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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Some questions have no answers — so deal with it

Grief affects people in different ways. There are different levels, and, of course, different stages ranging from anger to recovery and everywhere in between. All reveal something about us.

The death of a parent might hit differently than that of a child, spouse or even sibling. Although the loss of a parent is no doubt a source of sadness, parents preceding their children in death is the natural order of things. It is what is supposed to happen. Parents are not built to bury their children, and similarly, it is not natural when a spouse or partner passes too young or unexpectedly.

Sept. 14 marked six months since Susan, my wife of 29 years, died after a five-year battle with a rare disease known as multiple system atrophy. Anyone interested in reading more on that disease or her experience can click here

I am normally a private person. The only personal public ramblings I can recall in the past several years are the notice about my wife's passing referenced above, and when our daughter, Lauren, graduated from college last December. 

Both were life-changing events: one good, one not so good.

When a spouse dies, you become awash in regret and guilt, over words said — and unsaid. Or at least I was. Things that you wanted to do together now will never happen. Shared goals now will go unfilled. You yearn for one more day, one more chance to touch, hold or hug that person. One more chance to express your feelings for them, to right a wrong, say you're sorry, hear their voice or laughter, or simply say "I love you." Suffice to say, I never thought it was possible to miss someone so much.

The weight can be crushing, and falling into a hole of depression after a death is very easy. Some days it feels impossible to go on. Some days it feels like you do not want to. It's hard to get to sleep at night and even harder to awaken the next day

Climbing back out of this hole is not easy. It is not impossible, but you have to work at it, and you will probably need help.

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Happier times: Sipping on oversized daiquiris during Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 2000.

Most are familiar with some version of the seven stages of grief that includes a variation of shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, reconstruction and acceptance. The path from beginning to end is not always so linear, making it possible to reside in multiple stages simultaneously.

For six months, I have been bogged down mostly in the anger stage. I wanted answers to tough questions; questions about how something like this could happen to someone who, at 62, still had so much more life left to live. How could this happen to someone who was always the first to answer the call when others were in need? 

It has taken this long to realize that I have been asking questions for which there are no answers. 

I could say I came to that realization on my own, but that would be untrue. I could not have made this journey without my daughter and my closest friends.

When it comes to friends, I feel that I have been blessed more than most. I have many good friends, but a small circle of very close friends, most of whom I have known for more than 40 years, and all of whom have listened to me rant or whine more in the past six months than anyone should have to. Their level of interaction has run the course from just listening, to consoling to telling me to remove my head from my ass.

All points of view have been necessary and welcomed during this journey, and all have helped play a role in my own recovery.

I am hardly qualified to offer advice to anyone on anything. In fact, the past 61 years have shown I'm not very good at taking it, either. But I have learned a thing or two in the past six months. 

One will never be whole again after going through something like this. There will always be a void, and no sense will come of it. That leaves two options — get stuck in the quicksand and never escape, or learn to live with the uncertainties of life and move on. Focus on what you had. You learn quickly that there were many more than you'd ever realized. Just as important, you learn the bad times no longer are of significance.

One of these paths you can travel alone. The other requires you to enlist the help of family and friends. Surround yourself with them, especially the ones who tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

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