Losing your partner siphons everything from you. During such a low point in your life, never forget that you can always turn to your faith and friends to get through with grief. In this discussion, Chris Wissmann talks about drawing strength from God and the people around you when you are grieving. She provides a candid insight into our friendship, the people Chris has lost in her life, and how her faith has been her strength. We also discuss our friendship over the years and our families. Chris provided a safe space and immense interest in my thoughts and grief for Mark. I sincerely appreciate her willingness to honestly want to know every idea, concern, and stressful part of missing my late husband.
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Chris Wissmann On Drawing Strength From Faith And Friends When Grieving
My next conversation is with my girlfriend, Chris Wissmann. We have had children and went on a road trip together. She’s going to talk about that. We have lived life together. We are not paid actors, but we are friends that love each other. We are sharing our life and our story in hopes of encouraging someone else along this way. I am sorry for the person that you have lost that has driven you to this conversation, but I’m glad that you found us. I thank you for being now part of our hood and our community. Let’s get into the conversation now.
My guest is my girlfriend, Chris. Let’s see what she is going to say. How about you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I am a wife and a mother. I enjoy friendships. I need more questions. I like to cook.
What about that belly wash?
That is grape juice. It’s grape concentrate like the frozen stuff and a package of Kool-Aid. You could get a grape tropical punch and prepare the Kool-Aid like you would normally, but with less sugar. Put the grape juice concentrate in there with the appropriate amount of water and stir it up. It’s a belly wash from Wisconsin. That’s what Mark’s mom and grandmother would fix for the people who were helping them with their harvest and stuff on the farm.
It seemed way more complicated than that, and the baking skills that you’re underestimating over here.
Thank you. I am not an elaborate baker. I only bake easy things.
Brownies, pies, cakes. We like to eat a whole lot of sweet stuff.
How did we meet?
You met my husband first. My husband was a non-traditional student at CNU. We moved from farming back to Virginia so he could go to school.
CNU is Christopher Newport College.
That was before it became a university. I was working and Mark was in school full-time. He was busy meeting all these people and they all had female names. He told me he was going to be meeting Tina to play racquetball with her.
On Saturdays is how it came to me. I’m like, “Okay, but who is Tina?” The time became important because it was 6:30 in the morning. Who would get out of bed to play racquetball at 6:30 in the morning besides my husband and especially a female? I didn’t know any girls or women who would get out of bed to do that. Not anybody in their right mind.
They were supposed to be married.
That’s what he finally told me. I’m like, “Why is she getting up? Why are you playing racquetball with her?” “Because she likes to play racquetball.” “Is she married? What does she do on Saturdays?” “Her husband likes to sleep in as you do.” I’m like, “Ouch.” They played a lot and I didn’t still know who she was. I got up early one morning on Saturday to meet her.
This was way before cell phones.
I got up early because I had not met her. He hadn’t made any effort for me to meet you. I came home a different day and there was a blonde in my house. He was tutoring her. Now he’s meeting Tina to play racquetball.
Who was the blonde?
Lori. I had no suspicion that he was being unfaithful, but I also was not comfortable that all his friends at college were girls. I didn’t hear men’s names anywhere. He even got a welcome letter from Christie. I’m like, “This is too many, Lori and Tina. I got to meet her.”
Whatever was going on this day, she was making sure Mark was not coming downstairs. I drove to their apartment complex and Mark would normally come down. Before cell phones, I could not honk my horn at 6:00 in the morning because the whole apartment complex would wake up. I’m like, “Where is this dude at? If he did not get up, I’m going to be upset.” I go upstairs and knock on the door. She says, “Hello.” I was like, “Is Mark here?” She’s like, “Who are you?” I was like, “We are about to have a whole situation. I just want to play racquetball.” She starts drilling me and asking me all these questions. I was like, “How do you know if I like playing racquetball with him that much? This could be over.”
It might not be worth it.
After a while, Chris and I became more friends, and Mark became boring. Her husband’s name is Mark, just like my late husband. Both of our birthdays are in May and both of our husband’s birthdays were in June, a day apart. I’m going to let Chris share about a couple of life adventures that I took her on.
I got to meet Tina because Mark liked racquetball. She was fun. I didn’t realize how intense or passionate she was. I have since thoroughly enjoyed that. It was a little overwhelming and scary at first because I was making jewelry and earrings. We didn’t have any money. They were buttons. You could get a button and either peel it off, scratch it off, or somehow tweak off the back of it.
We wound up with soldering guns and all sorts of stuff.
We made the dangle ones with the hoops. I’m like, “I’m making these. Would you like a pair?” She was like, “We could sell these. How long does it take you to make these? How much do they cost? We could do a craft show.” I go, “I was just asking you if you wanted a pair of earrings. That’s all.”
I did say yes that I wanted earrings, but we did some craft shows.
You even bought a stamp that said, “Christina.”
Did you enjoy it?
I did. The idea was overwhelming. It’s something I would’ve never done without your assistance and nudging. I was like, “I’ll get in line behind you. You go first.”
