Sudden Witnessed Death of Spouse

jcsgirl2012March 24, 2014

I am new to this forum. I found this site after Google search for sudden death support forums.
I have been reading many previous posts and my heart breaks from each and every story. Especially now that I have experienced intense grief by the passing of my husband on 2/3/14. He was only 56 years old.

What I haven't been able to find is any supportive information on witnessing the death of your spouse or loved one. I suppose a sudden death is a sudden death, but I feel like witnessing his death was even more traumatic. I now have flashbacks (PTSD) of him dying and my inability to save him! I'm a nurse which makes it even more unbearable to be totally useless in this kind of situation. We were sleeping, the second night in our new home, and he woke me up by hitting me with his arm. It happens every now and then when he would turn over. Anyway, this night was different. He roused me with his arm movement but what "hit" me was his breathing pattern. For a second I thought he was having sleep apena. Then I heard his gasp. As an RN, there is a term for that kind of breath and the name sounds as bad as it is. Aginal breathing. With the first breath, I jumped out of bed, turned on the light, took one glance at him while dialing 911. I held his head to open his airway and attempt CPR. He had about 2 more aginal breaths before he was gone. I could tell from his eyes.

I did CPR, somehow rolled him out of bed and onto the floor as instructed by the voice on the phone. He was tipping the scale at 300 lbs and I am all of 130 lbs so it was a struggle to get him off the bed. I have no idea how long it took me, when the first responder came or even how he got in the house. It is all a blur. We had no clocks in the bedroom. I had no idea how long he had been down. I vaguely remember the ambulance arriving and me instructing them where they were but don't know when the Coroner/Sheriff arrived. I called my brother's cell phone as he had just left at midnight to drive home. He had been there to help us move. I remember I couldn't breath. I felt like I was going to die too. I remember the Coroner telling me that there was nothing they could do. I remember the EMT's leaving and none of them looking at me. I remember not being able to go back into the bedroom to be with my husband, just to hold his hand while waiting for the Funeral Home transport. I didn't understand why they wouldn't let me be with him. Weeks later it dawned on me that my bedroom and become a "crime scene" as he died at home, young and no documented medical history. Then the autopsy gave no obvious cause of death...which leads me down another frustrating path. Weeks of waiting for the toxicology results for a conclusive cause of death. Natural Causes. Really? He was 56. How can this be Natural? Most likely a fatal cardiac arrhythmia. He had no signs or symptoms of a heart attack. No warning! Yes, that what really bothers me is the NO WARNING. I never had a chance to say "Goodbye", never having time to even say "I love you". He was just gone, taken away, just like that.

Sorry for all the detail. I have so much pain, heartache, guilt, sadness, longing, and disbelief. Just like everyone. We were only married 18 months. Both of us had divorced our previous spouses after we met and discovered that WE were destined to be together. God had lead us to each other. We knew each other for 4 years before we got married. He had a great job, one he loved and was held in very high esteem in his company. But more importantly, I held him in very high esteem too. He did more for me than anyone I had ever met. It was always about ME. He wanted to please me, all the time. I miss him so much. How does anyone get through this grieving pain? It is so hard to see anything in front of you. Where is the future? It was supposed to be with him. Now it's gone. Suddenly. It's been 7 weeks today and I'm still numb and disbelief still creeps in. But it's real and it's happening to me. I started seeing a grief counselor to help me deal with all this. What else can I do? Any suggestions? I journal, I read, I talk, I pray and I cry. That's my life now. So sad.

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Sorry for your unexpected loss. When I was in my 20's my mother died of a sudden heart attack - I got there too late - she'd already had passed.

Now is the time to be extra gentle with yourself. Treat yourself as a wounded child. Have you tried yoga? Find a class to take. It will help with PTSD. Exchange phone numbers with other enthusiasts. Don't isolate yourself. Force yourself to be around people - even if it's just for a quick cup of coffee.

Can you afford a trip to a spa treatment? Go for a massage.

Spring is almost here. Plant something he'd like in his honor and tend to it.

Keep in mind he's not gone...he's gone ahead. You will meet again.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 3:22PM
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Thank you xminion. I liked your last sentence. That is a comforting way to look at our future together.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 11:15PM
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I am so sorry. Please, don't rush yourself. This is such an intense grief that it is normal and natural for you to feel such grief even now. My daughter lost her husband last July and even today she says her grief is intense at times. Yes, don't isolate yourself, force yourself to get out and about. Grief lasts a long time. You can't change the past but you have the future to look forward to. Take up a new hobby or join a group that interests you. Best Wishes to you.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 2:49PM
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I just found this forum, and I can see by the date of the original post some time has passed. How are you doing? I too am in the grieving process and also struggle with the pstd of witnessing my baby brothers passing. I pray God has helped you through this. ((Hugs))

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 2:11PM
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I wrote a reply to you,but am concerned if you received it??

    Bookmark   June 19, 2014 at 11:09PM
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It has been a year since I my husband died and I posted my story. I have had nice emails offering me comfort, support and wisdom. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to write to me. The year has been riddled with wide emotional swings but mostly just sorrow. It was incapacitating at times. The emptiness and silence in the house is still provoking a lingering sadness. I have had 8 months of 1:1 grief therapy in conjunction with a program called GriefShare. This program is available nationally and is a 13 week program to help anyone suffering from the loss of a loved one. I have had to participate for several cycles.

