Sunday, July 1, 2012

Monday Mournings: The Death of a Spouse

Stacy S. Jensen is revising her memoir In a Blink: How Life Interrupts Death about the four-year period after her late husband’s catastrophic stroke left him mute and paralyzed. She worked as a newspaper editor and reporter for two decades. Today, she writes personal essays and children’s picture books.She remarried four years ago and a has a toddler. She blogs.

DW:  Who was the person that died?
SJ:  My husband Jimmy.

DW:  How old were you at the time?
SJ:  34

DW:  How old was Jimmy?
SJ:  37

DW: Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen? He refused treatment, so we knew it was going to happen. He died two days shy of the fourth anniversary of his stroke.

DW: Did you and Jimmy talk about death?
SJ:  Yes. Jimmy had a catastrophic brain stem stroke when he was 33 as a result of a procedure to stabilize an aneurysm. The stroke left him mute and completely paralyzed. We communicated through an auditory scanning and blinking system. He lived in a nursing home. We were stalked by death after his stroke. A year before he died, I purchased burial plots at his request. When he decided to quit getting treatment (no
feeding tube or treatment for pneumonia), he detailed what he wanted for his funeral arrangements down to who would receive donations in lieu of flowers and which flag would drape his coffin. We also discussed what I would do after he died, as well.

DW:  Had you experienced any other deaths in your personal life before Jimmy died?
SJ:  Only grandparents.

DW:  Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving?
SJ:  Most of the people around me were with me throughout the post-stroke years, so they knew what was going on with Jimmy and experienced it with me. It was difficult for some family members to be supportive when I decided to move out of state for a job a couple months later.

DW: Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with Jimmy?
SJ:  No.While the post-stroke years were difficult, they gave us an opportunity to say things and be prepared for death in a way that a sudden death does not. Early on during the post-stroke, I made a decision on how I would live.I never wanted to live with regret. Almost seven years after his death, I'm grateful I made that decision.

Since we had a lot of time between the stroke and his death, Jimmy made a lot of the decisions with me about how to sell his business and our house, as well as how we placed our seven dogs with family and friends. While these decisions were all difficult at the time, I was blessed to have him discuss options and solutions as we lived rather than dealing with them after his death.


DW: Was he buried or cremated?
SJ: Buried. I delayed the visitation by one day, so he was not buried on the four-year anniversary of his stroke.

DW: Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?
SJ:  For me, I grieved way before Jimmy ever died. Jimmy was a great person and husband, but I try not to make him into a saint. People often memorialize the dead so much, they aren't really the person you loved or
lived with when they were alive. Jimmy was a real person with flaws —before and after his stroke — and I remind myself of this. For example,years later when people say, "I'm sure he would have wanted you to do
this ..." I often laugh and say, "No, actually I don't think he would have." I don't want to make the person remarking uncomfortable, but a truthful response about what Jimmy would have wanted or not keeps it real for me.

DW: Were any songs played at the memorial that were important to Jimmy?
SJ: We played a video of photos at the funeral home which included Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
This one goes out to Jimmy

13 comments:

  1. "Years later when people say, "I'm sure he would have wanted you to do this ..." I often laugh and say, "No, actually I don't think he would have." I don't want to make the person remarking uncomfortable, but a truthful response about what Jimmy would have wanted or not keeps it real for me."

    This is absolutely beautiful. One of the reasons I love this blog is the way changes how I think about dealing with death, and I've never read anything like this when it comes to thinking about memory and how to keep a sense of who someone really was alive. Thanks you so much for sharing this.

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  2. Thank you, Stacy, for writing about this experience. I agree with Jericha above - your ability to say, no , actually blah blah blah - is a wonderful strategy - a way to not make the dead so no longer a part of the realm of the living --
    I am glad that seven years after Jimmy's death, you are happy with your life.
    As always, Pamela, thanks --

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  3. Thanks Pamela for letting me share about Jimmy. Thanks Jericha and Gracie.

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    1. Thank you, Stacy. I wish more people had joined the conversation. I blame it on the holiday week.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this, Stacy. Lost a couple people myself, and I agree about not turning them into saints. For me they are closer when I remember them just how I knew them, warts and all.

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  5. Oh my goodness, Stacy, I had no idea. Your honesty here is incredible. I have such respect for what you're saying about how people sort of glorify a person after they're gone. It sounds like you've done a remarkable job remember Jimmy as a real, whole person and not an angel. Nobody is an "angel."

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  6. Thank you for sharing your story, Stacy. I look forward to reading your memoir.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your moving and inspirational story with us, Stacy. What a road you've traveled--and continue to travel.

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  8. Stacy I had no idea you'd lost your husband and so tragically young. Your spirit is admirable. You sound like a person who believes in herself. More power to you and I hope I catch the launch of your memoir.

    Denise

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  9. Thanks for sharing this interview with us Stacy. Glad you were able to move on so well. I think that keeping it real is important as we heal from tragedy. :)

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  10. Stacy, you & Lynyrd Skynyrd both rock. Thank you for sharing with us all.

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  11. I know Stacy personally, and I can see how centered and REAL she is. That's how real she presents herself in this blog. I am lots older than her (60 years YOUNG) and, consequently, I have lost many people in my life. But the first death is always the hardest. My mother died when I was 18 and it took me over 30 years to finally finish grieving for her. We deal with grief in so many ways, and suddenly one day you wake up one day and realize, "oh, that's why I did that!" So, good for you, Stacy, to talk about it, to share it, and to deal with it now.

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  12. Thanks for this lovely interview. I really admire you, Stacy, for the honest and loving way you handled Jimmy's death and your decision to live more fully afterward.

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Comments are welcome and appreciated!