BW 010: The Illusion of Control and Anticipatory Grief - with Renee Clark

widow interview Dec 07, 2022
 

Watch the video here or on YouTube; listen anywhere podcasts are played (Apple, Spotify, Google…)


As humans we like to think we have control, even with the timing of a terminal diagnosis.  Renee openly shares her journey of anticipatory grief, control, invalidation, dark humor as an outlet, and so much more.

Renee talks about:

  • Challenges of being a caregiver while maintaining a home and family
  • Frustrations and challenges with treatment of a rare cancer
  • Balancing thought patterns between daily life vs. existential reality of what’s to come
  • Dark humor in grief
  • Invalidation of grief - when everyone tells you to think positive in spite of reality
  • We have no control
  • Losing a husband suddenly when you’ve been grieving four years
  • No longer having your person’s input to help guide you
  • Having a purpose of the day

 

Show quotes:

“Miracles are of God and cancer treatments are of reality.”

“People wanna feel like they have control over their lifestyle and what they can prevent. But I think through all of this, through the four years of caregiving and through this, watching him die, and I realize that… there's no control.”

“You don't realize how much easier it is to walk that tightrope with the safety net of your person underneath you.”


The Brave Widow Community is a place where you can connect with other widows, find hope and healing, and begin to dream again for the future.  Learn more at bravewidow.com.  


Hey guys, I’m Emily Jones

 

I was widowed at age 37, one month shy of our 20 year wedding anniversary.  Nathan and I have four beautiful children together.  My world was turned completely upside down when I lost him.  With faith, community, and wisdom from others, I’ve been able to find hope, joy, and dream again for the future.  I want to help others do the same, too!

 

FOLLOW me on SOCIAL:

Twitter @brave_widow

Instagram @brave_widow

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/bravewidow

YouTube @bravewidow


Transcript:


[00:00:00] Emily Jones: Hey guys. Welcome to episode number 10 of The Brave Widow Show. Today you're gonna hear from an amazing person named Renee Clark. Renee is a synovial sarcoma widow to her husband Brian. She cared and advocated for him full-time for four years. While he was sick, she started an online anonymous support account called the Cancer Caregiver, and now she's trying to figure out her new life without her person of 21 years.

All right. Renee, thank you so much for joining us today on The Brave Widow Podcast. I'm excited to have you and appreciate you being willing to share your story with us.

[00:00:44] Renee Clark: Thank you so much for having me and I I really appreciate you, you doing this and letting us get our stories out there.

[00:00:51] Emily Jones: Absolutely. We would love to learn more about you and so if you'd like to tell us a little bit, starting with you and your spouse and what your family looked like we'd

[00:01:03] Renee Clark: love to learn more. I

I married my husband, my late husband when I was 18. So we had been together for a very long time.

My adult life. We met each other in church. So we both came from a religious background. We were married for seven years before we had our first child. And she was a fertility baby, so that's something. Infertility was something that we dealt with before everything else. He was a business professional and a lot of my, our life, our marriage was supporting his career and his aspirations and we moved for his career a lot.

So that brought us to North Carolina and then to Massachusetts. And in that time we had two daughters. And And we were living in Massachusetts and we decided that we wanted to raise the girls back in our home state. So we moved back to where we were from and in Florida.

And we hadn't been living there very long when he went in for what was supposed to be just a simple ganglian cyst surgery in his hand. And during that time between when he had the cyst surgery he quit his job and accepted a new one, and we thought, okay, life is good. We have our daughters.

They're seven and nine. We really felt like we were, he was, he had just accepted his. Dream job and was starting down this new path and we get a phone call one Saturday morning when he was making breakfast for us, which was one of his favorite things to do. Because he had just accepted this new job.

He had a couple of weeks and he wasn't going to be working in between the two jobs. And we were making plans to go on a vacation. And we had been in the kitchen talking about, oh, all the different destinations we might wanna go to, because he always worked so hard. And we hadn't taken a real family vacation in four years.

So we were excited, new job, new opportunities, new life. And he answers the telephone and he is it's the doctor's office. And we put it on speaker phone and at first we actually misunderstood them and we thought, they said it wasn't cancer. So for a split second, we were like this is great.

Praise the Lord Hallelujah. All those things. And then the doctor said something and then we were like, wait, what? And she was like, you have cancer. Not only do you have cancer, you have an extremely rare and a very aggressive cancer. Like the lab results came back that it was a high grade cancer. And I have actually already made you an appointment with the cancer center myself.

Like I called my friend who works at the cancer center and already set you up with an appointment. That's how soon you need to get to the doctor. So it went from, that was a Saturday morning Wednesday. We were sitting in front of the doctor being told all these things that were. Unbelievable. And being told about a cancer that, so he had synovial sarcoma, which we had never heard about.

I had never heard sarcoma before in my life. I had no clue what it was. He had no clue what it was. We were sitting in front of an expert who knew what it was, but wasn't very good at communicating that to us. Just a lot of frightening statistics and being told that immediately he had to go in for inpatient chemo, a very aggressive inpatient chemo.

That they wanted to start the next week. So within 10 days of finding out that he even had cancer, He was, we were in the, he was in the hospital getting inpatient chemo for a week at a time and, oh,

[00:05:08] Emily Jones: So take us to that moment where you're getting all of this information. I'm sure it was hard to even hear and process everything that was being said to you and to really understand okay, he has this cancer, he's gonna get better, or we don't know.

