later, my father left me with relatives in a distant state, wanted by my aunt, despised by my uncle.

When my twins were born in l962, they weren't expected to survive. One was l-pound, 9 ounces, and the other two-pounds, 2-ounces. They were carried less than seven months, but surprised everyone and lived. Every day was stressful until they were out of danger.

Then in l964, I had a healthy normal baby girl. Two months later, I found her dead from crib death. I wanted to put my head through the wall.

In 1975, when my first husband was diagnosed with lung cancer, we tried everything available to fight it, but he died six months later.

My sons were 12 at the time. Graduation from high school and the milestones in their lives thereafter were hard to attend without him there.

I remarried in August of 1991 after falling deeply in love with a man I had known for l8 years. He was the love of my life.

After a fantastic honeymoon in Hawaii, we had three weeks of settling into a normal married routine when he turned yellow and was diagnosed with cancer of the bile duct.

We were supposed to live happily ever after. How could this be happening to us?

We did everything, Mayo Clinic, research, interviewing treatment centers, etc. but we ended up losing our battle four months later.

For three wonderful years, I had been on top of the world. I thought, after a lifetime of heartache and losses that it was finally time for me to be happy.

A year later, my grandson was born and lived a month before dying of crib death. It would be easy to be bitter and cynical, but I choose not to be. I do not blame God for my losses; I have had a good, rich life.

But every once in a while, I wonder why things went as they did. Moms shopping with daughters, couples walking hand in hand; things they take for granted, I have had only the briefest exposure to.

I know it's not easy, but I must stay focused on what I have and not dwell on what I don't have.

Perhaps some day it will all make sense, but until that time, walk with me, Lord. Give me the peace that surpasses all understanding until this journey brings me home.

Jeanne Jurs

Inverness

Sharon & Roy

Roy and Sharon Strobe
Roy and Sharon Strobe -

My husband Roy died November 27, 2016. Although his health had been deteriorating, it was a shock when a neighbor knocked on my door and said, "I think something happened to Roy."

He had been on his new lawn tractor, someone driving by saw him slumped backward on it, thought that it looked odd and called 911.

When I got somewhat close to the scene, I was informed by someone in uniform that things did not look good for him, but they were doing everything they could.

After what seemed like ages, it was decided to take him to the hospital. When I arrived there, I was met by the chaplain so I knew what the outcome was,

My consolation has been that he did not have any lengthy hospital or nursing home stay. For him, death was quick. I am happy about that.

The tractor was stopped near a large Christmas angel that had recently been placed in the yard. My daughter said, "It's just like Dad has been called to heaven."

Those words stuck with me and I wrote the following poem, which I read at Roy's funeral service:

Called to Heaven

He's been called to heaven

And I should be sad

But in my heart I'm very glad.

I know I'll miss him very much

His stupid jokes and loving touch

His attention-getting walking crutch.

It's the little things over 50 years

Like "Park right here" or "use these gears"

"Get me some water" or "Grab a beer."

I'll miss seeing him in the yard

Struggling to do tasks that had become hard

Or straining his eyes for a game of cards.

He's been called to heaven

And I should be sad

But in my heart, I'm very glad.

He loves his friends and family

And things -- treasured junk, broken and rusty

Old tools, wood scraps, toy cars getting dusty.

He knew his body and mind were slowing

But he tried to just keep going and going

He wanted everything done before this showing.

The Lord stepped in and settled the score

He doesn't need to worry any more

God has opened his welcoming door.

He's been called to heaven

And I should be sad

But in my heart, I'm very glad.

How am I doing? Lots of people ask me that. I think I'm doing pretty well. I still am concerned about legal, financial and maintenance issues, but then I think about all the other widows and widowers who have dealt with these matters and have managed to carry on. They are my role models.

Besides, I have a strong faith and take it to the Lord in prayer. I know He will provide my every need.

And my family has been a big help. Thanks, Ken, Sheryl and Steve.

Sharon Stobe

Mount Prospect

Rita & Tom

Straight from the Source

You heal by saying "yes" to life, to family, to friends, and to opportunities which spark your interest.

You heal by recognizing the beautiful moments that still come your way, and by reflecting with gratitude on the years and good fortune you and your spouse were privileged to share.

I remember the first direct invitation I was offered, barely two weeks after Tom's death at the end of January 2016. Longtime parish friends asked me to join them for dinner on Valentine's evening. My first thought was, "Oh, I don't think I'm ready to go out so soon, especially on Valentine's Day."

