Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.
Nothing prepared me for April 20, 1996. It was the day after Easter, a supposed time of resurrection and goodness. Instead, my husband was pronounced dead after experiencing a heart attack and sliding his brand new Infiniti into the center divide on the highway near our home.
Days before, after years of tearing one another apart, we had struck a truce and took the girls to the desert. Along the way we stopped to see a play. The star of the show, Meredith Macrae, was a friend of mine. Would you believe a man had a heart attack during her performance? This was an eerie foreshadow of the foreplay we were about to experience. We arrived and Palm Springs was bursting with color. We made love for the last time in what felt like forever. At least it was progress.
Two days later he was dead.
Nature’s way of saying it’s over! And in an instant I joined the ranks of my ancestors. I was now a third generation young widow, as my mother and grandmother were also widowed at a young age. I remember hoping it would never happen to one of my daughters and it did.
After losing someone, whether you hated the son of a bitch or the person was your true love, you always lose part of yourself. There are always memories you have with that person and when they die you no longer have them present to enhance your shared memory. That is the irreversible truth of death.
I have grieved! The number of folks that I have loved and lost reminds me of a continual tidal wave: my father (suicide), my son (SIDS death), my first husband, my stepfather and my mother. As a result, I do great Waikiki funerals equipped with soulful singers, outrigger rides, leis and cremated remains wrapped in Ti leaves.
There was no time to prepare. Death simply happens. In my fifties and sixties two of my closest friends died from the Big C: Judge Napoleon O. Jones and my cousin and soul sister Suzanne. Also there were two faithful pets, a chocolate lab named Brownie, and a golden lab named Max Cohen.
Death reared its ugly head again this year with four more close deaths. The passing of loved ones reminds me of the lessons I’ve learned about grief and loss:
Have insurance. And make sure no matter the age that there is a will in place because it is difficult to pick up the pieces.
Write down how you want your life celebrated in death.
Know that in death some people will turn inward and some will turn away from you.
That you will discover new gifts – not tangible gifts but gifts of the spirit.
Find a way to celebrate yourself and your loved one.
Be gentle with your soul – grief comes in waves and no two people grieve the same way.
As good as Elizabeth Kubler Ross was in telling us about stages of grief, none ever follows that exact trajectory.
Depression is normal – not pathological – during grief.
At times you may be unintentionally emotionally unavailable to others as grief takes hold.
Allow your children to participate and know death can be explained.
Let others help you and it’s okay to ask for help.
Remember someone the way you want to be remembered.
Whatever your custom, whether it’s planting prayer flags on a mountain, spreading ashes over the world, having a cemetery plot, etc., know as the Buddhists believe that life is inextricably linked to death and that you have the opportunity to be present each and every moment you are alive.
Talk to professionals or join a grief group.
Exercise, let tears flow, rejoice and discover. The path is not an easy one. Life, as they say, is for the living and in each breath we can be fully human, feel our feelings, and rise to be the best version of ourselves.
To learn more about Louise Stanger and her interventions and other resources, visit her website.