Case Study – Loss of a Husband

“I had a big split in my body right down the middle,”

says Vicky Collett, describing the picture she had of herself soon after her husband Eric’s death. He died suddenly in 1991 of a massive brain aneurysm. Vicky and Eric had been married for 28 years.

For months afterwards, Vicky was in total shock and felt like a robot. She just couldn’t believe that Eric had died. She still could hear his voice and smell his scent. “After being in the city visiting the kids, I would walk into the house and begin to call out for him or say things like, ‘Hey, Eric, you’ll never guess who I ran into today,'” she says.

Eric and Vicky had had a very loving marriage. She reports

“There wasn’t a day I wouldn’t want to repeat with Eric. We had a very good marriage; we were attentive to it. We’d go away on weekends alone without the kids just to ensure we were in tune.”

May 2, 1991, was moving day for Eric and Vicky. Once their youngest daughter was ready to leave the nest, they sold the home where they had spent 25 happy years, and moved from suburban Toronto to a quaint house in a small town in southern Ontario. Active Catholics, their plan was to open a retreat center for care givers who needed time to recharge their batteries. It was to be called Bethany House, after the town in which Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Eric died ten days after their move; the boxes had not even been unpacked.

When her husband’s life ended, Vicky felt hers had, too. Even though she had four wonderful children, ranging in age from the late teens to early twenties, Vicky had trouble finding a reason to live.

“I was suicidal. When Eric first died, there was such a huge void in my life.”

Feelings of vulnerability and deep loneliness bore down on Vicky and she spiraled into depression.

Vicky’s self-esteem plummeted because it seemed her entire identity had been wrapped up in her husband’s. She describes herself as an old fashioned girl who was raised to defer to men. “For a lot of women, we put so much work into our relationships and into our families; that is where our self esteem comes from.”

At first Vicky felt abandoned by Eric and angry with him for abandoning her. Then she began to idolize his memory. “I put him on a pedestal where he almost became God.” There were even times when Vicki felt that she hadn’t loved Eric enough, thinking if she had, he wouldn’t have died. “Finally when I took him off the pedestal, I realized he was human; he had frailties and so did I. Knowing that helped me respect myself a lot more, and I was able to reestablish my belief in myself as a woman, not only as a wife.” Vicky realized her husband had been the one to mirror back her goodness. After he died, she saw she could to do that for herself.

In her acceptance of who they each were, for themselves, and to each other, Vicky could re-integrate her memory of Eric in an even more loving way. This marked the start of Vicky’s journey back to herself.

After three years, Vicki feels as though her wound has healed. Vicky has come through the other end of grief, though sometimes she still experiences feelings of sadness. “It is more like a velvet pain than a knife.” She is able to remember many of the wonderful experiences they had together and hold Eric in her mind in a loving, caring, and even peaceful way.

Vicky is now a bereavement counselor, helping others through the pain of the loss of a loved one. She holds gatherings in the home she and her husband first planned to use to help nurture others towards a fresh start. “Eric coined the motto for the house ‘come have the Lazarus experience,'” Vicky laughs.

“For a long time I was waiting for him to rise from the dead. But what happened was, I did.”

Vicky is now in a relationship with a man who also lost his spouse around the same time as she did.

“Honestly, I would never have looked for another relationship. It’s wonderful to think that our hearts are big enough to love again. I know Eric would be happy for me, too.”

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