Monday Mournings: The Death of a Spouse

Stacy S. Jensen is revising her memoir In a Blink: How Life Interrupts Death about the four-year period after her late husband’s catastrophic stroke left him mute and paralyzed. She worked as a newspaper editor and reporter for two decades. Today, she writes personal essays and children’s picture books.She remarried four years ago and a has a toddler. She blogs.

DW:  Who was the person that died?
SJ:  My husband Jimmy.

DW:  How old were you at the time?
SJ:  34

DW:  How old was Jimmy?
SJ:  37

DW: Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen? He refused treatment, so we knew it was going to happen. He died two days shy of the fourth anniversary of his stroke.

DW: Did you and Jimmy talk about death?
SJ:  Yes. Jimmy had a catastrophic brain stem stroke when he was 33 as a result of a procedure to stabilize an aneurysm. The stroke left him mute and completely paralyzed. We communicated through an auditory scanning and blinking system. He lived in a nursing home. We were stalked by death after his stroke. A year before he died, I purchased burial plots at his request. When he decided to quit getting treatment (no
feeding tube or treatment for pneumonia), he detailed what he wanted for his funeral arrangements down to who would receive donations in lieu of flowers and which flag would drape his coffin. We also discussed what I would do after he died, as well.

DW:  Had you experienced any other deaths in your personal life before Jimmy died?
SJ:  Only grandparents.

DW:  Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving?
SJ:  Most of the people around me were with me throughout the post-stroke years, so they knew what was going on with Jimmy and experienced it with me. It was difficult for some family members to be supportive when I decided to move out of state for a job a couple months later.

DW: Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with Jimmy?
SJ:  No.While the post-stroke years were difficult, they gave us an opportunity to say things and be prepared for death in a way that a sudden death does not. Early on during the post-stroke, I made a decision on how I would live.I never wanted to live with regret. Almost seven years after his death, I'm grateful I made that decision.

Since we had a lot of time between the stroke and his death, Jimmy made a lot of the decisions with me about how to sell his business and our house, as well as how we placed our seven dogs with family and friends. While these decisions were all difficult at the time, I was blessed to have him discuss options and solutions as we lived rather than dealing with them after his death.

DW: Was he buried or cremated?
SJ: Buried. I delayed the visitation by one day, so he was not buried on the four-year anniversary of his stroke.

DW: Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?
SJ:  For me, I grieved way before Jimmy ever died. Jimmy was a great person and husband, but I try not to make him into a saint. People often memorialize the dead so much, they aren't really the person you loved or
lived with when they were alive. Jimmy was a real person with flaws —before and after his stroke — and I remind myself of this. For example,years later when people say, "I'm sure he would have wanted you to do
this ..." I often laugh and say, "No, actually I don't think he would have." I don't want to make the person remarking uncomfortable, but a truthful response about what Jimmy would have wanted or not keeps it real for me.

DW: Were any songs played at the memorial that were important to Jimmy?
SJ: We played a video of photos at the funeral home which included Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
This one goes out to Jimmy