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Today Is My Wife’s First Birthday Since She Died (medium.com/webwright)
517 points by troydavis on Oct 8, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 86 comments

My boss's wife died about five or six years ago. Last year he had to fly across the country to a meeting on the anniversary of his wife's death. I found out about it when he seemed uncharacteristically agitated and cynical about the meeting. I asked him and he told me he had planned to visit her grave that day and now he couldn't. It may sound weird but I made a note in my diary for the future, and this year I made sure his schedule was completely free that day. He didn't turn up for work that day, and I felt gratified just to have done my little bit to help. My boss is really wonderful and it's nice to be able to give back in ways other than hard work and results.

Yours is a really beautiful gesture. It is rather remarkable how fragile we widowed people are around the birthdays and death anniversaries. I lost my wife 4 years ago at 37 years old to a rare cancer. Even though I plunge myself into work and have a deep, meaningful relationship with another young lady, I feel like hell a few days prior to the big events. Sometimes I have to "check in" with myself on why I feel so poorly since I didn't even realize certain days have crept up on me. Freud was right when he said the first year of widowhood is temporary insanity and I would venture we get a couple of minor echos of it around these difficult times.

Different, but what you said relates.

I adopted through foster care. We try to maintain a relationship with the biological family. Do to various circumstances beyond our control, we don't tell our kids when we're going to see the biological family because it's never certain until we're really close. Long story short, you can set your clocks to the kids behavior. The closer we get to the time to have visits, the more their behavior reverts. After the visit, everything is normal again.

I can't explain it other than the kids have developed a need and they naturally revert to behaviors they had before those needs were met? The brain is a powerful thing.

Not sure this makes sense from someone who is totally unconnected to the situation, but thank you for doing that.

One thing that I realized since my mum passed away: as we get older, next to birthdays we need to remember “deathdays”, too :-(

Yes, I was surprised in my forties to notice that (for me) this is strangely important. In my calendar I keep "deathdays" as "//persons_name" and when I do, I am thinking of the "//" as "Signed out".

I'm not sure that, beyond my own thoughts, I give more or less attention to these as opposed to living person's birthdays, but I deeply honor it as my way of acknowledging and more importantly, not forgetting that this [un-birthday] changed my life.

This is something I don't quite understand. The day my dad died is not a day I like to remember, and I don't feel like celebrating it, yet my family always insists on coming toghether that day. I don't really mind, so I go along with it, but it's odd to me that so many people feel that urge.

People become stronger in death if they are practiced. You can let them fade out too.

I did not take note of the date when my grandmother died. The more I read, the better I feel about it. I do not need a fixed date in a year to remember someone

I wouldn’t care that much either, it’s more the collateral damage you can create as OP outlined. My father would suffer a lot if I didn’t see him on that day for example

After my dad's death, I found my mother would become far more emotional around her birthday. These occasions, special days, are reminders of a void. Something missing that will never be again. In her case, her husband saying Happy Birthday first thing in the morning.

Remember someone is key from preventing them dying a second death. They are truly dead when no-one remembers them any longer. If it takes a note to remember their deathday, that's OK.

Won’t they still live forever* subconsciously either way you do it?

* until they reach nirvana anyway

Similarly, if somebody doesn't feel comfortable celebrating "deathdays", then that's OK too. Just because GP didn't take note of when their Grandmother died doesn't mean that no-one remembers her.

I do not know why hackercrow's commend is dead, I personally took no offense with it.

I do remember her, all the time. But everyone has their own way to grieve, to deal with loss of a loved person. Some order 2 beers at a bar and only drink one. Some do family meetings every year, pull up videos and pictures of great times had. Some like to just remember them at random occasions, reminisce about great times had together. To me, randomly remembering a person means much more than an a deathday.

To me, a fixed date makes it seem like this is the only occasion when you're supposed to grieve about that person.

In Hindu Tradition, 'deathdays'are celebrated each year by feeding kids and old people from your neighborhood or somewhere else. This is called "Sraddha".