It doesn't look very likely. What was just going through your mind when you were hearing all of this and trying to absorb what was being communicated?

[00:05:36] Renee Clark: So the statistics that they were throwing out were that with this type of cancer at the grade that it was at, that he probably wouldn't have two years, like two years would be fortunate, lucky for him to have, so I, here I am, I was 34 and I was sitting there and I was thinking about my seven year old and my nine year old daughters.

And I was just like I could just see everything falling apart, like my whole life just exploding right in front of me because up until that time I was a stay at home mom. We were homeschooling our daughters. We were my whole life had been supporting his career. So my career was s caregiving, I helped him with, every move I took care of our daughters.

And here I was being told that in two years, this man that I loved and had devoted my whole life to. Was could die. And I said, I'm not handling this well. And I was searching for resources and stuff to help me and there was none. The hospitals didn't provide great resources. What they did provide was something that I didn't feel comfortable with.

One of the, one of the resources they offer was something called Iverman's Angels. I think I, I might have messed up what the first but something Angels, and that's where they connect other cancer patients with other cancer patients. But to me and him, we both were like, this seems terrible.

I don't actually want to have a close personal relationship with another cancer patient at this time because what if they get sick? And what if they die or what if I get better? And then how do I have this relationship with this person that it's it's almost like these type of organizations, while they're lovely and they do help for us, it felt like you're wanting cancer patients to be therapists to each other, not not providing them like a resource that kind of really helps them.

Being 34, I went to the internet and social media because that's what my generation does. And I started looking for information about sarcoma and I got a lot of dogs because apparently sarcoma's very common in dogs. And I got a lot of children, like people who had children, which is even more heartbreaking, especially when I have two daughters.

I was like, I really can't handle that. And so then I decided to start looking for caregiver accounts. Cuz that's what I was, that's who I was, that's my role in all of this. And and again, there weren't really any resources at all available. There were no, like at the time and a lot of cancer patients know this account.

It's great. It's a wonderful account and I know the person who runs it. Called the cancer patient. So after seeing what that account was putting out and how relatable it was for cancer patients, which even helped me, it helped me and helped my husband to read, see some of the funny memes and things that he was turning like all these dark things into humor and this dark humor.

And it got him through and it got us through. I thought I should do something like that for caregivers because while these memes are very good, but they very much are geared to the patient experience and not the caregiver experience that I was, that I had and some of the stresses that I was going over because as a cancer patient, and I don't know if it's because it was my husband and I was the wife and I was already in this role before, but his two functions were really focus on

surviving the treatments to focus on what he was physically going through. And my husband also worked the entire time. He was fortunate enough that he had a desk job and he was able to work remotely at that job. And for him doing the work helped his mind to have something else to focus on besides just how sick he was.

And but I was the one who was, worried about from the caregiver perspective, I'm worried about him. I'm researching every piece of information I can possibly find about his cancer because there just weren't any resources out there. He would go to secondary doctors for, the incidental things that cancer treatment caused you to have wrong.

And we would say, oh, he has sarcoma. And there were so many of those doctors, cardiologists, nephrologists, that had no clue what sarcoma was. So I would have to also now be educating other medical professionals about what was wrong with him. What you know, what he was going through, what we were going through.

And then also having to take care of children. And so that's like a unique stressor that the caregiver who's raising children and taking care of someone who's very sick and running a whole household. And there were certain challenges because I didn't realize that like cancer centers, whenever they make you an appointment with a doctor, that does not mean that you're going to be seeing that doctor in any timeframe near the time.

That's like a place holder for that day. So like we would wait two hours and still not see a doctor. But I had booked a babysitter for four hours, and the time would come up, the babysitter would be like, I need to leave. And I'd be like we haven't even seen a doctor yet. We're still waiting to go in and see a doctor.

So I tried to make content that would like, help explain like a funny meme of a skeleton in a waiting room of like how long it will be. Or I had another one was someone whose head is really big and it's just talking about like, all the things that I had to remember. Plus, do we have clean underwear?

Does our family, is there clothes for these people to wear? Because, you sometimes you think, oh, I'm having to worry about all these things that are so li I'm literally having to worry about life or. , but I also have to worry about, the birthday parties and the school projects and, do my daughters have clean clothes?

And then ex existentially I'm also thinking about how their dad's not gonna walk 'em down the aisle and they're, he's not gonna be there for the college graduations or their first dates or, and then it turns into the bigger thing of, I devoted my whole life to this person and I supported him in every way and his, our dreams were mutual dreams that we went to, to do.

And then we could just feel it just slipping from our grasp.

[00:12:32] Emily Jones: So there, there's a lot there to unpack and so I wanna help paint the picture for folks of everything that's just swirling and going on as you're going through this. I have to imagine that it feels very isolating and invalidating when you're, you're trying to be accepting of, okay, we received this diagnosis.

We're gonna go through the process. Let me look up online and see what other people do and what treatment plans they recommend. And you find almost nothing. So that has to feel in some way, very lonely to think what are the odds he would have this cancer?

And maybe some of the treatment options that are out there that must feel almost hopeless, right? That how is this possible and how am I capable of being in this position? And so I love the fact that. You wanna give back to people and be the resource of what you wanted and needed, but didn't have as you're going through this, which is one of the reasons why I started Brave Widow to begin with, was for me there was over information like way too much information out there, but not collectively together.

