I found my 68-year-old husband, James dead in our bedroom. He had been dead for hours. Stone cold. No carotid pulse. 9-1-1. I did what had to be done, but failed to anticipate the immediate horror of sleeping there afterwards. I had to, of course, as the house filled up with visitors staying for the funeral. But the feeling didn’t fade until I did something about it.
Yes, it was a horrific shock, but I wasn’t surprised. I was expecting James’s sudden death and had thoroughly prepared myself for it, although he denied his cardiologist’s warning to the end. I had also prepared our children and close family members about what was to come. Some relatives were grateful but a couple refused to believe it, which later proved challenging.
Fifteen months on, I’ve partially unravelled how I survived that dreadful beginning and later started to thrive.
My success boiled down to an old habit of holding serious conversations with myself, then acting on the decisions. I’ve always been a practical person, which was an added bonus. So were my independence outside our marriage and being happy alone. To explain, I had a forty-year career in physiotherapy, a part-time career in the Canadian naval reserve, and a concurrent career as a nonfiction author. My late husband travelled over sixty percent of the time, so I was often alone, and once I got used to it, I enjoyed my solo time. Little did I know how vital the latter skill would be in my changed life.
I’d heard that losing a spouse was life-changing but didn’t anticipate the scope of it. When my parents died, I had a normal family life and my own home to return to throughout the sad, early days. From the second I found James, my old life was gone, gone forever. Our 2,000-square-foot townhome was too big and so empty, and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to afford it on my monthly pensions and investment returns. I gritted my teeth.
I slogged full-time for five months to settle his estate. I hated this time but I wanted it behind me before making big decisions. It was liberating when I was finally free to focus on me. That’s not to say I had been ignoring my situation, far from it. Questions had been rattling round my mind and disrupting my sleep, kind-hearted people told me what I should or should not do, and others voiced dismay that I should be doing as well as I was. I paid close attention to all of it.
My story will be familiar to many over-55 readers in the same position. But the steps I took may not be. They flowed from the conversations I had with myself over the first six months, often while walking. I told myself that if I got the steps wrong, I could always tweak them or even start again. I prioritized what needed to be done based on my own needs and no one else’s.
Look for future posts where I will offer some solutions that worked for me and may assist you too.
Vancouver-based Julie H. Ferguson is an addicted traveler who is intensely interested in the history and culture of foreign lands, as well as Canada, and her stories and images reflect this focus. Julie never leaves home without her cameras and voice recorder, always looking for the colour and sounds that captivate readers everywhere.
A non-fiction writer for forty-five years and an avid photographer, Julie is also the author of twenty-six books, including four about Canadian naval and church history, six for writers, and sixteen photo portfolios. Her articles have appeared in national and international markets, both print and online, and her images have been exhibited, published, and sold.