But then I realized the kindness they were offering, and that maybe it would help me get through what would surely be a difficult holiday without my husband. So I said, "Yes," and that lovely experience, safe in the company of people who appreciated the loss I was feeling, gave me the courage and desire to say "yes" to a whole range of thoughtful invitations that came my way as that first year of grieving unfolded.

I think you also heal a little each time you allow a poignant memory or special place or piece of music to move you to tears -- and then you thank that missing partner for touching your heart again. My husband after 47 years of marriage and one really awful year of debilitating loss, the result of a malignant brain tumor. We were partners in so many ways, but here at home, there are myriad reminders of all the ways he found to make things look and work a little better, many of them at my suggestion. "You're THINK, and I'm DO," he would say.

Now I have begun to try my hand and wits at figuring out how to take care of a few of these tasks myself. So I am healing by learning, too.

I still miss my husband deeply and daily, of course, but I am finding satisfaction and pleasure in saying, "Yes," to life, family, friends, and experiences, both familiar and new. Not everyone would approach their grieving this way, but it has helped me enormously.

Rita Mathern

Naperville

Elizabeth & Ron

Straight from the Source

When I lost my spouse after having been married only 12 years, it was my darkest hour. I married Ron when I was in my mid-40s and although I was still working in a high-stress job, it was the happiest time in my life.

He was the love of my life and I still miss him terribly almost 14 years later.

Shortly after my husband's sudden death, many of our couple-friends were so traumatized, and I thought then that each of these couples would more than likely experience the loss of one or the other partner. I felt sad that I could not really do anything to prepare them for when it might happen to them.

Even though I felt as though a bear had ripped my heart with his big, bad claw, things don't hurt quite as much now. I am not sure, however, that I will ever heal from this chapter of my life.

I am content to live out the remainder of my days savoring the most wonderful memories of a truly remarkable married life.

I sometimes tell people who do not know me all that well that my husband is away on a trip and I will be joining him soon.

Weekends are especially difficult. Still. Now that I am retired, I'm sad that Ron and I were not able to celebrate this time of freedom in my life together.

I tried a support group, but found that I took on the other people's sorrows and decided I would go it alone.

I'm a spiritual person, so as in other dark times of my life, I decided to put all my trust and faith in the Lord. After all, I felt this was His call and I know that He has another plan for my life. In times past, I realize that He drew me closer to Him when things looked darkest.

In the spring, when all nature seems to pair off, I try not to be resentful. After all, so many people never get to experience perfect happiness that God blessed us with.

Elizabeth Weiss

Palatine

Judith & Donald

Straight from the Source

Six years ago, the love of my life died after 53 years of marriage. The loss was overwhelming.

My faith saw me through many days and I would remember the "Footprints" prose where the Lord carries you during your times of trial and suffering. I asked to be carried many times.

I read books on grief, just to be sure my feelings were normal. I also kept a journal and wrote down my feelings. That helped a great deal.

Friends who had lost a spouse were willing to listen and share their throughts.

I forced myself to go to certain functions -- such as rehearsals for the church choir, playing monthly cards with friends -- because I was worried if I didn't attend my normal activities, I wouldn't go back at all.

However, if I didn't feel like going to some things, I just didn't go. One can be in a crowded room and still feel alone.

It took me a year to feel comfortable in my own skin again. There is no timetable on grief. We all heal differently.

You realize you are no longer a couple but a single, and that takes some adjustments.

Time has helped, but there will always be an emptiness in my heart.

Judith L. McGough

Hoffman Estates

Linda & Tom

Straight from the Source

I lost my sweet husband Tom eight weeks ago. Quite frankly, I have little to no memory of the week following his passing until his funeral at Abraham Lincoln Cemetery. After that day, I went back into the state of shock I was in.

My husband survived Vietnam, and almost 10 years ago, he beat cancer. His battle against cancer, along with his dog, Jamieson, appeared in articles in the Daily Herald and in the Chicago Tribune. When I found him dead early on the morning before our 30th Anniversary, I couldn't believe it. At first, I didn't realize he was deceased. I called 911 and told them I couldn't turn him over to administer CPR.

Now I feel intense guilt -- he shouldn't have died alone. We were so close and always together. After Tom got so sick and almost died due to his cancer treatment, I realized that he was so precious to me, and I had to take care of him at all costs. For me to have let him down when he needed me most is unbearable.

