We deal with grief differently, and many do not allow themselves to live. Most people choose to run away from reality. We don’t have to live like that. In this episode, a widow, Isobelle Morrison, shares her inspiring tale that demonstrates how the beauty in grieving shows up if you are giving yourself permission to see it. It was her husband who taught her to deal with grief. Isobelle’s relationship with her husband may not be smooth and easy, but she sees beauty in their relationship because of their love. Tune in to this inspirational episode and see beauty in the new normal you face today.
Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach. I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country.
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Giving Yourself Permission To Find The Beauty In Grieving With Isobelle Morrison
My conversation’s with Isobelle. The nuggets that she shares is so helpful. I literally want you to have something to write with. When she talks about learning how to do it her late husband’s way and learning how to live and being able to give herself praise, there are going to be some tips that you will find helpful, whether you are newly widowed or a widower or you have a friend or a loved one that has someone that they’re grieving. There are going to be some things here that you can share with them. Let’s get into the conversation.
Here is my guest, and I’ll let her tell you a little bit about herself.
I’m Isobelle Morrison.
What do you go by?
It depends. If you know me from college, it’s Isobelle. My husband’s family called me Izzy, and in South Carolina, everybody calls me Belle.
Okay, I did not know, I just knew about the Izzy.
If somebody calls me Belle, it’s like, “They know me from way back.”
The origin of Belle, that nickname?
It’s because of the name, Isobelle, so they just call me Belle, and Belle means beautiful.
Where is your home?
I’m originally from South Carolina. I moved here to Virginia in ’87. Military spouse. We were married for fifteen years, divorced. We have three children, but they’re adults now. I met Freddy in ’08.
Who is Freddy?
Freddy is my husband that passed away. I met him in ’08, and we dated for almost ten years. It was a crazy kind of love. We lived together, he moved out and moved back in, and moved out again.
What was happening during those time when he moved out? I don’t want you to go through it real fast. Let’s back up a little bit. I’m going to bring you back just a little bit. You moved here from the Carolinas and how old were you then?
I was eighteen and a mom. We had our kids very quickly. By the time I turned twenty, we had three kids.
What are those three children?
My daughter’s the oldest, Chica. The second is Albert, but we call him Jay.
Where are the children and what are they doing now?
Chica lives in Maryland. She’s actually a psychiatrist.
Why is that important?
I’m a therapist. That’s what she does. She does ER, so anybody come into the ER with psychiatric issues, she works with them. There’s Jay, he sells solar panels in this area.
I’m going to have to talk to him about that because I’m interested in the solar panel.
I’ll let him know. There’s Marcus who’s my youngest, he’s a mechanic. They are all doing what they want to do. Chica knew at five that she wanted to be a doctor. Marcus, I think he was two changing a tire and he’s a mechanic. Jay is like his mom. He’s going his way. For me, I wanted to be a reporter. I always wanted to be Barbara Walter when she did the Nightly News. I got married and my kids. I went to school and I actually worked at a local TV station here. In fact, I worked as an intern at two other stations and then I worked at one.
That’s fulfilling a dream. You did it. Low key? No?
I wasn’t a reporter, but I wanted to be a reporter but I didn’t have it. As fate had it, I ended up hating the job so I quit. One of the deans from Norfolk State was having an event and I went, and the guy there had a badge on and I didn’t even know what he did. I said, “If your badge says director, that means you hire and fire.” He said, “That’s exactly what it means.” Long story short, I ended up working for him.
In what capacity?
I worked in Anger Management. That’s how I got into the mental health field.
What was that like?
It was amazing. He’s like, “First you need to know what I do.” I was like, “Okay.” It was in Norfolk with young men, at-risk youth that were on probation or parole. I went there and it was just like I was at home, working with them who did Anger Management and it wasn’t easy because they would give you the business. I did that for about three years. I worked in the city of Norfolk, and then I got a job as an in-home counselor for a couple of years.
Those are two totally different.
Yeah, because then you go in the home when you work with kids that struggle with may be at risk with out-of-home placement, they just trying to get them to get on track in school. It was still working with kids that struggle with some anger management issues. I did that for nine years and I really enjoyed it. The state of Virginia changed the regulations, so once they changed the regulations, I could no longer work with kids because I had a degree in Mass Communication.
I went and worked at Military OneSource with military spouses that were trying to go to school. I did that for a year. The contract ended and I was like, “What am I going to do?” It was crazy because they let us come to work and look for another job. I applied everywhere. I knew I had experience working in home and all that, but I couldn’t get a job.
You didn’t have the right training certificate.
I got a job working at Indian Creek Correctional Facility. I ended up working there.
In what capacity?
I was a counselor. It was just a really unique experience that it really helped me understand the biases that could be with inmates. It just taught me so much that I enjoyed working there. I end up getting my CSAC, which is a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor. I end up leaving the prison and working for the government as a contractor.
I’m going to pause first because I have so many questions. Let’s roll back a little bit. Anger Management. There’s some movie that some guy got arrested doing something. Those are the types of things that I think about. Things I’ve seen in movies. Being there actually doing that, what are some skills or things that you remember helping people and dealing with managing anger? That’s why I started with what I know is that limitation. That’s fake reality.
It’s getting to what is causing the anger because anger is secondary. You may hurt my feelings, so I get angry. It’s about the feeling of being hurt versus me being angry. The way I let it out is it comes off as screaming, yelling, and hollering, whatever I do, busting walls, fighting. It was getting to the root cause of the anger. That’s what it looked like, really going in, understanding what’s really going on, so taking the time to listen. Some of them, they just want it to be heard because their story hasn’t been heard. That’s about it, hearing them say or validating what they’re feeling.