It was fun. I never made jewelry or did anything like that. I was an Accounting major in my undergrad. I start calculating what we could do. We were all poor at that point in time. I was like, “What’s the return on investment if you buy the buttons and then you sell those?” I still have some of those earrings to this day. I should have worn a pair.
I never even thought about that. I forgot about that. I was thinking of the road trip. We had small children. Mark was an electrician and he traveled to make money for his family. My Mark was from Wisconsin and her Mark happened to be working in Chicago, Illinois.
He was in Indiana, but I went to stay with my family and then went back to spend time with him.
It was close. You wanted to see him badly. That’s one of the things I appreciate about you. It’s your commitment or passion for other people’s marriages.
It is important.
That was manifesting itself all over the place. You were going to take a road trip. Catherine was a baby.
I don’t even know if she was one. They were both in the car sit. This is when it still turned backward because she couldn’t face forward.
We had been pretty good friends. We spent a lot of time together by then. Tina didn’t want to have to drive out by herself and she offered for me, Hannah, and Bethany to ride. I had two little ones with her, then I could stay at my sister-in-law’s. She could be with her family and everybody would be happy. That’s what we did.
That road trip started when we lived here in Virginia for the first time. We were at the house out in Gloucester and Chris lived nearby. I had a Jeep Cherokee Sport or Grand. It was my college graduation gift to myself. We loaded up the Jeep. There are no cell phones at this point in time. We are heading from Virginia, Gloucester all the way to Chicago, Illinois with 2 women and 3 babies, and we hit the road.
Tina was a good driver.
I was motivated. I was planning to drive all night long so I could see Mark at the end of that trip.
We talked about possibly staying somewhere if we needed to. I was thinking, “We might need to.” Tina was like, “No. We weren’t going to need to.” She had told me we weren’t going to need to yet.
I got her in the car as I got her in the seat.
I’ll get in line behind her. She can go first. We were headed to West Virginia. We weren’t even there yet.
We were heading to Chicago, but we only got to West Virginia.
We had been making fun of West Virginia.
We never wanted to have to stop here. This is not where we want to go. We wanted to keep going because if we were driving long distances, we didn’t even get far if we just made it that far.
I was in the backseat with Catherine.
No. You were turning around.
How could I see her face?
That’s near. Hannah was next to her and they started talking and telling you.
I don’t remember all that. It was traumatizing.
Back to the whole thriftiness of life, Chris was very good at figuring out how to make things. She had made some homemade wipes because buying wipes from the store was too expensive. She used to be a stay-at-home mom working with two kids. She was working part-time. Mark is in school and trying to figure out how to make things work. We were driving to West Virginia and Catherine is hungry. We started out first by giving her some peanut butter crackers. She wiped her face and I’m driving. She goes, “Has Catherine ever had peanut butter before?” I was like, “I don’t know.”
I know that she’s passionate, intense, and in a hurry. I’m trying to figure out how to say things carefully, but I am in full-blown panic mode inside because of what I’m thinking.
She says, “You don’t know if she’s allergic to peanut butter?” She starts naming products. I said, “What are you asking me all these questions for?” Now she’s going over the products that are in the wipes. I’m like, “Chris, what is going on?” “I think that she’s allergic.” We happened to see a hospital sign.
We stopped at the toll booth.
They told us that the hospital was so far off. We could stay on the same highway that we were on and the toll was there. We pulled off. I don’t even remember what happened in the hospital.
I’d let you off. You were driving. You pulled up to the ER. You got out with Catherine. I went and parked someplace. I came back and found you. It was shortly after that they took you back.
I don’t know if we found out she was allergic to anything, but they gave us something for the rash. They couldn’t pinpoint what it is but they said, “Don’t do that no more.”
They didn’t think it was a peanut allergy because that is life-threatening.
That was one part. Now we’re in West Virginia and it’s too far to drive. We’re tired.
We were past West Virginia. I was in a different spot on the trip.
We find someplace to stay. We get something to eat probably, and then this is the part that Chris remembers the most. I’ll let her take it from here.
It’s late. We got a long drive ahead of us and we are putting our kids to bed. Bethany and Catherine are months apart. September and November. Hannah was two and a half years old maybe. Tina tells Catherine, “Mommy’s got to go to sleep now and we’re going to get up in the morning at 8:00. You go have a good sleep.” She kissed, cuddled, hugged her, and did everything you do to put them to bed. She went right to sleep. I was like, “What in the world? Right, 8:00.” I’m not saying any of this. I’m just observing. This is her first baby. This is my second.
She knows more than me.
At this point, I didn’t because Hannah was very easy as a baby and still was. Bethany, I couldn’t do anything to make her happy. She was fussy and fussing. I’m thinking, “There’s no way that I, Catherine, or Tina are going to sleep through this.” She fuss and fussed. Finally, she went to sleep. The next morning, Catherine woke up at 8:00 or whatever it was that you told her.
You said that you woke up early. You were watching, waiting, and looking.
I was like, “She was on a timer.” Not a peep in the night and woke up. Maybe she was afraid of me by that time. I don’t know.
She woke up at 8:00.