Tom had gone to the Emergency Room with flu-like symptoms. Thirty-six hours later, he was dead. That weekend, I had no idea I was spending time with a man who was dying. When I helped him upstairs that night, I remember thinking that we were going back to the emergency room the following morning and I wasn't taking no for an answer from him. I realize now that neither of us was aware of the dire straits he was in.

The shock has subsided and reality has finally sunk in. Tom is the first thing I think of in the morning, I think of him throughout the day, and he is the last thing I think about before I go to sleep. I know it is repetitive to say that I am lost without him, but I am. Tom became my life and I just quite simply want him back.

Thank you for publishing these articles. It helps to know that at least in this regard, I am not alone.

Linda Linford

Warrenville

Kathleen & Tony

Straight from the Source

Loss of a spouse is a very difficult part of life to live through, although most of us seem to find a way to get through it.

I lost my husband Tony 14 years ago due to a brain tumor. We had 48 wonderful years of marriage together. I had six children to support me, after being given one year in which to enjoy him and help him along the way. I believe I did most of my grieving during that year without realizing it.

I had watched others and the way they handled this part of their lives, and I picked and chose the way I would do this.

With the help of my faith, family and friends, I was able to get on with my life -- mainly by journaling every day to my husband as if I was talking to him and telling him what went on during the day.

I did that for six and a half years, at which time I had started seeing someone who could help fill the void.

On the last day of my journaling, I wrote to my husband and told him that our love, life and memories would never be forgotten, but that I was able to grow another heart and let this person in to hopefully let me live out the rest of my life.

Kathleen A. Scaletta

Mount Prospect

Barry & Diane

Straight from the Source

Oct. 6, 2014. The long journey for Diane Marlene Cohn and her family came to an end on that new beginning.

Diane was stricken with this rare degenerative neurological condition causing parkinsonism, ataxia and autonomic dysfunction, Multiple System Atrophy (MSA).

It strikes without warning, neither hereditary nor genetic. This disease can and will affect the patient for between six and 10 years before it ends in death.

The disease robbed Diane and her three sons of their mother and me of my lifelong partner of 45 years.

My grief, with thoughts about Diane, are continual.

She is with me every day in some way, with that wonderful smile always present.

What then gets us through our collective days and thoughts and remembering her in all aspects of illness and health?

Now, help comes in all forms.

With the thoughts and actions of what we shared during our time together. That has made it easier to live through all these years, weeks and days since Diane passed.

My grief consultant, Heather Nickrand, Amita Alexian Brothers Hospice, has really helped during this time and was always there every time that I needed her.

With Heather's ability to listen and talk about Diane, without ever having talked to her or known her, have helped. Plus, the classes she provides, cooking and group sessions have helped.

I, as others in her grief sessions, applaud her constant support and help.

(Some additional background about Diane appears with my article on dailyherald.com.)

Barry Cohn

Streamwood

Harriet & Rich

Straight from the Source

Although my husband of almost 44 years died only a year ago ago at age 65, I think "working through my grief" will be a lifelong process.

Here's what has helped so far:

My faith.

My family.

My friends.

My grief counselor.

Although I feel cheated out of at least another 20 years with Rich, knowing that other women have been cheated out of more time helps me not to feel so sorry for myself.

Being grateful for the years we had together on earth and for the precious memories of our time together helps.

Doing something meaningful with my time like providing care for my grandchildren and volunteering at my church helps.

Being with my sons and their wives and the grandchildren help.

Having experienced signs, two of which others were privy to, has helped.

However there is the daily reality that I will never see him again on earth.

I hear that the pain lessens over time, but I don't know.

Harriet Malinowski

Buffalo Grove

Michael & Sue

Straight from the Source

I'm sure most people who have lost a spouse would say that they miss their life partner very, very much.

And while the saying goes, "time heals all wounds," there are just little things along the path of life that trickle in and remind one of those good times together as well as the somber reminder that the person you cherished so much is gone.

My life partner was very outgoing, considerate, compassionate, loving, caring and did whatever she could to extend a helping hand to those in the disabled community throughout her lifetime.

I became her primary caregiver for many years and without a doubt would do that all over again if I could have her back. She decided and willingly accepted going through the Journey Care Hospice Program so as to not burden me with her life-ending medical condition.

But at the end, she was not living the life that she would have wanted, and I know in talking with some of her caregivers that she definitely wanted me to move forward with my life after she died.

Participating in the weekly grief counseling meetings at the Journey Care Hospice Facility in Barrington helped me tremendously to work through and better understand what grief is.

Each individual had their own unique story to tell, which helped me express myself and discuss my loss openly.