Those are really important things to think about. I never thought about anger being a secondary item because we’re looking at what we see. We’re looking at that activity, what that person is doing. We don’t always have the opportunity to pause and think about what’s causing it.
If I see a grown person acting out in the grocery store, for me, I understand it.
Going to the next aisle is what I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to be in that Walmart video.
It’s like I wonder what’s really going on, understanding where they are.
As we’re having this conversation about grief and our spouses, it just makes me also think that anger management that we have to do, some people may get angry in this process, and rightfully so. That is a secondary effect, like you’re saying, of the spouse passing. The importance of having somebody be there with you on a professional level to work through that.
When you said that, I could think of some of that days I was just angry, disappointed, scared, and a lot of emotions during that time, even now.
How many years?
Two years this 2023, the worst two years. It’s crazy because I could be happy, and then it’s just like the switch goes off.
We should have brought your emotional wheel to show that and talk about the reality of what that is. You mentioned what you see now when you may see somebody angry in a grocery store. What were some of the biases working in the correctional facility that you overcame?
For me, it was they were criminals, and I didn’t humanize them. When you’re working in prison, it was like they are human. At the end of the day, I think about some things that I’ve done in life. I could be in jail, and it’s only grace that kept me not being locked up.
Did that impact the way you started the job versus when you left that job as far as how you engaged people?
Yes. They’re just engaging anyone. When I see people with Facebook and they’re acting out on Facebook or fighting, they’re human first. What they’re doing is the behavior. I see the human part of them first and don’t condone the behavior. I do see the human. Even in the book Oprah wrote, What Happened To You? That’s the way I go now. I was like, “I wonder what’s really going on.” I understand it’s deeper than the eye.
How do we get to that? How do we see each other deeper than just past what the behavior is? How would I, not a clinician or something in that field, be able to just retrospectively see somebody past what’s showing up?
I can show some empathy, understanding, patience, even grace because it’s so easy to judge. For me, I take a pause and say, “That’s what their bad day looked like.” Just being empathetic and realizing, “This is how they express themselves,” which is easier said than done because it’s easy to criticize.
It’s almost natural to do that first versus putting in the work to try to meet somebody where they’re at.
I still work for a period and some days I’m like, “I don’t want to be at work. I don’t want to talk to people. I don’t want to hear your problems because I got all this stuff at home going on.”
Let’s talk about that. You leave the correction facility, and then what else does life take you?
I ended up working at a Naval Hospital with military experts. I was there for eight years. That’s what I love so much about substance abuse. Now it’s transitioning to substance abuse because in the prison, I was in substance abuse. Transitioning over to substance, it doesn’t matter. You could be a captain in the military, a president of the company, or the janitor, it doesn’t matter. Substance doesn’t care.
Is that also secondary based on something else that’s going on there? Substance becomes a part of that.
I think the substance is the relief. A lot of people think about substance, it’s easy to say, “Why would she do that to herself? Why would he do that to himself?” I think about Freddy and when he was here going through what he was going through, I was eating more. Some days it was drinking or on Amazon. That’s the substance because it gave me just a moment of gratification. It gave me a sense of I have some control. I can drink this wine or I can eat this cake. It was just a sense of gratification. It took the pain away just for a little while.The substance is the relief to feel gratification and escape reality for a while. Click To Tweet
It does just for a second, then you have the reality of it all. Freddy, how did he enter your life?
I went to a friend’s house. He had a party and we were there and Freddy was like, “If you were my woman, I’ll keep your car clean.”
It’s that a song, “If you were my woman.”
He was like, “If you were my woman, I’ll keep your car clean.” I go, “Okay, I keep my car clean.” At the party, we did not exchange phone numbers. It was two weeks later, I ran into him again at Green Bay Mall and we exchanged phone numbers. It was crazy because the first day, he stood me up and I was like, “Okay.” I had just moved into a house and I was excited because I was painting and getting the house in order.
He stood me up, but I forgot he stood me up because I was so engrossed in the house. The next day or two, he called and he was like, “How are you doing?” I’m like, “How a I doing? I looked a mess because I was painting. I said, “I’m painting, if you want to come over.” I had probably had these cut-off shorts, just looked like a mess. I looked like a hot mess. He came over and looked around. I said, “This is what I got going on.” I promise you, from that time, we were together. He was a gentleman from day one. He was a door opener and opened the car door. I’m thinking like, “Is he just doing this?” It was him. He went home for the holidays, and my favorite is pound cake. His family are bakers.
Where was home for him?
North Carolina. He went home for Thanksgiving and he came back with a pound cake.
He had your heart right there.
He was very thoughtful. We would have conversations. I remember that year we met, he bought me a purse. A couple of months later, we were in the mall, and he bought the purse for my birthday, which is in July. We were just talking one day, we’d gone to the mall and we were in there shopping. He was like, “This wallet matches your purse.” I was like, “It does.” For Christmas that year, he bought the wallet. He remembered. He would mail my Valentine’s cards to the house. I would get my cards in the mail. The first year he did that, I was like, “He loves me.” He would mail them to the house.
That is sweet. I’ve never heard of anybody getting that. You guys are together.
He would mail them to the house and I was just like, “Wow.” Don’t neglect the fact that we still had some other stuff too. He got on my nerves.
You’re not married with somebody living and they don’t get on your nerves. That’s how it is.
The friendship that we had was crazy. He was that and this to me. I didn’t have to pump gas for my car. I don’t like to take out trash. I hate Tuesday nights because I got to take out the trash, but for those things, he would take the trash out. He went to the grocery store because there was no food in refrigerator.
I can attest when I showed up, that was like, “I smell no food in here. Nothing’s being cooked.” We are going to get that Sprite and we are going to keep it moving.
I think going to the grocery store now is hard. I still struggle with going to the grocery store because that was what he did and it’s a reminder that he’s not here.
