The pain never really goes away completely. But as time passes, a sense of normalcy returns and you take comfort in the memory of the good times.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 18, 2019. It has since been updated.
It's one of those moments. You just kissed your partner goodbye and the next minute, you're getting news that they are no more. The pain and devastation that follows can bring you to your knees and make you feel like you're about to shatter. But you can't completely lose yourself to the grief because you have to think about how you're supposed to tell your kids their parent isn't coming back. And it feels like nobody understands the void and confusion you're feeling.
But Kate Seamons knows exactly what you felt. After all, she went through the same thing. This is her story of having to not only find a way to keep herself from breaking but staying strong for her kids after she lost her husband.
“I’ve never told anyone this, but I heard the police before I saw them. It was a late September night, the kind where the air is just starting to cool in the evenings and it’s so appealing to sleep with the windows open. I woke up to low voices in the driveway. I thought it was Ben. There were so many nights when he’d bring a friend back to the house; anyone who was grappling with anything and needed an ear, no matter how late, found it with him. Except I heard a knock. And that didn’t make sense."
"Ben had been out with a group of friends and had gone with one of them to an overlook to keep talking. As they went to leave there was an accident. Ben fell."
Kate's world came crumbling down as she heard the news. And how was she supposed to tell her two very young children that they would never see their dad again?
"With that knock I became a 36-year-old widow. I had a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, and I was destroyed. I even asked the police chaplain ‘Can you give me a hug?’ I listened as they told me what they knew. I asked them over and over ‘How am I was supposed to break the news to my children?’ They said ‘No one has ever asked us that.' They didn’t have an answer."
Time stood still for this suddenly single mother of two. "It was the middle of the night, but they wouldn’t leave until I could reach a friend who could come over and be with me. Everyone I tried had their ringers off or didn’t answer. The police didn’t want to leave, but I asked them to and they finally did. And I sat there and waited for someone to call me back and tell me what to do next. One minute felt like an hour and two minutes felt like two hours."
"Then I realized one of my closest friends was in London and would be awake. I called her. I don’t remember much of what I said other than saying ‘I don’t know what to do!’ She told me who to call next. She wouldn’t hang up until I could repeat the list of people I needed to call, and in what order. And then I called them and told them. And none of it felt real."
How could it feel real? Ben was the love of her life. Married for seven years, they were the adventure of each other's lives and left no stone unturned when it came to imbibing the motto, carpe diem. And then just three weeks after his 40th birthday bash, Kate was left alone with their two kids. The void started to take over. How do you just get over it?
"The first month was a blur. Planning his memorial. Wondering if I’d ever be able to take a shower without sobbing again. Getting woken up throughout the night by a little girl screaming for her papa. Waking up throughout the night crying for my Ben. I started therapy, and my therapist told me time was my friend, and it would help. I felt so deeply sad, and nothing but sad. I went through the motions. Family and friends took turns visiting and helping with the girls, the house, and cooking. They’d ask what they should make for dinner. I didn’t care."
It's at these points of time that we find out who truly has our back. That one person or one group of people, who just know how to keep you from sliding into the pain. For Kate, it was her sister.
"As my sister Jess went to head back to her home 9 hours away after Ben’s memorial, she hugged me and told me she had left me something in my closet. It was a ‘rainy day’ present, something for me to open when I was having a ‘rainy day’, OR one I just thought I couldn’t get through. Once I opened it, I was to tell her, and she’d send me another."
But even then, your heart and your soul are nowhere near close to recovering. The days continue to flash by in a blur. "My days felt surreal. The pain was intense, the reality was unbearable. I was staring at a life I didn’t want. I had to move forward even when I felt like I couldn’t, which was essentially daily. I was helped along so much by so many people who sent meals, flowers, and cards. Every single gesture was meaningful and important.... But there were days and days and days that were hard when no one was right there reaching out."
And then the day came when she needed that gift her sister gave her. "I can’t remember what that first gift was, but it was so powerful. It was an antidote to something that’s so tough about grieving…namely, that we live in a society that isn’t comfortable with grief."
She's right. People say that it's okay to grieve but barely give you enough time to do it properly. "When it strikes someone we love, we don’t know what to say or do. We often just do nothing. We think saying nothing is kindness, that we’ll avoid causing hurt by not bringing the subject up. The reality was that I was always hurting, and it was so isolating to feel like my struggle wasn’t being seen. That people might think I was okay or were just silently hoping I was okay."
"But I wasn’t okay. The reality was that I was always hurting, and there were many, many times when I wished people would have asked how I was doing, or asked me to tell them a story about Ben, or even said they didn’t know what to say but they were there to listen if I needed to talk. But I also tried to let go of any hurt caused by them not doing so, because I felt so certain I would have done the same thing, never asked those questions, just trying to keep it light."
Yet, those gifts you get. The ones that are meant to give you a sense of reality again, that's what you should focus on. Because everyone deals with their grief differently and for different periods of time. And the pain you feel, no matter how much you've moved on, can strike you at any time.
"Our culture doesn’t talk about grief, so that leaves us with some misguided sense that not talking about it is the way to go. I want to change that. No one tells you what we’re capable of; not breaking into one thousand pieces but splitting in two. We can eventually figure out how to wash the dishes and be excited about back-to-school photos while at the same time being somewhere else, a place where we are deeply sad or angry or scared or constantly on the brink of losing it."
"I didn’t begin to feel truly depressed until more than two years after Ben died. It lasted for months and coincided with the holidays. I fought it hard—exercise, sleep, reading, good food, no drinking—but just making it to the end of the day felt tough, even as I was going to holiday parties and buying Christmas gifts and celebrating my birthday and traveling. Life firmly feels like two lives now; the half that is grieving what Ben and the girls and I lost, and the half that is living my life with gratitude and joy."
But you're not alone. You are never alone. It'll just take time to remember that. "I think we’re losing out by not speaking out about that half of us that feels destroyed, in part because there are these very real opportunities for connection and solidarity that go unrealized, and in part because there is love and support to be had. We don’t have to do this thing alone."
"After Ben’s death, I kept finding those moments of connection with friends who had slammed into their own struggles. An unexpected divorce. A beloved sister’s death from cancer. I fashioned my own rainy-day boxes for them, so that they could have a way to be seen on the days I wasn’t calling or texting or even thinking of them. Time and time again I’d unexpectedly get an email or a text from them expressing what Jess had allowed me to experience so many times. ‘Today was the worst. The rainy-day gift helped. Thank you.’"
So how do you help someone who has lost their loved one? Especially if you're going through it yourself?
"If you know someone who is grieving, show up. Insert yourself. Ask how they are doing in the days, weeks, months, and years afterward. Write down the date when it happened. Remember it. Mark it. Keep sending letters and emails."
"If you’re grieving, I’m sorry. It’s a crummy club. I don’t have any magic answer. Time has been my friend. I talk about Ben as much as I can. I’m really trying to be better about asking for help and saying yes when it’s offered. And I’m giving more of my time and love and help to others, which is one of the only things I’ve found that really fills me up."
That's not to say she doesn't have her bad days. You might too. And the anger you feel at the world, at them, at yourself for them not being there, that will come and go too.
"I’m still angry I’m denied this wildly unconditional love, that he can’t watch our girls grow up, and I can’t see who he would have become. But I think he’d like the person I’m becoming.”