christine longaker discusses the loss of a partner

By Gilles Bédard

Q: You started your spiritual path through a dramatic event, the death of your husband. Could you tell me about it?

A: In a sense, that was a perfect example -- when you get really stuck and there is no way out -- then sooner or later, you have to open yourself to realize that there is another reality, another way to see the meaning of your life and go through it. When my husband was first diagnosed with acute leukemia, we were both very young, I hadn't had any direct encounters with death before and I realized that we were facing the very real possibility of his death.

I remember thinking to myself that all I ever heard about death is that it is something very tragic and unfair, it's the worst thing that can happen to you. I said to my husband, "If that's all that death is, then no matter how long you have to live, we're just going to be in this tragic story and we're going to feel helpless and victims of our circumstances."

Neither of us, at that time, had a spiritual path, but I remember saying to my husband, "I don't know exactly what death is or if there is anything after death but maybe we can try to view the fact that we're facing death as a gift in our life."

So, even though it seems like a huge package of unwanted suffering, if we view death as a gift maybe we can find out what the gift is. We didn't have an answer at the beginning. But we knew that we had been taking our lives for granted, not communicating well in our relationship and not really appreciating that our life had any meaning or direction.

By deciding to view death as a gift, even though during that year we still had a lot of suffering, we made mistakes and often still hurt each other unconsciously in the things that we did, we had to work through those mistakes very quickly. We had committed to our intention to change and live in a more meaningful and loving way. So, just changing our view point about death was an incredible gift for us; even the mistakes that we made became gifts because they forced us to connect with our love and communicate more genuinely.

At the time my husband died, I felt that part of the relationship was complete, that we had done the best we could. Even before he died, we were able to apologize to each other for the hard times we'd given each other and also express our gratitude for the year that we'd had, the love that we'd shared and how much we had grown. So when he died, I felt very peaceful and I could really let him go with all my love because I knew we had lived his last year of life really well, even with its mistakes.

At the same time, I sensed that there was another, deeper dimension to death, and that something important was happening in that transition. And I didn't have a clue what to do for him, how to support him spiritually, both before and after he died. My desire to understand the deeper dimension of death launched me into doing hospice work as well as finding an authentic spiritual path.

Q: You mention an aspect which I found very significant: "Gazing continually into the mirror of death during the year of his illness encouraged us to find and commit to a meaningful direction in our lives. Rather than feeling we were helpless victims, we committed to creating the kind of life we truly wanted in our final year together. This change came about in the way we decided to view death on that very first day in the hospital."

A: It is making that commitment to life. That's what I found beautiful in this quote by Brother David Steindl-Rast:

You're not just given life, you have to actually choose life, you have to make a commitment to live and to find a meaning and a direction.

And until you do, you're just half alive, you just feel like you're wandering around. I felt that way as a young person. I thought life was just to enjoy and to have fun. It didn't really matter what you did, what you valued. You could just fool around, nothing really counted. But suddenly, when you are face to face with death, you realize that this is a really precious time, this chance that we have in our life is not going to last.

What we do in this life is very significant.

We can bring a lot of benefit into this world, we can heal a relationship with somebody we've had a hard time with or change things and give ourselves meaningful direction. I still make mistakes and am sometimes very unaware, but I know that its possible to contribute and make a difference in other people's lives.

©1998 Gilles Bédard

the wisdom of a child

By Kevin D. Catton

Never had life been so difficult. As a veteran police officer, exposed to the constant stress and pressures inherent in the profession, the death of my life partner struck a hammer blow that pitched me into the depths of depression.

At twenty-eight years of age, my beloved Liz had suffered a perforated colon as a complication of Crohn's disease and died tragically, after several operations and six agonizing weeks in the intensive care unit. Our first born son, Seth, celebrated his fourth birthday the day following his mother's death and Morgan, our youngest boy, would reach his third, exactly three weeks later.

Liz, who had been a stay-at-home mother, excelled at cooking, housecleaning and all the other domestic chores that contribute to the embellishment of our lives. In true macho-cop, chauvinist fashion, I had taken her generosity for granted, never having time to take on any of these responsibilities myself.

As a result I found myself suddenly, in the midst of my grief, thrust ranting and screaming into the role of maid, shopper, driver, launderer, childcare professional, cook and dishwasher. We had moved into a heavily mortgaged new home only weeks before Liz's death, and our financial situation was already precarious. I soon realized that police work, with its rotating shifts, would necessitate the services of a live-in nanny, further taxing my already overburdened salary. To my great dismay, the constant demands for attention from two preschoolers left me exhausted and irritated, until I began to resent their very existence.

In the days following, loneliness and pain gave way to guilt, anger and eventually, self pity. I spiraled deeper and deeper into despair and it wasn't long before my body began to display its inner turmoil. Despite my efforts to veil my grief from the children, my eyes became dark and baggy, my weight plummeted and on one occasion, the boys watched me spill their milk all over the table as a quivering hand thwarted my efforts to fill a glass.

Although I dreaded the moment, I knew at some point I would have to delve into the task of sorting through Liz's personal effects, cleaning out the closets and boxing up her clothes and other belongings. One evening, the boys tucked away for the night, I began. Each dress, that scarf, this pair of shoes, one by one, evoked its treasured, if not painful memory and feelings of overwhelming guilt. It was in a small fold, deep within her purse, that I found almost by accident, a neatly folded, tiny slip of yellowed paper, its creases, tight and crisp with age, protecting a carefully printed message.

"Dear Kevin," it began, "these are all the reasons that I love you . . ." and as I read on, her words obscured by tears, my heart ached, and my body shook with convulsive, painful sobs of loneliness. I had hit bottom.

Slowly, in that hopeless fog of despair, I became aware of two small arms wrapped around my legs as I sat at the edge of the bed. A small voice asked in all the innocence of his three years, "What's the matter, Daddy?" "I feel sad Morgan, that Mommy's gone to heaven and we won't see her for a very long time," I said, struggling vainly for composure.

"Don't worry Daddy, we'll help you. When Seth and I get up in the morning, we'll put the cereal on the table and all you'll have to do is make the toast."

With those few, simple, loving words, my three-year-old child taught me a greater lesson than any other. His thoughts were sunlight, filtering into the dreary, winter landscape of my soul and I knew at that instant, that life would be okay.

Copyright 2002 Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

More beautiful stories from Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul ...

Grief: different experiences, different expressions
Anger and depression
Trauma + recovery
Illness: a new perspective
Suicidal urges
Learn more about Antonella Gambotto-Burke ...
A healthy life
The healing power of hope
In debt?
The laughter page
Find your own North Star
Optimism - the key
How to feel better about yourself
Feel like a hug?
An inspiring interview with Louise Hay

Message board for survivors of murder - NOW!
Scroll down this page for excellent message boards on losing your beloved - NOW!
Buy How to Recover From Grief
Create a memorial for your beloved
National Center for Victims of Crime
Neighbours who Care
Compassionate Friends
Free memorial page for your murdered beloved
Great free guided audio online relaxation exercises
Message boards for all survivors - siblings, parents, grandparents - online NOW!
Parents of Murdered Children's Website
Email Parents of Murdered Children
Murdered siblings
Crisis intervention
Overcoming Sleep Problems, by the father of a murdered girl
Helping Someone When a Loved One has been Murdered
Excellent books that deal with those who are murdered
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation
Why the death penalty is no solution
Suggestions for Survivors of Murder
Compassionate Friends
Survivors' newsletter
Trauma and Grief