In this episode:
Sarah and Shawn met at Microsoft; they shook hands and Sarah heart sparked. They married in 1997, began building their community, and shared incredible adventures. In 2001, they had a child, Carson, who completed their family of three. Carson was their focus; Sarah and Shawn were deeply committed to their family and partnership. Love was rippling and flowing.
It was Father’s Day 2015, and Shawn wanted to celebrate a meal out with his family. Shawn excused himself from the table and did not return. Sarah and Carson found him collapsed in the restaurant’s entryway. Placed in the ambulance, Shawn was declared clinically dead and rushed to the ER. The medical team worked endlessly to resuscitate Shawn; however, at some point, Sarah felt that Shawn was no longer present. “Please, just let him go,” Sarah requested.
Returning home, Sarah found women and children from her community waiting for her. They spent the day sitting with, supporting, and loving Sarah and Carson. Sarah was in awe of their kindness, generosity, and support. That afternoon, Sarah’s friend spotted an orange dragonfly, one never seen before in that area. That vibrant dragonfly – Shawn’s spirit animal – kept on showing up. Every single day. For the entire summer, part of the fall, and now every spring. Shawn keeps returning to visit Sarah and Carson.
Sarah’s biggest fear after Shawn’s death was financial security. A stay-at-home parent for 14 years, Sarah worried over supporting her family. She wondered could she keep their house, could she get health insurance, life insurance? Finding a financial planner was key to providing comfort and stability and gave Sarah the space to focus on healing herself and Carson.
Sarah desperately misses her partnership with Shawn, their companionship, and laughter. She longs for having that special person who knows her inside and out and who sees and loves all of her.
Sarah’s immediate concern and highest priority after Shawn died was Carson. To fully support Carson, Sarah knew that she needed to be healthy in body and spirit. Therapy and parental support were key to Sarah’s journey forward. And in turn, Carson was Sarah’s source of strength. Carson has been Sarah’s anchor. Now a solo empty nester, Sarah needs to find a new anchor; one she knows resides within herself. With Carson launched, it’s time for Sarah to focus on herself. With no one to take care of, she’s launched the next chapter of personal journey and is discovering what brings her joy and purpose.
Carson started high school just weeks after Shawn’s death. In shock, Carson didn’t reveal their father’s death to anyone. Despite being in a supportive, loving community, it wasn’t until years later that Carson opened up and talked about Shawn’s death. As Carson opened up and became more vulnerable, her community wrapped more tightly around her. Watching Carson at graduation, Sarah felt a sense of freedom in recognizing Carson’s growth, skills, and awareness; Carson was joyful and living their life fully. Watching Carson, Sarah thinks
“Who you are becoming is so beautiful and phenomenal. I want to be you when I grow up my friend.”
“Worst club ever. Welcome.” is how Sarah greets her grieving dead-spouse/partner acquaintances. The trauma club is the worst club to be in; you wouldn’t wish this on anybody. However, there are many gifts that come from trauma. From trauma came compassion, insight, and resilience. Sarah’s learned how to ask for and receive help – though she still doesn’t like it. She’s discovered her strength, courage, self-compassion. Trauma is a teacher and forces you to face yourself. And sometimes you realize the person you are facing needs some growth.
Six months after Shawn’s death, Sarah joined a grief group. Initially seeking people just like her, Sarah realized grief is grief. Sarah discovered people who had been mourning their loss for years. At the time Sarah thought, “I can’t do this. I need to keep us moving. I can’t be four years down the road and sobbing like this happened yesterday.” Yet four years later, Sarah is still grieving, still sobs. The grief is more manageable and doesn’t feel all consuming; however, Sarah is as deeply sad as she was when Shawn died.
“I had to get in touch with my judgement around grieving”
The opposite of grief is love. Sarah realized that grief is the price one pays for loving deeply. Nothing lasts forever. Sarah is willing to pay that price; it hurts, but what’s the alternative?
The women who lost and grieved before her and were willing to share their stories were (and are) Sarah’s inspiration. Not only were they a source of valuable information, Sarah saw these women thriving, living full lives filled with joy, kindness, and self-compassion. These women represented possibility. Seeing someone else down this not-asked-for path, gave Sarah hope.
Beyond leaning on friends, family and unexpectedly kind strangers, resources Sarah found particularly helpful in moving through the ocean while the shipwreck is all around you:
Grief group counseling Contra Costa County Crisis Center
Widow/Widower social support Soaring Spirits
Financial advisor Ryan Baker
Therapist specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Comedy: W. Kamau Bell, Jimmy Gaffigan, Fortune Fiemster, Mike Birbiglia
Thank you for listening!
May our stories help forge your path forward. I hope you’ll stay tuned for our next episode and in the meantime, learn more about my story on my blog.