My husband, Jordon passed away at 2:00 am in the morning at hospice just 13 hours after he was admitted. We did not know it was his last night with us. We did know he was in severe pain and we were doing all we could to keep him comfortable. My husband was 41 years old when he passed away. Cancer stopped him abruptly in the middle of his life. He was an amazing father. His friends and connections were scattered all over the world and he was finally back in his hometown surrounded by his childhood friends, family, and loved ones. I don’t think there was a soul on the earth that he knew that didn’t like or love him. Between the time he was diagnosed with metastatic cancer till his passing was only six weeks long. We had no idea death would take him so soon. We thought he would live through the summer and that we still had some time as a family, but that was not to be.
We, the ones left behind, often have to whitewash our real experience of losing our loved one. When we are asked, we skip on many of the hard details when we discuss the nature of our experience of losing them. We do this for many reasons. To tell the real story of what transpired takes away a sense of privacy and a dignified death to talk about the unpleasant details. We sanitize the conversation to protect the one who asks so we don’t ruin their day and hear our own voices as we describe what we bared witness to. What we experience behind closed doors stays there. Or so we think.
What happens to many of us through the experience of loss is emotional trauma. The after-effects of trauma emit an energy in the human mind in the form of anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, OCD, and depression. These are the symptoms of grief, not grief itself.
I remember being in my husband’s hospice room and having some emotional turbulence around me and out of nowhere the feeling of lack of air, light-headedness, and weakness came up without warning. I felt my blood rushing to my face. I was not able to talk. I heard a ringing in my ears and felt a welling up of nausea begin. I was sitting next to my husband’s bed and I literally fell out of my chair and on to my knees unable to breathe. This is what a panic attack feels like. I made my way to the other side of the room and crawled up on another chair and kept my head near my knees and tried to breathe. I did the only thing I could do. Pray.
Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done On Earth as it is in Heaven, Give Us This Day our Daily Bread, And Forgive Us our Trespasses, As We Forgive Those Who Have Trespassed Against Us, Lead Us Not into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil, For Thine is The Kingdom, The Power And the Glory, Forever and Ever, Amen.
I said it in my mind and softly on my lips over and over again until I could finally stand and breathe. My spiritual mantra brought me out of my reality and slowed the energy that had overcome me.
Over time the trauma symptoms from my experience of losing my husband are still with me, but they no longer have the piercing, cutting edge to them that they once did. Other people are not so lucky.
For many of you out there, the symptoms have not slowed and they have disabled you. They have come to rule your world without your permission. Grief is alive in society within our homeless populations. Drug addiction and alcoholism are often the result of not being able to cope with the trauma over loss. I know thousands of people are living this life because I see it every day on my Grief Anonymous Facebook page and my closed online grief group. Many people who have experienced loss have found themselves incapacitated from grief and trauma. They cannot hold a job. They have no back-up and they lose everything they have, including their own minds.
This is the part of grief in our society that cannot be whitewashed and sanitized. Their story must be told and the shame and stigma must be removed.
I remember joining an online grief group on Facebook after my husband died. I remember a woman in Florida on one particular post who had just purchased a train ticket to travel several states away to her aunt’s home for safety, shelter, and hopefully a hot meal. She only had $5 in her pocket. She had just lost everything as a result of her husband dying.
I will never forget the moment I read that.
I have founded the Jordon Barker Foundation, Inc. Through the foundation, we will seek to find local charities throughout the USA who can earmark funds for those who are suffering extreme hardship due to grief and loss. I want to clarify something important. We ourselves are not a charity. We are a foundation that will give to charities. We will be looking for legally-registered, financially transparent charities who are local in their communities and who are established to help people who are in crisis from the loss of a loved one. I want to do something so that people like the woman in Florida have something more than $5 in their pocket and a train ticket to their name.
Holly C. Barker
CEO, Founder of the Jordon Barker Foundation, Inc.