How did that come about, Freddy not being here? Did he get sick?
June 23rd, prior to that, his right leg was swollen. We went to the doctor, and they told him to come back if it’s staying swollen.
Prior to that, I’m thinking late May, early June of 2020, Father’s Day. His leg was still swollen. He’d gone to the doctor, it was two weeks later, and it was Father’s Day weekend and Chica was home. She said, “Freddy’s leg is swollen.” I was like, “I know it’s swollen.” She was like, “Mom, he should go get that checked out. It could be a blood clot.” I was like, “Are you just doing your job at the house now?” She was like, “Mom, he really should get it checked out.” She went and she talked to him. He ended up going on June 23rd. We were living in Williamsburg and sure enough, it was a blood clot, and they diagnosed him with stage four pancreatic cancer. It was devastating.
Were you there with him when they told him that?
It was COVID. It was the coldest experience I ever had in my life. Mind you, we’ve been together since ‘08. Freddy never had a cold. He never stayed home from work because he had a headache. I promise you, he was never sick. He went to the hospital. The doctor told me to come in the room because this time it’s COVID, so I couldn’t go in the room, but because of the urgency of it, they had me come in the room and the doctor had a screen. Literally, she was not in the room with us. She was on the screen.
He was in the hospital bed, I’m sitting beside him, and she was on a computer screen. She says, “I called you here because your husband has stage four pancreatic cancer.” Freddy’s mom died from pancreatic cancer. I was like, “He has what?” She said, “Do you need some time?” We were both sitting there, and she went off the screen just like that and he was laying in the bed and I’m just sitting there.
No one came in? No one pathed forward talking about what the options are.
I got to leave because of COVID. I couldn’t stay in the hospital. It was just for me to get the information. I can’t stay with him, so I went home. I just sat in the rocking chair and it was like, “What does it mean?” The worst thing is google because now I’m googling.
Did you remember if you even slept that evening? What would that look like?
No, I didn’t. I just laid in the bed and I waited for him. I remember calling his phone and he didn’t answer. He stayed in the hospital for three days and then he came home that Saturday and we were sitting on the porch and there were no words. We didn’t have any words. We had contacted his family and it was just too much.
Were you calling them or was he calling them?
That must have been some very difficult conversation.
I can’t remember who did I call. I think maybe his sister. I don’t even remember the conversation. I do remember sending a family text.
I don’t like receiving that, but when you have to give that information, it’s so painful to have that conversation over, so sharing that information all at once is easier for the person that has to do it.
They all start calling and you’re just repeating and then I say this. It was like, “I thought I told you. I didn’t tell you?” They got to call a friend. I just had one friend. It was his guy friend. I was like, “You just be the personal contact so you could share,” because it was too much.
What happens going forward from there?
The doctor told us to go home and eat because you are going to need your strength for chemo. Freddy went home and that was it. He did chemo. He went home, but there was no fight.
It got zapped that day with the lady on the screen.
He passed away on February 7th, but he died on June 23rd or me. It was like the life left him. I was very angry with him. I’m like, “You got to fight, Freddy.” I had to respect him and his way of doing it.
How many years had you guys been married at that point?
We had married in ‘17.
In 2017, you had been together off and on with the revolving door.
You got to figure out how to make it work for you. Everybody’s not the same. Every relationship is not developed identically.
He went home and he went to bed. He slept for two weeks. I was like, “Freddy, you have to eat.” He wouldn’t eat. I would cook because I think if I feed you, you are going to get better. Food’s going to make it better, but he didn’t eat and I got angry, but I’m in therapy. I had been in therapy before he got sick. What she said to me was, “You can’t ask him to do it your way.” I’m like, “Why can’t I? If he does it his way, I’m going to lose him.” At least if you fight, you can’t stay around long.
She said that to you, but how long does it take for you to really start being able to live with that?
It probably took me about 2 or 3 weeks.
Hearing those words doesn’t resonate originally.
That’s not what I want to hear. I want you to fight. I remember one time taking him and I could see us driving 199 because it was in Williamsburg. We were in the car and I just started screaming, “Do you want to live?” He said, “Yes, I want to live.” “But you don’t have it.”
That cut like a dagger.
He did it his way. I think I wasn’t in a place of acceptance. Just in a place of, “I’m going to go along with what you’re doing. I’m going to support you.” That’s what he did. We went to appointments. Sometimes we talked or didn’t talk. It was very quiet. In those moments is when I learned it was a lot of intimacy. I remember one time he said to me, “I just want you to lay in the bed with me,” and I laid beside him. I was at school. I was working on a Master’s. He was like, “Do your homework with me.” I’ll be in bed doing my homework sitting beside him. He would just lay there. My prayer to God was just don’t let him suffer. I think I’m okay with him leaving. I just don’t want to see him suffering.
I can’t say he did. He didn’t cry out in pain, and if he did, he kept it to himself. I remember once we were in the hospital. He started having some issues and they were giving him blood. He was losing blood, and they didn’t know where his blood was going. The doctor said, “This is it. There’s nothing else we can do.” I started crying and he said to me, “Don’t cry because I can’t fix it.” From that day forward, I never cried in front of him. A lot of shower crying. I started riding my bike at that time, and I was fortunate because I had a really good support system.
I had good people that stepped up and was here for the both of us. They would come over and it would give me just some time to get out. At this point, I’m going to the grocery store and I’m thinking, “Why am I buying groceries?” I was buying groceries. I would go to the grocery store, but being in the grocery store or riding the bike was therapy. The house then was cold. It was death all around us.
You’re talking about the atmosphere of the house. Not so much just the temperature, but just the feeling of the house at that point.
It was cold and it was hard, and I couldn’t change it. We couldn’t change it. I’m a fixer. That’s what I can do, I fix things. “I can fix it, Freddy, we can fix it,” but this time I couldn’t.
