bob harrison sitting at his kitchen table

When writing articles on grief, my focus is on two things. Me and You. I assume, which may or may not be true, that if you’re reading this article you’re likely suffering from a loss, or you’re anticipating a loss. Either way, many of the effects and emotions can feel the same. Doom and gloom cannot be sugar coated, no matter what you call it. It’s painful losing a loved one, and the heartache we suffer is very real. Until I lost Annie, I would never have read an article on grief. It’s a real downer. But to a griever that doesn’t seem to be the case. Perhaps, that’s because we’re already approaching the lowest point in our life, but need to go a bit lower, always searching for answers, seeking an understanding where there is none. Death will have that profound effect on you. And I want to say to you, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” I lost my precious “Annie” four years ago, and I guess that was the day the music died for me. Please don’t despair, in this writing there is hope.

The Day The Music Died

In the early days before the cancer, words to our favorite songs, even the sad ones, were innocent enough, but what happens when the music dies. Those same words become sad, lonely, and take on a whole new meaning. The depth of sorrow we feel listening to our old songs that we shared, is driven down and down. It’s like a bottomless pit with no ending. Realistically, how can we listen to the music we shared without falling into that pit. Simply put, we can’t.

Here’s the real truth behind the day the music died. Since Annie died, it follows that the music had to die too. Unknowingly, listening to a loved one’s dead music, is one of the best things we can do. Through the depths of our sorrow, the music is driving us further into the darkness of the bottomless pit, but, over time the resilience of our body kicks in and we find ourselves clawing and scratching our way back out of the pit, and into the light. We are healing! I know now that it was imperative that I hit rock bottom, as when I started leaving grief behind, “I was being released from its clutches.” It’s so true, “It takes grief to heal grief.” There is no other way…We must suffer in order to heal.

It seemed to me, that during the initial stages of my grief, the whole concept was based on looking back, and wondering how things could go so terribly wrong. I didn’t question what happened, I knew what happened. She got cancer, and died. What troubled me the most was, how did we let it get that far, before cancer brutally led us to the understanding of, just how precious life was. Annie and I always loved each other but we were so busy working and planning for our retirement we sort of forgot about “Today.” We were living in “Tomorrow.” Quite simply put, we were chasing an illusion. And grief used the illusion to hurt me deeply.

Annie would say to me, “Let’s take a short break and go to Hawaii.” She took a trip there with her sisters and loved it.

Instead of going, I’d encourage her to go spend time in Los Angeles with her sister Lesley while I stayed home and ran our business. Then when she came back, she’d run the business while I went to Nor Cal and spent time with my family. I know, when a married couple are living together and working together 24/7, having a short but separate vacation is considered healthy to the marriage. And it may well be, but grief doesn’t see it that way. The regrets I had for not taking the time to do the little things in life with her, ripped me apart. As hard as I tried I couldn’t justify my actions or defend myself against the relentless and unforgiving grief. And you won’t be able to either.

Imagine, within a week of Annie’s diagnosis, we shut down two small businesses, and I became a 24/7 caregiver for thirty months. Cancer immediately put life in perspective, and it didn’t take me long to realize, we were never promised a tomorrow, so why try to live there. And yes, good old grief reminded me of that every day.

So I say to you, if you have an opportunity to do something special with, or for a loved one, or simply someone very special and dear to your heart, do it. Don’t live in “Tomorrow.” It may well turn out to be an illusion, and you might not get a second chance.

Four years later, I still shed a tear or two now and again when listening to our music, looking at our pictures, or perhaps just thinking about her. But the music is no longer dead, the pictures are special, and are simply a reminder of the life and love we shared together.

Goodbye My Friend (by Linda Ronstadt)

“Oh we never know where life will take us, I know it’s just a ride on the wheel,
And we never know when death will shake us, And we wonder how it will feel.
So goodbye my friend, I know I’ll never see you again, But the time together through all the years will take away these tears, It’s okay now, Goodbye my friend”

Is Grief Dangerous–The Broken Heart

Absolutely–Some folks, although probably rare, don’t survive their grief. And that’s why it’s so important that when grieving you pay close attention to your body. If you can get regular check-ups, please do.