She is a perfect child. This is my second. I don’t know what I’m doing with my first baby, “Let’s go to sleep now and wake up at 8:00.” That’s what she did.
We’re on the road trip. We were some ridiculous amount away from the location.
It’s dark. The kids are sleeping. It’s nighttime. It’s time to go to bed.
It’s these windy roads and stuff like this. I can’t remember how far it was.
We got off the interstate to get something to drink.
At 7-Eleven, we had to get a Slurpee to sugar up.
There was nothing there. It was all flat land. We pulled in. It was in the middle of the night. You couldn’t see anybody or anything anywhere. You went in and I stayed in the car with the kids.
We’re having maps, trying to follow the directions, and trying to get a perspective. This is before GPS that you put in your car. There’s no ETA. We’re literally out there just doing it.
You went in to get a drink and find out how much further it was. We then were going to decide if we were going to keep going or if it was too far to keep going or stay there. You came back out like, “It’s only half an hour away.” You acted like it was only half an hour away and it was hundreds of miles.
It was another 5 or 6 hours.
You couldn’t tell it by her face. It was like, “We’ll be there in a little bit.”
Did we keep driving?
Yes, we did, us and Tracy Chapman.
I love Tracy Chapman. She had us on that road. I was playing because there was a tape in the car. We were hitting it and rewinding. There was a lot of Tracy Chapman and you were still my friend. We have been friends for a long time.
Did I know you before you had Hannah? She was born in the apartment that you played racquetball in.
Hannah is 30?
She’ll be 30 in March.
In that, we have lived a lot of life together. Besides those kinds of crazy things, what are some other things you remember?
I remember meeting your big scary dog.
Yes., and Mark’s little red car.
I remember having dinner at your apartment in Candlewood.
We have Bible study over there once or twice.
We may because the Christian fellowship used to go to different places. I could see that happening.
I remember staining and trimming work in Gloucester. I remember unpacking your kitchen in Gloucester when you weren’t there. I remember the girls’ breakfast. I remember you calling me when you were sick.
I couldn’t breathe that day. Catherine was about two. I called Chris and I go, “What are you doing?” She’s like, “What are you doing?” “I don’t think I could breathe.” She was like, “Okay.”
You were in Gloucester.
It wasn’t far.
It wasn’t close either. There was a bridge that could open.
From what I remember, Chris got to my house quickly. The ambulance came and took me to the hospital. I could not breathe. They wanted to give me tests for different stuff. I said, “I don’t know if I can take those tests.” Mark comes into the room and people are waiting outside. I say, “I could be pregnant.” All my friends start making jokes, “You went to the hospital and then you got knocked up by Mark. How did that happen?” My hair wasn’t combed. I grabbed the first thing I could, which was the skull cap, and everybody that came in the room enjoyed making fun of that. I could not take the test because I was pregnant with Alexander.
I didn’t remember that part.
I was because they wanted to do a lot of stuff and give me steroids. I was like, “I’m pretty sure I’m pregnant.” We didn’t tell anybody yet but we were in the hospital. I was like, “I’m pregnant.”
I remember when Alex was born and Catherine had been the perfect child. She was still the perfect child. I remember when Alex was a baby, he was fussy and Catherine had been the perfect child.
I was thinking that we left Catherine with you. That’s the part I thought you were talking about. I remember almost ripping your counter off when those contractions were coming too. We dropped Catherine off with Mark and Chris. Those contractions, I thought I was going to rip the counter off. Mark picked them up and they were all dressed alike and everything. I’m going to let you tell that part about what I did to Alex.
Catherine had been the perfect child. She was an easy baby. Alex ended up not being an easy baby. You were rattled because you were doing everything right and everything you could think of. I couldn’t think of anything to tell you differently. I was like, “That’s what a second child was like.” It finally dawned on you. I don’t remember how.
I was on the phone talking to you and I was like, “He won’t stop crying. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.” You said, “What are you eating?” I said, “I’m eating the same thing.” I was eating an Atomic Fireball and I was nursing. The baby was getting fire milk. I was trying to stay awake. I was working at night doing different stuff. I stopped eating Atomic Fireballs and Alex was fine.
He turned into a perfect child too. She had motherhood down. I struggled.
Help me remember, there are people in your life that have passed and they have impacted you a lot. Who has been the people in order and how that has gone for you?
Directly, my dad passed in ‘09. My brother passed in 2017. My mom passed recently in December. My dad was sick for a while. We didn’t know what was wrong and the doctors kept saying, “It’s this.” It didn’t seem to fit. My mom and my dad were both satisfied with those answers. No matter how we pushed, they wouldn’t pursue anything different. He ended up getting diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in very late September or October. He had brought my brother and me in. He sat us down and said, “This is what’s going on. I’ve opted not to do anything.” There wasn’t a lot of hope given. He would be miserable a little longer. He died on November 5, 2009.
Now my mom is a widow. My brothers had chronic health issues up until this time. My dad was his very best friend. It hit him hard. One of the things I remember for my mom was the idea that you could survive your spouse dying. They had celebrated their 50th anniversary a couple of years before that. We had a big shindig for them. They were crazy about each other. You remind me a little bit of your relationship with Mark.