I am so sorry to read all these stories of loss of loved ones and so sorry for all these terrible losses of loved ones. Reading this comment about remembering the day of one's death is common practice. The word Yahrzeit (from the German words "jahr" for year and "zeit" for time), refers to the anniversary of one's death, and is observed by recalling fond memories of the decased, visiting their grave, lighting a long-burning candle, and saying a prayer (typically a Kaddish) with a quorum. [1]

The aspect of a community coming together to memorializing the deceased and supporting mourners is a core tenant of practice. The week following a death, family and friends come to the aid of a mourner by helping them around their house, providing food and visiting with them to ease their grief. Communal prayer that requires a minimum quorum of people is another way a community supports a mourner. Though many people may process grief in different ways, there is little chance a mourner will lack human interaction throughout their grieving process.

Donating to charities in memory of the deceased is also a common practice. My friend's grandmother passed from Alzheimer's disease and I made a contribution to the Alzheimer's association. I recently heard a story of a Holocaust survivor who's father had passed from asphyxiation in a cattle car filled with people en route to a concentration camp. In memory of her father, she would support other's ability to breath by making donations to supply oxygen tanks to a volunteer ambulance service.

[1] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/281636/jewish...

My mother died this year. I certainly won't be forgetting May 1st, 9:26AM.

You shouldn't. Remember her for all that she did for you and the person she was. RIP.

It's not weird at all. I hope I can learn to be so thoughtful. Maybe you have helped me do that.

You are so thoughtful. Thank you for giving hope to humanity.

As someone who lost my spouse in the middle of March, 2018, a lot of this resonates. You never really think about what life could or would be like without them. And then (in some cases) you wake up one morning, and they're gone.

It never gets better. It never hurts any less. You just get better at dealing with the hurt.

Also in a similar situation. Make sure you let in all the love around you.

I felt the same way when my mom died at an early age. You don't really ever get over it, you just kind of move into a grey-er future.

Side benefit of it, is that it makes you a little more existential, and a lot more cognizant of the time you have left, and really appreciate people you care about in your life.

And it made me a better tipper.

Sorry to hear, I lost my mom and my dad is in a similar situation. He and my mom were partners in their work life as well, so he misses the fact that he does not have a sounding board.

I lost my wife just over five years ago after nearly 21 years of marriage. The grief process is complicated.

Without a doubt, focusing on the here-and-now and being grateful for the support and encouragement I received (and continue to receive) from family, friends, and even strangers over the years has helped me get to a place of peace and acceptance in my life.

Like the article mentioned, the unexpected kindnesses of acquaintances and strangers absolutely helped me through this process.

If you're ever in doubt about reaching out and letting someone in need know that you're thinking about them, just do it. It is helpful.

"If you're ever in doubt about reaching out and letting someone in need know that you're thinking about them, just do it. It is helpful."

This is really important and touching for all types of situations. I have been fortunate to be the recipient of messages like that, as well as the deliverer. The warmth I felt in both occasions was overwhelming. It seems so small, but those moments can really help people in massive ways --ways that can be hard to verbalize.

Example: I had a friend tell me years afterwards about their emotional struggles and how my note helped them through a difficult and dark time in their life. Similarly, I had some very difficult days where it was hard to cope with my grief (not a loss of life in my situation). A friend had sent me a card telling me how much I meant to so many people. On my hard days I would read the card over and over. Something small, helped me in a massive way.

I'm so sorry - and thanks for sharing. The article rang true for me, although it has never been a spouse, thus far my older younger brother, two first cousins, and three close friends.

I still celebrate my brother's birthday with a ritual. He'd have been 21 had he lived another 2 weeks, so I buy a nice scotch to share with friends and family from his birthday in Nov. to Christmastime. Ritual helps me grieve, remember, and celebrate.

This is not advice, btw. I hate advice. Just sharing, like you.

As an organ recipient I'd like to express my sympathy on your loss as well as my gratitude towards your late wife and you. An organ donor has an immense impact on the lives of others.

