Bill and Dottie were married 47 years when she died suddenly at age 71. They had been enjoying retirement — active in their square dance club, spoiling their infant granddaughter and taking the trip of a lifetime to Italy. Bill couldn’t believe she was gone — what would he do without her?
Grieving someone who dies suddenly is often more difficult than if they had suffered a long illness. The first few days, you may have symptoms similar to a person in shock. You are emotionally drained and might even suffer physical pain. Bill had to be reminded to eat and sleep, spending his days staring at the television.
Also, when someone dies suddenly there is no time to say goodbye or make peace if you have unresolved differences. Dottie’s grown daughter couldn’t remember if she had said “I love you” when they last spoke but realized it didn’t matter. Her mother knew she loved her. Dottie’s son, on the other hand, felt like he didn’t get the chance to make up for all the years of trouble he had caused his mother.
The surviving spouse may also feel a sense of guilt and abandonment when their partner dies suddenly. Bill had always thought he would die first and he felt like it was a mistake that he was still living.
In hindsight, Bill agrees that there were two things that made it a little easier to handle Dottie’s death.
They pre-planned their funerals. They had decided to be cremated, made the arrangements and paid for it in advance.
They didn’t put off the things they wanted to do. Bill is grateful they didn’t wait until their 50th anniversary to travel to Italy, or they would have missed their chance.
Next time, a look at how to help an elderly parent deal with the loss of a spouse.