They did everything together. I don’t think you guys did but the intimacy, the closeness, and the desire to go to Chicago to be with them in the middle of the night and not stop were them. Watching her navigate what it looked like to be without him was amazing and unbelievable. It was unbelievable. I remember being struck by how you could survive when part of your body dies.
What type of conversations did you have with your mom about that? Was it more from the outside looking in?
It was more from the outside looking in. I spent a lot of time there. The last week before he passed, I lived there and watched them say goodbye to each other frequently. He was dying and it was going to be soon. They knew it. Each time, she would go to bed at night and that could have been the last goodbye.
With you in the house, were you thinking that same thing like, “This could be the last time to see my dad?” Were you thinking more of your mom? What was your interest then?
I feel like it was both. My dad was coherent until the last day or two. He had an opportunity to say whatever he wanted to say to anybody. We all gathered around. He had grandkids by the time. My brother was married. Both our families were with him several times. That was a sweet and tender thing. We didn’t have that with my mom and with my brother necessarily. He was not an outspoken person. My dad was demonstrative. He was intentional.
Was your dad always very vocal?
No. He was about important things, but not very vocal. He would be quiet and not frequent.
This was important enough for him to start preparing you to start seeing what this needs to look like.
The last things that you would remember he said to you were significant.
How did your dad’s past impact and change your life?
I remember being glad that I was there. I journal through that experience. When my mom was dying, I had gone back and looked through that. It was a very different experience with my dad. I felt more aware and in the moment. I was absorbing all of that.
You were outside looking in at that situation. You had more time to think and to do that.
It was not a horrific thing. It seemed very natural.
He was getting older and this is how life was going.
He’s decided this is not something he wants to treat. I respected his decision.
You said that was different. What year did your brother pass?
How was that different for you?
Our relationship was different. That brings a different dynamic to someone passing and being the older sister and the only sibling. It was different also because after my dad passed, my brother’s health got worse. I was trying to help my mom who was trying to help my brother’s wife take care of him. I feel like I had a different role. With my dad, I was his daughter the whole time. For my brother, I was his sister. I was my mom’s and my sister-in-law’s helper.
You were a caregiver for your brother a lot of times too.
Not really. She did most of that. I would go with her to appointments.
I remember you being part of that caregiving circle.
I was more of a support for her than doing direct care. My mom did some of the direct care. I was the support team more than anything. He died. His health deteriorated pretty significantly. After his actual death, he was in hospice. He even made a whole week.
It was pretty hard.
It was an ugly death. We could tell that he didn’t suffer from his body deteriorating in ways that were awful. Thankfully, we don’t think he was aware of that. It was hard to process that part of the whole situation. You’re losing somebody and then when they go in a way that is disturbing, that adds a whole different level to processing.Losing somebody is already difficult. Losing them in a disturbing way adds a whole different level to the grieving process. Click To Tweet
Maybe in our mind, we want it to be something tidy.
It’s not painful.
Someone gives us a phone call that it happened and we don’t have to experience that impact directly. We want to be removed a little bit. To be there when someone is transitioning from this world is difficult. You did caregiving for elderly people or other different things like that. With your family, it wasn’t the first time you happened to deal with that, but that was the first time that was personal to that degree with other people you cared for. I don’t recall you saying other people you cared about passing while you were there, but they passed knowing that you were maybe seeing them recently.
I was doing elderly care. The first lady that I worked for did get to be present with her family. She was in assisted living. They knew that she would die soon. It just happened that I was there with them.
You were there.
It was a sweet tender time to witness two sisters love their mom as she died.
You’ve said a couple of times about being in a sweet and tender moment. What about death that would make you see it that way when some people are not pleased with the idea of someone leaving? What allows you to see it that way?
Partly it’s my faith and partly the circumstances. These two sisters love their mom. She was an elderly that was suffering and was ready to leave. They were at peace with her going. That makes a difference if the people who are saying goodbye to someone who’s dying are ready. They feel that it would be better for their loved one to not continue to live quality of life.
It’s organically taking place.
That’s what happened to this lady. She was somebody who embodied life. She was a spitfire. I appreciated her.
That similarity with your dad.
His body was dying. It was not going to function well. Things were going to get worse quickly. We didn’t want to see him suffer. The treatment would make life worse.
I never thought about the idea of death being tender and sweet, and people loving on you in that transition. That is a good way to look at it.
I feel like that’s what it was with my dad. It was sweet and tender, but it wasn’t fun.
To see it from a different perspective than the other things that we think of when we think of death is an option. They can be seen that way. Now, my husband. How did you find out about Mark’s situation that day and what was going on?
I’m not good at remembering things, but I’ll tell you what I do remember. There are some things that have stuck in my head. My husband and I were going to Kroger. We were either in the parking lot and got a phone call or a text from Jerry. I can’t remember if it was a message and then I called back or if I got the message right away. I do remember a sinking feeling. Sometimes you hear bad news and you’re like, “That’s not good.” Sometimes it gets you in the gut. This was something that got me in the gut and I can’t tell you why. There was no rhyme or reason.
