“Till Death do us part” is a vow we make when we marry and signifies a lifelong commitment to love and sacrifice for one another in a marriage. However, we can never truly be prepared for the death of a spouse and when you lose your life partner, the pain is real and raw.
Everyone struggles with loss in their own unique way but as a member of the Catholic Church, you are never truly alone. The Church offers her tender care and is supported in Singapore by the Beginning Experience (BE) programme, which helps grieving spouses find hope and healing in a community setting. BE also supports single-again persons who have lost their spouses through separation or divorce.
Angela shares with us her journey towards healing following the loss of her husband after nearly 30 years of marriage, just as they were looking forward to a new chapter together in retirement.
MY JOURNEY TOWARDS ACCEPTANCE
The December morning started as usual with Peter and I having breakfast before I went to work. He had only recently retired and was looking forward to having a restful day. He had taken to cycling with a group of his friends and that morning he was gearing up for another cycling session with them. It started out as a normal day, just like any other.
But, with no warning, our family life changed forever when I received a call in the afternoon telling me that Peter had been involved in an accident on his bike and I was to get to the hospital.
The numbness set in
It was downhill from there. He was in a critical condition, but, in my mind, there was still hope as he was in hospital and still alive. However, his condition deteriorated daily over the next four days. I was in a daze, completely numb really. It was like a fog in my mind. I watched my husband go from a delirious state to being in an induced coma to being on life support. Each day, the doctors brought more bad news and finally they told me that he was now brain dead. I was devastated. I just couldn’t process the information.
I remember going through the wake and his funeral in a state of complete numbness. Thanks to God, I had the strong support of my family and friends, who helped with the organisation of the funeral, even down to choosing the coffin. I was simply too numb to deal with it all. The pain was indescribable.
The dreams were gone
We had been married for 28 years and had shared four wonderful daughters together. He had been my best friend, the love of my life and my soul mate. The loss was absolute. There was an emptiness in my life that could not be filled. Gone were the dreams we had, the places we had planned to go and the activities we said we would do together. I just thank God that my daughters were older, and they didn’t have to cope with losing their father as small children. But of course, the loss at any age is still devastating.
On the day of the accident, three of my daughters were in Singapore while one was on a study exchange in the States and had to fly home immediately. We had been planning to visit her as a family and do a tour. Our bags were packed, the tickets were booked, and we were all looking forward to the trip – a trip we never got to take.
Supported yet still feeling alone
In the immediate aftermath, I had the support of my family and friends. But still, I had the feeling of isolation, like nobody could possibly understand how I felt. People told me they did, but how could they? They hadn’t been through it. Friends visited with their spouses. They were well meaning, naturally, and very supportive, but at that time, it just amplified the loss for me.
On the advice of my friends, I didn’t give up my job, quite the opposite in fact. I buried myself in my work and, when I was at home, I did the housework in a sometimes frenzied state, just to keep busy and occupy my mind with other things.
The church was on my way to work so I would stop by daily and attend mass. I was physically there but definitely not mentally. I was going through the motions only. The thought of God and prayers were furthest from my mind in those dark days. I simply felt that I had been abandoned and was drifting on my own.
The dawn of new hope
This period of darkness lasted for some time. I coped. Days got easier and attending mass got easier, but I wasn’t really living. I wasn’t really moving on. Then one day in March 2015, I remembered that I had picked up a leaflet on the Beginning Experience (BE) Weekend at Peter’s funeral. I had considered attending then but I was just too raw at the time. Now three years later, I still had my doubts it would help but decided to give it a try.
I signed up for the weekend, not knowing at the time that it was one of the best decisions I had ever made. I met other widows, widowers and divorcees and all of us were on the same grief journey. I realised that I was not alone. As the presenters shared their stories, I was able to relate to their pain and also learnt to recognise the stages of my own grief journey. It was cathartic. We cried a lot. Through the various talks, I learnt more about myself too – how my childhood had shaped me as an adult, which affected how I had responded to various incidences in our married life. That was hard to deal with as you go through a sense of regret when you think it’s your fault and things get left unaddressed as your partner is no longer around to apologise to or work through the problem with you. The BE Weekend made me realise the need to be reconciled with God and to be aware of His continued presence even in my darkest moments.
Part of a community again
Through BE, I now have friends who are widows who are a tremendous support when I feel down. I grew especially close to one lady who had also lost her husband. I found it liberating to be able to talk to someone who I knew understood exactly what I was going through because she was going through the same thing.
I have since involved myself more in BE, helping out at later programmes by presenting my story. I found that writing out my talks helped me to work through my own journey. It led me to cry, pray and reflect, and was very much a part of my healing process. My involvement has helped me reach out to others who are also on the same grief journey. If I hadn’t gone through this, I wouldn’t be in a position to share my story with others today.
A new beginning
While the emptiness and pain are still there and I miss Peter, I know that he has gone to a far better place and is probably at peace and very happy. Father Eugene Vaz, our Spiritual Director also helped put things in perspective for me, telling me that Peter would not have wanted me to stop living my life, that he would have wanted me to be happy.
There is a need now to close the door to our married life and cherish the 20 plus years we had together. I have come to believe that when God closes one door, he opens a window. I have to learn to continually trust God and open another window and let Him slowly heal me so that I can carry on.
I would encourage anyone who has suffered the loss of a spouse to attend the BE Weekend when they are ready and to come with an open mind. You will meet others who are on the same journey as you, a place where you will find peer support and realise that there is still hope when we find the strength to carry on.