I got a kidney from a deceased donor whose identity I will never know. Hence I will have no way of thanking the family of the donor and expressing what this means to me.

Please know that even though I got my transplant 4.5 years ago not a day goes by when I don't think about the family of my donor and feel deeply grateful. I also feel obliged to treat this gift of life with respect – ensuring that I take every step to keep healthy.

I live in Norway, but I have many friends from the US whom I have met through a huge Facebook group for people who are on dialysis, have received a transplant or have a loved one with kidney disease. Through this forum I've learned a lot about the challenges of having kidney disease in the US. About the long waiting lists, about how many never make it, and about the challenges of those who have received a transplant but now have to fight to keep their kidney due to haphazard health coverage.

If you'd like to see what this selfless act has done for other people feel free to join https://www.facebook.com/groups/kidneytransplantdonorsandrec...

Having literally lost a close loved one in the last few hours this post really helped. Thank you.

Know that the feelings you're feeling aren't crazy. You're not alone. While everyone may not be able to empathize with the specific circumstance, we all know the feeling of despair and can relate to it at a fundamentally human level. The profound sadness is in all of us, and while we each deal with it and express it in different ways when the time comes - we're absolutely right there with you in the spirit of it.

Also know that the profound sadness you might be feeling is necessary. I find that an intense/deep sense of gratitude and a profound sadness can often be different sides of the same coin.

Try to channel the gratitude rather than the sadness, but know that it's difficult and also know that time is on your side. Over time, hopefully it is the gratitude that wins out. It will, because it always does.

It took a couple of these kind of situations before I was able to reconcile the above (Grandpa passing away, other close family passing away too young, etc)

Good luck, stranger. I don't know you, but I'm human so I get it.

Thinking about how to respond to comfort you. But I will simply add that I am thinking of the pain you're going through.

I wish for all the strengths to you to overcome this. Maybe thinking about good life moments of that person could provide some much needed positivity.

I'm not sure if it makes sense to write this as a total stranger, but I'm really sorry for your loss.

Sorry to hear about your loss, I am hoping peace accompanies you as you go through the next hours and days ahead.

:( I'm sorry dude. I wish you all the strength in the world.

"This feels like a particular awful thing to ask someone to do, but I believe if everyone truly were able to imagine the sudden death of the folks they love, it would change how they live."

I couldn't agree more.

In the past, this was a more common thing. Disease, injury, and war killed a lot more people than they do today. I wonder if people did cherish relationships more then than they do now.

I think you're on to something here. I wonder if a gradual loss of empathy is a product of the evolution of a first world country or advanced economy?

People die less, and without the threat of random deaths, life itself ends up valued less overall.

Humans seem less inherently empathetic toward emotions they haven't ever experienced close to themselves, loss being one of millions of negative human emotions that when experienced less, is less able to be empathized with at a macro level.

Perhaps this partly explains the current political climate and recent spike in authoritarianism among the average citizen in the US. Maybe we've hit a point where the life necessities and healthcare needs historically only enjoyed by the powerful are available to almost everyone and as a result, life expectancy has goes up (meaning statistically less people are dying in any given time frame). People start feeling subconsciously both slighted (economically) and invincible (biologically), and assume everyone else should be invincible too and there is no room for softness (empathy).

Perhaps this is even how humanity self-regulates. What if "dark ages" where reversals in progress are experienced are caused by this ebb and flow of the spirit of cooperation and empathy?

There is a nice, short (12 pages!) scholarly article on this topic called "Did the Ancients Care When Their Children Died?". Evidently, this question (and the more specific question of child mortality) has seen quite a bit of study. I strongly recommend that article, but if you can't access it let me give a sketchy recap below.

The article makes a few points. First, child mortality in Greco-Roman times was very high, maybe 30%. Second, art from that time has many references to the terrible emotional pain of losing a child -- grief seems to have been common. Third, handing over child-raising duties to another party (wet nurses, or even entire foster families) was also far more prevalent than it is today. Fourth, the death of a child was often mourned in a communal, ritualistic way, but it was also not uncommon to simply bury a child in the home with little fanfare.