You didn’t hear the details. You just had a sense that something was wrong.
I heard that Mark had had a heart attack. I don’t know that I had gotten more than that at that point. There were many conversations and they weren’t all long. What I remember was that Mark had a heart attack and things were not clear. I don’t remember if I had known about your weekend ahead of time, or that this was a weekend that you had intended to get together. It was to be together, be fun, and that this had happened, and then that she was going to be leaving soon. I was trying to figure out how I could go and I couldn’t figure out how I could go. That was bothersome for me.
Why was it bothersome?
It’s because your husband had a heart attack.
You love me.
I’m not going to Chicago with just anybody. This was a significant event in your life.
That is hard when it’s someone you love and you could not be there. What did you do?
It took a long time for me to decide I could not be there. I kept trying to figure out how can I make it work. Jerry said, “I’m leaving at this time. I’m going this way.” What year was that?
That’s what I thought because there were like three big hits. Mark’s dad, my brother, and your husband. My heartbeat is abnormal. I remember going home. I called you and talked to you. You were telling me, “They had taken him into surgery.” You didn’t have a lot of time. I didn’t want to talk to you a lot, but I did get to hear from you and your voice because that’s the thing. When something like that happened, you’re like, “Someone else can tell me this terrible thing happened, but I need to either see or hear from the person directly.”
I want to hear anything. I want to hear from them where they at.
You hear tones, breathing, and things that make some sense to you. We ended up going home and I couldn’t be still. I will walk around the neighborhood at night and it was dark outside. I was waiting to hear back from you or somebody. Not being able to be there and thinking, “Are things better? Are they stable? Are they worse? Where are the kids? Do they know?” All of the questions. Even if I had been there, I still don’t know that I would’ve known a lot of the answers. Being able to be present so that I could do something if it was just passing tissues, crying with you, or whatever. I remember coming back home and Mark didn’t know what to say to me.
He was beside himself too because we are such a close community.
I got a text from somebody that said, “He didn’t make it.” I was like, “How is that possible? What does that mean? He didn’t make it doesn’t say he died.”
My brain does not have to accept this part that he died. I remember seeing the words death even not connected to Mark was disturbing to me. I was at work one day and somebody said, “My phone died.” I’m like, “Why would you say the word die?” The word death hollowed my core out and not even want to text it or type it. Somewhere in your mind, it was like you were killing them again by saying those words.
You can’t deny that reality. When my Mark got electrocuted, I couldn’t tell my kids that he got electrocuted. I was like, “Your dad had an accident with electricity.”
I remember you saying it like that.
Electrocution reminds me of that once the reality is spoken or written.
You can’t take it back. You get that message. When did you see me? When did you guys come up to Pennsylvania?
We didn’t get to come up until the night before the funeral.
You get to the house. Was that there or were we out doing stuff when you came?
You were home. It was evening people.
What was that drive like from Virginia to Pennsylvania?
What did you think when you saw me?
“Why haven’t I come up here before now?”
The bonfire is missed and things are happening. Life gets in the way sometimes. I was happy to see you. There were so many people in the house.
It was a good thing. That was a support network. Sometimes you’re like, “There are too many people here. She needs space.” I’m like, “This is life-giving.” I feel like your community gives you space there. They’re attentive.
I would go back in the bedroom and leave you all because it was like we were having this party for Mark and he wasn’t there. I was glad that everybody was there and I could feel the love, but he was not there. I couldn’t take that big void of his absence, not coming into that room, and not being part of that conversation. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to leave the room because I’m going to make everybody upset.” I think everybody is upset because Mark is dead. Let’s be clear about this.
I would quietly get up and go back to my bedroom and have a fit, cry, or do whatever. I know somebody comes back and knock on the door. They were like, “Let her go.” I thank everybody for giving me space to do that and then come back when I was ready. I knew it was happening but I didn’t want it to be happening. There were times I didn’t want to face that. I went, “We’re having a bonfire. Everybody’s here.”
“It’s party time. Mark will be home from work in a little while.”
It didn’t happen like that. What do you remember about his service or any of that?
There was a song that went on a little bit too long. It is now one of our themes. When we think about Mark, we talk about joy. That is a big-time thing that we laugh about.
That will make you smile.
That will make us smile thinking of that.
I remember Jesse’s comments about your brother and what an impact Mark had on Jesse. I was grateful to get to hear Mark’s presence at church. I don’t know if it was at the funeral. The witness was at work while he was here. You were living there.
I called you. Mark is taking a job here in Virginia. He was working as a government electrician. I called his employer and his supervisor to tell him that he had passed and was not going to come back to work. Having to make phone calls, whether it’s to life insurance or canceling the credit card, is gut-wrenching to have to call and make a conversation about your spouse’s passing. I had to call and tell his supervisor that he had died. His supervisor said, “I thought you were calling to tell me that he wasn’t coming back because I know he loved you much. I was afraid that when he came back to see you, he wasn’t going to come back to work, but I want you to know that your husband talked about the Lord.”
