Losing your Spouse

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Losing your spouse is uncharted territory that no one has mastered. Death happens to all of us, will happen to our loved ones, and how we all grieve is different, yet the same: It’s hard. I wanted to share a little about my dads journey, with his blessing, from my perspective.

Losing your spouseLosing your spouse that you’ve shared your life with has got to be excruciating. I can only envision my own personal suffering, and try to imagine with sympathy for those that have experienced it.  You marry, raise children, disagree, fight, make up, experience heartache, counsel with each other, compromise, sacrifice, and grow together. Marriage is hard, even when you’ve chosen well. My parents were married 40 years, and I saw all of the above between them. They provided a great example to me of sacrifice for each other. An example of compromise that is necessary in a union. I’ve come to realize that true love and companionship isn’t about the attraction and butterflies that bring you together at the beginning of your relationship, but in stepping through the refiners fire together, the give-and-take that comes from overcoming hurdle after hurdle, and emerging on the other side stronger.  When you go through all of that, no one can fully understand your feelings because no one else but you were married to them and experienced all of that. I presume it would be isolating.

Losing your Spouse While feeling all that, after losing your spouse, you’re under a microscope, with lots of people watching your moves. There are highs and lows and unexpected moments of sorrow in the strangest of places. Just when you feel like you are going to be ok, something strikes that throws you into a whirlwind, and the waves of emotion come back. Having lost my mom, I’ve experienced this, but my dad has had so much more, and I feel blessed to have been his confidante in this process, listening and weeping along side him as he’s worked through his emotions. It’s a challenging transition, all of this has been, but I wanted to share the journey (with his approval) because so many of you have inquired, been supportive of me, and I also believe in sharing the challenges of life with the hopes it will bless others. I’m grateful my dad feels the same way.For those new to this story, you can read about:

My mom passed away in November 2015 when they were serving a mission for our church in Accra Ghana. Their mission began in July 2013, and though the specific calling was geared towards my dad presiding over that particular area and the 200-ish missionaries, it is an assignment for couples, and my mom had the job of being what she liked to call the “mission mom.”  It was very very hard for her to go, as it took her away from her kids and grandkids, but she recognized the need for service, and she was willing to sacrifice both for my dad, as well as for our Father in Heaven. She understood the greater good, and chose to dedicate her full time service to God, and set aside her desires for a season. She made the best of it, loved her missionaries, and did unique things as a mission mom when most mission president wives might simply accompany their husbands and do a little here and there. She would often tell me cheerfully that she was able to help a homesick missionary by relating to them that she understood, she was homesick too.

Considering that, looking at the timing of her death sure seems awfully “unfair.” She was serving, sacrificing, and was almost complete and ready to come home when she passed away. That’s been something I know my dad has had a hard time with, as well as my siblings and I, and her parents. But asking “why” just doesn’t do anyone any good, and we have the faith in knowing that someday we’ll understand.  Because the timing was so odd, and the circumstances, I’ve often heard my dad say, “it might as well have been a meteor striking her, it was that random.” But we know that God isn’t random, and we trust in His plan, as challenging as it may be for us to understand.

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Before my mom passed away, I was curious to know which was harder…watching a loved one suffer with an illness, but having the chance to “say goodbye” or having a loved one taken quickly without that chance? I’ve had grandparents pass away with a bit of warning, and I’ve heard that watching a loved one suffer for a long time is hard, but all I can say is DANG…having that rug unexpectedly pulled out from under you is excruciating. The “what if’s” and the “if only I said..” are tough pills to swallow.

My dad came home from his mission in January 2016. He and my mom were supposed to complete their 3 year service in July 2016, and after her passing, my dad petitioned to be an exception and finish out solo ’til July.  Our church leaders felt my dad really needed to come home and be with his family.

Losing your Spouse

He landed in Houston, with a smile on his face, though it was mixed with bittersweet emotions. I could tell he felt a little lost. Right away, he made a plan to prep and sell the house he’d owned with my mom since 1992. I’ll admit, I wasn’t so sure I liked that idea, but he made a plan and wanted to move forward, and I aligned myself to support that. Having retired from his business career before he mission, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but he knew he didn’t want to live in a 4500 square foot house by himself. Because they were on the mission for 3 years, they had been renting out the home to a young family, actually a dear close friend of my mom’s, Tasha. My mom felt good that she could leave her furniture and stuff in the attics and garage, and this family was happy to have the space.