That part is hard to accept too.
I can’t fix it and he wouldn’t let me. Freddy was really easy going like, “I’m going to give you the tools that you need to fix it.” At this point, we both knew neither of us could fix it. We were just here.
How did you guys embrace life at that moment or identify what to do?
We never did.
Just picking up the next day.
Freddy had lost his son. His son died in 2011. When his son passed away, a piece of Freddy left with his son. I think that had a lot to do with the breakup, and that was his only kid.
A lot to do with what breakup?
Our breakup because I think it was just too much for him. For me to watch him grieve his son, once again I can’t fix it. I think that had a lot to do with it. By the time he got the diagnosis, I think he was ready. He never came back after June 23rd. He spent most of his time on the couch and he didn’t watch TV. The house was completely quiet, so he’s like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “How do you live?” For me, I want to make him good. I’m going to tiptoe around the house. That’s what I did. I allowed Freddy to live it the way he wanted.
That was some really good advice that your therapist gave you to do it by their terms and not make it yours.
It wasn’t about me, but in my mind, it was about me.
That June diagnosis, you said he passed the following year.
February, so he lived eight months.
Where did he pass at?
Here at the house, downstairs in the room. I read The Five Invitations: What Death Teach Us About Living, and this book was amazing. It gave me what I needed. It was a comfort to me. It was so good. I would think if someone is grieving, that’s the perfect book. It was just saying how most people think death is so beautiful and in the movies, they pass away and it’s so peaceful.
That most getting that movie stuff, “No, ma’am.”
I can honestly say Freddy’s was. On that Monday, the week before the nurse came out and she said, “He won’t make it through the weekend.” I’m thinking, “He’s doing good.”
There was a nurse coming to the home?
By then, we had a nurse coming in to take care of him, and she said, “He won’t make it through the weekend.” I’m like, “He was up walking. He’s doing good.” This is what I’m telling her. I was like, “No.” She was like, “He won’t make it through the weekend.” “How dare you.” She said, “You need to call the family. You need to have them come.” The family got here by Wednesday. They started coming. Also, I believe in praying. One of the prayers I had like, “Lord, I can do everything until he passed away. I can’t do that.”
The nurse tells you that Freddy is not going to make it through the weekend.
I was like, “How are you going to take me with my husband?” She was, “Call the family. If they want to see him, they should come,” so they start coming, but Freddy is number 10 of 10.
There were people coming in droves.
They were here. His brother was very faithful. He would come, stay for two weeks at a time. On the weekends, they would have family here visiting. That Wednesday, they started coming, and Saturday, Duke played North Carolina and he was so up out of the bed.
Was one of those his teams?
North Carolina, and if I say Duke, he’ll get me. He saw them beat Duke and he was just so excited. Over in the night, that was it, at 12:15. The thing is, although Freddy and I had this crazy kind of love, his last words on Earth was, “I love you too.” I’m really grateful for the relationship that we shared and the experience that I had with him in the last five years.
Two years we were married and another two years, him going through cancer. It was just crazy, but it brought us so close together, even in his death. I have so much respect and love for him because I knew it, but I guess I just take it for granted on a day-to-day basis that this man truly loved me. He was my friend. If I came home and I was like, “Freddy, let’s paint the house red,” He’s like, “Okay.” “Freddy, let’s go.” He would do those things.
I would say so. Even in the times that he was sick, we got closer in all the signs. I know now Freddy was, is my best friend. I wouldn’t have known that while he was alive. It was crazy, and I was crazy, and I just think that looking at the relationship that we shared, I couldn’t appreciate it when he was alive. Now I see he was my true best friend. He totally accepted me. Even though we broke up for two years and we literally dated for two. During those years that we dated, we went to eat, go to the movies, we go shopping together. He was always there.
He had dated this other woman and he said to me that she told him, “You need to go back to her.” I was like, “She told you that?” One day, I had surgery on my neck and we broken up when I had the surgery. I was just laying and I was thinking, “I can call him for anything.” I was like, “Don’t be crazy.” At that moment, we ended up right back. It was like a switch that ended up together.
How has life been for you since Freddy passed in?
Crazy, good, lonely, depressing, there have been some joys. When he passed away, his body was shipped back to North Carolina because that was his thing, he had to be buried by his son and I honored that request. The service was in North Carolina, COVID. At the funeral, I left. I got on the road and drove to Biltmore House in North Carolina, that’s one of the things that we always wanted to do. Crazy me, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to go to Biltmore House.” I had his flag, the military flag that they gave him because he was a veteran. I went and I stayed at Biltmore House, and I’m laying there. Everything was $300, $400 a night. I made reservations to stay 3 or 4 nights. I’m lying there thinking, “You can’t afford to stay here.” Me and the flag, we get in the car.
I did what we said we would do. We are going home now.
The next morning, it was cold and rainy. I toured the Biltmore House and in retrospect, I don’t even remember. I’m just like, “What did I do again at the Biltmore House?” The first year I just traveled and then I left North Carolina and drove to Tennessee. A friend of ours, a couple, they were stationed here and we used to hang out together. I needed to be close to them. I drove from the Biltmore House and then to Tennessee. It was the year that they had that really bad snow.
This is literally days after his service repass. You just hit the road.
Drove down to New Haven, Mississippi. I drove and it got dark, so then I end up staying at a hotel. I check into this hotel. It wasn’t $300 a night, I can tell you that. I’m at the hotel and then it starts snowing. It was when Mississippi got that really bad snow in Texas. I said, “I got to give up.” I didn’t stay in the hotel and ended up driving to New Haven, Mississippi. When I got to Mississippi, my best friend from Arkansas drove up to be there too.
