What I’ve learned about grief after losing my spouse

After a valiant battle with Alzheimer’s, my husband Bob passed away in October of 2015. Today would have been our 25th wedding anniversary.

I know the grief will never go away, not fully. But I find comfort and gratitude in the love we shared. The words I wrote in my journal five years ago, when Bob was in the midst of his battle, still hold true. I wanted to share them.

Excerpts from my journal entry, dated August 29, 2013:

Jill Ballard and her husband Bob on their wedding day.

Today is our anniversary – married 20 years. We’ve been through a house fire, a flood and tropical storm Isaac. Now we are dealing with Alzheimer’s. We are on vacation at the moment on Marco Island. It’s been a good trip. My husband is doing well. I am, too. I am writing this today to share some happiness.

We often focus on the dark side of what we are all going through. My sister was here with us last week and she said, “I can’t believe how patient you are.” This terrible disease has taught me patience, but more than that, it has shown me what love truly is. We’ve had a wonderful time together, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The wonderful times are not over.

I walk around our house and see all the things in it that bring back memories of trips and times we’ve spent together. We’ve shared many adventures.  Pictures reflect births and birthdays and disasters and deaths. We always had our arms around each other…

I’ve accepted my husband’s reality now and still feel lucky to have truly experienced love with him in my life. All we truly have is each day. I choose it to be filled with love…

Today, exactly five years after I wrote those words, I’ve learned that we can choose how we approach loss. Grief or gratitude. I have tried to choose gratitude over grief daily, but sometimes they co-exist in our heart and spirit.

Gratitude pulled me out of the pit of despair when grief hid around the corner in a memory-filled place, a song, or a kind unexpected offering of sympathy. Grief has a way of jumping out when you least expect it, but it is always there.

I moved my location where I sat in church to a pew closer to the door, just in case some music was touching my heart and I felt like crying. I could always make a quick exit to the door. Funny, but after a while I noticed that the regular women sitting in the pew beside me were widows, too. I started calling our special pew “the widows’ row.”

Gratitude also comes with helping others on their journey. That is why I continued to facilitate the Alzheimer’s support group after Bob was gone. It is why I volunteered at the nursing home and decided to teach 5th grade church school. Yes, it was keeping busy, but also focusing on others who needed someone to reach out and listen to where they are in life.

I often think about the Bible verse about faith, hope and love with love being the greatest. Faith and hope are internal. We cannot believe in something if we do not love it.  We cannot hope for something if we do not love it. Love is beyond just ourselves.

Love cannot be contained – it will spill over to the world. And so, I continue on.

I feel blessed with what Bob and I shared. We knew real love. He was never afraid.

I know if he was here he would take me dancing, even if it was beside his hospital bed. I feel him dancing in my heart and for that, I will always be grateful.

Jill Ballard was a caregiver for her late husband Bob, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010 and passed away in October of 2015. Jill was named Caregiver of the Year by AARP in 2015. She lives in Cannon Falls, a town of about 4,000 people in southeast Minnesota.


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