Jeffrey’s Story

Site created on March 7, 2021

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Journal entry by Carolyn Houseknecht

The past 6 months since Jeff died has been simultaneously the fastest and mind-numbingly slow 6 months of my life.  I feel as though I have lived years in these 6 months, but at the same time, I still look around for him and think "oh my God, he's dead."  I watched him pass in front of me, I clutched his hand as he passed, and yet, the idea that he's really gone is surreal and hard to accept.  

Lily and I stopped by the cemetery tonight to visit Jeff, and when we were on our way, I said, "wouldn't it be funny if we saw deer?  We haven't ever seen a deer at the cemetery."  We were talking about this because the last time we went, there was groundhog running through the stones and it made us laugh.  When we got there tonight, there were 2 fawns running near us and that stayed for at least 10 minutes peacefully eating someone's flowers.  At one point they walked right towards us and stayed no more than 15 feet away from Lily, completely unbothered that we were there.  Whether or not it was a sign, it made me feel peaceful and like he was there in some way.

The kids and I are finding new routines and doing our best to live as a way to honor his memory.  There are days when we only think of him with laughter and smiles, joking about something funny he may have said or done.   Then there are days like today when I found myself crying in the middle of yoga class.  Grief is not linear or worked through in stages despite what people commonly think.

People have mostly been amazing to us - we get messages of support, when we're out and about, people take the time to talk to us about Jeff and bring up happy memories of him.  The kids are such amazing representatives of the best part of him - things they do, facial expressions they make, jokes they crack, all of these things remind me every day how his memory will live on in all of us.

Unfortunately, there have been other young windows and widowers who have crossed my path in the past year - we're in similar boats and have found comfort in talking to one another.  If you know of anyone who is a younger widow(er) and think they could benefit from meeting some of us, please send me a message and I will invite him or her.  It is a private Facebook group open only to those in the Western NY area going through the death of a spouse.   

There have also been people who have reached out for support with loved ones/friends who have had an esophageal cancer diagnosis/early and serious cancer diagnosis - this is something I am happy to speak about and help navigate if I can.  You are not bothering me and it is not too hard to talk about - if anything, it makes me feel slightly better that I might be able to offer some comfort to someone else.

If you're wondering how you can help someone grieving the death of a spouse, the biggest thing to recognize is that literally everything about their life is different now.  The person they built an entire future around and who is there for literally every inside joke, stomach bug, job success and failure, child issue, parental issue, your partner in retirement and every family goal you set is gone.  We're trying to figure out a new path forward when literally everything is a reminder of what we have lost.  If you know someone in this boat, just let them be themselves and not expect them to be a certain way at any particular time.  Let them cry, let them just sit, come over and visit, drop off a bottle of wine, invite them to things, but also understand if they just can't do it.  Don't stop inviting them - it's not personal, they're doing everything they can do to survive right now.  Trust me, they will always remember that you included them, that you checked in, and that you just accepted their grief in whatever form it takes.  I'm fortunate to have people like this in my life and thank everyone for helping with my family's grief over the past 18 months of cancer fighting and now without having Jeff physically here.

Thank you for checking in with us here - I am still figuring out my path and how I want to continue to update and check in with all of you who have been thinking of us and of Jeff. 

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