God is so funny. We got snowed in. We can’t move because it’s just iced over. I spent that week sleeping because now, mind you, in those eight months, I didn’t sleep because I was nervous. Sometimes I would tap his foot like, “Are you okay over there?” I got to Memphis and I slept and then stayed there for a week, and then I’m getting nervous because it’s time to come home, but then I was going South Carolina. I went home.
Trying to avoid coming back to this empty house.
Stayed in South Carolina for a week. April 2021, I was in California. Had some friends in California, I went to visit them in California for a week. March 2021, I went to California. April 2021, I was in New Orleans.
Had you not been home yet?
No, I’ve been home. When I came back from South Carolina, I stayed home and then I went to California for a week.
You came back in between the different trips.
I stayed home probably for a couple of weeks. Come home, go to bed, that’s it. They said, “When are you going to come back to work?” Freddy passed away here in the house and I could smell him. By now, I’m back at work. Every morning I will always say, “I’m leaving. Going to work, Freddy. See you, I talk to you when I come home.” Every day I came home, I had this conversation with Freddy.
I had a dream. He came in the dream and it was crystal clear. He was grinning. He was smiling so hard. He had a big, beautiful smile. I said, “Freddy.” He said, “I’m okay.” He was grinning. I said, “Freddy, don’t go.” He said, “I got to go.” He was gone, and it was just that quick. After he said that, I never smelled that smell again. It was just the weirdest thing. Every day I came home, because he was downstairs, I would come through the garage and I never had that smell again. Sometime I’ll try to make myself smell the smell, but I don’t have it. It’s not here.
I remember when Mark passed and I was in our bedroom, and people would tell me about dreams. That wasn’t something I experienced a lot of, but I was making the bed, and I walked on his side. When I walked just past it, it was like I smelt him. It felt like I walked right through where he was. As you were saying, trying to recreate it, I backed up to try to get right back in that spot where I felt like I smelled him. I remember sitting on the floor just crying, trying to be right there in that moment.
He was like, “I’m good. Now I got to go.”
After that, you being in the house, how has it been for you making this your space?
The first year I was just gone. I didn’t spend Thanksgiving or Christmas at home the year ‘21. This ‘22 I slowed down, and it’s like, “I got Christmas coming.” It was just too much. I had my kids come and we celebrated. I still hadn’t made the house my own. You and I had a conversation and it made me realize, I never made it my house because we moved from the house in Williamsburg to this house because it was closer to my job, so things were just put here. I put the house together. Now it’s coming into where I’m making it my space.
Do you mind sharing the conversation we had and what that was like and how that was for you?
It’s crazy because I’m super excited.
What happened? You and I had this conversation.
I was talking to a good friend of mine and we were on the phone because I work from home and I had stopped working in the office because it was just so gloom and doom. I was, “I hate being down here.”
That’s the area where Freddy passed.
Initially, I went in there because I wanted to be close to him. That’s how I made it my office. As I stayed down there, I was like, “It’s so depressing. What is going on?” I stopped being down there. I literally stopped going in that room. You and I talked about shifting some things around in the house. Earlier, I moved some furniture around and then it was like, “I feel good about it.” I took one table out, put another table in and it was like, “Okay, this is warm,” and I didn’t want to get rid of the couch. That was where he spent most of his time. Once I started putting things in here, for me, it was just like, “Okay.” Even some of the pillows that he slept on, I took them out. I didn’t get rid of them.
You had to repurpose that space.
Yes. Just take it and I shifted. The office, I’m super excited because it seemed so vibrant and live, and it’s still the space that he passed away in, but I made it mine.
Thank you for sharing that. For someone that’s struggling with that, and you just have done that, any recommendations on how to lean into doing that?
As I said, his son passed away. I remember he immediately got rid of things. He got rid of his clothes, everything. I was thinking, “You didn’t want to hold on to it?” I think Freddy taught me to let go. Doing it his way. With his son, he didn’t keep anything. I think I kept a shrine, but for him, he didn’t keep anything. When he passed away, I took his things to his family.You don't want to hold onto things that remind you of your late spouse. You need to let go and repurpose that space. Click To Tweet
Did you retain anything for yourself?
In the end, I kept his UNC jacket, and a pair of green sneakers, because he loved green sneakers. If you came in here, you would’ve been like, “Did she love the man?” He had taught me it’s okay to get rid of things. He taught me to let it go. I probably have a suit of his, but you would not know he was here. That were some of the things that I struggled with because I let other people decide how I was going to grieve. He died in February. Nn Mother’s Day, I went to a brunch and I didn’t have my wedding ring on because some days it was too hard to have my ring.
Yes, because it reminds you what’s not there. Before, it was a thing you look at with joy.
I didn’t wear my wedding ring, and he said to his wife, “How long after I died would you take your ring off?” I said, “You don’t get to say that.”
While you were there to hear that, so insensitive.
Grief for him was something different.
Let’s pause for a second and talk about things that people say.
One of the things I hated, if one more person told me to be strong,
Please tell me how. That’s what I wanted to say to them. I’m being kind because I really want to cuss, but I won’t do that.
“What does that look like? What are you talking about? Just be quiet and say I’m sorry and give me a hug, and just keep it moving.”
It’s like, “You want me to be strong, but my husband is fading away from me.”
I think people say that because they’re uncomfortable. If they give you the check mark answer, they’ve said something, “I helped the widow or the person dying. I’ve done my part and moved on.” They have made it worse.
Did you ever see the movie Mr. Church?
I don’t think so.