This Happened to Me

After being Annie’s caregiver for thirty months through an intense cancer, she died! And I’m going to tell you something—I never saw the bulldozer pushing the grief my way coming at me. It absolutely engulfed me, then stranded me in no man’s land. The place where there appears to be nothing more than sorrow, misery, and a million questions without answers. My heart was broken.

Four months after Annie’s death, I started having heart arrhythmia problems. I kind of blew it off as my being, so sad, and generally overwhelmed with my grief.

One afternoon while looking at grief posters, I saw one of a broken heart. That’s when my light bulb came on, and the question came out. Can people really die of a broken heart?

A few days later I went to Heartland Cardiology to see Annie’s long time cardiologist and friend Dr. Assem Farhat. I’d know him for years too. When he came into the room, I simply looked him straight in the eyes and asked him the question. “Has anyone ever died of a broken heart?” His reaction and response was immediate, “Bob, that is not an option.” Again I asked the question and got the same response. After listening to my heart he went on to say that some folks come here, we can fix their heart problem, but due to their grief they really don’t want help and will just go home, lay down, don’t take care of themselves, and some simply go to sleep and die, or have a heart attack that results in death. So the answer to my question was “Yes.”

Just think! My problem was discovered in the fourth month of grieving, with my heaviest grief period being over the first three years. If I hadn’t been placed on heart meds when I was, it’s possible I would not be here today. Make no mistake, my grief was very long, challenging, and sometimes I was afraid I was going to die, then ten minutes later I was afraid I wasn’t going to die. Really insane! Still, my heart wearing down was due to my intense caregiver duties over thirty months, witnessing so much trauma, pain and always dealing with anxieties over all the various unknown entities. And of course the grief and heartache I was feeling was simply intensifying the problem, in a sense trying to finish me off. I suspect it would have been easy for me to lay down and give up on life, while listening to the whispering voice in my head continually filling me with despair. But I didn’t, and instead chose to fight back.

Over time I learned to fight back by taking control of my grief and not letting it control me. Sounds difficult, but it really isn’t. I continued to do the things that hurt me the most. Beyond the music, I started spending time looking at photo albums, invoking memories that I really didn’t want to have at the time, but need too. It just made sense to me—the things that hurt me the most, would in the end be the things that cause the biggest out flow of emotions, allowing me to start healing. I’m really glad I got my problem seen to…Dying, was not an option. I want to live, laugh, and perhaps love again.

Nope, life will never be the same, but I will no longer pity myself. I’m here, and Annie who lived and loved her life, is gone forever. “Death Is So Final.”

Annie’s online memorial

Written by Bob Harrison
Bob Harrison was raised in the heart of the Redwoods in the far northwest comer of northern California. The little town of Crescent City, California was located near some of the world’s tallest trees, with the west shoreline being the Pacific Ocean. Bob spent most of his time fishing the two local rivers where some of the finest Steelhead and Salmon fishing is located. He was also well known up and down the north coast as an avid motorcycle racer, winning several hundred trophies, and one Oregon State title. Bob graduated from Del Norte High School with the class of 1966, then spent a one year stint at the College of the Redwoods, before having a strong sense of patriotism and joining the United States Air Force. After three years of service, Bob met Annie, the love of his life, and they got married in England in 1972. Bob’s love of country pushed him on to what turned out to be a very successful career, retiring in 1991. Bob’s last military assignment was Wichita, Kansas, a place he and Annie decided to call home. Together they developed and ran two very successful antique businesses until the stranger knocked on their door and changed their lives forever; “Because of Annie.”

