She looked into the mirror, puckered her lips together to make sure her lipstick was perfect. Two spritzes of perfume and she was off to Whiskey. This is Los Angeles in the 1980’s and going back-stage to see her lead guitarist boyfriend of a band named Dezire is about the only place Stephanie desired to be.
She still remembers those guitar licks and the bright stage lights. She remembers his voice and how he used to always know how to make her smile. But some memories are fading away and the pain of losing them is unbearable. Gone is the music that made her feel alive when he performed them. Gone is the laughter and the touch of his hand. The loud cheering used to leave Stephanie’s ears ringing while the silence now leaves her heart pounding.
Gene and Stephanie’s lives were forever changed when the doctor diagnosed Gene with cancer. Not just any cancer. Squamos cell carcinoma. Stage Four. Stephanie thought, how could this be? It was just a sore throat? Stage four? She thought, nobody comes back from stage four. How will I tell Brooke?
The drive home in their Fiat was one of absolute disbelief. That Fiat would soon become Stephanie’s quasi-home, transporting her and her husband to countless medical appointments, five rounds of chemotherapy and thirty-five rounds of radiation. She was exhausted; but unwavering.
Gene no longer recognized himself. He lost his hair and was down to 103 pounds. His physical pain was unbearable. It was only matched by her emotional pain. She stayed with him throughout and realized her love for him was undeniable and stronger than ever. Once sleeping in hotel rooms, visiting him backstage and idolizing him from a large crowd of adoring fans, she now found herself in lonely hospital rooms, sleeping on windowsills next to his hospital bed. “I never wanted him to wake up alone in those hospital rooms. I always wanted to be there with him.”
Gene passed away in Stephanie’s arms. At that moment, the world stopped and everything changed. Stephanie says, “I could not believe what was happening and what I was seeing.” The funeral, the family, the visitors, that time is still a blur. It felt as if it was an out of body experience happening to someone else. It was a never-ending horror movie. Then there was having to tell Brooke, their daughter.
Brooke is twenty-four, so she does not ask questions or talks as often as I would like to talk about it but now cries often. “She doesn’t share with me much because she doesn’t want to make it harder for me,” Stephanie believes. “We talk less but she worries about me more though.” Gene’s death has affected them both and has affected their relationship with each other.
After the funeral, friends and family would come by to comfort and support Stephanie and her daughter, but the friends stopped coming by as much, and then not at all. It is hard to deal with this significant loss alone and Stephanie, like many other widows, wish they had more friends and family to talk with, to help them with the grind of daily life.
Stephanie created her own website wackywidow.com to help express her own grief while comforting other widows. “You will feel insane. Grief is bipolar. What you are feeling is actually normal and despite how weird it seems, we have all felt it. Feel what you feel, it takes time and there will always be bad days. Even years from now,” Stephanie describes.
Her emotional loss has taken its physical toll as well. She forgets things, has trouble eating. She is tired all the time and cannot focus. “Food does not taste right to me anymore,” Stephanie says. “I am not at all myself. I spend most of my time alone. It has affected the way I look at life. It has completely changed my personality.” She now feels like she is just ghosting around and “waiting for something good to happen”. She writes on her website on January 20, 2019. “I wish I was the one that died.” This type of survivor’s guilt is common among widows.
Three Ways to Honor Your Loved one’s Legacy
Share Your Story with Others
Your loved one’s legacy will live on in the stories you share with others about your loved one and about your own journey through your own grief. Allow others in and allow yourself to make new memories.
Some stories and legacies may only be told after we are no longer here and through those we have left behind. Allow your soul to hear your loved one’s symphony and paint the world a new masterpiece. You can be a new canvas through which your loved one can reach the world with.
In a blog article from What’sYourGrief.com called “Grief and the Fear of Letting Go”, Litsa Williams suggests embracing the idea that it is possible to make new bonds while keeping one’s loved one’s memory alive. Sharing your story will help you bond with others. But you must first grant yourself the permission to share a part of yourself and a part of your loved one.
Professional Help may be Necessary for Proper Healing
Reach out to a professional, a doctor or counselor if feeling too anxious or extremely depressed and unable to cope with daily life. Try to find local resources or support groups that you can go to. Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 if in crisis. Although anxiety and depression are normal responses to tragedies and losses, professionals may be able to help get you through your darkest and hardest days.
Connecting with others in your community may provide some comfort, allow healing, and promote a positive legacy of your loved one. It can also inspire others to heal themselves and enrich the legacies of those they have lost.
Have faith that God is with you every step of the way and is seeking your trust to help you navigate through one of life’s greatest and most difficult storms. You are tackling an arduous task. It will not be easy. The struggle is real.
National Widow’s Day is May 3. Widows suffer every day. Every. Day. Reach out to anyone you know who has lost someone and let them know you still think about that person and still care for them, even if just to offer a quick prayer or say hello. Though those grieving may seem distant, they actually need you more than ever. They may be keeping away because they do not want to burden you or are afraid of how you will judge their frailty. If feel a yearning to reach out to someone, please do not ignore it. Reach out. Call. Be there. Even if years have passed.