It’s an old movie and I have seen it when it first came out. Her mom died from cancer in the movie. She said, “There are three kinds of people that come. One that comes and talks too much, one doesn’t say enough, and then there’s the one person that knows exactly what to say or do.” Going back to the book I was telling you about, The Five Invitations, death is all around us. I find that African-Americans don’t talk enough about death. We don’t prepare for death. Even when he’s not going to make it, it was still difficult for the family to have a conversation.African Americans don't talk enough about death. They don't prepare for death. Click To Tweet
You make a solid point. In the African American community, those things that deal with mental wellness and dealing with things, they are avoided often. It does not serve us well.
In the book, I was going to say, when they talked about death, we separate life from death.
They are connected.
It is. Death is continued. Freddy has gone physically, but he is so around me in everything I see. He worked for Caterpillar Company. We were in the car taking a trip. I remember when we first took a road trip and he said to me, “You see them Cats purr?” “What are you talking about?” He would say, “You seen them Cats purr.” You know how you’re driving, you see the Caterpillar on the road. Anytime I see one, I’m thinking, “The Cats are purring.” What a freak.
I’ve gone to Africa, I saw the cats purring, to Cuba the cats would purring, to Louisiana, and I remember I went to Memphis, my girlfriend’s dad passed away. I was in Memphis and the cats were purring, but the pain wasn’t as great. I walked and I saw the cats purring and I thought, “It didn’t hurt today like it hurt yesterday.” Initially, when I first left and went to Memphis and South Carolina and all those places, I couldn’t breathe.
It just takes everything out of you.
It was like I was suffocating a lot. That must have been about six months later, and it didn’t hurt. It was a weird thing because now I get this fear like, “Do I still miss him? Am I going to still love him?” It didn’t hurt as much. The girlfriend, her dad passed away and I went down to visit her, she called me and she said, “Why didn’t you tell me it hurt like this?” She had lost her father. I said, “I couldn’t have told you.”
You can’t even fathom.
That level of pain, and to still be alive and to function. Life is going on rapidly, and you’re over here going, “Stop the whole planet.” You want the rotation to stop.
They keep going. I remember losing my mom. You expect to lose a parent. I thought the same thing, “Why is everybody moving?” They didn’t stop. No one stops. The world doesn’t stop. It’s just, “I want you guys to stop.” I remember in my journal and I was like, “Does this mean I’m losing you?”
What was your conclusion?
No, because he’s everywhere. That was one of the things I say to him, “Thank you for the gentle reminder.” Even in his phone. When Freddy was dying, he did everything. Freddy knows I’m not going to buy a phone because I’m cheap. He went and bought a new phone and I was like, “Why are you spending this money on this stuff?” He bought a new phone, new iPods, and anything in the house that he thought I would need, he did it. He took care of those things. When he died, I kept his phone for about six months.
Was it about the phone that made you keep it?
Freddy loved his phone. He had gotten the new phone, and he really loved this phone. He kept it close to him, and for me, it was like the closest thing to him, so I kept the phone on.
Did you ever call and listen to him answering it?
No, I never called his phone because nobody does voicemail anymore.
I remember calling Mark’s phone and listening to him.
I still listen to videos of him, but what I do now is I call his phone and a guy has his number.
I remember the first time calling Mark’s phone number. I was like, “Somebody answered it.”
You’re not supposed to answer that. I transferred it to my number, but all his stuff is still programmed in the phone. Everything UNC comes up on his phone. Throughout the day, I get these little UNC may play Duke or whatever team. He has everything, tennis, soccer, swim team, it’s on his phone. Every day when I get those, I’m like, “It’s just a gentle reminder of you.”
I agree that death is just a physical body. The family came and they were all here, and we celebrated him, and his death wasn’t painful. It was very peaceful. It was just amazing because God had everything I needed and Freddy needed in place. As I said, for me, I had this thing about bodies, like once you pass away, I don’t want to see a body. When he passed, I said, “What are we going to do?” Once they pass, then you call the people and then they come to get him.
God was so good to us that his niece, she works in a hospice. That’s what she does. Before he got sick, for some reason, the song by Smokie Norful, I Know The Lord Will Make A Way. I would play that song every single day. He would say, “Why are you always playing that song?” I said, “I don’t know. I just love this song.” I promise you everything that we needed in those eight months, all I had to do was think about it, and it was there. Literally, to the food. Sometimes I say, “I want some fish.” I remember one of his friends came home with fish.
Sometimes things get hard. I miss him and get crazy. I just remind myself, “Everything you need, you have it. If you need to get up now and just be, a little push, it’s there for you.” The thing too I had to learn was to ask for help. I would solicit people for different things, which was difficult for me because I didn’t ask for help but started asking, “Can you do this? Will you do this? I need this.” People are honored in doing that. I’ve grown since that time I’ve learned that my needs are important.
While Freddy is passing, I still have some needs that I need to be healthy so that I can be healthy for him. If it meant taking a bike ride where some people may say, “Why would you leave and go ride a bike? That’s selfish.” “This is what I need.” Freddy needed me to do this because he needed to know I was going to be okay.
Do you still bike ride?
I still bike, but not as much. I started walking more. I don’t know what that’s about, but I enjoyed just being out, a hike, bike, travel, and living. It doesn’t mean because I’m living, I’m not grieving.
Circle back to something you said when the pain was gone. The question in your instinct is, “Does that mean I don’t miss him, I don’t love him anymore?” It’s interesting that we wrestle with that, if we don’t have that pain, if we don’t have that inconvenience, if I’m laughing or smiling, or if you’re dating to think that you do not still miss that person. They do not reconcile with each other.
I think it’s the story I told myself.
Going back to other things that people program and put in your head and say.
How long am I supposed to do this?
How long are you supposed to live and not thrive, just existing, not living.?Live your life. Don't thrive trying to exist. Click To Tweet
They all say, “You got to live.” No one wants the person to come around grieving all the time. I think people struggle with loss. What do I say to a woman that just lost her husband? How do I handle her so she doesn’t break down and cry? I might not have the tools to help her.