Because the house was 25 years old, it needed some work done:  new wood floor, new paint throughout, new carpet, and emptying the space took a lot of work. My dad worked tirelessly for months, keeping himself busy with the task, while conveniently living 5 miles away with my brother, Ryan. My brother and his wife did a ton of work, too. I planned to help more, but being 3 hours away, and him moving so fast, I just didn’t get there to do much. I really wanted to help sort through things, to know what was important to keep, but alas.

In May 2016, I walked that home for the last time. It was gorgeous.

Losing your Spouse

I posted this image on Instagram, and so many commented on how beautiful it was, but it looked so much better than I had ever even seen it. The upgrades to sell made major improvements. I was quite emotional that day. I came in town to photograph a friends wedding at the Houston LDS temple down the road, so felt a bit rushed, but took some photo and video of that home, and said my goodbye.

We met up in New Orleans also in May, the siblings plus 2 spouses. Growing up, we lived in NOLA for 10-ish years, and we got to visit a few of my moms favorite places, and reminisce, just as adults. I recommend that. It’s important for that bonding to continue as well, and sometimes when we get together with all the kids, it’s about management, and less connecting.

Losing your spouse

Over the summer, my dad started to make a plan. Though I think my brother and his wife enjoyed their live-in Manny, he was trying to figure out what he’d do next, applying to a bunch of different universities for staff positions. From Houston to St. Louis to Utah. He knew it would be difficult to land a job as a professor without a PhD, but that was his ideal, to teach.

In July 2016,  our family all got together in Illinois for a reunion. We visited our church history sites in Nauvoo, and consulted with my dad about his next move. He had interviewed a few places, but nothing felt perfect.

losing your spouse

I should add that my dad had a successful business career and felt financially secure. So he wasn’t look for a job to make ends meet so much as he was looking for something to fulfill him. He’d always wanted to work with a university, so he was exploring this option.  He wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, and once we talked about him becoming a life coach. He has a unique optimism for life, taught classes and wrote books on organizational behavior in the work place, and just an overall positive outlook on life. I loved that idea of him being a life coach, and I was ready to pool my resources and help him figure that out.

He found out while we were all together in Illinois that he was offered a job at BYU as staff, part time. Though I was excited for him to slide right into his (and all of his children’s) Alma Mater at BYU, he was hoping for something full time, and held out for a teaching position at UVU down the street, until it was offered to someone else with a PhD. He knew it was a long shot, but still felt hopeful.

The main reason he was less excited about the BYU job was that it was part time, and he really wanted a full time job.  When an opportunity came up through our church to be a part time staffer writing curriculum, that was his answer….2 part time jobs equates a full time job. He was a go! He drove solo in my mom’s yellow mustang at the end of August from Texas to Utah, to start his job September 1st 2016.

Yellow Mustang Convertible

There was my dad, this successful former business executive-mission-president, now widow, taking a position at a university, equivalent to an intern starting out. I love that he wasn’t afraid to humble himself to explore a new path. He rented a furnished condo, taught himself to cook for one by watching YouTube videos, and delighted in telling me he could walk to Target for groceries.

Those first few weeks, he wasn’t quite so sure he’d be useful there. He wanted to make a difference, and felt the obvious-ness of his lower level on the totem pole. We’d talk and he’d say he wasn’t sure how much they’d use him, but he was ready to help.

In October 2016, I went out with my daughter to Utah to visit both my dad and my grandparents. We attended our church’s bi-annual General Conference. I’d promised my grandparents I’d come take them and we had a great weekend together.

Losing your Spouse

It was really great to be there that weekend. To see where he was living, meet his co-workers, walk BYU campus with him and just get a feel for his life there. After that first month, he had his bearings with the new job.  Though it was clear to him his level on that totem pole, he was really enjoying what he was doing mentoring the business college students.

I had talked with him months before about if he thought about the idea of dating, and possibly re-marrying. He really didn’t even want to entertain the idea, and I know from the grief he’d struggled with at various times worried about betraying my mom in some way or another. He was also very concerned with all of us kids, and did not want to ever make losing my mom any harder for us. He said he’d never do anything if he didn’t have the blessing from all of us, which I applaud him for, but also reassured him that he can have a thumbs up, but maybe not without a 100% full ecstatic backing.

In my opinion (and his), he hadn’t gone out on a date yet. He’d had a few lunch meetings with single female friends, and emailed a woman about books they were reading, and suggest books for each other to read. He thought nothing of that email exchange, but I suggested that he might be more mindful about leading people on, and he innocently said, “we are just discussing books!” I read more into it than he did. I just said to think about it…a single woman might think differently than he was.  Innocently, he was not interested in dating anyone, or going out on a date at this point, coming up to the year anniversary of my moms passing away.