On special dates and holidays, I bring out her "Memorial Board."

I also address and mail out a birthday, anniversary, Christmas and Easter card, and when I receive it a few days later, it brings both a tear and a smile to my face.

Michael A. Iwinski

Huntley

(My eulogy to her appears with this article on dailyherald.com.)

Joanne & Bruce

Straight from the Source

I am a widow. I have been a widow for 14 years. Bruce and I loved each other with every fiber of our being.

It was maybe four hours from the time he told me he didn't feel well and when he died. We did it all. Emergency Room, emergency cardiac cath, heard the Code Blue called in the cath room, Stent placement and then the doctor came out and said those words, "We did everything we could but he died." Our daughter was with me as were his brother and wife, so I was not alone, but suddenly I was. He was 59, I was 54. We had no plans for death.

It was not an easy road that stretched before me. My kids were grownups … one a teacher and the other with one more semester to go to finish his degree. My family was with me from across the country within 12 hours of Bruce's death. So we went through all the steps, and I learned things I didn't want to know. I am a glass-that-is-almost-always-full girl. I truly believed that although we had only 32 years together, I was blessed, as there are people who do not know one moment of the joy and fun and happiness we shared. Yes, we had our moments - we all do - but we had such a fantastic journey through those years. I have two wonderful children who stood by me and made me realize that sometimes no matter how good things are, life hands you tough stuff.

I admit that I have not gone to counseling, nor have I read books on death and grieving. To me, what I was feeling was really normal after losing part of yourself. And even after 14 years, I know how fluid grief is. Even today, a song or a passing thought and I can be back in that moment when I know that I will never hear his voice again or feel his arms around me again or rest my head on his shoulder for a moment and just take a rest from something too difficult. It doesn't happen often but it's OK; this is normal.

So I went forward with my life, because if I did not continue to be the best I could be, it would be an insult to what we had built together. I was the manager of a nursing unit at a local hospital and there were patients, families, staff and people I didn't even know who needed me. And I needed them. It is incredible, the caring that those in the medical field share with others. They put their arms around me and walked with me through those very difficult days as I learned to live a new life.

I had to move forward for my daughter and son, because even though they were adults, I could not give up and fail them. I had caring family who checked on me and all joined me in leaving Bruce in the North woods where he is part of the earth forever. And dear friends from near and far who still remember him even after 14 years. Over these years, I have seen my parents fail. I cared for them, and they are now both at peace. He was supposed to be by my side as I was with his parents.

Yes, I will always miss Bruce. Life is very different from what we thought it would be. I am one of those women whose son and his partner moved back in with me now that I am retired. It works for all of us. I am so sad that our grandson will not know Bruce, although his mom makes sure he can pick out PaPa Bruce pictures on our fridge. He is three years old, and sometimes he tells us he is talking with PaPa Bruce. Who knows, maybe he is. Bruce would have found great joy in watching him grow. I know I can hear Bruce laughing when I am trying to make one of those homeowner decisions or I have to replace the furnace or buy a new car. I can hear him say "You can do this." There is much I have to be thankful for and it starts with once there was Bruce.

Joanne Borck

Schaumburg

Anne & Robert

Straight from the Source

My Husband

A strong arm to lean upon

A tender shoulder to cry upon

A patient ear to sound upon

A firm chest to rest upon

A loving heart to rely upon

All these things to rely upon

All these things I find in you.

My Lover and my best friend

5/5/1986

I cross-stitched this for our 30th anniversary, and now I lost my heart of 61 years six months ago. His children and grandchildren and I are keeping him in our hearts forever.

Anne Cecchi

Palatine

Dave & Yollie

Straight from the Source

She was perfect. I couldn't ask for anything more. She loved me unconditionally. I had never experienced something so wonderful in my life. We were young, I had just graduated college she was in her second year. We dated eight years before getting married. I needed to make sure I was ready; she knew much earlier. She was my everything. Still is and always will be my everything, my Forever Love. We loved the same things, loved being together. We were not blessed with children but we had each other, our family and our faith. Let's be together, travel if we can and hang out with our family, I said. As long as we have that and God, we'll be fine.

Well for 20 years, for the most part, things were great. I can count the number of arguments we had on one hand. And all were mostly my fault. We lived and loved together. I am the luckiest man alive. She was diagnosed with Wegeners Granulomatosis, something not terminal in 2006. "I'll take care of you," I said, "We'll be OK." We were OK. She started feeling very weak in the summer of 2015. Went to the doctor and a blood count was low. Doctors said, "We'll monitor it accordingly."