I may break down and cry even if you don’t say anything.
I’ve learned from Freddy, I’m living my life on my terms. If it means I want to date, I’m going to date. If it means I want to cry, I’m going to cry. If it means I’m going to go and travel, I am not going to spend $300 a night in the hotel, that is what he gave me permission to do.
That must provide some peace with that permission, and to be able to do that.
I went on a date. I’ve dated but wearing the ring on. I went with the ring on. They said to me, “What are you doing?” Not ready yet.
Did you stand the guy up like it didn’t even work?
No, I wore my wedding ring. He said, “Are you married?” I was like, “No, I’m not married.” He said, “Why do you have on a wedding ring?” I’m like, “Do I have on?” More importantly, why am I on this date with a wedding ring?”
You said you’ve gotten stronger. What are some things you’ve learned about Isobelle in this process?
There’s so much stuff. I’m resilient. I’ve told myself things I couldn’t do, I can do them.
You can take out the trash. It did not smell in here.
I can take the trash out. He did a lot for me as far as helping me understand my self-worth. I said I was married at eighteen and I was a kid. That relationship was more controlled, and that was my reason for exiting the relationship. I never knew my own self-importance. I think now I realize life is important. It’s okay to want some things. I realize I never really asked for things out and allow people to tell me, impose what they want on me. I’m not doing that anymore.
You definitely have your own voice now.
Yes, I have my own voice, and it’s okay even with dating. There are some things I’m just not going to do because he has taught me. He was like, “You’re important.” He treated me very well. He has set the standard.
It’s not going backward.
I was talking to a guy. I was like, “I’ll have a cleaning lady.” That’s important to me. I’m going to have someone come in and clean. If I got to work an extra hour, you clean your own house. Prior to the relationship with Freddy and going through the things I went through with him, I went up the, “Okay, girl.”
My cleaning lady is coming tomorrow, just saying because I know I’m not good at it. I would work an extra hour. Let me call and make this schedule.
I think that’s the thing, and I don’t have to feel guilty for that. I don’t have to feel guilty for living. If I want her to come over, guess what? I’m not asking you to pay for it. You leave me alone.You don't have to feel guilty for living. Click To Tweet
For people that don’t have the monetary means to maybe travel, what are some ways, have you found that you can do that? For me, I’ve thought about like just looking up the different free activities in the area. Fort Monroe has free concerts and different things that you can do to be able, because I think what we’re trying to do is escape our current reality. Maybe a day trip. It may be a long walk on the beach, but something like you were saying to get me out of this situation and to try to find some pleasure in life and different things.
Sometimes it may just be going to a girlfriend’s house or having a sleepover.
She came over and we had a sleepover. That’s what she is talking about. Just getting out of the space that you’re in and trying to change the scenery.
Being active. Sometimes, I need to come through the night.
That’s what we were talking about. She came to spend the night, and that was fun, though. You came over for dinner, we had a little bit of wine and then it winded up going you had somebody to meet and find out that they actually lived around the corner from me. It was like, “Girl, just go to bed.” It was good just to talk.
The other thing too is sleep because I know when he was sick, I wasn’t able to sleep. It was like when you bring a new baby home, that’s why you can’t sleep. Since he was sick, my sleep wasn’t good. When he passed away, being with friends, I could sleep because even when I travel, I just slept.
There are some people I realize that may not have friends. There may be somebody that all they had was their spouse. They read this discussion being part of this widowhood, they’re connecting with other people. Whether they’re reading going, “Okay, I’m Isobelle. I’m that person. I can relate to that.” It is similar to know that they’re not alone in this conversation, and why we’re exactly doing this to make sure that people realize that a lot of things that you’re experiencing and losing a loved one. Like your girlfriend saying, “Why didn’t you call and tell me that it was this painful?” If you’re reading this at 2:00 in the morning or whenever it is you can’t sleep, this is what it looks like.
No one could have told me, and you can’t prepare for it. We knew it was going to happen, but there was nothing I could do. Even now, there are some things I can’t prepare for. I just got to go through it. Sometimes I just have to sit in it when I want to escape it.
Can you actually escape it? I feel like when you try, eventually, it will show up. You try to run around in different things, but it eventually deals with us or we need to deal with it.
You talked about the substance. You said it wasn’t secondary.
We’re talking excessive, like you’re trying to numb out not just a glass of wine every now and then, but to a point it becomes abusive.
I’m learning to sit in it. Some days, it could be painful, but I sit in it. If I need to cry, I allow myself to cry, because I’m a mascot, which means I laugh and I joke a lot. Even when it hurts, I’m laughing and joking. Now I’m learning like it can hurt and I don’t have to laugh and joke. I can just feel the pain. When I don’t allow myself to feel the pain, as you said, it’s coming back and it may come back with a vengeance. I carry around a little book and it’s my feeling journal. I write down what I’m feeling. If I feel sad, I write it down because what I’ve learned is our emotions go by so fast. I don’t give it the attention that it needs.
You’re capturing the first onset of feelings.
If it’s a good or negative feeling, I’ll put it in my journal. At night, I’m in bed, I’ll take it out and look at it, and I give myself grace to be sad.
It’s just been a few years. That’s not a lot of time because that first year is you’re trying to run from the fog of it. The following year, it’s like, “They are really still not here.” The reality of it it’s like, “I got to start dealing with the reality of what this is.”
Also, because of COVID, I work in the house. Sometimes I go out, I’m like, “People are moving.” We had a couple of warm days so the weather had been warm, and I get them moving around and then I get angry because I got to do this alone. It’s a reminder. Even if I’m at home, it’s just, “I’m just at home.” When I go out and I see people biking, eating in restaurants together, and I’m doing it alone. “Am I doing it alone?” That’s what I’m saying.