I was like, “Who?” He was not talking very much. Mark was lowkey quiet like your husband, then he was sharing his faith with people and doing stuff. A lot of times, I thought he went to church to accommodate me because his worship was different. How he expressed his faith was not as charismatic as mine but it was his own. Hearing that gave me such comfort in knowing that it was something that he had taken on his own. None of them were at the service, but that was a conversation that I had with his supervisor was shared.
I was grateful to know that and get to be happy with you for that. That was an answered prayer.
Now, you have to go back home.
You don’t want to leave. I didn’t want to leave. We had to leave. When other people are leaving too, then you’re like, “Somebody has to stay here.” It’s that feeling of you have to be supported by your family. That’s one of the things I also enjoyed then and every time I’m around your family. Your family does a great job of loving each other well.
We call ourselves The Siblings.
You’re all passionate about each other in an authentic way.
We fight and argue but we still like each other. We live next door. You took comfort in knowing that. Jesse stayed for two weeks and then one of my first cousins stayed another two weeks after that.
Jesse had a spreadsheet taking care of you.
There was much to organize and do.
It was not a chore.
He did it easily and lightly. To take that burden off of me and for him to be able to do that was huge. A little over a year later, I’m moving to Virginia.
That sounds so fast.
Mark passed in 2017. I started a job in 2019.
You had been talking about it.
I was not staying in that house in Pennsylvania with all that snow and doing all that with nobody doing. I needed to go. When that door of opportunity happened for me to relocate, my sister found a place for me to live. All of my stuff came in from Pennsylvania to Virginia. How did that go?
That’s another sibling thing. She orchestrated the whole unpacking. Jerry and I got to unpack this kitchen. I was speechless that you were making such a huge move. You seemed okay. I was happy that you were moving back to Virginia. I was very happy and close. It was very good to see you and get to spend time with you to see how your heart was doing.
How was it compared? We’ve taken a lot of walks together. What did that look like over time?
I don’t know. I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I feel like you were authentic. You didn’t try to make things look better than they were. You were very honest. I appreciated knowing how hard it was. It’s a scary thing but I feel like I don’t want to not know.
It’s like the veil you want. It’s like a scary movie is coming and you want to open your fingers because you want to see what’s going on but you don’t want to know because the reality is we don’t stay. How are you doing that? With your mom, you were from the outside looking in, you are front and center stage now. That is different.
That grief is very different.
Do you feel like the experience with your mom prepared you or this is still uncharted territory, being the friend of someone who lost their husband?
There are similarities. I can remember some of the things that you said to me that gave me acknowledgment like, “This is a normal feeling.”
You bring up a good point because I think it was important to give my friends permission to talk about Mark. That didn’t have to tiptoe around. When I gave that permission, I think it opened up the ability to talk about him or share your version of this horrific experience because we are all grieving together. Instead of me feeling like by myself, just the kids and I, and that it did impact everybody else. It felt like some of that weight was lifted off of me and other people were carrying it.
That’s good. I’m glad. I think you did a good job at letting people know you wanted to talk about Mark. There wasn’t this, “What do we say? What do we not say?” I never felt like there was a tentative that we might do the wrong thing. You’ve always been a good communicator.
You bring up a good point. It’s that taboo because we’re all thinking about it. We’re all concerned like, “How is she doing this? How is this happening? How is she existing without him?”
“How is she not dying?”
When we say that we can talk about it, it makes it easier because then that person is not alone. That’s me. Somebody else may not give that permission to talk, and you don’t want to thrust yourself in there. Depending on that friendship, you may want to ask them because they may not even know what to say. No one wants to talk about death. No one wants to speak about it. We want it to be this thing that we brush under. The funeral is over and everybody goes back to their lives and they got to be fine, and I’ve checked the box. What if I didn’t speak? Do you think you’ll ask, “What are we going to do about this?” Is it the closeness of that friendship? How do you get past it if that wasn’t a thing?
If you hadn’t brought it up first, I think my idea would’ve been, “Does she seem like she’s okay?” If she seems like she’s okay, we’ll follow her lead. If she doesn’t seem like she’s okay or if there’s something that seems kind of amiss or worrisome, I would definitely want to broach that with you to see if you are okay. I feel like in grief, sometimes we don’t even have the words to know how to say, “I want to talk about him.” Some people might not have those words. They might have those feelings. I know that frequently I have heard people say things and I’m like, “That is exactly how I feel.” I wouldn’t have the words for it.
You hear and you can resonate with that.
I feel like it’s important to pay attention. We have to follow someone else’s lead in their grief and not tell them how to grieve, how not to grieve, or assume. When you’re concerned, if you’re going to blow something out of proportion or do something wrong, let it be out of a heart of love and care for that person.Follow someone else’s lead in their grief. Do not tell them how to grieve. Let it be out of love and care for the other person. Click To Tweet
It’s better to say than sorry. You got to be watching. You have to be attentive to your friend and you’re not leaving them. You’re letting them know that they’re not alone. That is huge.
If you are invested in that friendship, it’s huge for you too because you want to know they’re okay like if it’s somebody that you know casually.
You are not in a one-on-one situation.