Whereas in your situation it was there's not much out here. Maybe there's some things out here for caretakers, but not necessarily what you wanted or needed, during that time. And then while all of this is going on and you're trying to get your hands around it, be a support person for your husband, then you also have to think of life doesn't just stop , the world doesn't stop spinning.

Like the bills still have to be paid. The lawn still has to be mowed. The kids still need to brush their teeth every day like, , all of those things almost become secondary priority, but they still have to be done. Like how did you, even, how long did you go through this process and how did you even get through that?

So for people that are right now in the situation that you were in and they're just feeling overwhelmed and they don't know that they can get out of bed tomorrow or that they could take on any one more thing.

What helped you or what kept you going, or what would you say to people was a key to just getting through that time of feeling so overwhelmed?

[00:14:52] Renee Clark: So for me, I starting out by just giving myself grace, I had to say to myself, it's okay. It's okay that you're not gonna be able to do it all.

It's okay that that things are, that you're not the person that you used to be, that you're not operating at the capacity that you used to be. Giving myself grace and letting a lot of those things go and those expectations that I had, letting the expectations that I had for who I thought I was was a big part of figuring out how I was gonna continue on.

Because also during this time that he was sick, I found that in doing that by letting go of expectations of what I thought, a mom and birthday parties and things that you do for your kids and all those stuff. When I started letting go of those expectations, I started really coming down to the core of what was truly valuable, like for my family and for my children.

And honestly, I. I didn't do great. I didn't, there were lots of days where I was unable to move forward, especially in the beginning. I, like I said, my husband and I met in church. I am, we do our religious, so God was a big part of it. As much as I was yelling and railing and angry, don't think that I was not angry.

I was very angry. I also was like, where else do I have, I don't have anything else. I know that I don't have the resources, so I had to turn. I turned to God and I was just like, if there's going to be, now's the time. You know what I mean? Now's the time. And I do find that I did gather a lot of strength from that, and I don't think that I could have some of the money.

I woke up every morning with a purpose and I said, okay, you woke up this morning. and you have a purpose. So try to find that purpose in this day. If this purpose is, today is the day that you do something fun with your kids and you take care of a load of laundry, then that was it. You success.

You found your purpose in that day, and today is the day that you're sitting on the phone and you are having to advocate for appointments to be made in a timely manner. And you're having to help direct people into even hospital systems, into their own systems on how I would call. And they'd be like, we don't do that.

And I'd be like, yes, you 100% do that. You just need to contact this department. And they, you will find that there is the order that you're looking for. I've already called and verified that the order is in there. You just need to follow up. So if that was my purpose for the day, then that was my purpose for the day, and I just gave myself grace and I just said that this is this is what I do, but I also don't feel like I did very good at it.

So it's hard for me to like really give myself like, to say, oh, yes, I, I somehow was able to figure this out. It really was just like being okay with being not being okay. That was really the moment. That's what I had to do because I wasn't a person who could handle that before I was, the quintessential Pinterest mom, everything's perfect.

My house is, perfect and, all those things. And I just had a, I just let it all go. And I would just realize that none of it was, none of it was important to our family. Being together and just having these moments where we were making memories, even if they were little memories, like movie nights or, bigger traditions turned into small little things that we did as a family instead.

But also to that, I found that the outside forces of the medical community, there was a lot of what I would call toxic positivity where people didn't want me to admit, or I felt like there was, like, even from doctors, we would say, this is not looking good. Or what are the, what is realistically what we're looking at?

And doctors would try to be like, don't say that, we're trying this. Or they're started becoming a lot of like toxic or even like talking to people where I'm like, he's going to die. And they were like, no, he is not. And I'm like, Yes he is going to die. And I remember once in 2001, he actually had something called his tumors had caused of fluid to build up inside of his lungs and also around his heart.

So he had something called cardiac tamponade nod. And it was caught incidentally with one of his routine screens cuz he was going every three months for screenings just to monitor the tumors and the tr and see at the time he was he was in a clinical trial and incidentally, they found this fluid in his lungs and on his heart.

And they were like, if we hadn't have found the fluid, you would've died because it would've stopped your heart from beating. And they drained it and they sent us on our way. And then about a week later he was asymptomatic the first time. About a week later he started having symptoms that they had been telling us he should have already been like, he should have had the first time.

And we were like, I was like, oh. I don't know if I was like, I think it's back. We were like, we think it's back. And we also had some unique situations cuz it was 2021 in the Covid situation. And so I had to beg with him to go to the hospital because he didn't wanna go. Cuz he didn't wanna be alone in the hospital.

And finally I was able to get on the phone with someone at the hospital who gave me privileges to be able to go into the hospital with him for a certain amount of hours a day. And finally he agreed when we got to the emergency room, he was in full blown tamponade nod to where his organs had started, like showing the distress of his heart not working correctly.

They were super calm. We didn't realize it until we got like lab results back that he was having all these problems and he was in the hospital for 17 days. And during that time, he spent some time in the icu. And during that time I was like to his doctor, I was like, he, we had a cardiologist who was very she had a lot of candor.

He, and she said he could die if he doesn't get this surgery, I wanna do, he'll die. And the oncologist was like, I don't really wanna do the surgery, and I finally was able to get the oncologist and the cardiologist to speak to each other. And when they had a discussion, they realized that they could do the surgery.

And I said to the oncologist, I was like, so he could die, right? He could die if he doesn't get this surgery. If he gets the surgery, he could die. Like he could be, this could be it. And she was like, no, don't say that. I don't like hearing that. And I was like I was just stunned. And then she left the room and I said to my husband, I said, what she doesn't understand is I have to talk about this.

