If you follow this blog, you’ve likely read about finding the GLOW® (gifts, lessons, opportunities and wisdom) in our challenging life situations. Recently, a reader asked me to write more about the personal process I went through following the death of my husband. What follows is my attempt to do that, although it was more than 20 years ago.
In 1994, my husband Dave was diagnosed with leukemia. When his oncologist learned he had six brothers and sisters, he said, “No worries. You have good insurance; you have six siblings. We’ll get you a bone marrow match and a transplant, and you’ll be cured.” Initially, I hung my hat on that. For a successful bone marrow transplant, donors want to match the recipients on six out of six markers. When his siblings were tested, none of them matched more than two out of six. This was bad news. I was tested to see if either of my sons could be donors, but they would not match him well either.
At that time, it cost $100 to become a donor. After several fundraisers, we raised enough money to add 350 people to the registry, but still, no one was a match for Dave. He did have an uncle who matched three out of six, so we proceeded to have what’s called a mismatched transplant and went to the best hospital in the country for mismatched donors at the time, Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, WI. The transplant went well, but the anti-rejection medication caused a pervasive yeast infection that culminated in Dave’s death. It was devasting. He was only 37 years old and the father of two teenage boys at the time.
It became more and more obvious to me that he would not get better, so I was able to begin the grieving process before he was even gone. It proved helpful when he did die because, while I missed him, I felt relieved that his struggle was over. He was at peace. While I continued through the grieving process, I learned about all things having equal balance—positive and negative. I knew this loss would be horrifically painful, so I asked myself, “What could be good about it?” That seemed a horrible question to ask, especially when my husband was still alive, but I knew I would be helping my children with their grief, and I believed I needed to be ahead of them in the process to be effective.
When I asked that question, I found two things immediately: Firstly, when my husband learned that Benzine, a chemical he constantly came in contact with at work, likely caused his leukemia, he stopped working long before he was too sick to work. Secondly, that meant we would have the opportunity to say goodbye. During his time out of work, he spent more time with our children than he would have had he lived to be 100. He coached my sons’ Little League team and soccer team. He taught them how to wrestle, work on cars and hunt. We went on a family vacation to Disney World. These were all gifts of Dave getting sick.
After he died, I knew I had a lot more work in balancing the scales with positive things compared to the negative. This is a challenge because it feels wrong to be looking for GLOW in something so awful. The thing to remember is that you don’t get to choose the painful event. If I could have my husband back alive, I would choose it, but I don’t get to make that choice. I am only able to choose what I will do about it, and I chose to find balance with the GLOW. When I achieved that balance, I was no longer held hostage by the painful event.
Since my husband’s death, here is some GLOW that balances it out:
- I have become a content creator and influencer. If my husband were still alive, I’d be living on a dirt road in Pennsylvania working for a foster care agency. I wouldn’t have traveled the world to teach people Choice Theory. I wouldn’t have authored any books, and I never would’ve had my own business.
- There are several mechanics in Honesdale, PA who now wear latex gloves while working on the engines of cars. Recognizing Benzine as a cancer-causing chemical may have saved their lives.
- Who knows how many people had successful bone marrow transplants because of the 350 people we put on the bone marrow donor registry?
- The best man in our wedding is gay. He remained in the closet until my husband died because he thought the realization would freak him out. My husband died, and now, this man could live.
- I developed a coaching practice to help people who are grieving the loss of a relationship. This opportunity came from having lived through that and coming out OK on the other side. I am able to illuminate a path for others to follow.
- Through the experience, I learned that everyone grieves in their own way, in their own time. People need to be prepared and ready before they can search for the GLOW.
I know that if I could give all that up to have my husband back, I would, but since I can’t, realizing the balance between the pleasure and pain has freed me as a hostage from my grief. I can continue to enjoy life. Finding the GLOW is a life skill that takes practice to develop. I can now, after decades of practice, quickly find the GLOW in all my painful events. In fact, it is typically the second thing I consider. My first thought is, “Wow, this is painful.” The second thought is, “I know there is equal positivity to discover as soon as I am ready to find it.” That thought is comforting enough to allow me to experience the pain until I find myself ready to look for the GLOW.
If you are interested in finding the GLOW in your painful situation, set up a complimentary coaching session with me at https://calendly.com/kimolver/free-exploratory-coaching-session. I know I can shorten the grieving process when you are ready.