You had an experience in an airport or somewhere. We have to pay attention. People around us are grieving all over the place. Nobody is wearing a sign on their head. You can’t tell.
You make a good point because, in grief, you look like the same person. You may look a little disheveled, but I often think if my arm was decapitated, then you would look at me and go, “Can I help you with something? Can I offer that?” When I look the same, but everything else inside of me is no longer the same, it’s hard to see that. You have to see that person.
That’s why it’s important to stay connected. I know you do a good job of staying connected. I feel like you’re a very intentional friend, which I appreciate because I’m not that.
You show up when you need to.
Being connected is important because then you can tell better.
You know what this person looks like outside of the situation. Going through this fog and this difficult time, you are literally unwinding yourself from someone you have spent your life with. Now, you’re trying to operate independently of that. If someone came to you and said, “My friend lost their spouse,” what would be some of the first things you think you would share with them or advice?
How are they doing? How do you feel like they’re doing? It’s not necessarily how they’re doing. I think if it’s the friend of someone, how is the friend doing? How they’re doing is going to impact the person who lost someone. You can’t handle it.
If they’re you, in that sense, if you can’t handle the conversation, don’t.
I would be concerned and I would be praying for that person who lost their spouse. I would want to encourage them to be available.
Sometimes, it’s being in that space.
You hear it frequently, and I feel like I understand this better now. Don’t ask what you can do. Be specific, “Can I bring you dinner tonight?” Not, “Can I bring you dinner or do you need some groceries?”
How did you find out the specifics of that and know that better?
A friend of mine asked, “How are you doing today?” That was helpful because I could answer that. When people will ask, “How are you doing?” I’m like, “I’m okay.”
That part unfortunately is because your mom passed recently. The brain is trying to manage the loss of this person. For me and other people, I’ve spoken with that fog and the ability to think past. Sometimes the moment is too hard. That’s good. Ask them, “Can I bring you dinner tonight? This is the dish. Can I grow grocery shopping for you today to buy this?” If they have to think outside of that, they may say, “I don’t know,” when they do need something, but their brain cannot go past so far. You got to make it easy to be able to help them.
I remember even my husband called and said, “Do you need something from Lidl?” I’m like, “I don’t need anything from Lidl.”One and a half later, I’m like, “We need stuff from Lidl.” It’s understanding that your brain is not working. You don’t have the capacity. It doesn’t make sense because two weeks ago I could do this and now I can’t. It’s giving yourself permission, and then the person who’s grieving, assure them that it’s okay, “Call me up later again if you think of something.”
Be available enough so that they don’t feel awkward because you’re feeling awkward dealing with your grief. Your body is doing stuff that doesn’t make any sense and you can’t process it all. It doesn’t make sense that you can’t process it. It’s all internal. If it was a broken leg or had stitches, it would make sense even to me why this is difficult. You want to get past it sometimes too like, “Can we skip over this?”
Any final thoughts?
Grief is hard. It is uncomfortable and awkward. It is part of living and loving. It’s something that there’s value in. Skipping over it is detrimental. It is the shortcut that doesn’t takes longer. I feel like as a culture, we don’t understand the significance and the value of grieving. I’m like, “Let’s be done with this now.” My mom had dementia and I feel like I’ve already done my grieving, but this is a whole new level with her absence.
You care for her daily intimately. That was front and center stage in a different way than any of the other people that have passed. Do you feel like that has a cumulative process as you’re caring for your mother? Do all these other people that have passed resonate and come up front center too?
It highlighted how different it was. For me, I feel like it made it very different. The thing that consumed my life ended and I’m like, “What do I do now? How do I go back to being who I was before this began?”
Is that possible?
No, you can’t.
This is where we pick up at.
That’s where I stopped doing that. Now we’ll start doing that again.
This has been how long since your mom passed?
A little over one month.
How is that going for you now?
That sucks. Some days, it’s good. Some days, it’s harder. It sneaks up on you.
You could be in the midst of doing the simplest thing, and out of nowhere, I feel like it’s a wave that can just hit you. It’s like, “There we go.” Do you give in to that or do you try to fight it off?
It’s both. It depends on where I am and what I need to do. Sometimes it ends with relief.
When I try to lean into it, it feels like it washes over me and it’s a healing process. It’s releasing all that energy, tears, and feelings. When I spend time fighting it or trying to escape it, I feel like I’m just going to give in to grief. I don’t have time to be pushing this away because it’s going to get me. I feel like it is part of that healing work when we release that and let it go.
Going back to your question about what I tell a friend, I appreciated the conversations we got to have when we were walking at Fort Monroe or when you were doing physical therapy in Newport News, where we got together a couple of times, just to hear where you were in your process of grieving. It wasn’t fun always for you. It was hard, but it was where life was happening.
The conversations we had either walking at Fort Monroe or me having physical therapy and being able to check in with you were not easy conversations. What made you stay with that and not run away and go, “It has been two years since her husband died. Why doesn’t she stop about that? Why none of that?” It never crosses your mind.
I don’t know if I ever felt like that was appropriate or if those things seem the way you explained them. I care about you. I want to know. If that’s how things are, I want to know that. Your ability to communicate your thoughts and what grief was like for you, I felt like this is significant. I need to pay attention to this.