Like I have to take this. I called it microdosing grief, but then I also realized it was called anticipatory grief, which I found out secondary to him. But like it was, you have to talk about it. Like I had to, cuz I said, if you were to just have died or if you were just to die, I think it would kill me.

I think I literally, like my heart would break so hard if I was so full of this hope. Not that I don't have hope, but if I was just so full of this hope and then you just die. Just having. I think it, I think my, I would, my heart would break completely. I would just break, so I micro doses and we talked about it and we would joke about it and we would say things about, and we would talk to the kids about it and these little things, they didn't, I thought that they were, I thought that they would 100% protect me.

But now that he's gone, I realized that nothing really can, but that was that. So that's, that was starting me onto this new path of what grief would feel like in widowhood, like after, after he was gone. .

[00:23:19] Emily Jones: Yeah it's almost like they maybe either don't want you to talk about it as a physician because they don't wanna have to think about that reality.

Or maybe they know that. When patients have no hope, right? They feel completely hopeless, then their outcome is most likely diminished. Versus if they maintain hope and they keep fighting and they keep trying to do everything they can to prolong their life there's probably a better outcome. But on the flip side, that makes it very invalidating for you, right?

Almost like they're trying to treat you like a child or oh, know, let's have hope. Let's keep hope. And you're, you just wanna talk about reality of what's really going to happen and what's the probability of that so that you can have time, to prepare. I know a lot of widows who would like to have advanced notice or start to come to grips with reality.

But how. How as he progressed through the different treatments, versus at the point that you actually lost him. Do you feel like that helped you having that anticipatory grief or it's still the grief was at such a level you never could have anticipated really what that would be like?

[00:24:48] Renee Clark: I think that, so I do think that the anticipatory grief Helped me feel like I had a sense of control. I know that seems like a very strange thing to say that was control, but I definitely feel like the anticipatory grief helped me feel like I had some control. Your, I guess because also like the shocking way in which he was diagnosed with cancer and finding out so abruptly and everything, starting in such a whirlwind, like literally 10 days was all we had to digest this information, get the kids in childcare, and then get get admitted into a hospital for a week.

That was a whirlwind. I think that was a lot of also as I felt very out of control of everything that was happening to us, to me to my children. Like I, I couldn't, so anticipatory group, I think is a sense of control. We try to give ourselves where this isn't gonna catch me out off guard.

This isn't going to, I'm mentally prepared for this to happen. I, this is what it's gonna look like. You try to think of these things, I'm gonna be able to, but the reality of when it does happen, I found out afterwards. It's nothing like we it protected it.

I, my heart still broke, my heart still completely broke. I still was completely I still, I was completely in shock of how just how bad it hurt to and how lonely it was to have him gone. And even, that I was thinking over the iteration of time and these four years of how our relationship changed, the husband and wife dynamic changed and all those things.

And I thought I'm used to this now because everything is not exactly the way it was before. But I wasn't, I was completely unprepared. I was completely unprepared for the moment that I would see I would lose him. I was there, he was here in our home. And I. And it was unexpected.

It wound up being another cardiac tamponade nod that he wound up passing up. So it was very sudden. It was very I always say that it's strange to say to a husband that's been sick for four years that he died suddenly because it feels like you would be like, oh, he was sick. You knew he was going to die, but he did die suddenly.

I did not know that morning when he woke up and I was helping him to the restroom. That was our last moments together. Like I had no, I was not aware of. And then that just completely everything. I thought everything that we had, I had told myself all of it completely out the window.

Completely out the window. So yes, I think that, I think it's good though to let ourselves grieve. I think it's good that anticipatory grief, I think that they are two concepts that can be held together, right? Because the miracles are of God and cancer treatments are of reality, right?

So you can have your faith and you can have your beliefs, and then you can also see the reality of what you're actually living in front of you. And you can accept both of, in my mind, I, you can accept both of those things. It's not to feel guilty. It's not to, and that was something I had to just find the strength within myself because the messaging from the outside was very much the opposite.

It very much was something like, don't say that, don't feel that way. Don't, one thing that people love to say to me, which would aggravate me so much was Don't speak those words, don't speak those words out loud about your husband and I. We, me and him would talk and I would say if I truly had the power to speak things, which this could be controversial and people might not agree with it, but if I truly had the power to speak things, then be healed right now.

You know what I mean? I would not be speaking, I would not be watching you die. Like I don't feel that way. That's just a way to make you feel like you are in control. So by telling and it all comes down to control. I, that's what I really feel like people are out of. We have no control over cancer.

My people, that's why I think a lot of people ask, what were his first symptoms? What was the, what did he, what happened? It's almost. What are you eating? What are you giving him? What are you like? All these things. I feel like they all become ways because people want to control or think there's a way to control or stop what happened in their own lives.

But we don't have that control. We don't have, I, his cancer was just one in the million. Bad luck. That's, cells inside of his body had a translocation. The genes inside of his body, inside one cell had a translocation that turned it into cancer, and then that cancer grew and he had surgery that wound up being an oops type surgery and the cancer spread and then we had no control.

We have, and I think that's really what it boils down to. Doctors wanna feel like they have control over their patients and the care that they give. People wanna feel like they have control over their lifestyle and what they can prevent. But I think through all of this, through the four years of caregiving and through this, watching him die, and I realize that there, there's, and going through grief, there's no control.