These things are all hard to square, but the rough conclusion I got was: even when mortality was high, losing a child was keenly painful if that child was loved in the first place, which was less of a given at that time. However, even in that case, mourning and grieving -- by being both diffuse (by community) and following predefined rituals -- seem to have been more self-contained. In other words, the pain came, and then it (mostly) went. Child mortality being such a common experience, there were established societal ways to deal with it (plus your friends and family knew what it was like), and this made it genuinely easier. Your post makes some similar points.

My own take is that today is the worst time in human history to lose a child. Communities are more fractured, there are far fewer people who understand the experience, and parents have every reason to expect to never see any of their children die (and are consequently less prepared for it). Plus, in ancient times there were at most a few ways you or anybody around you would know how to raise a child, so a death that came from that process was in some sense excusable, or somehow just a stroke of fact. Contrast that with today, where we have maybe more freedom and choice than ever, and for every decision made we can find an argument against it -- there's just less certainty of having "done everything right". It's an ugly price for agency.

My first thought is that they’re both fortunate compared to couples where one is dying of some awful disease for 6-60 months prior to passing away, rather than it happening instantly. That happens often enough (like to me, for instance). The section on grief is interesting because I feel like I’m grieving my own life.

I know a friend whose husband died of pancreatic cancer at 38, after being ill for 2 years, leaving her with 2 kids under 5. He had been the one with the income and she hasn’t worked in 12 years. As for me, nobody will be writing about how much I’m missed because my illness stripped me of my loved ones and relationships on the way here.

Congrats to him on having a 20 year marriage that didn’t end in divorce. Many people would have had say, their wife cheat on them and he’d be burning their love letters now instead of reminiscing wistfully.

What an incredibly touching and personal post.

It felt to me that the song embedded in the middle of the article perfectly encapsulates the mood of the writer. Definitely worth listening to and reading Tony's words.

Thank you for sharing this. I am so sorry for your loss. Your writing really spoke to me. I immediately texted my wife to tell her how much I appreciate and love her. Having kids really does a number on a relationship. The routine and obligations are exhausting and tedious. Thank you for the reminder to zoom out and be grateful for all that she is and does.

This is very touching and openly raw post. I have lost people close to me, and have never been able to express what I was feeling in the way it's presented here.

However... This Alex sounds like she was Super-Human. It comes across that there was nothing she couldn't do, or hasn't done. As much as people like to think the best of those departed, I am sure that everyone has parts of them that are.. just not any good.

When I die, I want people to be honest about who I was. Most of the time I am an opinionated grumpy shit, and hope that my eulogy shows me as I truly was, warts and all.

The author does mention she had some pretty "sharp edges", but regardless I don't think one can expect an "objective" assessment in a situation like this nor is it preferred, in my opinion.

We're talking about two soul mates. No one can possibly relate to Alex in the way the OP did. When you're with someone in that good of a relationship, for that long, you don't see that person the same way as anyone else possibly could. As I read the article, I could only think of my wife (thankfully still here with me), because that's my "Alex". My wife is not perfect, but I also don't see her as having truly negative qualities, more like strengths and weaknesses and I love the entire package. I guess what I'm doing a crappy job of saying is that eulogizing your SO isn't really possible to be understood as an "outsider". You can understand it in the context of your own relationships, but with regards to the person being remembered, thee whole picture is impossible for you to see and perhaps also those details are only meant for the closest relationships, in my humble opinion.

Reminds me of orson Scott card’s “speaker for the dead” whose job it is to speak after someone dies, giving a full picture of who someone was, which of course, includes all the bad things that people don’t want to talk about after somebody dies

She doesn't. In fact, I was wondering if I could ever write as sincerely as him, because he does talk about a few negative traits of her, especially regarding their relationship.