A couple of months later, the count was a little lower. She started receiving transfusions every few weeks but then they were becoming more frequent. "We need to test your bone marrow," doctors said.

I told my Yollie, "You will be OK. I'm gonna always take care of you. It's going to be OK."

Bone marrow biopsy came back and she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in January 2016. Of course we both researched it on the internet and you know everything on there is true. We were devastated but a bone-marrow transplant could be successful. Life expectancy was five to 10 years, but the doctor said she had patients that had transplants and that was over 15 years ago. We both were cautiously optimistic or at least I was.

At the beginning of our marriage, we talked about how we would pass and when. We'll be in our 80s and holding hands as we both drift off and just fall asleep. You know just like in the movies. And now here she was just 49 years old. This can't be happening. "It will be OK. We'll get through this. I'm going to take care of you," I told her. Somehow I think she knew it wouldn't be, but she wouldn't let on. She didn't want to worry me. She always looked out for everyone else first. Always!!

On St. Patrick's Day, she was admitted into the hospital with a fever and low blood counts, everything white, red and platelets. I still thought things would be OK. I spent every night in the hospital with her. She did not want to ever spend the night alone in a hospital and she never did. I was always there. She was my angel, my forever love who I told she would never ever be alone.

Well, April 28, my beautiful wife Yollie passed away at age 49. So much for five to 10 years life expectancy. So much for being together in our 80s. I failed in taking care of her. I am riddled with so much guilt. I should have done better and more. Not just during her illnesses but always.

My wife made me the man I was. And I do stress WAS. I am a shell of that man who was confident, strong, fun. I'm scared to live without her. I question everything I do. I can barely decide what to wear. I cry every day. People I thought were my friends no longer stay in touch or are scared to reach out as am I. That's OK, I guess. How am I supposed to act. Time will heal, I hear and read about. Your family is here for you. I understand that, but it's just not the same. My mom has been sick since January 2017 and I deal with that, too. I know there are others who deal with things like this, too, but this wasn't supposed to happen to me so soon. We were supposed to be together till our 80s. This just isn't fair. I had to quit my job when my wife got sick and now I'm trying to take care of my mom so I'm still not working.

We had bought a house in 2013 so I'm trying to hang on to it. My uncle passed a year after my wife, my brother had open-heart surgery one month after she passed and my cousin who I am close to had five open-heart surgeries last year. I wonder what else can go wrong.

I have no feeling for anything. I feel absolutely Nothing. I've basically been numb for the last two years. I get the occasional anger/hate feelings. I don't know how to live. I've talked to a priest who says the right things. It's just up to me to believe them. Family and friends have seen signs that my wife is OK. Why haven't I? Am I being punished? Does she not love me anymore? So many thoughts pop up in my head. So many things I wanted to say and so many plans for the future now gone. I love you, Yollie. So much, my Forever Love. Para eternidad.

I hope by reading about others and their grief that I won't feel so alone. That I may be able to see a path to healing.

Dave Karall

Hanover Park

Pat & Al

Straight from the Source

I lost my spouse, Al Smith on July 4, 2016. He was 57 and we were married for 35 years. Al was my umbrella, my rock and my only true love.

My journey through my grief has been difficult and is ongoing. There is no way to prepare for the loss of a spouse. Whether it happens suddenly because of an accident or slowly over time due to an illness, you are never prepared.

In the case of my spouse who died from cancer, you continue to hope and pray for a miracle that never comes. But you can't give up hope or you could never make it through the day.

I saw the following quote which is very true: "You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice that you have."

I met my husband Al, when we were both 19 and we were married at 21. We left our parents' houses, grew up together and planned on growing old together. Growing old together was a luxury of which we were deprived.

There is no way to prepare for the overwhelming grief that makes it hard to breathe and weighs on your chest like a 100-pound weight. The loss of a spouse is a grief like no other.

I was previously devastated by the loss of a beloved parent or a pet, which are difficult losses, but in retrospect they pale in comparison to the loss of a spouse.

If someone would have asked me previously, I would have said that I was an independent and self-sufficient woman. But nothing could have been further from the truth. I didn't know how to be single, I only knew how to be part of a couple.

Nothing was more upsetting than seeing the statement from the Social Security Administration that said "the marriage ended in death".

I still feel married and I don't think of my marriage ended. I don't think that means I am being unrealistic or avoiding the obvious, it means that I truly still feel married in my heart.

