Rick & Ethel- Finding Purpose After the Death of a Loved One
Richard “Ric” served in the Army in the Vietnam War. During his life, he was an accomplished carpenter, mechanic, farmer, equipment operator, and ditchwalker. Richard "Ric" passed away just before Christmas after a long battle with leukemia. Hailing from Port Angeles, WA, he and his wife of 48 years, Ethel, were frequent guests at the VA hospital and Fisher House in Seattle. According to his family,” Ric loved woodworking, enjoyed nature and the outdoors and was always fixing or building something. We will all miss him; a good natured, talented man who was an amazing dad, brother and friend. He will live on in the hearts of all who knew and loved him”.
Ethel recalls the wonderful and richly complex life she and Ric shared together culminating in a long struggle with his cancer battle. “Numerous infections and a Clinical Trial during the past three years resulted in several hospitalizations, twice in ICU” she recalls. Most recently he underwent a stem cell transplant requiring a lot of appointments and a strict regime of medications-up to six times per day. As a wife and caregiver, this becomes your life. “We basically had to live by the calendar and a clock with our life revolving around his care. After the loss of my husband, my calendar was clear…a strange emptiness with no schedules and appointments.”
The loss of someone with whom you have shared a deep emotional connection and supportive relationship often can cause an intense grief reaction. When someone who has held you up in good times and bad, shaped your sense of self, and someone you have deeply loved is now physically removed forever, a person might feel as though they have lost their sense of self or life purpose.
Grief is an expression of love that continues after the death of a loved one. And while professionals tell us that we should not expect our grief to ever end completely, it is possible for us to allow grief to become more integrated so that we are no longer disabled and set adrift in its midst. While each human grief process is unique, mental health professionals tell us success on this path means not only accepting the reality of our loved one’s death, but finding new purpose in our life, and continuing the bond with the deceased. If you recently experienced the death of a loved one, you may feel grateful just to have survived the first holiday season without them. Focusing on goals and aspirations while your grief still feels so present may seem paradoxical - but doing so, experts say, is an essential part of grief work.
Ethel and her family, like many among our Fisher House ‘Family’ who have lost loved ones, understand the importance of this process. Described by the Fisher House team that came to know her over the course of many stays as selfless, strong, and positive, Ethel is resisting the crippling effects of loneliness with purpose. “I come from a farm background where the circle of life plays out daily - birth and death are all part of life”. She has taken on the mission to fulfill her husband’s wish of supporting healthcare hospitality programs like Fisher House and North Olympic Regional Veterans Housing Network. When she recently visited the Fisher House to say hello, she brought gifts of walnuts and frozen apple cider - both produced from their orchard. House manager Carrie Booker describes Ethel as “one of those guests that made the Fisher House a true home. She is sweet and welcoming to everyone and has been here so much she knows where everything is and how it all happens - such a comfort to others. We are moved that Fisher House is included in the healthcare hospitality programs Ethel and her family are supporting.” For her part, Ethel calls Fisher House her “haven of comfort and emotional support during the long days and months of caring. I am forever grateful.”
We battle many different things as we get older. Especially as a widow, a person battles the loneliness of losing a spouse. But if we're not careful, what we've lost in life can define us. Ethel teaches us that it is so much better to be defined by what we still have, it's just healthier. We have to make new memories while keeping our connection to the old ones. So for now, the worn Stars and Stripes of Old Glory can rest assured that a Hero’s wish is being fulfilled with courage and grace under the Red, White and Blue- just like Ric intended!