‘I’m never going to be who I was before he died. Nor do I want to. And that’s OKAY.’: Woman shares recovery story after grieving husband’s death, ‘I know he’s happy for us’

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“I was mad at my husband on the day he died. It was February 2017, and we just weren’t prioritizing ‘us’ during that time of our marriage – the kids were busy, we were over-committing ourselves in work, we loved it and we thought we were thriving. But we weren’t. 

I have no doubt that our marriage would have been okay; but our relationship most definitely was in a valley at the time of his death and that made things even harder. I couldn’t rectify it, I didn’t get the chance; there were lots of regrets and guilt that accompanied his unexpected and sudden death. 

Eric was a teacher and a coach at Blue Valley High School and collapsed during a football meeting with other area high-school football coaches. He had suffered a massive brain aneurysm with irreversible and instant brain damage – though we did not know that at the time. The coaches immediately went into action and performed CPR. He was in the ICU from Sunday night until Wednesday evening when we removed him from life support – he was never going to return to any sort of quality of life. He would not have wanted that.

Those football coaches he was with gave us the gift of time. Time to say goodbye to my unconscious husband, and time for his girls to hold their daddy’s hand and see him one last time. I will never forget that kindness those coaches unknowingly did for him and for us. And it also provided Eric the opportunity to donate as many organs as possible, as he was an organ donor. Thank you.

Intertwined hangs in hospital bed
Courtesy of Kari Driskell

Saturday morning we held his Celebration of Life.

Not even a week.

And then, that’s when it got really hard.

I had to do things I didn’t want to do. I did things I shouldn’t have been doing at the age of 38.

I’m not supposed to bring my big strong husband home in a box and set him on a shelf.

Box of ashes behind seat belt in black car
Courtesy of Kari Driskell

I’m not supposed to sign my kids up for school and leave the ‘father’ portion blank because he died.

I’m not supposed to mark ‘widow’ when filing paperwork on the relationship status.

I’m not supposed to clean out his closet, smelling all the things, and sorting through them for us, family, and donations.

I’m not supposed to be a widow at 38! This was not the plan! Eric is supposed to be alive!

None of this made sense and yet it was my new reality.

I don’t remember much of 2017. I slept most of it away. I was depressed and numb. I did only what I had to do because I didn’t have the energy to do anything else. It is emotionally and physically exhausting to grieve. Like, painfully bone-tired. The most painful thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. I do not wish it on my worst enemy.

Woman crying with head in hand
Courtesy of Kari Driskell

At some point I realized that I couldn’t live my life this way anymore. I didn’t want to – not for me, and not for my kids. I didn’t want this one thing to be the life-changing story of why their life sucked forever afterwards. And I know Eric didn’t want it either.

I knew that I wanted to do and be and feel better, I just didn’t know how.

In my previous life, I was a middle school math teacher. And when Eric died, I was teaching video-editing to solopreneurs… so I’m a life-long-learner. I’ve always been a teacher – it’s just who I am. I believe everything is figure-out-able. So I started trying to figure out how to heal from my husband’s death.

But it was hard because I wasn’t motivated and I was so damn tired all the time. And what ambition and drive I once had just wasn’t present within me anymore… because I was grieving.

I slowly moved forward in my search to heal. And everything I did helped… for a little while. But at the end of the day Eric was still dead.

Red heart with Coach D written on it
Courtesy of Kari Driskell

I had a grief therapist. My kids were each seeing a therapist. I read all the blogs and articles I could find on grief and healing. All the books. I joined Facebook widow groups. I met with other widows I knew in real life, and then ones I found online. Sometimes I left those coffee meet-ups feeling empowered, and sometimes I left feeling even worse than when I showed up. I chose NOT to join a grief support group because I felt like I didn’t need or want to take on anyone else’s grief, I was doing just fine being sad on my own. I bought a salvaged camper and renovated it. I found a new love of power-tools and began seeing myself as that salvaged camper – something broken and forgotten, but being mended and being made beautiful and useful again. But I couldn’t finish the camper – if the camper was finished, would I also be finished grieving? Is that what I wanted? Could I want that? So I sold it and cried as it drove down the road.

Football coach with his two daughters on football field
Courtesy of Kari Driskell

And yet, I knew what I wanted my story to be, and I knew what I didn’t.