I feel grateful that my dad and I were close before, and that I was able to be a sounding board to him throughout the past year. It’s an odd position for a daughter to give counsel to her father, and I count our conversations and exchanged tears, as precious to me. He’s always been a hero of mine, and even more so now after I’ve seen all that he’s endured.Losing Your Spouse

While I was in Utah, he mentioned that he had been asked to speak at a Widow’s Conference. I thought the idea sounded fantastic! He is, after all, an amazing speaker, and he does have a very positive outlook on all aspects of life. He has definitely suffered in the grieving process, but he is a good example to me of how to persevere, and trust in Heavenly Father’s plan, despite life throwing a curveball at you.

I was perplexed that he was a bit apprehensive about speaking at this conference, and his reasoning surprised me. He said he didn’t want to be the “poster child” for being a widow(er). He recognized that his circumstances were unique, and it seemed to feel maybe too sensational. He wasn’t sure he was comfortable being a symbol for grief.

I encouraged him to do it because he’s awesome, and I thought he could really share some great things with others who were likely struggling, that might benefit from his strength.

Little did I know how much his life, our life was about to change because of that conference.

Read part 2: Widows Dating

Read part 3: Bonus Family

Bonus: Wedding VIDEO!!

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Comments

  1. My dad died two years ago so thanks for sharing this.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      You are welcome. It’s a club we don’t necessarily want to be in, but we can understand each other, and know how to best support one another through the challenge. Hugs to you!

  2. I am so sorry for your loss! The grief is unforgiving.

  3. such a heartbreaking notion to be without your spouse. Thanks for sharing you add’s journey!

  4. anxious to hear the rest of the story! thank you for sharing. i can’t image what this must be like for your family.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for your family.

  6. I think the loss of a parent is a really hard, hard thing. It sounds like you and your siblings were a great support to your dad!

  7. What a beautiful story. Sounds like you had an amazing mother and you are lucky to still have your amazing father. So much love.. : )

  8. This is a beautiful story Kristen. I can only imagine the grief you have all been dealing with since your mother passed. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. It’s just heart breaking! Some parts of life are so difficult.

  10. I have asked that same question of which is harder, the sudden loss of a loved on or watching them slowly struggle. I still don’t have an answer. Thank you for opening up and sharing.

  11. What a blessing it is to know that families can be together forever; thank you for sharing this experience.

  12. Such a beautiful story. This will truly inspire many readers out there. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Jacqueline says:

    Hi Kristen,
    It’s been a while since I’ve commented. My own life is upside down right now as I am in the middle of moving back to the US, since I hope to be getting married for the first time, at the age of 40! I feel greatly blessed, but it’s also a time of upheaval.
    So I haven’t had a lot of time for blogs, but I still make time for reading stories like this one.
    Great job as usual, and also a cliffhanger as usual… 🙂
    You look a lot like your mom in that first picture.
    Thank you for sharing this story!

  14. What a touching story! Grief is hard. It seems to sneak up on you at unexpected times. That’s what I experienced with the passing of my mom. All the best to you, thank you for sharing your beautiful story

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Grief IS hard, thanks for reading, and yes it does seem to sneak up at unexpected times. Just when you think you have everything under control…

  15. Such a touching story! <3

  16. Really good read. My good friend just lost her husband and it’s been tough on all of us. I’m going to pass this on.

  17. My dad died unexpectedly during routine surgery when I was 22. It’s been strange, having children who never knew their grandfather. But I have been blessed to have several experiences that let me know that the veil is very thin and that your relationship with a parent can grow and heal even if they’ve passed away.

    Also, I’m dying for part 2! Hurry up!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Wow, I didn’t realize that. That is tough that your kids didn’t know him. Thanks for sharing about the healing relationship, I am feeling that little by little.

  18. Irma Nelson says:

    Kristen,

    I had to cry when I saw your pictures. You look su much like her and you are definitely a go getter Lille your mom. I am a high school friend of your mom’s and spent many fun hours with Ralene and her parents. Neil was a father to me when my dad was unable to do so.
    So nice to see all of your remarkable achievements.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Hi Irma! My mom often spoke of you. I love imagining my mom in high school, and the Balls being great hosts. I’ll have to tell my grandparents you dropped a note. They love hearing from others from the past. Thanks for taking the time to write a comment;)