Yes, he has a laundry list of all of the things she did, because she was a rugged woman, but also talks about how much her pride affected her enjoyment of things.

Did we read the same thing?

I think most people are pretty amazing and we only fail to notice because we're so used to it. It's only when they die that we stop taking it for granted.

Incredibly powerful. Such great life lessons that have presented themselves at a moment of loss of life. I love the passage "Alex is in charge now" as a response to giving in to the temptations that would have dragged the author further down.

Stoicism helps a little bit in regards to valuing what you have right now. Be careful you don't dive too deep into the imagination though. It's about taking stock of your blessings, not falling into a hole.

In my experience with Stoicism, it doesn't help at all with the feelings per se, it helps you to put them in perspective, to help see them as a natural part of life. But the feelings are still there, and they still fuckin' hurt.

Disappointing that someone felt they needed to downvote this perfectly valid and effective philosophical advice.

FWIW I responded but I didn't downvote it, and I agree with the idea in general, but it did feel a little out of place.

Here's my opinion why. It's hard to turn on Stoicism in the moment, it's a perspective on life that requires repeated practice and diligence. Hopefully, by the time you reach a crisis like this, it comes naturally and gives you an outlet.

It's like if my house burnt down, and someone came along and said, "Brick is better than wood. It doesn't burn in the same way."

This is incredibly sad and moving.

It's such a shot directly to everyone; you really need to put silly things behind you and love the ones that love you.

> This feels like a particular awful thing to ask someone to do, but I believe if everyone truly were able to imagine the sudden death of the folks they love, it would change how they live.

I actually do this every now and then. You know, you're having a slow day at work, you're browsing NH and read an article about someone losing their loved one and then your mind just goes places you wish it hadn't.

Once I'm in that dark place of imagining a life without my partner, my mind never goes to thinking that I should tell them how much I love and them and that I cherish our time together. The thought of doing this doesn't make my imagined pain of losing them any lesser.

If anything, thinking about how much I love them and value our time together makes me even more terrified about the inevitable time when they might not be there anymore. If I actually committed to this, the way my life would change is that I would probably be a lot more depressed.

I should note that I've never lost anyone important to me, so I still have this horrible reality in front of me. But when reading about people who have, it feels like they're from a completely different world.

I'm curious if these regrets people describe about not spending more time with the loved ones is just the way grief manifests in general, or if there's actual psychological value in being proactive about it. My cynical self suspects it's the former.

I really like the advide to think of the death of a loved one. This helps to put everything in perspective. When my father died suddenly some years ago, I felt a clarity like never before. All the fears, worries, and thoughts about unimportant stuff were gone. All that was important to me then was my family and my friends. My only plan for the future was to start a family and raise children. Now I'm a father of three and I can say that the loss of my father changed my life - a lot.

People's relationship with death is wrong. It is mostly responsible for our terrible relationship with religion and rationality (believing in life after death and all the BS that come packaged with it). It is mostly responsible for our terrible approach to healthcare (caring for lifespan instead of healthspan) and aged care (holding on as long as possible instead of being prepared to die when you are so old as to be a burden to everyone).

you sound like someone who hasn't lost a wife or someone that dear who you expected to grow old with.

Lot of us are estranged from our partners. I would say only this: Even if things are very bad, a thought of them dying will make you wish that you could have done something different while both of you were still breathing. There are no arguments with death.

This is a beautifully written piece.

You want a challenge for today? Try to read this fully, in one go, without crying.

I lost my wife a few years back. Last year I told myself that I did pretty well with the whole grieving process. I recently realised I have not even started properly yet, and that every day I am just putting it off for another day.

This article is incredible, and I am deeply grateful for the author to have shared this.

Interesting what he wrote about imagine his/her partner suddenly dies.

Sometimes (happened probably 3-5 times in the last 6 years) i imagine that and get very sad and my wife was always around anyway so i went to her and hugged her.

After that i tell her, that i wanna day before her.

But whatever happens, the time with her is still the best thing ever happend to me.