A way to work through the process of grieving is to find a spousal support group. The members of that group truly know how you feel. It is a safe place to honestly say how you feel without being judged. They also give you hope when you see how others have progressed.

If you don't like the first group that you join, try another. Keep trying until you find one that is a good fit. The Alexian Brothers Hospice bereavement group is wonderful and supportive. The facilitator, Heather Nickrand, is exceptional at her job and it is evident that it is more than a job to her.

She gives you support, encouragement, exercises and techniques to help you move forward in your journey of grief.

She is so supportive and lets you know that you can reach out to her at any time.

You learn early on that grief is not just something that you "get over." You continue to work through it and learn to move forward ever so slightly in spite of the grief that continues to be with you just like the spouse that was with you day in and day out.

You learn that the journey through grief is different for everyone. It is a long journey with many bumps in the road and setbacks but with help and support, you hopefully continue to move forward.

Al and I were married for 35 years and I didn't truly appreciate what a wonderful gift that was until it was gone.

Little things that might have annoyed you previously make your heart ache because you miss them so very much.

If you are open and receptive, you might find that your spouse will let you know that they are still with you. I have come to believe that there are no coincidences but there are signs from your spouse especially when you need them most.

I am grateful for family and friends who continue to check in on me and allow me the luxury of talking about Al. Some people find conversations regarding a lost spouse uncomfortable and they try to change the subject, which is not at all helpful. It's hard not to talk about someone who was such a big and important part of your life.

The members of your support group truly understand as they have been there as well and they allow you to express how you truly feel.

I feel that the grief support group has been extremely beneficial to me in my journey. I am very grateful for the group, the friendships that I have made from within the group and I know that I will continue through my journey of grief with the support that I receive from them.

Pat Smith

Elk Grove Village

Linda & Bob

Straight from the Source

At my wedding ceremony in 1974 when I heard the words "Until death do you part," I really didn't think about what those words meant.

Now I have a very personal understanding of those five words.

My beloved, Bob, passed away 14 years ago from cancer. Although he was not perfect, he was perfect for me.

Many people never find their true calling in life, but Bob found his a few years before he died. He was called to become a deacon in the Catholic Church.

I had never seen him so happy as when he was helping other people. Bob was one of those rare people who say "I forgive and forget" and truly mean it.

The stories of the effect he had on their lives got me through those early days. How did I cope with this loss?

Our youngest child was a sophomore in high school when Bob passed away. She was devastated by the loss of her dad as were our two older sons. My daughter, especially, needed me to be strong.

What helped me the most was that Bob had left a precious gift for me. Unbeknown to me, he had spoken to many people, some who I barely knew, and asked them to take care of me. He even told a friend, "Whenever you see Linda, give her a hug."

These friends got me through those first few years. They were there to provide a shoulder to cry on, to lend a hand in home repairs and to share memories of how Bob had touched their lives.

I still miss him every day, but I see him in the way my sons interact with their own children. When I have complimented them, they each say "I had a great role model." I see him in the smart, confident young woman my daughter has become.

Bob may not be here physically, but he left his mark on countless people that I see every day.

Linda Wade

Elgin

Last Kiss rose

THE LAST KISS SERIES

Patty & Corey: The Heartbreak.

Diana & Joe: A widow's advice: Embrace bereavement, don't avoid it A Straight From the Source story.

Janice & Joe A story of someday A Straight From the Source story

Janice & Joe Five lessons I've learned so far A Straight From the Source story

Patty & Corey: The Love Story.

Patricia & Tim: A widow cherishes the memories of her warrior A Straight From the Source story

Bill & Marian: A love that lives in dreams A Straight From the Source story

Dennis & Maggie: I reread her letters, I played her favorite songs A Straight From the Source story

Dennis & Maggie: Just Let Me Talk A Straight From the Source story

Patty & Corey: A widow wishes she had asked for one more kiss.

Patty & Corey: A widow's mission to sustain her husband's barbershop.

Donald & Helen: A widower's essay becomes his daughter's short film A Straight From the Source story

Susan & Guy: A widow's guide to dealing with the loss of a spouse A Straight From the Source story

Ted & Donna A widower's plan to count his blessing at times of deepest grief A Straight From the Source story

Fred & Beverly: Unique and Devastating Loss (by Wifeless) A Straight From the Source story

Last Kiss Epilogue: Some widows heal from grief by healing others

Ken & Michele: A widower's story of a loving couple's life A Straight From the Source story

Stories of loss from our readers


For more on the series, please click here.


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