I learned what it was like to suffer the death of a beloved spouse. Others have had or will have the same experience. I share here what I learned, knowing that only some of my experiences and conclusions are true for everyone. On this subject, much is individual.
When we lose a spouse, we are usually unaware of how deeply wounded we are. For a time we do not function well, physically or mentally. We should not make major decisions until we are mostly whole again. The required time will differ. For me, it was about a year before I could trust myself with a major personal decision.
As I look back on my personal healing from June’s death, I believe there were three major memories on which I relied for comfort. I sometimes referred to these memories as my “three-legged stool.”
First was my absolute faith in the reality of the Resurrection. Because my faith and knowledge on this subject are not unique to me, I will say no more about them here.1
Second was my memory that although I had not been a perfect husband and wished I had done many things better, I had never betrayed June’s trust or violated our marriage covenants.
Third was my memory of caring for her personally during her last illness, doing all she requested that was within my power. We were blessed that she was able to fight her battle with cancer at home (except for one day of hospitalization), surrounded by her loved ones. We had ample time to discuss what we could see of the future and to receive a measure of closure about it.
Those three memories all related to what preceded June’s death. The fourth major influence in my healing was the grief I experienced after her death and what I did to draw it out, process it, and reduce it to the point that it was not disabling. Each surviving spouse will do this in his or her own way. For me, the process of drawing out my grief and reducing it to a tolerable level was importantly associated with my writing a history of June’s life. This year-long task began as a sweet diversion to fulfill her desire that our posterity would know her as they would know me. Fortunately, preparing her history turned out to be the essential and culminating step in my healing from the wounds caused by her death.
I had abundant sources. I had June’s journals and mine. I had the written contributions of our six children, and I had some choice recollections and tributes in the hundreds of letters received after her death. Evening after evening I read these sources and relived our forty-seven and a half years together (including our one and a half years of courtship). I would read and weep, write and weep. This sweet experience not only resulted in a lengthy history privately published for our family but also drew out and soothed my grief. I undertook this history as my final mortal service for her, but it surely turned out to be most essential for me.
Others will have other activities to help them work through their essential period of grief. Whatever the activity, my experience persuades me that it should include some organized review of the life of the spouse and it should be something that can be concluded to signify the completion of this intense period of grief. For me that end point was the completion of June’s history and its delivery to our children and grandchildren just before the first anniversary of her death. Soon thereafter the Spirit whispered that it was time for me to stop grieving and get on with my life. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
Lead image from Life's Lessons Learned
“I have learned things that have shaped my life and teachings, including some things of the heart not previously shared,” writes President Dallin H. Oaks in the introduction to this unique book. “This is an autobiography of learning and application rather than a compendium of doctrine.”
Masterfully blending personal experiences with the doctrines of the gospel, President Oaks invites us to join him on a journey through some of the turning points in his life and the lessons he has learned through a lifetime of devotion to the Savior.