The Support We Need When a Soulmate Dies

I read a lot of grief books.  That’s obvious from my Goodreads profile. What might seem an unhealthy obsession to some, could be explained as research for the book proposal I’ve been working on, or as part of my training in bereavement to help others. I’ll be teaching an expressive writing through healing seminar at a Heal Your Grief retreat I’m coordinating in Dubuque for October. So reading about journaling and other ways of healing just makes sense.

My latest read was Alan D. Wolfelt‘s When Your Soulmate Dies: A Guide to Healing Through Heroic Mourning. When I read this, I thought of my friend Mary:

“To be truly helpful, the people in your support system must appreciate the impact this death has had on you. They must understand that in order to heal, you must be allowed-even encouraged- to mourn long after the death. And they must encourage you to see mourning not as an enemy to be vanquished but as a necessity to be experienced as a result of having loved.” (page 126)

Soulmate cover

Mary has been that support. Mary is the friend who visited once a month, every month, for eighteen months, treated me to lunch, and sat and listened, asking questions no one else dared ask. She has written countless letters of understanding, never complaining about my need to vent in my return letters.

I would have loved to have read this book shortly after David died. I think it would have been a tremendous help. Of course, if I was reading it then, my comments wouldn’t be included in it, would they?

Soulmate page

I’ve notice that about one-third of the people in our lives are capable of showing up with a loving heart and a ministry of presence. Another third can’t really help in this way but don’t hurt us either. And the final third are often toxic and harmful to our healing. They may tell us to quit mourning or declare that we’re doing it wrong.” page 84 of Wolfelt’s book

I count Mary in that first group of people. Unfortunately, I’ve also had experience with those who fall in that third group. Wolfelt’s wise advice is to steer clear of them.

Wolfelt discovered that it isn’t just spouses that can be soulmates. Some of the people he interviewed had lost a child, mother, sibling, or friend that was a “soul mate.” Yes, a friend. If we are lucky, we have experienced the kind of friendship that means our very souls have connected. We feel it immediately. For those who have read our book, you will know that for most of my adult life I didn’t experience many friendships outside of sisters and Mary. Almost as if loss broke my heart wide open, I have since accumulated many female (and male) friends, and there have been those I’ve connected with on a soul level. I can hardly wait until the group of people I have hand-picked for the “Heal Your Grief” retreat are in one room together, because each of them is that kind of friend. What happens when we all congregate under one roof, these chosen people? Do sparks crackle in the air above our heads? Angels sing? I can hardly wait to find out.

I am well aware that in the process of learning what it is to establish friendships, I have also opened myself up for further grief.

“I’m scared to get too close to him,” I confided. “Because of his age.”

I didn’t have to say any more. Mary knew what I meant. I didn’t want to face the possibility of a friend dying. The death of my husband was too recent, and I was raw with grief.

But it was too late. I already loved Cecil Murphey. The fact that I can admit as much shows just how far I have come in the friendship department. I love Shelly Beach, Wanda Sanchez, and dozens of other women I have met through Christian Writers conferences. Then there’s my Bible-study family. I love each and every one of them.

“I think that must be what heaven is like,” my daughter Elizabeth commented after one of our more animated studies when we’d laughed until we were nearly in tears.”- from “Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink,” page 124.

I don’t want to lose any of my friends. They are all too dear to me. Despite how much I love them, I don’t expect the grief to be the same as that when I lost David.
Have I dared to contemplate what it would be like to lose Mary? As briefly as possible. From our book,on page 184.

“Mary is more like me than I realized,” I told my daughter Elizabeth on the phone.

“Maybe if Jim dies someday, you and Mary could live together,” was her reply.

Without thinking, I’d blurted out in horror, “Oh, no, she’d drive me crazy!” Mary laughed when I confessed this transgression one day at my brother’s house.

“We’re too much alike,” she agreed.

“Can you even imagine not writing each other?” I asked then. I saw tears well up in her eyes.

Later on the way home, I let myself briefly consider a life without Mary’s letters.

I couldn’t bear it.

Book Review: “Letters to My Son” by Mitch Carmody

from Mary K:
I picked up this book at The Compassionate Friends National Conference in Dallas, Texas, where I was presenting a workshop. I’ve been speaking for hospice, church, and grief groups for three years, but this was my first experience speaking at an event where the audience consisted mostly of parents who had lost a child. I found myself drawn to the young women around my daughter Elizabeth’s age and to workshops dealing with the spiritual aspect of grief, as well as signs from our loved ones. Mitch Carmody’s presentation on the topic of signs from those who have died was not only very powerful, but also served as validation for something I have been experiencing since the death of my mother in 2010, husband in 2012, and grandson in 2013.

letters to my son
When I spotted Mitch’s book at the confernce, I was immediately intrigued. First of all, because he’d written letters to his nine-year-old son who had lost his battle with cancer. I am drawn to books that have anything to do with letter-writing. And while I have not written letters to my mother or grandson since their death, I did write one to my husband David after he died, which I then buried in front of his tombstone. I was dealing with a lot of regrets at the time. Why had it taken something as awful as cancer to revitalize our marriage? Why hadn’t I always been the wife I’d become in those five and a half years post-cancer? Why hadn’t I realized his shoulder pain was from a heart attack? Why didn’t I make him see the doctor sooner, or demand an EKG? Why wasn’t I next to him the night he died? Why? Why? Why? There is only so much emotional upheaval a person can handle, and I was making myself sick with worry and regret. A writer by trade, I’d begun journaling the morning after David passed away, but I believe that single handwritten letter to my husband went a long way in helping me heal. For one thing, I could imagine what his reply would have been to most of what I’d written, particularly my regret at not having realized he was having a heart attack. “Mary, it was my body, and I didn’t know. How could you?” So I wrote a letter to my husband and then buried it in the cemetery. Mitch Carmody, however, held onto the letters he wrote to his son, and shared them in his book, Letters to My Son: Turning Loss to Legacy.
Why do I think this is an important addition to the narrative? For the same reason I included actual journal entries and pieces of my blog in my book, Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace. It is one thing for a non-fiction author to look back and remember a period of time. It is another to re-visit that time through the thoughts that were going through their mind in the midst of grief. What does grief feel like ten days after the loss? What about at ten weeks? Ten months? Will I be okay? Is what I feel normal? In those early, dark days of grief, I wanted (needed) to know the answer to those kinds of questions, as would any parent who has lost a child. By sharing his letters, Mitch returns to that place of raw grief. But don’t let the title fool you~ Letters to My Son is about way more than the letters he wrote to his son during that time. His story is an inspiring one; of faith, hope, and yes, miracles. I was not disappointed~Mitch is as powerful a writer as he is a speaker. He is also a talented artist. You can read more about him at http://heartlightstudios.net/