Bonnie Bear in memory of Gordon R. Bear
When I came to SOSL 12 years ago, I was grieving the loss of my husband, Gordon, who took his life the day after our 37th wedding anniversary, August 29, 2002. The depth of my grief knew no boundaries. I cried so many tears, often sobbing as I was driving, to the point of having to pull over. I was crushed and felt I would never recover from this loss. My life would never be the same, I felt very alone, despite the fact that my 3 adult children and their spouses were also grieving. Loss to suicide was unimaginable; this did not belong in my life. I lived in denial for weeks, extending to months. Even though I went back to work, I would come home expecting to see Gordon. When I traveled I would pick up the phone to call him and I wondered why he wasn’t calling me. It was unreal!
However over time, I began to slowly accept the fact that Gordon was not going to come back. I would have to find a way to live without his physical presence, there was nothing anyone could do to bring him back. That was the harsh reality and I began to see that I had a choice to make. I could choose to continue grieving, continue to look for someone or something to blame, continue to seek answers, etc. Or I could choose life. Making that choice, I developed a greater, more complex appreciation of life along with a changed set of priorities. Losing Gordon so suddenly made me acutely aware of how fragile life is. Consequently, my relationships with family members and friends were deepened and I became more grateful for time spent with them. Our first grandson was born just 6 months before Gordon died and he brought our family together in more ways than we could ever imagine.
For me, everyday irritations became insignificant; there was no need to “sweat the small stuff” any more. And almost any “trauma” seemed small when compared the sudden loss of my soul mate. It became easier to focus on the important things in life and I gained a better understanding of who I was as a person. As I attended SOSL groups I found that sharing my story and the opportunity to verbally reflect my journey of healing allowed me to integrate the loss of Gordon into my life, into my being. It became a part of me that changed me. I was not the same and never will be again, but I found a “new normal” that I could live with. I could laugh again and smile again; I could see beauty in the simple things of life.
Part of my new normal was a desire to help others as I had been helped. So I volunteered with SOSL. I said I would commit to a year and here I am more than 10 years later! For me, it is a tangible way to create some meaning, to create a legacy in Gordon’s memory. It came about very naturally.
It wasn’t until I was preparing for one of the SOSL Closed Groups just about a year ago that I learned about Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). The idea of experiencing growth after a tragic experience is not new, but the term PTG was first coined in 1995 by two psychologists at the University of North Carolina, Robert Tedeschi, Ph.D. and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D. As I was reading their material I realized that was what had occurred in my life and that knowledge reinforced the impact of the positive change. PTG does not mean the tragedy that invaded my life was a good thing and I would readily give up all the positive changes if I could have Gordon back. But none of us go through life without some trauma, tragic loss, pain or disillusionment. It is what we do with it that counts.
Reflections on Healing
The grief within me has its own heartbeat. It has its own life, its own song. Part of me wants to fight the manifestation of my grief. Yet, as I surrender to the song, I learn to listen deep within myself. Let the life of this journey be just what it is- confusing, complicated, and at times overwhelming. I must keep opening and changing through it all until I become the unique person who has transcended the pain and discovered self-compassion, a vulnerable yet grounded self who chooses to live again.
In some ways, love and grief are very much alike. They both have the power to forever change our lives. Just as I must surrender to love, I must surrender to my grief.
Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD