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A Husband’s Passing Overwhelms Woman

I took a call one late afternoon; the unmistakable voice of a woman tearfully requesting an appointment.

I impulsively rose from my desk to grab my appointment book. In the time it took to ready myself to discuss an appointment, Diane never stopped crying.

“I’m so sorry, sir, I cry all the time. My doctor gave me your name. He thinks I need to talk with someone.”

I could detect Diane holding back her choking response in the minutes she tried to convey her purpose for calling me. Some minutes later she, again, apologized for crying. Given this level of intensity and uncertainty, I made time to make a more ‘immediate assessment’, albeit by telephone, of Diane’s emotional stability.

How are you feeling, ma’am? (It was later following this assessment did I learn her name, Diane).

“I’m sorry. I just can’t stop crying.”

What is your name, please?

“It’s Diane.”

I am Marshall. What’s happening right now Diane? Is anyone with you?

“No one is here. I am alone. That’s why I’m crying. I just feel overwhelmed. You see, my husband died a few months ago. We’d been married 45 years. He was my everything, you know? I miss him so much.”

Diane restarts her choking and heavy crying.

Diane, you’re alone? Do you need someone to be with you now?

“No, maybe, I don’t know.”

Do you have family?

“Yes, my brother lives close by. My three children are grown and live out of state.”

Do you have any close friends you can call to be with you?

“No, after the funeral, they all seemed to scatter. I don’t know if they even care about me. My brother and I aren’t close. He used to come over when my husband was alive. They’d drink beer and visit. My brother is divorced and now he comes by only once in a while.”

Do you need his company now, Diane? (I detect Diane’s breathing to be slowing down from its earlier hyper rate).

“I guess I could call Danny, my brother. Just talking is helping me. I spend most of my time alone. I have a dog who is good company.”

Is the dog with you now, Diane?

“Yes, he’s at my side, like always.”

Does your dog provide some comfort, Diane?

“Yes. We’ve had him for 12 years. He loved my husband. He’d sit near my husband wherever he went. I think Charlie misses my husband, too. Charlie slept in our bed on my husband’s side. His name was Claude. I miss him so much.”

Diane, I hope you don’t mind this heavy question. Are you grieving Claude’s passing?

“Oh my god, yes.”

Just to ask, are you religious? Do you attend church? I ask only to note if you might have a clergyman or woman to avail themselves to you in this time of grief. Some people request that person’s help in comforting them. I am looking at the support characters in your world, Diane. Do you follow me?

“Yes sir, I think so. When my husband was alive, we went to church together but not always. We liked to go to this Catholic church. The priest was real nice. We liked his sermons. We were married in a Catholic Church.”

Excuse me, Diane, for my interruption. I’m curious. Did you have a religious ceremony in a church to recognize Claude’s passing?

“No, not really. You see, he wanted to be cremated, not buried. I have his ashes in an urn. I keep it in my bedroom.”

Did he want his ashes scattered at any designated place or did he want them left in an urn where they could be memorialized?

“He wanted them scattered. Sometimes, instead of going to church, we took drives into the country. He loved the fresh air, the trees, and animals we’d see.”

Diane breaks down in tears again, lasting several moments.

“I’m sorry. You got me thinking that he talked once in a while on a Sunday drive about his final wishes. He got really irritated with me because I couldn’t handle talking about death. He respected my wishes until one time he asked me not to interrupt him. He said that in the event of his death, he wanted to be cremated. He wanted his ashes scattered around a picnic grove we’d stop at on our country drives. I remember him always happy there. We would eat at the picnic table a lunch I prepared. Later, he put on the car radio and we’d dance and laugh. We’d watch the sunset and then return home.”

Diane, what a wonderful memory. You brought me to tears. What a joyous and rich memory to soothe the soul.

“Marshall, my husband was a great person. Everywhere we went, people would smile at him. He had a kind word for most everyone. I heard people liked him a lot. He worked as a carpenter. He always got jobs. He was good at his work and fair to his customers.”

Diane, how do you feel right now? I hear your pain. You are grieving the loss of a loving husband of many years. Sometimes, calling upon those joyous memories can be a balm, a healing for the moments you feel emotional pain.

“Thank you. I’m starting to feel a little better. Guess I needed to talk. I’m thinking that I might call the priest to visit me. You see, I’ve been isolating and withdrawing since he died. I don’t feel like socializing. The COVID scares me. I’ve only gone out to shop for food. I don’t eat much. Maybe I can call my children. They came only for a short time after their dad’s death. They all have jobs and couldn’t take too much time off. I need to call them.”

Diane, you know that it’s perfectly fine for you to cry. When you do cry, I hear your voice, your pain; you miss Claude. Maybe you can try remembering a joyous and happy time you had together. Again, what actions you take to heal from your emotional wounds can be healthy for you, Diane. Perhaps you might consider writing down memories as they rise to your consciousness. By all means, take good care of you, Diane. If you believe in God, a prayer both religious and secular might be in the offering. What do you say, Diane?

“I can try to do some of those things. Thank you for listening. You’ve been a good help. Can we do this again by telephone? I don’t want to go out and rather not have you here. Are you all right with that?”

Yes, Diane.

We made a formal appointment. We left open calls as needed. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Marshall Greenstein holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email editorial@post-journal.com.

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