What does it mean `her heart just stopped`? Is that a heart attack? Sounds super freaky that the heart can just... stop

With youngish people, it's congenital heart defects that cause the heart to stop. Happens all the time, mostly during endurance exercise, e.g.


I guess it's scary, but people do drop dead. I was working at a startup once, and in my monitor reflection, I see the guy behind me drop to the floor. He started convulsing, and then was still. We called the paramedics, but the next morning we learned he had died. That was it. No warning. An otherwise healthy guy. You never know when it's going to be your day.

Don't know, I think it could mean a lot of things. You usually read about it when healthy young persons drops dead on a football field in the middle of practice. Saw some numbers about it recently, happens a lot.

I believe the medical term is "cardiac arrest". It is different than a heart attack. Something caused the heart to stop beating.

They coded my brother as SCA (sudden cardiac arrest).

This happens all the time. It happened to my dad, who was healthy and exercised regularly. After a bike ride he collapsed and died.

Often there are warnings, like arythmias which I guess can be signs the electrical functions aren't great. Those sorts of congenital defects are hard to detect, acknowledge and treat seriously as a condition.


aka "sudden death syndrome"

Some people have heart defects that leave them susceptible to instant surprise heart failure.

A notable case is a college basketball player a few years ago who literally just died running across the court.

My wife has this!

cardiac arrest, it's pretty rare but still scary. Over 400k Americans die from it every year.

400k doesn't sound so rare. The entire population of Tulsa OK, Wichita KS, or New Orleans, LA just drops dead every year?

ROC – Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium datum were gathered between June 1, 2014 and May 31, 2015 and includes EMS-assessed and EMS-treated out-of-hospital cardiac arrest from multiple regions of the US.

According to the ROC:

Approximately 356,461 people in the US experienced an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (347,922 adults, 7,037 children under age 18)

22,520 of those 356,461 were witnessed by bystanders

12.4% survived to hospital discharge

Of the EMS patients who experienced non-traumatic cardiac arrest outside a hospital, and did not have bystander intervention, 10.8% survived until hospital discharge

[999] - https://www.aedsuperstore.com/resources/sudden-cardiac-arres...

It's rare in young healthy-acting people.

For example, http://www.sca-aware.org/sca-news/aha-releases-2015-heart-an... says that the incidence is 0.24 per 100k annually for high school athletes in Minnesota. Extrapolating that rate to the whole US population would give ~800 deaths per year. The observed 400k number includes quite a lot of people who suffer cardiac arrest after a history of heart disease.

If this is a topic you'd like to know more about or donate to, consider: https://viaheartproject.org

To those reading this fine post, instead of asking "How’s it going?" ask "Anything I can do". Likely there won't be an articulate, detailed answer. But if you just be with the grieving person, that can mean a lot.

> instead of asking "How’s it going?" ask "Anything I can do".

The author specifically recommends NOT to throw the ball in the aggrieved person's court.

> If you’re close enough to the survivors (or if they don’t seem like they have a lot of support), spend time with them. Don’t put the ball in their court. It’s a very rational feeling for grieving folks to say, “No one REALLY wants to be around someone in my state of mind — so I’ll spare them that.” You have to be pushy, which feels a bit unnatural when you’re trying to be respectful.

I’m writing from the same perspective as the author as I have have had a big loss

So very sorry for your loss.

This is really moving stuff. In a similar vein, I found Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" to be a deeply personal and illuminating exploration of grief and loss.

If anyone wants an amazing book that changed my perspective about life and death I'd highly recommend "The Tibetan book of living and dying".

Thank you so much for this. It really touched me deeply.

I just added an event to my calendar, once a month, I will read this blog post.

Thank you.


I'm trying and failing to imagine what sequence of thoughts led to you feeling this was worth taking the effort to write down and post on the Internet.

I'm curious, who was your intended audience for this comment?

> I'm curious, who was your intended audience for this comment?

The only motivation I can think of is she probably expected to be applauded for how "logical" thinks she is.

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