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6 Comments

  1. The music has died and I’m just now getting strong enough to listen to the music my husband liked. For almost this entire year, I could not listen without feeling like I was having a heart attack or panic attack. Interestingly, I too had a “broken heart” and didn’t recognize it physically. I remember the numbness and tingling in my arms and hands and was unable to take action due to the grief. I did, however, miss my husband’s touch so much that I began getting massages and that helped. I’ve always been very active, so I did not give up my walks and runs and light weight lifting. These things saved me, I’m sure. What I saw my husband go through in the short 7.5 days he lived after surgery has harmed me and I’m blessed to be surrounded by God and all our friends. I have not been forgotten even after a year and 9 days; thank God. I have not always been a solid friend to other’s journeys, so it is now my desire that I serve others as I have been served. Thank you for your heartfelt words; so helpful.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for this. My husband passed suddenly and the grief has been overwhelming. I am still at the stage where I lay down and let the world pass me by but am going to grief counseling soon and hopefully will get some help. Your words spoke to me as I have had all those same feelings. Really I don’t know what else to say. I am on autopilot but it is still raw to me as he only passed away in March this year.

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  3. Cathy, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m submitting another blog on grief to the Caregiver Space sometime tomorrow. It should show up on their website and facebook page at some point later in the week. Watch for it: It’s called Grief: Emotional Suicide. It’s a complex article, but true. Talks about a little known or understood phenomenon we grievers suffer from. Emotional Suicide. It may or may not help you, but will certainly lead you in the direction that I believe we grievers need to take for our overall well-being. People were there for me too, but in my case I ran them off to include some family members. Not because I didn’t care for them, but rather, I felt they didn’t have a clue what I was dealing with. Hence the title to my next blog. I love the WW11 movies as well. I spent 17 years in England while in the Air Force, and years ago, late 60’s, most movies on the English Tele were war movies, actual footage of the war. And yes some love stories too. Annie was English, I met her in 1971, I used to call her my War Bride. Cathy when Annie died I cried a million tears over time, and wrote over a million words. You’re in the early days of your grief, and I can’t say it will get easier anytime soon, because the sad truth is, nobody knows. Read my next article then send me another post letting me know your thoughts, and perhaps what you’re going to do to help yourself heal. If you scroll down far enough on the CGs facebook page, around May 22nd, you’ll see another blog by me: Mr. Grief: My Enemy, My Friend. That will help you further understand what you’re going through. I would highly encourage you to read it. I wish you the best, Bob.

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  4. Bob, I lost my husband after a 3 1/2 year battle with heart disease. It’s so true that you would not have traded anything to be their caregiver, but it does take a toll on you mentally and physically. You speak of your and Annie’s love of music. He and I shared love of movies, especially WWII movies with a love story thrown in for me. He passed away just 5 months ago and I cherish being able to ” talk” with someone who has walked this path. People were here for me and then they were gone….. I have realized that I have done the same thing to others myself in the past. So I’ve learned that people (me) need others more months down the road. I’m not having a pity party by no means. It’s just hard navigating this life change. My husband was my rock. Continue to take care of yourself. I use to walk everyday, but stopped when my husband died. I just started back and I can say that it’s made me better. Thank you for your beautiful article.

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  5. Lori, your words ring so true. That’s exactly how it was for me. When Annie passed away I cried out, “I couldn’t save her,” and “I want her back!” I’m so sorry for you struggle, and in my opinion you are firmly entrenched in Anticipatory Grief, which has many of the same emotional effects of grief. I need to say this, when you love someone, and have to watch them suffer over a period of time as you are, your grief is going to be tough. As I wrote in a different blog, no one should have to watch a loved one suffer the way you are and the way I did. It’s not humane! But, it’s better for your husband that you are there loving him through it, rather than a stranger with no emotional attachment. Stay strong and focused, and believe me when I say I understand what you’re going through and I’ve been in the troubled waters you are navigating at the moment. And I promise you, although the journey your on is tough, you will survive in time, and one day realize life is different, but okay. If you ever need to chat with me you can get in touch with me through the caregiver space. I wish you the best.

    Reply
  6. The grief as a caregiver is overwhelming and consuming. As I watch my husband of 29 years deteriorate before my eyes and being so totally helpless to do anything about it is heart wrenching. I’m exhausted but can’t sleep, I’m always trying to figure out how to fix him, as I’ve always fixed everything.

    Thank you for sharing your Annie with us, it gives some hope that someday the grief will subside.

    Lori

    Reply

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