Last Friday evening, my ex husband died of a heart attack. Although Jose and I had divorced in 2006, we remained good friends and celebrated holidays and family birthdays together.
He loved our son and my daughter very much. This photo was taken last Easter, after we all enjoyed brunch together — as was our annual tradition.
Note: This post was originally published on February 18, 2016, and updated August 6, 2023
If you’ve ever gone through something like this, you may have discovered that even in the midst of your grief you will be called upon to do impossible tasks.
Our son has already had to spend hours going through things at his dad’s house. He’s had to make a staggering number of decisions while grieving, and he’s only 14 years old. But we have no choice; the apartment has to be vacant by month’s end.
When your sweet son lost his dad six days ago and he wants to bring a lot of his things into the house, the only answer is “Yes, of course.” In a matter of days, our house has become a very full house … and that’s okay.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the minimalist lifestyle this week, and realizing that those decluttering concepts about which I often write are all relative.
I’ve expanded my definition of ‘simple living‘ to include sensitivity and comfort and gentleness, and letting go of perfectionism.
These are some of my other thoughts after this week’s sad events:
1. Minimize regrets.
Many people expressed sorrow that Jose was gone so young, and talked of plans they’d had to reach out to him.
The takeaway for me is to do all I can to express love to the important people in my life, and act on those urges to get in touch.
2. Being amicable exes is worth the effort.
We were ex-spouses, but now I am so very grateful for how Jose and I worked hard to communicate and have a friendly relationship.
We all got to share important family occasions and major holidays together, and the kids and I will always cherish those special memories with Jose.
3. Comfort in.
I’ve reconnected with Jose’s family this month, and wanted to be a comfort without being awkward.
Fortunately I recently read a very practical article in the Los Angeles Times, “How Not To Say the Wrong Thing.” The advice is simple to remember, and so helpful during a time of crisis.
4. Pray for grace.
Along with all of the grief and emotion that accompanies a death, there are a multitude of hard things to discuss and decisions to make. Abundant grace is the only way through the difficult path.
5. Check on the strong ones.
Jose’s siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins were rocks this week. I felt prompted to check in with them and see how they were doing, and was glad they could talk privately about their feelings.
In a time of crisis, the strong people need support, too.
6. Don’t underestimate the stepparent relationship.
Jose was an involved and loving stepfather to my daughter, helping her move numerous times, sending her funny e-mails, and always bragging about her accomplishments.
She is grateful to those who have acknowledged her loss and supported her in this tough time.
7. Organize papers.
Jose kept his papers in tidy, neatly labeled files. Even so, it’s been challenging for his siblings to figure out some things. Of all the organizational tasks we can undertake, I’ve come to realize that this one is the most important.
Clothes and furniture can be packed up and given away, but no one else can decipher our paperwork. If I passed, could someone figure out what bills I owe and find my will and other crucial documents? I’ll be working on this task in the days to come.
8. Let’s not feel guilty about our stuff.
Sometimes having special objects around helps us feel connected to people we love. Real life isn’t a magazine spread, and sometimes we just have to do the best we can and let go of impossible ideals.
A sudden, unexpected death brings sharp, narrow focus to what’s really important.
I know we will learn more lessons in the coming days, but I’ll leave you with this: Life is short, so live today to the fullest.
Reach out today to someone you love.