I couldn't stop it. Yeah.

[00:30:32] Emily Jones: Yeah. I think that people are very uncomfortable with grief and death, and to your point, they want to know what are the things that could have been done to prevent this so that they can make adjustments, in their life or be aware of things that happened.

But one of the things like yourself, for me, one of the things that kept me from going insane and kept me from feeling guilty was understanding that sometimes bad things happen, right? But it doesn't mean that if I had made one more phone call or if a different treatment plan had been prescribed or because something happened that God isn't powerful enough.

If he wanted that person to still be here, they wouldn't still be here at the end of the day. None of that, would've mattered. And I think people are very uncomfortable with that because they think why did God allow this to happen? Why, if that happened to you, that could happen to me or to my spouse.

And that makes us a really uncomfortable trying to understand that concept. Say that someone, they're in the caretaker role right now and they're in that anticipatory grief with their spouse, and they don't know how much longer they may have with their spouse. What's a piece of advice that you would give them or maybe something you did that you thought this was great, or something that you wish you would've done?

What would you tell people?

[00:31:57] Renee Clark: So I definitely, one of the things that I have found the most, it's interesting, I found the most comfort in it, but I've also, I went through an ebb and flow, so I'm just shy of four months out and so when he first passed in those first days, in the first month I clinged to every little.

Video. Every live photos I save right now turn, if you have an iPhone, turn on live photos. It's amazing the things that you catch in a live photo that you don't even realize. There's a photo, and it was just the two of us standing there in the photo, but it was a live photo. So I put my finger on it to see what happened.

At the very end, right before the live photo cut off, he had turned to kiss me on my cheek. And it just brought me right back to that moment where that these little intimacies, because honestly, the thing that I miss the most, I feel like are these little intimacies that you don't even realize that you have.

You take 'em for granted, you don't see them. So for me it was, I needed, I wanted videos every photo, every video. So I. Just also just record them, just talking. So one of the things that we had moved into a new house and it had a sprinkler system, and I was like, I need you to explain to me how the sprinkler system works.

Because at that time, if you're taking care of someone, a lot of these roles became my roles. Like I would still have to I would sometimes be the one who had to mow the lawn, or I would have to be the one who had to take care of if he was sick or he wasn't. And that became my responsibility.

So I said, okay, I need you to explain to me how a sprinkler system works, right? And so I have this three minute video of him talking about the sprinkler system at our old house. How many times I have rewatched that movie? He's not saying anything. It's not a holiday, it's not a big event, but it's just to hear him talk to me and just.

Speak. Just having his voice and just so he is just sitting there and he is sitting on his desk and he is you need to turn this valve and da. All these like nothing. And so I am so grateful for just the little moments that got captured on. But then equally I got to a point where they would make me so sad to watch them cuz I knew what I was missing, that it would, my stomach would I, my, my stomach would literally hurt just to look at it and to watch it.

So I. That's okay too. Like some people have to like, cuz I feel like there's a lot of expectations. Oh, I'm gonna be so sad, I'm gonna miss, I'm gonna watch every video and I'm gonna look at it all the time. But then it also can, it turned for me to where I was like, I can't look at, I can't look at a photo, I can't watch a video.

I don't want to I, I can't it physically was like hurting me even more to see him. Another thing that we didn't, we luckily we had talked about obviously his last plans we had, so that was I already knew like he wanted to be cremated and things like that, but we hadn't really talked a lot about funeral planning is very, that was horrible.

We had a great funeral, but director, but I didn't realize how horrible that would be. So honestly, if your partner is in a mental place where they could help with that process before they die, if you really think that I say that, do that. Because here I was in the midst of, and you have days that's another thing I never realized, like right young, why would I have ever buried someone before?

I've never done that before or had a funeral before, so I didn't realize how the second they die immediately that you're being told, what funeral home are you going to use? And what do you wanna have done to their body? And then all these people, and it's just like, all these people and all these decisions have to be made immediately.

And I'm still standing there is he really dead? Did this really happen? Lucki. Coincidentally, in my instance, my friend happened to be at our home on vacation. She was staying with us. And so she was there that morning and I don't know how many times I said to my friend he really died.

There wasn't anything more I could do, right? And just having another person who had been there in that moment and be like, yes, there was nothing else you could have done. There was, he really did die. He really did. Just like having those moments. So here you're in this, and then you have like people being like, what kind of program do you want?

And what Bible verses and these are the things that we offer and this is how much this is going to cost. I'm just like, how? That's very overwhelming. So I would definitely say if you have. Someone, if you're a loved one, is in a position or your husband is, I guess widow, so your husband is in a place where he would be like willing to make these choices beforehand.

Definitely. I say try to do that. And I also realize another thing in my grief and through all this is immediately after he died, I started thinking about like his mother and his family and stuff like that. And so immediately I went into a mode of wanting to try to like help and protect the people who loved him, right?

From feeling the like from this. And I realized now looking back I should have taken my time. I should have, I called people into my home too soon. I was looking to accommodate everybody else's feelings. And I didn't, I, at the end of the day, I should have stopped and been like, I need this moment to grieve my person.

I need this moment to spend this time with him. I need this moment. Instead of just feeling feeding into that frenzy. Cuz like I said, it's gonna be a frenzy and it's easy to get caught up into it and think, oh, I have to. I have to. I have to. And I wish, now looking back, if I could say, there is no rush there.