The feedback I have gotten from the leader and mentor through GriefShare is that I am making progress. It's interesting that each time I attend a session, different emotions emerge from different triggers. I still cry/sob at times but generally I can say I am moving forward. As everyone who grieves will attest to, life will NEVER be the same, no matter how much you wish it to be and many of us spend hours, days or weeks wishing we were the one who died or that we had gone with them. God knows, I have struggled with this all year. Death is easy, for the most part, for the one who leaves us. As in my husband's case, he died in his sleep from Ventricular Fibrillation, a fatal heart arrhythmia that is sudden and often in people without any cardiac history. Yes, my wonderful husband was only 56 year old and without any real medical history but he did have contributing factors. Well, my point is that he died quickly, painlessly, and oblivious to the pain his death would cause me. I don't blame him much anymore - that's my attempt at humor. I just think at times that he would have been able to cope with my death easier than I have coped with his. But, live goes on despite our pain. One of the hardest things still for me to deal with emotionally is seeing couples together in any situation but especially during church, meals, movies - anything that we did as a couple. The absence of his touch, the comfort and love that touch provided me. Hearing my friends and acquaintances talk about their marriages and all the things that they are experiencing bring the hurt back into my soul. I really don't begrudge them their happiness. It just highlights the emptiness in mine. Yes, I have friends and family who have helped me through the darkness but it's not the same. I go to the movies (it took me a year to want to see a movie) and there is an empty seat that is hard to ignore. My friend is sitting next to me or even two friends, but there is still that loneliness that never seems to leave. Being alone with everyone around is excruciating.

So, as time has marched on and my life has evolved into a journey I would never imagined, I start to thaw a little. Just a little. We were only married 18 months before he died so we were "old newlyweds" and just starting our happy lives together - after years of oppression from previous spouses. It isn't fair. For any of us, whether married years and years or for those not even married. We are part of a club that has nothing but unwanted members.

I will forever be changed by this and unlike many others, I have always been an outgoing, take life for all it is type of gal. Jay and I shared this spirit of life so it's hard for me to re-invent myself to enjoy life. The joy of life stopped on February 3, 2014. Would this journey have been easier if we hadn't been so happy? How do unhappy couples cope with death? I don't know the answer but there is a lot of guilt in either situation I'm guessing. Despite our happiness, there are many things I said that I wish I could take back, many things I had wanted to say and wish I had said...but I need to let that all go. It isn't constructive.

So, please write again and let me know how life is now for you, where you are in your journey. I do care about your pain and hope you are finding some sort of peace.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2015 at 5:54PM
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Becky, I've had a tough year too. I get it, but it's time to -- in the words of my late father -- get an attitude adjustment. I hated it when he said that. ;-)

I hope you will understand what I am saying and know it not said with judgment, any harsh thoughts or desire to cause you pain. Sometimes there are things e probably already know, but it helps to hear someone else say them. That's where I'm coming from -- with a desire to help you over a hurdle.

I see so much to be grateful for and to celebrate in your posts. Isn't it wonderful that you found that happiness and know that life has so much more to offer you than you had before? Eighteen months is not years or decades, but it is hundreds of days -- hundreds of sunrises, hundreds of sunsets and everything in between. And what about the fact that you were married? You may be a widow now, but had you not been married, you would not be next of kin and would have had no legal relationship or rights. He could have just as easily have passed before you were married and you would have had no say on his final affairs. You did say goodbye -- you tried to save him and pull him back, then you laid him to rest when you couldn't. That's more than many people get, Trust me, even when death is years in coming, you don't get to plan the moment or the way you say goodbye. You make the most of what you get and you give what you can for as long as you can.

What do you want your late husband's legacy to be? What would he want the gift of his time with you to be? Sorrow? Being oppressed by his memory as you were a previous spouse? Or joy for everyday you had together and the things you know are possible?

First tings first -- stop kicking yourself. You are not God. You didn't give him the heart condition and you couldn't save him. You said some things you regret -- doesn't everyone? And don't you think the one who loved you knew that better than anyone? If he didn't then, he does now -- more than you.

Most of all, I want to suggest you try to spend some time each day counting your blessings. Maybe first thing over coffee, maybe in the shower or as you get ready for sleep -- it may be the first spring bloom you saw, a favorite tune you heard, a kind word said, a checkout line that moved quickly, that you didn't get any bills in the mail -- or at east anything unexpected, hat a friend shared a happiness with you or you were able to do something for someone else. Find a few new things each day and reflect back on one happiness from days gone by, Say thank you fr each one and don't take them for granted. The events in your life may not change (maybe they will), but how you feel about them will.

I bought a greeting card when I was in college and planned to send it to my parents when the time was right. Instead, I enjoyed reading it and still have it. It had a Sandra Boyton hippo on the front and he was saying he was on a new diet. He used to eat when he was unhappy, so now he only ate when he was happy. You open the card and he comments, "I haven't lost a pound, but the change in my mood is remarkable." Loved that card and it still makes me smile.

Then try to reach out to others who are lonely or in need of help. There are so many elderly who need companionship, meals or assistance with simple tasks, people who need tutoring. blind people who would appreciate reading books for them or taping them, children and adults in hospitals who are bored or scared, animals in shelters who would love to be touched and loved, walked, etc. You might even decide to adopt a pet and give them a new lease on life and let them give you purrs or wags. Helping someone else up always lifts you too.

You can't replace your late husband, but you can lose out on a lot of life and happiness wishing he was there. Instead, take what he taught you and what he shared with you and go apply it in a life he would be happy to be watching you live. Give him that gift - now and should you meet again.

I've shed a lot of tears too They are unavoidable, and they can be cleansing. Cry when you have to, but don't let them take over. You were given a wonderful gift. Live thankfully.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2015 at 4:55PM
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