I wanted to have a more intentional, richer, and vibrant life than ever before – even in my Eric’s absence. I didn’t want to be the sad, bitter, old, resentful widow for the rest of my life.

I felt pretty good for the most part. What that means is, I was semi-functional… I did the things I had to. But I still got very very sad, and sometimes, the despair would knock me out for several days before I could get back up again.

I had just accepted that THAT was my life now. Someone told me that I’d grieve forever, so that’s what I believed. I had this chronic sadness that was just my new normal.

Even though I was semi-functional, returning to my life professionally still hadn’t come to me yet. My work as a video-editing coach wasn’t fulfilling me anymore and somehow it was tied to an old life. And I needed to let it go.

So I found myself googling what it would take to be a middle school counselor – because remember, I was once a middle school teacher – and I just felt like I could really serve young people well in that environment.

But naw, that looked like too much schooling… I didn’t have that kind of time.

So I started educating myself on grief. I’m a teacher, remember? I taught video and editing. I’m an entrepreneur; maybe I could learn all the things, make myself even better, and help other widows in their time of need!

And while researching, I discovered something called: The Grief Recovery Method®.

Hmmmm, what’s this? I ordered the book. 

After I devoured the book, I took their certification program to actually teach the work. I wanted to know all the in’s and out’s of this program. And the thought crossed my mind that maybe this is something that I could do with my life.

After I worked The Grief Recovery® program on my husband’s death with a specialist, I found that the constant despair and dark cloud that had been following me around for the past three years was parting and making room for light to start coming into my life. And I liked it. And it felt good. I welcomed it, even though that light and joy felt a little foreign for me at the time.

I am never going to be the Kari that I was before my husband died. Nor do I want to be. And that’s okay.

It has been 4-½ years since my husband died, and I am at my absolute best I’ve ever been at my entire life. And it’s okay. It’s more than okay. In that time, I’ve also been at my worst. My kids have seen both from me. And that’s okay, too. I am setting an example for them. As an overcomer. And as someone who is willing to experience life fully – and that means feeling all the things on all the emotional spectrum.

Woman with makeup on and burgundy cardigan
Courtesy of Kari Driskell

I remember and know all the things that have happened in my relationship with Eric – and in his death. Healing doesn’t take that away from me. I still get sad sometimes. I miss him and love him every day. Every day I wish he was here. But I don’t have the constant chronic pain and despair in my heart anymore. And contrary to what you’ve been told, time alone doesn’t heal anything. 

As I’m writing this, I’ve worked on a total of five losses in my life, and I’m currently working on my sixth. And only ONE of those losses is from a death!

I am more emotionally free than I ever have been before. I’m more patient. I don’t overreact, I don’t have a chip on my shoulder. I’m not bitter or quick to anger. I don’t have resentment in my heart. And I don’t let shit get to me like it used to.

Father with two daughters being silly in football helmets
Courtesy of Kari Driskell

I now practice as an Advanced Grief Recovery Method Specialist® and a Certified Life Coach for Widows. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to help my clients move beyond their grief, and create and enter a limitless life. 

Everything I have been through, every relationship and experience I’ve ever had with anyone, has led me to this exact place in time and to this exact work. I have found a new purpose that fulfills me. No, not everything happens for a reason – sometimes shit just happens. But the universe is constantly trying to work in our favor, so get out of the way.

And even now as a widow, even in the absence of my incredible husband, my life has never been better. And I know he’s happy for us.”

Two daughters smiling in front of father's grave
Courtesy of Kari Driskell
Scattering ashes on field that reads "Live Like Champions"
Courtesy of Kari Driskell

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kari Driskell of Stilwell, Kansas. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her personal website. Submit your own story and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and our Youtube for our best videos. 

Read more powerful stories like this here:

‘Who’s going to love me now?’ Tears slid down his face, and I knew he wouldn’t want to live with the scars.’: Young widow shares grief journey after losing husband in tragic accident

‘How could I cope with being a widow before the age of 40? My heart broke.’: Mother births rainbow baby while husband battles brain tumor

‘Laundry doesn’t care if someone dies or not.’ In a world where ‘busy’ is a success, grieving people get a hall pass.’: Mom, widow urges ‘time truly is all we have’

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