Everybody's rushing around you, but you can, you have the power to shut it down and say, no, I, no, I need a moment, or we're taking a break or any of those things. I, that's what I wish that I had the right.

[00:38:48] Emily Jones: You actually, you mentioned a few things. I wrote down three things that you said earlier that I thought was so powerful was, one, give yourself grace.

Give yourself the grace and the patience to just make it through every day. The second one was manage expectations of yourself and of other people. And to your point, catering to other people, making sure everyone else is okay. A lot of times we just put ourselves in the backseat. And then the third one was, every day waking up with a purpose or a thought of, what is it that has to be done today?

I'm not gonna worry about all of the other days. And I think that's key. As you were going through the caretaker phase and then also through the grieving phase. Keep your expectations for yourself low, give yourself some grace and know that just every day that you wake up, you don't give up. You keep trying to figure out this healing journey and this grief is perfectly fine.

It, that's a good day.

[00:39:57] Renee Clark: You're right. And like I said, and I'm not I don't think that I'm doing anything particularly well , but I do. I have my, where I do, I sit and I think, you know why, why the caregiving for someone and the time after the person you're caregiving for is yourself at that point.

It switches from, I was doing all this to keep this other person alive. Now I have to do all this to keep me alive to keep me wanting to go forward in this, to keep me wanting to I, I need, so that's what we're, it changed it. Sorry, I lost a train of thought. Yeah. And that's the same thing.

So the same things that I would say to him whenever there were days that he didn't want to go forward or things like that, I find myself saying to myself like, you can do this. You can get through this day. Or today we do nothing today. We do, we, and that's okay. I also know that it's unique to my situation because I do have a lot of.

Empathy in my heart for the widows that have to immediately start going back to work or and I can see where you don't get those moments where you get to just, I fall, I call it the grief pit. Sometimes I just fall into the grief pit and I can't get out or I have to work hard to get back out of it.

And I do empathize that. So if you were a widow and you're like, oh, I don't, these things have to happen. I have to get up and I have to go to work, and I have to do all these things I agree that is something that is incredible and I don't take lightly the fact that has to be even harder to do everything with a broken heart.

Interact with people with a broken heart, figure out who you are with a broken heart. Like all this is not. It's not, it's impossible. It truly is an impossible situation. But I think like that then that's your purpose for the day. Your day was, you got up, you earned the money, you needed to take care of whatever you needed to take care of, and then go home and then cry and let your house be a mess.

And if the only load of laundry that you did was just for underwear, then good for you . You know what I mean? I've had lots of just underwear, loads of laundry lately. Hairs been like, I might be, that if that's all I have, the strength, the muster, then that's all the strength I have to muster.

And and I definitely, I know that not everybody has the moment where they can just literally shut their life down. And start trying to figure it out. And you'll get a lot of judgment for that too. It's interesting which kind of goes into a completely different subject to what we've been talking about, but I've definitely found that depending on what side of the spectrum you're on my husband and I, we made plans.

He was dying for four years. In that four years we were able to financially make decisions. We made sacrifices. We sold the big house with the swimming pool on the acre of land and downsized. And then when he got sicker, we downsized again. All setting things up for a world where financially, cuz he was, I was a stay-at-home mom, so he was the sole breadwinner for our family.

So we set up all, we started making decisions that was, put me in a place where I had time. I had a year, maybe more, I don't know. I had time. And we talked about what would that first year look like. And I said, I don't think I'm gonna make any major decisions in that first year, even though I hate this house.

And I say to my friends, I can't live here. I wanna move. I wanna get rid of everything. I wanna, like all these big decisions I want to make. But because before he died, we had made an agreement that I wouldn't make any big decisions for a year. I would, stay in this moment, feel, learn my new life, learn my new position, and then in one year make a decision.

And honestly, I have wanted to break that a thousand times since he's died. But that's another, so you say, what can you tell another, make a plan. When you're rational, when you're not hurt, when your heart's not crushed, make a plan and then let that rational plan be what you go back to, like what you hold up against.

So like I would say, I want to leave my house and then say, but why did you decide that you wouldn't leave the first year? And I tested up against a theory or even like his opinion, cuz I would be like normally, right? You would go to your partner and you would be, oh shoot, I'm sorry. And you would be what do you think of this idea?

You don't have that person to run that plan by, but you had them and when you had them before they. You know what, you had that conversation then, and you got their opinions then, and you discussed openly like how hard it would be and things like that. So that's definitely maybe that's another piece of advice that I would, that has really saved me, I think from irrationality that overcomes me and the moments when I'm just completely railing against everything.

I go back and I think, but we talked about this and we had a plan. And I need a plan and in turn something new will have happened or something else will have happened. And then I will be like, I'm glad at this moment. I did, I let this I went back to that plan. But it is interesting the amount of on equal sides, I think widows feel like, oh, if I go back to work, they're gonna think I don't.

Love him and I'm just over him, but because I have to pay the bills, I have to go to work. You know what I mean? I don't get that. I don't get that choice. But then equally, there's the other widows that, whatever, for blessed reasons, through working hard and making a plan. We don't have to go back to work.

But then it turns into you just get to stay home. It is

[00:46:25] Emily Jones: yeah. Let's just face it. There's no good answer about anything about being a widow. Really , regardless of the circumstances. And I think that advice is really good to wait. That first year, it probably took me about six months before I felt.