This is part of who you are now. I want to know who you are now. I didn’t know you as Tina. I only knew you as Tina and Mark. One of the things I remember when Mark died was, “How in the world?” I was in the car with you headed to Chicago, “How will you survive? How can you be just Tina?” When I would think about you, it was always Mark and Tina. That was significant for me. That’s one of the reasons I stuck with it because in my mind, “How can you survive that?”
That is something I would wake up that first year every day going, “I’m alive. I won the life lottery.” I remember looking up statistics about how many people die a day. I remember thinking how random the ability to still get up was. I remember struggling with, “Why make a plan? I may not win the life lottery tomorrow. Why do these different things?”
It was helpful for those conversations and for my friends to give me space to talk, to be able to share, and never give me a timeline to say, “It’s been enough of this.” I am mindful that there are some people that may not have somebody to talk to. They may not have friends that are patient with them. They may not have a community that is supporting them. For that, I encourage you to reach out. There are groups of widows and widowers.
Reach out to a therapist, journal, and be a part of this community. There’s a Facebook group page with people that you can talk to and share stories with. Reach out and find those safe spaces that you need for your healing to be able to tell your story, work on your hope, and be an encouragement to yourself. Don’t stifle it alone. It is too much sometimes to take it all by yourself. Being with someone and knowing you’re not alone is important. I thank you for not running away and sticking to every conversation we’re still having now as far as what that looks like. Thank you, Chris.
That’s my pleasure. I enjoy it. Also, seeing other people survive gives me hope in a morbid way that if that happens to me, I know who I’m going to call, and it’s a possibility when you see other people survive and succeed even in other areas of life.Seeing other people survive grief can give you hope that you know what to do should the same happens to you. Click To Tweet
It’s like I couldn’t keep living because I did not know.
I remember you saying that you would wake up like, “I’m alive today. I got to get up now.” You said a lot of things. I paid a lot of attention.
It has been raw and edgy.
It’s a sacred space. That is not something to trifle with.
What do you mean by that?
You nearly died when Mark died. Those were your thoughts. Grieving is a part of learning to live through that.
There was so much of me that I did not go back to work for three months. I didn’t know what life looked like because he and I together was life.
There is no life now.
“What does that look like?” It did feel like that for so long, and being okay to feel like that and not to be made ashamed that it’s how it felt.
People are like, “Did you do something serious and crazy?”
It doesn’t mean that I’m going to take my life or do some harm. It’s just I am aching.
There’s a pain that you can’t express.
That is inconsolable.
I think that is significant to be a friend who can sit in the inconsolable. That’s not a fun place for a friend. I want to help. I want to do something to make it better. You cannot. Be okay in that awkward and uncomfortable spot with somebody. I appreciate you sharing that awkward. That’s not easy to be that vulnerable.
I don’t think my healing would’ve come if I didn’t release it. Going back to that wave of grief coming on you that I couldn’t stomach it all inside. That was part of me releasing and other people helping me carry it. I realized if I didn’t tell them I needed you to carry this, they wouldn’t carry it. As soon as I let them know what I needed to carry, they would jump in and do that. If I was acting like everything was okay and I didn’t need help or anything, they’d be like, “I guess she’s fine. You don’t need no help.” No, we got the white flag waving. I need help here. I need help with this and that. When people say, “I can do something for you,” here you go when I can figure it out.
If you tell somebody grieving that you’re going to do something for them, you better do it. You committed. You better figure out how you’re going to make that happen and not back out because they have given you all their energy to count on you doing it. You have to show up because when you don’t show up, it’s like something else, “I’m going to do this by myself. I don’t need to continue asking people to do something for me.” This is hard enough. That is true. This has been a good conversation.
Thanks. I enjoyed it.
Thank you for being with us here. Talk to you soon.
I wrapped up a conversation with my friend Chris Wissman. I love how she brought her whole heart to that conversation. I love how she talked about death being sweet, being there with someone, and being that friend. I love how she was willing to open up and share her dad’s passing, being there for her mom who was a widow, and the things in life that have impacted her. Also, her ability to be there during the grit of life and realize that those relationships that we have were made in those difficult times and not to run away.
Chris and I talked about so much. There’s one other thing I want to share that we didn’t get a chance to get into. When Chris and her husband Mark were at my house, I brought them back into the bedroom because her husband’s name is Mark. They’re about the same build as my husband. I felt good to be able to leave them in the closet and to be able to take some items back that I knew my husband couldn’t wear anymore. Me going back and forth in that closet was too difficult. It gave me such comfort when those clothes were left with them, and knowing that they were gone. I didn’t have to pick through them myself and go through that anguish. Having the friends that I have in my life has been a true gift and I am so grateful.
I encourage you if you don’t have friends and if you feel like you’re alone to reach out to a community and to people because this is a difficult journey that you’re on, but it is something that you can survive. It is something that you can heal. It is something that you can find encouragement and you can find hope in. You create your hood as you’re going through this experience. Reach out to me and other people. We’ll talk to you again soon. Have a good day.