One woman’s journey to relieve the emotional pain of losing a spouse

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A partner’s death leaves a profound void, but it can be healed

By Lisa Davis

smo-boomer_10-08 (2)When I asked Shannon M. Regan what she experienced right after her husband Mike (fondly known as Boomer), passed away, she immediately named three emotions: shock, devastation, isolation.

After 15 years of being together, Boomer died in November 2012 from advanced liver disease. I remember releasing a squealing sob and dropping to the floor after he passed, O’Regan said. That my worst fear had indeed become reality, it was still is surreal.

The pain of losing her husband left O’Regan in bed for days and brought on feelings of extreme sadness and anxiety. But persevering, she has learned how to navigate the world as a widow. Tasks like mowing the lawn of her home in Fort Myers, Fla., a cherished pastime of Boomer’s, is now a homeowners ritual she embraces.

She’s also become a certified yoga instructor and has formulated a healing plan that she shares on her blog, Papillon D’Amour, where she talks about the daily struggles of living alone and of saying good-bye to the love of her life.

When people marry and take the vow, Till death do us part, do they really expect to be parted by death? Can the anger at the unfairness of a spouse’s passing become all-consuming? There is no denying that O’Regan battles daily with her grief, but she also knows that wallowing in it is not the answer. She provides some insights with Pain Resource readers.

PR: What is life like now that your husband has been gone for six months?

O’Regan: I’m told I’m doing exceptionally well. Nothing like getting a report card from your therapist on how you’re doing amid your loss, though it is comforting to hear. I continue to have good days, better days, bad days, sometimes even hours or minutes. Grief spurts as they’re called, show up out of nowhere, anytime, anyplace, triggered by who knows what. I’m working to embrace and accept those moments when the floor feels like it drops out from under me. I’m learning the more I surrender to those moments, the more swiftly they pass and I get stronger. And with each passing day, I have hope.

PR: What are you doing specifically to help relieve your emotional pain?

O’Regan: I pray and meditate daily. I talk with trusted friends. It’s very important to be able to talk with someone who isn’t going to tell you how you should feel, what you should be doing, but is able to simply listen. I journal, too. It makes a world of difference in helping me get through a rough spot.

PR: Did you experience any physical pain after your husband died?

O’Regan: The morning after, I experienced complete physical paralysis while sitting on our sofa. I couldn’t move my body at all. I had a strange sore throat for several days, and one night my throat seized and I couldn’t swallow. I’ve heard that you may manifest similar physical discomfort post-mortem that the deceased experienced. In my case, my husband had tubes down his throat. Then there’s the random pain in my neck, which has more spiritual connotation to it, because I wear Boomer’s wedding ring around my neck. I also had frequent nausea for the first few months.

PR: What advice would you have for people who have lost a spouse and are dealing with emotional pain? 

O’Regan: Find a grief counseling support group. There is comfort in numbers, and you may discover inspiration from someone further along in their process, a grief mentor of sorts. Prayer and meditation are also essentials for me, and I practice yoga and cycle. I read a lot, too, and listen to music. Music ministers to me and soothes my soul. I also donate blood and platelets regularly in my husband’s memory. That’s also a super-easy way to check in on my own health. Amid the stress and heartache, my blood pressure is excellent.

I stay away from online grief sites and chatrooms. I prefer to get out and be with people. I practice healthy routines like proper rest, counseling, nutritious diet, and exercise. Avoid food, alcohol, drug, and sexual promiscuity as a source of dealing. These options are not dealing; they are about suppressing and avoiding, which will have a greater negative impact on you.

Be patient with yourself. Surround yourself with emotionally healthy, compassionate, and optimistic people. Who you surround yourself with will also guide your own healing trajectory.

PR: Any books you’d recommend that have helped your recovery? 

O’Regan: When I read, I chose spiritual and recovery/healing books, and three books specifically on grief I found very useful are: For Widow’s Only!, by Annie Estlund; Opening Our Hearts Transforming our Losses; and Here to There Grief to Peace, by Diana Jacks.

PR: Tell us about your blog.

O’Regan: My blog is titled Papillon D’Amour (Butterfly of Love); Love, Loss & Abounding Transformation with My Guy, Boomer. I started it on the 70th day after my husband died. I had been sharing snippets on my Facebook page of our love affair, relationship, personal notes, photos, anecdotes, and some musings of what was happening to me after he died and how I was getting through it all. The response was profound. I began the blog as a catharsis storytelling, and then I learned I was helping people who were or had experienced something similar.

Shannon M. O’Regan Shares Her Tips for Surviving the Death of a Spouse

1. Don’t expect everyone to be there for you. Many won’t be. They don’t have the capacity, for whatever reason. I made the mistake of having a false sense that certain family members or friends would be there for support. I learned quickly to let it go.

2. Being willing to take advantage of professional grief support groups has been essential in my learning to accept, deal with, and move through the emotional pain associated with the loss of my husband.

3. Another great lesson: Cry. Don’t be shy about it. Let it out; don’t hold it in. There’s a line in a poem by Richard Mahaffey that reads, But do not be afraid to cry; it does relieve the pain. Remember there would be no flowers, unless there was some rain.

4. Grief is a lonely, scary, unpredictable, uncertain place. The grief process cannot be dodged, ignored, or suppressed. It will eventually take you down if you don’t deal with it. Grief requires understanding, attention, effort, work, patience, and a lot of support. Grief is a door that must be gone through. You must go through it to heal, move forward, and be healthy.

5. Don’t keep your grief a secret. Your pain is real. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is also a process you have absolutely no control over. Be generous and kind to yourself. You are not the person you were the day before your spouse died. You are forever changed.

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