Okay, I'm starting to figure out what the new normal looks like and maybe what I'll be doing over the next few months, but definitely by that first year, a little over a year just felt more confident, in my decisions and what that looked like. So do you mind to share some about what you've been doing recently and your online platform or maybe some of the good things that you've seen come out of what you're doing?

[00:47:07] Renee Clark: So honestly, I when Covid hit I actually stepped away a little bit from from. The caregiving platform that I was using just because it, I say it became hard to make anything funny. Part of dark humor is you have to find humor in some situation, in some scenarios. And I couldn't find humor.

It was taking all my effort and all my capacity to keep humor in my own life, keep my own husband going. I, like I said, whenever he needed to go to the hospital, it became a battle to convince him to go because he didn't wanna go alone. To fight that battle every time was something that was just completely draining for me.

So I have, I had to, during this time, during that time, I had to step away because I didn't have any, I didn't have anything to give. But now that I'm in this post place, and it's part of the reason why I was, looking to, being able to start talking about it, is I feel like it could be so much more now.

And I'm in a place where I'm starting to want to, I'm finding the humor in life. I'm we make a lot of, and I think that's another thing I think some people write, like I was saying to someone, I was like, it takes a lot to find, make a way to find cancer funny. But it is funny. There is funny things.

There's funny things doesn't happen. And I said, and now you gotta find a way to make death funny, which I know sounds like insensitive, but honestly I feel like a lot of people cope through humor. I cope through humor. If I, break the tension, break the sadness with a laugh It completely changes.

So I definitely think that I wanna turn it into, pick it back up, turn it into a place where there'll be more resources about what you, what to look for, how to, that it's okay the way you're feeling, the way you're thinking. It's okay. Don't, because that's the worst. Like you feel bad and then you start beating yourself up about feeling bad because you think, of course I'm the only one who feels this way, but you're not.

And that's the biggest thing that I learned from all of it, is it's relatable because everybody's feel, everybody has these emotions. But do you feel like you can't express them because somebody else has told you that cancer's not funny, or someone else has told you that death is not funny or, and I, it's not funny in like the hilarious kind of way, You find little moments of levity in it, or you find moments where you find that somebody else feels the same way that you do. I think it's more that it's just finding that someone else. So that's what I'm gonna turn it into.

I'm gonna turn it into a pick it back up and then without the stress of being someone who's taking care of someone, be able to offer those resources and more clarity of mind and more navigating these waters, which are very difficult to navigate, especially by yourself. And especially in a place where you could start feeling like you're alone.

And being alone is the worst. And I am alone. We are alone. I don't have, like I said, it's those little intimacies. I miss the most. Like I, I've obviously been running our lives for four years. I took over and I started, doing a lot of the things, but you don't realize how much easier it is to walk that tight rope with the safety net of your person underneath you.

And so now I'm still walking that tightrope, but I have no, no safety net, no person to say, it's okay, or you're going down the right path, or know that idea's a little crazy or, we shouldn't spend the money. Don't spend the money in this way. Any, it's us. All those little things.

Like sometimes it's even as I was trying to make a plan to drive somewhere and I was like, where's the best place to stop on this journey, like on this route? And I'm like, I would normally say, Hey, where do you think we should stop on this route? But who do I ask? I who do I ask? And it's those little moments like that I don't think people, you people take them for granted or you don't even realize that they're happening.

And that's what I miss. I think the most of everything is just those, just having someone to talk to. So I think like creating a space in which people are like this information helps me feel a bit more confident in how I'm feeling and my ability to process this. I'm not quite alone. If it's just a little place of that, then that's what I want to accomplish.

For the. Built, yeah. That

[00:52:03] Emily Jones: is so awesome. And I don't know if you're on TikTok, but there are some pretty humorous widow TikTok accounts on there that might appeal to your dark humor, which by the way, humor is actually a fairly normal way that people use to cope with grief, especially even teens and kids do as well.

But I was thinking about when you mentioned the meme with the skeleton and the waiting room, like how much longer is it gonna be? And there was a. An account I saw in TikTok and the girls like sitting there with the urn of her husband's ashes, like me and my husband just hanging out. It's just kinda like that same type of humor.

You might find that, and I think there's a quote, I'm probably gonna butcher it, that basically says, comedy is the painful truth said in a relatable way. I would love to see that and I hope that you do consider doing that and then we can share it with this community and people can go follow you and en enjoy the humor that you create.

[00:53:03] Renee Clark: Yeah. And it's definitely, like I said, it's, it. I've seen those too, cuz one of the ones that I saw was she put a ghost costume over the urn, or no, she turned the urn into a honey pot. She was Winney the pooh and she turned the urn into a honey pot and she was like, there's no way he's getting out of doing costumes this year.

And honestly, I, we did something similar. My daughters and I, we we went to a Halloween event and playing off of the Haunted Mansion at Disney World. We were foolish mortals and we had, and he was our happy ha So he was the, the, from the haunted Mansion at Disney World. So we similarly, one thing I say is especially I'm parenting now teenage girls, so now my girls are 12 and 14.

So they went from seven to nine when he was diagnosed to 12 and 14, now that he's passed away. So I'm also a mother. So I, I said to them, I said I'm in transition because I have had a partner since I was 18 years old. So I'm 39 and first time in my life, I'm by myself in this world. And And you guys were intro transitioned because you're transitioning from little kids who need their mom to teenagers, right?

