Survivors Include . . .

By: Louanne Stanton
Monday, November 9, 2015

Louanne Stanton writes, "I was once told that grief is like an overwhelming wave that washes you from your familiar shore. This powerful and all-consuming force tumbles you in a suffocating environment that cuts you emotionally, bangs you spiritually, and violates you physically. Then this wave spits you out on an unfamiliar beach and forces you to find a new way to live, a new way to survive." Learn how Louanne learned to be a survivor after the death of her husband.

by Louanne Stanton

"Survivors include..." are words used in a standard obituary. People routinely read them in the newspaper as they sit comfortably in their homes sipping their morning coffee. It was these words that made me, a 33-year-old widow with two young daughters, realize that I could not curl up in a corner, as I so wanted to do.

In most aspects of life, we celebrate survivors. We think of famous survivors such as Tom Hanks in the film Castaway, or the Unsinkable Molly Brown. Most of us can relate to the survivor stories that arose from the horrible tragedy of 9/11. While we may not think of ourselves as a survivor, we need to understand that each of us who has lost a dear one to death has become a survivor.

I was once told that grief is like an overwhelming wave that washes you from your familiar shore. This powerful and all-consuming force tumbles you in a suffocating environment that cuts you emotionally, bangs you spiritually, and violates you physically. Then this wave spits you out on an unfamiliar beach and forces you to find a new way to live, a new way to survive.

As survivors, we soon learn that it is the hardest job we will ever be asked to tackle. The mountains of paperwork required to be done to tie up our loved one's life, the scheduling of events to conclude our relationship with our loved one, and the responsibilities that we never asked for fall and on our shoulders.  All of this coming at a time we do not have the stamina nor the desire to deal with it.

But somehow we get through because it is necessary. We do it because we are the only ones who can do it right. We do it because, in a sense, it is our final tribute to the one we love. It is true; some handle the role of survivor better than others. But each one of us learns how to deal with our new role in life. And, while we are unaware of it at the time, each one of us learns how to help someone else adjust to his or her position as a survivor.

It is amazing how many people have entered my life since I found my place in the survivor world. People that needed a friend while they endured the passing of a close one or people who were entering into the newness of grief.

Many times the common bond of survivorship is enough to help those around us. This affinity is enough to help someone through the first phase of grief, which may be measured in days, weeks, or even months. I have discovered to keep my heart and life open to each new opportunity. I have learned that I continue to heal as well as lift my own spirit when I reach out to others.  Helping others through their rite of passage is rewarding.

There are people all around us who need assistance. Our friends and family members need to know we care when someone in their lives passes away. Members of our communities join together in support groups with churches and Hospice Centers. Those groups can use those of us who are further along in our journeys to show that the intensity of grief is temporary and there is life on the other side. All it takes is the compassion and understanding you have acquired through your personal experience.

There are times when I don't feel like a survivor. Times when I want to go into a corner and sit in a fetal position and just disappear.  I don't know if I will ever stop grieving. Because being a survivor doesn't mean that I stop feeling. On the contrary, I am a survivor because I cherish the life God has given me to live and I want to look toward tomorrow more than look back at yesterday.

After seven years of living without the father of my children, I have learned a lifetime of lessons. Lessons that I never thought I would want to learn. One of the most profound lessons occurred when I looked at my husband's obituary. My eyes read "Survivors include..." and I understood for the first time that I had a choice to make. My choice that day was to become exactly that: a survivor.

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