My First Christmas without Gretchen
My wife and I had been married for 40 years when she passed away from breast cancer earlier in 2011. We have two sons, Erik (31) and Mark (29). Gretchen made the Christmas holiday season very special for us. When the boys were young, she would decorate our home, which brought out the Christmas Spirit in all of us. At the same time, I would put up lights outside our home in an effort to try to match the warmth she put into the decorations inside.
The effort she put into making this a special holiday for us was appreciated by us but probably not as much as we should have now that Gretchen is no longer with us. She had a special recipe for Christmas cut out cookies that she would make for us. We would help her ice them and add some Christmas colored sugar sprinkles. Decorating our Christmas tree was a family affair, although Gretchen put forth most of the effort to make this a focal point of our family room.
The Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers were there because of her. When the boys were young it was always ahigh pointof Christmas morning when they opened their presents from Santa and us. By retrospectively looking at this time in our lives, we realize what a special mother and wife Gretchen was.
The 2011 Christmas season is the first we have experienced without Gretchen. How will this holiday season ever be the same? The answer is that it never will be. However, we have to realize that she would want us to enjoy Christmas. At the same time this will give us the opportunity to remember how important a part of our lives she was for us.
This year I decorated my home, with the help of some close friends, as a memorial to Gretchen. I knew she would want it that way. It is difficult to see all these beautiful decorations without thinking of her. But this is part of the grieving and healing process. Memories are made to be relived. But they should not cause us to stop how we live our lives. Again, she would have wanted us to continue to grow and enjoy the days ahead of us.
Gretchen, we love you very much. We know you are in a better place where cancer does not exist and you are filled with joy forever. One day, the four of us will be together again so we can share Christmas once again.
There are many types of losses that result in grief. The most prominent ones are the loss of a spouse, a son or a daughter, divorce and the loss of a job. There are also different ways that we react to these major life events. Some people are able to work through the grief process on their own but many are not able to do this or will only be able to do this over a very long time. An article in the January 9, 2005 issue of Time Magazine by Claudia Wallis titled “The New Science of Happiness” says that the average time spent navigating the grief process is 5 to 8 years for someone who lost a loved one. This was based on a study by Edward Diener, who is an American psychologist, professor, and author.
Let’s put this in perspective. If the average life expectancy is 78 years old, this equates to anywhere from 6% to 10% of someone’s entire life. Or if this loss occured when one was 60 years old, the average grief process could take up almost half of that person’s remaining life. Doesn’t this seem like a long time to be spent in a state of unhappiness and desperation? What can be done to shorten the time spent in the grief process? Time does not heal but how one spends their time working through the loss is very important. Everyone should realize that sometimes the best course of action is to seek help from someone who specializes in grief counseling.
Through the proper application of grief counseling, the period of time spent in this “state of limbo” can be reduced significantly. My story is a prime example of this. I lost my wife of 40 years to breast cancer. I had just moved into a new home and was in between jobs at the same time. I decided shortly after my wife’s death that I was not going to let this loss steal a major portion of my remaining life. What I like to say is that I attacked the grief process. I started attending a Grief Share program offered by my church. I read numerous books on the subject and conducted much research on the Internet. I also enlisted the help of some professional grief coaches at the Grief Coach Academy, which I later joined so I could help others who need assistance with the grief process so they can return to a fulfilling and joyful life.
By putting forth some concentrated effort and enlisting the help of grief counseling professionals, I was able to not only reduce the time spent there but also learned a lot about the grief process and how it impacts my life. Some of the things that came out of the way that I navigated the grief process are as follows:
- It is OK to express my feelings and show my emotions. This is an integral part of what I was going through.
- I don’t have to feel like I have to go it alone. There are many people who are ready, willing and able to offer a helping hand.
- The 5 stages of grief have to be addressed, although not in any particular order or with equal weighting. Everyone is different in how they address the grief process.
- Only through a concerted effort on my part did I progress through my particular grief experience.
- There was substantial guidance provided to me by friends, family members and professionals. I learned to accept this because they had my best interests at heart.
- I learned a lot about myself during this episode in my life. Things that I could use in the future.
