A Widow’s Reflection: Surviving the Death of my Spouse

Henry battled with two cancers over an 18-month period. He had been my friend since we were teenagers and before we even courted. We were blissfully married for 13 years and enjoying the best of our life as a couple, a young family in Hong Kong. So when he died in 1994, I lost a dear friend and husband.

I lost my soul mate.

The immediate months were completely unbearable for the family: my pillow was wet every night for about three months and my children (only 6 and 8 years old at that time) were in emotional chaos and full of anger. They were struggling with new life patterns of living in Singapore, which they have never known as home. Singapore has always been been a holiday place – now it was a sad place. No more Papa to swim or ride the bicycle with. No more big-daddy hugs.

We had no home in Singapore; we had sold our HDB flat as it was intended for us to live in Hong Kong indefinitely. I was grateful and blessed that my in-laws were generous and loving. We lived with my brother-in-law, his wife and their three sons for nine months. Their home was a shelter from the storm. Their kindness was medicine to our souls. Despite my sons’ “bad behaviour”, including breaking cups and plates when they are unable to control their anger, my sister-in-law would just hug and love them. We were gradually nursed back to health and I am forever grateful for their compassionate love.

I remembered the many drives I took in my car to a secluded part of Old Holland Road where I shouted and cried out to God. Subsequently, I joined a gym club because I figured that I would not bump into any familiar faces there. For about three or four times a week, I would expend out all the negative energy through exercise. It was healing for me because I could go there without needing to say hello to anyone; there wasn’t a need for any small talk.

The process was necessary for me – the “sparring” sessions I had with God and the gym workout. These helped me to unload my emotions so that I could be available for my boys and take in all their ventilation and turmoil.

I was then interested to search for books that would help me through my grief and also to understand how my boys felt when they had to lose their Papa at such a young age. I remembered desperately looking for a book that would provide me the necessary tool and insights to help them. One day as I walked into Crest Bookshop at Far East Shopping Centre, I scanned through the shelves and my eyes were drawn to one book. I picked it up and it said, “My Daddy Died And It’s All God’s Fault.” How apt! The book became a healing balm for the boys as it helped them to open up and talk. Helping children grieve normally and giving a voice to their pain is vital for such great loss.

I remembered about two months after the funeral, I requested a time-out period for myself and asked my sister-in-law to look after my sons. I checked into Rasa Sentosa and brought my Bible, some Christian praise tapes and some books. One book helped me very much – Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy.

I cried. And I laughed. And I cried some more.

Another precious season was when I took a trip to Israel in November 1994 with some church friends. I needed to know if God still loved me. I had so many unanswered questions. Why did He take my Henry away from me? What will He have me live for? I was glad for the intimate experiences with Jesus, as I stayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Caiaphas’ dungeon, at Galilee and at Golgotha. I felt so loved by Jesus. I was healed again by His redeeming love. Nothing can separate me from the love of God – not death or life – nor anything present or in the future. Nothing can take God’s love away from me – not even losing Henry. Nothing. Absolutely nothing!

For one and a half years after my husband Henry went home to the Lord, I did not have a single friend who was widowed. I was surrounded by happily married couples – my sisters, my in-laws, my close friends – and I was happy for them that they were happy. They ought to be happy. But I was crying inside most of the time. I was missing Henry.

Since the episode, I have been journaling my deepest thoughts and emotions, gone for personal counseling sessions, continued to read books, co-founded a non-profit organization in 1996 to provide bereavement support to widows and children. I returned to an exciting corporate training career from 1999 till 2012. I went on to obtain a Master of Science in Professional Counseling, while still working during 2008-2010, starting at age 50! I’ve served the non-profit group as Board Member and counselor for 20 years till March 2016. I’ve gone on to receive certification training in March 2016 as a Grief Recovery Specialist to help people with all losses in life.

So I thought grieving will never end. But I have since learned that we can all move beyond losses and grief to recovery…of new dreams and fulfilling lives. Hence, I am grateful for the precious relationships of family, loved ones and friends. For those I meet with over meals, and those I travel with, enjoying a wonderful and purposeful life.

Here’s to new beginnings, new dreams, new relationship to live again!

Beginning Again ….Again….and Again

Life is filled with beginnings and endings.

As fall begets the fading tree and flower, so spring bursts out
with new life and hope!

Life flows with nature’s eternal rhythms.

Changes, endings, and deaths are unavoidable, but rebirth and beginnings are inevitable as well.

In travelling life’s journey, do not be discouraged by the endings in your life.

Rather live with an attitude of constant beginning!

Begin again by approaching each new day as an unexpected surprise!

Begin again by seeing open windows instead of closed doors!

Begin again with hope in the Divine and confidence in yourself!

– Robert J.C. Miller –

P.S: 19 July 2017 marks 23 years after my beloved husband Henry died. As I recalled the past years, these were the helpful ways along my journey of loss, grief to recovery, which I hope will encourage some readers of this website. I want to thank my family, close friends and others who reached out with genuine love and compassion.

About Joan Swee & Tang Chow Kheng

We are Certified Grief Recovery Specialists who have walked the painful journey of loss. We help individuals and groups learn to process their grief and pain, to move beyond life losses: bereavement, divorce, job or health loss.

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5 Comments

  • Sharon L Hochrein says:

    Thank you for sharing from your pain and your heart. I sent this on to my daughter-in-law hoping it will help her. On Sept. 18, 2016 my son, husband, father of 3 boys and sole proprietor of his own business went to be with Jesus. Casey had endured two horrific battles with cancer and is now at rest. We are healing slowly, but as you know too well, it is most difficult for his children. It is healing to share his story and by sharing it keeps him alive. I moved to their town when he received the second diagnosis and remain here for his wife and kids which is a blessing for them and for me.

    • Joan Swee says:

      Dear Sharon, oh such a great loss for you, your daughter-in-law and your grandsons!
      Thank you for your kindness and compassion, to move to be with her and grandsons, mourning together the loss of someone significant and precious to all of you.
      I wonder where do you all live now? And if you could find a Grief Recovery Specialist to journey with you all at this time of loss and grief ..
      Take care, Joan

  • monica says:

    I lost my elder son to cancer 17 years ago but am unable to get over it till today. My husband and I stopped going to church. On his death anniversaries we just wanted to be alone. I constantly cried in bed and in the bathroom.
    What can I do?

    • Mark Lin says:

      Dear Monica,

      Oh dear, the loss must have been terribly difficult for you and your husband. For a mother to experience the loss of her beloved son, I am sure the feeling must be overwhelming. Clearly, time wasn’t a factor when it comes to grieving – seemed like your pain is still as raw as it was 17 years ago.

      It might be helpful for you to see someone to talk about your grief in a safe environment. If you are in Singapore, you could drop us an email @ gooddeath@montfortcare.org.sg to arrange for an individual session, or alternatively, you could join in a Grief Recovery Method group programme under Whispering Hope (you can find out more information from their facebook page @ facebook.com/whisperinghopeSG).

      If you are not in Singapore, you might need to search for a suitable local therapist in your area for a session.

      Hope this helps!

    • Joan Swee says:

      Dear Monica, I’m so sorry to learn of your painful loss and how you have struggled for 17 years. Each day must be so tough for you ..
      Where do you live now? I wonder if there’s a Grief Recovery Specialist near you .. If you in Singapore, would you consider joining our Group Program
      starting Sat 21 Oct? Or do you prefer the Individual Program? How may we contact you? Or would you ring us at 8580 7058 during 9am-5pm Mon-Fri.
      Do take care, Joan

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