You’re doing it without his presence being here, and that takes a lot to get used to.
Yes, it does. I don’t eat at my dinner table because Freddy and I ate dinner together every night. Even if we were angry with each other, we sat at the dinner. I would serve him McDonald’s. “I’m not cooking. You’ll be eating McDonald’s.” I’m learning to sit at the table. Sometimes I’ll sit there at the table and eat, and I’m slowly getting back to our life without him.
Your new normal.
Sometimes I’ll put on Facebook, #LivingWithoutFreddy. I’m just living without him. I’m learning that it’s okay. I think the biggest thing is the eating because I would just eat out, because if I eat out, then I come home, I go to bed. I don’t have to sit up in the living room. I didn’t use the space. One day, I literally watched a series on Netflix in the living room. I called my sister. I said, “Look at me,”and we laughed.
That’s a victory.
Yeah, because it’s just like, “Okay.” Now in the morning, I come in here and sit and have a glass of water, and I’m excited to live in my new normal where before I was afraid. That’s part of me learning that I do have a place because death is hard. It’s not easy. I’m not going to pretend because it’s not easy. This is hard.Death is hard. It's not easy. Stop pretending that it is. Click To Tweet
It’s step by step, moment by moment.
I’m really thankful that some things that I’m able to do are only because of the grace of God. Being able to have a therapist, some people may can’t afford it.
To that point, I’ve actually found that there are some state programs that help people with a fee. I don’t know if that has something to do with COVID, but that’s a good point. I would look into free services, things that are available. There is some value in having friends, somebody to just be able to talk to. You also mentioned journaling. It’s about getting that out and being able to put that someplace and have perspective of it. It may not be able, but there are different ways that a coping mechanisms to deal with it.
Journaling is free and it’s freeing you. Every day I went to work out, I would write him and tell him about my day. “Good morning, Freddy.” Even now, I go back and read it. I wrote to him, “This is what happened.” We had grandkids and just tell him about the grandkids. “You’re not going to believe this,” or telling him stories. “Chica gets pregnant.”
That was the person you told everything to, and instantly they’re gone. Dealing with not being able to say their name to be able to share life experiences, you have to be able to do that.
That’s a freebie. It doesn’t cost you anything to just write. If you don’t write, you have your phone. You could do a video chat. You could journal on your phone. For me, I’m a writer. I love to write. I do a lot of writing or you can act it out. I find the more I release, the less pressure it is. It’s not as painful. There are some days when it’s hard for me to get out of bed, and I allow myself to stay in bed.
Thank you for sharing that because being able to give ourselves space to just be, like you said, sit in or be in that moment. If you just thrust yourself out of bed and to the day, it’s going to catch up with you. It’s a rippling effect that it’s just like, “I wish I would’ve just paused when I needed to.”
I think that’s the other thing, too, is showing grace, because we, as humans, are conditioned to take care of everybody else. It’s like, “I can take care of Tina. What do you need?” Sometimes I have to play a trick on myself where I think about my daughter. “What would I give her if she was going through this?” I take myself out of it because some days it was too much to take care of Isobelle, but I’m going to take care of my kids. “What would I tell my daughter? What would I do with my daughter?” I start doing those things for myself.
In that same vein, any advice for someone that’s newly widowed?
I would say breathe, ask for help, don’t be afraid, and it’s okay to be angry. People have said, “You don’t question God.” I do. These days I still got an issue with it. “We were good. You came and messed up what we had.” I question him. I’m like, “You got some explaining to do.”
I think God’s big enough for those questions because whether or not we’re honest about it, it exists. When we’re able to give that to him. I think there’s an opportunity for him to give us peace about that or to deal with that. It is important how everyone’s faith does have a different part to do with this grief.
It’s been years but I’m still, “Really? You took mine? What about old dude over here?”
They look like they was doing bad anyway. “They shady over there. Why are you messing up a good thing?”
I think you have a right to be totally honest. Most importantly, you have a right to live and grieve.
You can do them simultaneously.
Most people think if you’re living, you forgot about your spouse.
Give permission to live and to still be missing them.
I can be mad with Freddy for leaving. I give myself permission to be mad at him. I got to take this trash out. I got to go on trips, eat dinner by myself, and I’ll write him a journal entry and said it to him and then it goes away. Whenever it comes up, I give it to him again. He’s probably sick of me. He’s like, “This thing right here, it changed a bit.” Yeah, I think that’s the thing. Whatever your living looks like, if you want to wear your wedding ring, wear it. If you don’t, you don’t have to. If you want to date, date, all those things.
Thank you for this conversation. Thank you for joining us. This will not be the last time you see Isobelle. She’s got some other things and topics that we’re going to talk about at another time. I think this is good for now. Thank you.
This conversation with Isobelle was so enlightening for me. We have become friends, but her candor and openness and her soft way of just speaking and sharing is just so easy for you to lean in and be part of this widowhood and part of this conversation. Isobelle was so open to share some of the very intimate details of her relationship with Freddy. Everything is not always just smooth and easy, but that love exists and for her to explain the intimacy that they became closer as he was sick. Sometimes we look at challenges in life and just see all the negative parts. Isobelle has a way of seeing the beauty in things that I never considered.
Her sharing about working in a correction facility and seeing herself reflective in how she needed to see people more human or whether her dealing with people in anger management. I am just so grateful for Isobelle allowing our widowhood into her home and to be able to have this conversation. I hope that you walk away with some hope and some encouragement and healing that in just a few years and missing the person that she loved that to be able to share this with you and to encourage you to keep learning, to live, keep learning to deal with your new normal. I am sorry for the person that you are missing that drove you to this conversation, but I’m glad that you’re here with us. Talk to you soon.