- After progressing through the grief process I can honestly say that I have become a happier and more complete human being.
- Because of my positive experience I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to helping others through this difficult period of time. The satisfaction of helping others is the best reward for me.
The result, it took me only a few months to navigate my personal grief process. I am so happy that I reached out for help with this issue that can have such a dramatic effect on one’s life. How do you know when it is time to consider enlisting the support of someone who specializes in grief counseling? Below are some questions to ask yourself.
- Have you lost the ability to enjoy things that used to provide you personal satisfaction?
- Do you find yourself not wanting to be around your family and friends because you believe you would “put a damper on the party”?
- Do you find yourself constantly thinking of your loved one after several months after his or her death?
- Are you afraid of becoming close to new people or even with existing family and friends because you fear of losing them at some point?
- Do you try to keep yourself constantly busy so that you won’t think about your loss?
- Do you feel numb to your normal emotions?
- Are you unable or unwilling to express your true feelings about various aspects of your life that used to be very important to you?
- Do you feel stuck in your grief, unable to move on, even though it has been quite some time since the death of your loved one?
To ask for and seek help is not a sign of weakness. Rather it is the smart thing to do if you are having difficulty navigating the grief process. It is not disrespectful to your loved one who you lost to do something to help you address the issues associated with grief. If this can help you lessen the length of time spent grieving, then I hope you would welcome this opportunity. If you would like to talk to me about this subject, please contact me.
New Life Grief Counseling LLC
These are the things that I believe are the most important things to address when you are going through the grief process because of the loss of a loved one to breast cancer (or other major losses).
- Don’t try to go it alone.
- Your family and friends are there to help you deal with your grief process.
- Try to proactively attack the grief process.
- Express your true feelings. Talk it out and write it down.
- Accept the situation you are facing. Don’t try to mask your emotions with things that only make your loss worse (i.e. alcohol, drugs, etc.).
- Don’t feel that you have to rush into a new relationship to replace the loved one you lost. This will come in time.
- When the time is right, begin to put some of the physical remembrances of your loved one behind you. Your memories will be with you forever.
- Consider enlisting the help of a professional grief coach, who is trained to walk you through the grief process. This should allow you to journey through this difficult time in a much shorter time period.
- Trust that the Lord would not allow this challenge to occur if he did not believe you could handle it.
- Believe that if you take the proper steps to deal with your grief process you will be able to return to a more fulfilling and joyful life.
The below videos are meant to be both a tribute to my departed wife, Gretchen, and a way to express my grief of losing her. These are also a way for me to work through the grief process with the knowledge that I will be able to return to a normal life even though I will remember her always. Maybe you know someone who has suffered a loss of a loved one. Please forward this to them. I believe it will help them.
Dealing With Grief – http://youtu.be/k5MAempWUWI
Good Grief – Life After Loss – http://youtu.be/6-Tj_2BJXy0
Grief counseling for grief support, Aurora Winter –http://youtu.be/G08nRaQlT4w (this is who I have studied under to become a grief coach)
Aurora Winter ‘Myths About Grief’ – http://youtu.be/stDu0F1R9sw
How To Deal With Losing Someone – http://youtu.be/PaLVQXtGRWs
In The Arms Of The Angels – http://youtu.be/SnL1e4-NfaA
CITYOF ANGELS – FALLEN – http://youtu.be/VaPO5qiIjAI
When You’re Gone – Avril Lavigne – http://youtu.be/0G3_kG5FFfQ
IRIS – GOO GOO DOLLS – http://youtu.be/EXEfg4-9BnY
Beth Nielsen Chapman – Sand and Water – http://youtu.be/qspKCpCJKA4
3 Doors Down & Sara Evans – Here Without You – http://youtu.be/6BQoJDHZsGM
‘Titanic’ Theme Song – http://youtu.be/saalGKY7ifU
Time To Say Goodbye Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman – http://youtu.be/QbN0g8-zbdY
Josh Groban – You Are Loved [Don’t Give Up] http://youtu.be/EGLSk3AVcUU
Wish You Were Here – Avril Lavigne – http://youtu.be/VT1-sitWRtY