Eleven Months

Rock concert

Grief in the Time of COVID-19

My husband Victor died by suicide on January 11, 2019. He was 67 and we had been married for 30 years. 

Victor and I first met in high school in Coconut Grove, Florida in 1969 and on our first date we saw Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at a club on Miami Beach. As is often typical of high school romances, Victor and I only dated for about a year, but we always kept in touch and remained friends. 

In 1989, after we had moved from Miami, first for college and later for work, and after marriage and divorce, we met again when we both happened to be back in Miami – and we’ve been together ever since – until January 2019. 

I won’t go into the details of Victor’s suicide, only to say that I know the trigger that caused him to make his final decision, and I have no unanswered questions from that last day and the years leading up to it. 

I am beyond sad, but I understand why he did what he did. 

But, I do want to add that the decision to stop living is one that people arrive at by different paths, some over a lifetime, some over several months, and some in a manner of minutes. 

Although preventative measures are essential, many problems that lead people to kill themselves cannot always be fixed by anti-depressants or talk-therapy – this was the case with Victor.

Suicide adds another layer to grieving. There’s the trauma of the event, unanswered questions, mixed emotions, and maybe even stigma and shame. 

Sarah miller

And, even though you understand there was nothing you could have done to prevent your loved one’s death, there will always be a little corner of your brain that wonders “what if.” 

All of us who are grieving have been through an unimaginable loss – no matter how your child, spouse, parent, sibling, partner, or dearest friend died.

Since Victor’s death, I use the word “defiant” to describe myself. I am defiant in my grief and defiant that I will still have a good life. I am not going to let Victor’s death, and how he died, define the rest of my life. 

But, as the reality of loss settles in, defiance can be hard to hold onto. I remember at about month four I thought, “I’ve got this, I can do this,” and then month five came around and I thought, “I can’t do this, this is too hard.” 

“I’ve got this, I can do this,” and then … I thought, “I can’t do this, this is too hard.” 

That’s what grieving is: back and forth and up and down. But those waves of grief, so appropriately named, do get further apart and shorter in length as time goes on. 

How am I after 11 months? 

  • I see that my future will not be my present.
  • I don’t cry as often, and when I do, it’s in shorter bursts. 
  • I visit memories of my life with Victor without that horrible pain. 
  • I still think of our routines but don’t dwell on them.
  • I’m sad in the grocery store, but I don’t cry. 
  • I am not living in my “active” grief, but I still visit it at times. 

Grieving is hard work. Not only do we have to learn to live without our loved one, but we have to constantly monitor what thoughts, activities, people, and places are best for us. 

Grieving is hard work.

Our job now is to take care of ourselves.

Our safe places and the people we rely on may not be available to us.

We must all be defiant.

Our job now is to take care of ourselves, and that’s not easy, especially with the Coronavirus pandemic. Our safe places and the people we rely on may not be available to us. Triggers pop up more frequently. And, the last thing we want is change. We’ve had enough change to last a lifetime.

But you need to hold onto this: throughout all of the sadness and pain of your loss, throughout these uncertain times – you’re still you. You’re sadder, lonelier, maybe even scared – but you’re still you. 

You still have everything that’s gotten you this far in life. You’ve experienced unimaginable loss, and now, this pandemic. But, you’re still you. You may not see it, but you do have the courage, strength, and resilience to keep moving forward. 

We must all be defiant. 

“Eleven Months” is excerpted from a presentation at CaringMatters, a nonprofit in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which provides free support for children, adults, and families dealing with serious illness, caregiving and grief. Sarah Miller, a freelance writer, and instructional designer in Washington, DC, is at 15 months now. She still remains defiant. 

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2 thoughts on “Eleven Months”

  1. Elizabeth Coplan

    Comment from Mary Lou Dungan: Although it has been 2 years today since my husband, Hal, died from a stroke, these weeks of COVID-19 isolation have brought me back to the loneliness of the first awful weeks. Despite family and friends nearby and a personality that appreciates solitude, these are hard days for this introvert.
    Like Sarah Miller says in the Eleven Months piece, defiance has an important role in my grief journey. Defiance often has a negative connotation, but in this case, it gets us through some very rough days and nights. I will not allow this sorrow to steal my love of life, of my family and friends, my memories of the too short time we had together. I am not the same woman that I was, but I hope to be better, more empathetic and understanding of others. I will not let the troubles of everyday life keep me from finding some spark of joy every day. I will take care of myself, eat well, enjoy my hobbies, I will reach out to others who travel this road and give and gain encouragement along the way. There will be days when I feel down, but that was true even before Hal died. I have so much to be grateful for that I cannot stay down for long. Keep smiling, keep helping others, keep on listening to music, keep on enjoying your hobbies, keep on being defiant. Don’t just survive, thrive!!!

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