As I wrote in The Many faces of Grief in October, my husband Ted’s 54 yo son Don died, not completely unexpectedly, September 28, 2018.
We were not shocked by Don’s death, but he was still my husband’s son and Ted is mourning for what should have been.
I’m in a unique position to observe intimately my husband’s adjustment to life’s new normal without his son. It’s simultaneously intellectually fascinating and emotionally nauseating.
Ted was acutely aware of Don’s long history of destructive habits including excessive alcohol intake for decades, prescription drug abuse, cigarettes and more. It has also come to light that Don used cocaine for a while 23 years ago. The autopsy is still pending, so a specific cause of death hasn’t is not yet available. Don’s steady decline to his end was ‘death by inches’.
My husband, partly because of his Italian heritage and life circumstances, was both father and mother to Don. As I was absorbing the shock of his passing, I worried that Ted would eventually cocoon into a cave of depression and never come out.
That has happened a few times and will again, but he also has surprised me with productive positive behaviors. Ted resumed golfing with ‘the guys.’ We celebrated a milestone anniversary all dressed up. He went to visit another son, daughter-in-law and the grandkids for his birthday. The kids, ages 7 and 9, of course showered him with kisses, giggles, streamers and play.
Ted has described beautifully and transparently how he feels at times:
After his first day back with the golf guys, he said “It felt so strange to be playing golf, outwardly pretending everything was okay knowing my son’s ashes were in an urn.” Of course, it felt eerily strange!
“Thanksgiving and Christmas won’t really look any different as Don hasn’t been here in years, but it will feel different.” Of course, it will feel different! (Don lived within a half hour of us, but had refused to come to family events as his addictions really took over. Until the day he died, I hadn’t seen him for almost 4 years).
First Christmas without… First birthday without… That first year of firsts is very hard! There’s no escaping the pain. There’s no fast forward through recovery.
Tragically there have been far too many young people taken too soon. Besides my step son’s death on Friday 28th, our friend’s 22yo nephew died the following Sunday; my cousin’s 30yo son-in-law died Tuesday and my friend’s 40yo husband passed away right in front of her on Wednesday.
Death and tragedy do not discriminate! In less than a week, four families that I know well, have experienced devastating and sudden losses, all young.
But as my girlfriend said, referring to her first day back to work, “Tomorrow I will put on my big girl panties and just get through it.”