Who I'm the dumbest person they've ever met. And . So I sometimes they'll come and they'll be, typical teenage person, I want this, or let's do this. Or, the, just the question questions the teenagers ask you constantly, and I'll be like, you know what, go ask your father, which always breaks attention because and I said, and you let me know what he tells you. And then now we're laughing now, instead of me being overwhelmed and being like, oh my gosh, I have to like, handle all this decision making and these girls and what's right for them. It becomes, it breaks the moment. It breaks the overwhelmed feeling.

And I say, go ask. Go ask your dad. And they go and cuz he, he sits on the mantle cuz we haven't earned but anyway, that definitely, yeah. That kind of humor. But even still sometimes it can turn a little I don't know I was with my dad and my sister and I made a joke like you do to my father about being an old man.

And he was like, oh, you insult me by saying I'm old. And I said if you ask if you ask Brian that's a compliment, right? And my sister died. She started laughing cause she was like, oh, she got that. It was hilarious. I was laughing, it was like done in a, I was like not if you ask.

Brian then because that's another thing that kind of, I find that you say what are the things that kind of irritate you as a widow? And there aren't a ton. Cause I realize that people are not doing it from malice or doing it from ignorance. I'm not going to be upset at someone who's just in, they're not trying to be hurtful.

But one of the things that I do find that just irks my being is people complaining about being old or looking old or things like that. Because I'm just like, I know somebody who wanted to be old, right? And he wanted to see his children grow up and he wanted these things. And you got them.

You got them. You don't know how blessed you are that you got them and he didn't. So if there's anything that I think does irk my, other comments, other things, it's just that people limiting the fact that they got another birthday or they got another moment to spend with their children and their family and people who love them when that's not a gift that we all are given.

So I think that definitely is the I think that really, so I had to diffuse that situation with some humor. , I gave you rolling heads

[00:56:57] Emily Jones: yeah. And that I think as human beings, it's easy for us to take for granted something that we don't think is gonna be taken away from us or in our minds.

We all live to be old and then that's, when we die. But . And I know not everyone appreciates the dark humor, but I can certainly appreciate it and I know a couple of my kids, that's somewhat how they communicate too. , thanks for letting us laugh a little bit today. Yeah, well Renee, I know we're coming up on time and you are so early out from when all of this happened, and here you are willing to share your story, to be on camera to hopefully help encourage and inspire and comfort other widows out there.

So that's very selfless and generous of you. So thank you so much for being here today, for taking the time to give back and just for being who you are.

[00:57:50] Renee Clark: Thank you. Thank you so much for doing this and putting it out there. And I really appreciate you letting us, let me, letting me be able to talk and share my story.

[00:57:58] Emily Jones: Renee is a very real and relatable person, and there's two things that I found were so interesting in her journey and experience. One is how. Whether it's family, friends, the healthcare space that was in

and she felt like her anticipatory grief was being invalidated. She knew that her husband only had a certain amount of time to live. Yet whenever she would wanna talk about it, whenever she would wanna say, oh, this is gonna be so hard, he's not gonna make it. Everyone would tell her, don't say that. Stay positive.

Focus on the good things. Don't use those words. And I know they were all well intentioned, and I'm sure it's because sometimes we're uncomfortable , with people's grief and, and them feeling uncomfortable, and sometimes we just don't know what the right thing is to say. But Renee shares her struggles with wanting to be able to talk about the grief and the loss that she knew was coming and not really finding a, a solid listening ear in the majority of the community that she was in.

The second theme she really talks about is this illusion of control. Like, we like to think we have control in our lives. Uh, we like to think that we can really influence outcomes and in a lot of ways, possibly we can. She found several people that would ask her. Well, what happened and what were you guys eating and, and how are you living?

Because they wanted to know how to prevent that for them or their loved ones. And ultimately, at the end of the day, sometimes bad things just happen. Sometimes there's no strong correlation between what happened in the past, what's happening to us presently and what's happening in the future. And we really have no control.

And Renee shares that she was the main caregiver for her spouse for four years, and yet the day that he died, it was unexpected. It was sudden, it was. Not the time that she thought that she was gonna lose him. And even with a terminal diagnosis, even with anticipatory grief, she thought she had some sort of control with the amount of time that they would have together and what their life would look like.

And ultimately, she, she recognized and acknowledge and wants to share that. At the end of the day, we have no control. We can pray for a miracle from God, we can pray for healing. Sometimes that works for us. We have no control.

All right guys. I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did, and I am so proud of Renee for finding ways to cope through her grief, to give back to others, to just be open and vulnerable and share, especially in such a recent time since she lost her loved one.

If you like hearing stories about other widows, if you'd like to connect more with folks who have been through some of the same things, who know your pain, who know your frustrations, who can relate with how you're feeling, I would love to have you in the Brave Widow membership community. You can learn more by going to brave widow.com.

Hey guys. Thank you so much for listening to the Brave Widow Podcast. I would love to help you take your next step, whether that's healing your heart, binding hope, or achieving your dreams for the future.

Do you need a safe space to connect with other like-minded widows? Do you wish you had how-tos for getting through the next steps in your journey, organizing your life or moving through grief? What about live calls where you get answers to your burning questions? The Brave Widow Membership Community is just what you need.

Inside you'll find courses to help guide you, a community of other widows to connect with, live coaching and q and a calls, and small group coaching where you can work on what matters most to you. Learn how to heal your heart, find hope, reclaim joy, and dream again for the future. It is possible. Head on over to brave widow.com to learn more.

 

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