Grieving the loss of a spouse, two parents share lessons they learned and offer hope to others

July 12, 2017 1:38 pm Last Updated: July 12, 2017 1:38 pm

KT Nicolaides was two days from celebrating her fifth wedding anniversary with her husband when it happened to her. Larry Treadwell was married for two years and two months before it happened to him. Nicolaides’ life was forever changed on the night of October 7, 2016. Treadwell’s life changed in 2011.

Nicolaides lost her husband. Treadwell lost his wife.

Neither Nicolaides or Treadwell knew each other before, and they have yet to meet in person, but merciful fate brought them together on May 2, 2017, when they were featured on “Been There,” an NPR  interview-style radio broadcast with the goal to connect people who have a shared personal experience and offer their audience insight and advice.

Nicolaides was married to Aaron and they had two daughters. Aaron was only 39 when he was diagnosed with Germ Cell Tumor.

Aaron was diagnosed and hospitalized with a Germ Cell Tumor.

Nicolaides lost her husband after he was diagnosed and hospitalized on Septemeber 12th, 2016. He was placed into a medically induced coma, but she and her family were given all hope that he would beat cancer. On the morning of October 7th, however, 39-year-old Aaron’s oxygen levels drastically fell and the doctor told them it was inevitable that he would pass that day.

“We waited for his mom, stepdad, and brother to arrive, and we removed him from life support,” Nicolaides said. She and her husband had just given birth to their second daughter, now making her a widowed mother of two little girls.

Treadwell lost his wife, Amanda, suddenly due to a pulmonary embolism.

 

Treadwell lost his wife, Amanda, suddenly due to a pulmonary embolism. Treadwell was left to raise his seven-month-old son by himself.

How do you move on from the daily grief of such losses? What does one do with well-intentioned but often painful sympathetic comments or advice? Nicolaides and Treadwell immediately found common ground in that reality.

“I’m getting a lot of the, ‘Oh, I know what you’re going through; I lost my brother – or, oh, yeah, my divorce was so hard; I know exactly what you’re going through,'” Nicolaides shared.

“I just nod and smile. It’s easier just to let it go.”

“I smile and try to remember that people are not trying to be hurtful.”

That was familiar territory for Treadwell. Early on he just wanted advice on how to handle the grief. He was convinced that what had happened was just a bad dream that he would wake up from it at any moment. Experts call that denial. It’s just painful.
“People have a need, a deep desire to help, but don’t know what to say. I smile and try to remember that people are not trying to be hurtful,” Treadwell said.

“What would she want me to do?”

The biggest challenge for Treadwell has been the question that always comes to mind when a decision has to be made. He told The Epoch Times that he often thinks, “What would she want me to do?” In any and every situation, especially when it related to their son Samuel, decisions could be paralyzing.
Treadwell remembers a day that he was at a relative’s kids football game. The relative approached him, gave him a hug, and said: “I know you want to please Amanda. And that’s good. But don’t let that stress you out. You have to do what is right and what works for you and Samuel.” It took awhile, but Treadwell took that advice to heart. He began to enjoy life again and trust his own decisions.

“There is no shame in speaking to someone.”

For Nicolaides, her greatest challenge has been anxiety. She was quick to point out that grief takes anxiety to a whole new level. “I am a huge advocate for mental health. There is no shame is speaking to someone,” Nicolaides shared.

“Therapy has been the biggest help in managing my grief and I have been very lucky that my family and friends have been such huge support systems in helping me heal.”

“My youngest is only 10 months, and will never know her daddy.”

Both Treadwell and Nicolaides had to adjust to becoming single parents. How do you approach the subject with you kids?

“My youngest is only 10 months, and will never know her daddy. When the time comes to speak to her I hope I will know the right things to say,” Nicolaides said. Her oldest daughter is now three-years-old and asks about her dad often. She looks at photos and talks about him regularly, and her mom keeps a playlist of songs that remind them of him. Nicolaides has to remind her that daddy isn’t coming back.

“We tell him we love him out loud, that we miss him, and thank him for being the best daddy ever,” said Nicolaides.

“…this little fellow right here – he’s the best of it.”

Treadwell admitted to carrying a lot of guilt because his wife never experienced all of their son Samuel’s firsts. Those firsts included Samuel’s first words, first steps, his first day of school, or his first birthday or Christmas.

“Every time one of these milestones would come along, you know, I should be happy. I should be happy this is my son doing this for the first time. And all I can think is, she’s not here to see this,” Treadwell said.

Treadwell shared a story that happened early on that helped him.

“The day of Amanda’s visitation, we went to the funeral home, and there was this guy there, one of my dad’s cousins… He comes up to me, hugs me, and he asks if he can hold the baby… He says, ‘a lot of people are going to tell you a lot of things trying to make you feel better. But all I know to say to you is when something like this happens, all you can do is make the best of it. This little fellow right here, he is the best of it.'”

 ‘Daddy, when can we go to Atlanta and see mommy?’

Today, Treadwell lives with that advice in mind. Sam is 6-years-old now and a few years ago, he somehow attached the idea in his head that his mom lived in Atlanta.

“Daddy, when can we go to Atlanta and see mommy? I can’t remember how that came about. But I try to tell him things about her as those opportunities present themselves.” Treadwell takes the opportunity to talk to Sam about something that reminds him of his mom. “I love it when Sam asks about his mother. I love talking to him about her,” he said.

Here’s what both single parents share with others:

Nicolaides: “Don’t give yourself a timeline to heal, and don’t let anyone else try to either. Take each day as it comes. There’s no handbook to handle your grief, no right or wrong way. Along with therapy, Social Media Widow groups have really been a life saver. I’ve met some amazing people and it’s really nice to have others who understand completely to vent to. I joke a lot and use humor to get through, but it in no way diminishes my love for my husband or the loss I feel for him every moment.”

Treadwell: “Take your time. Grieve at your own pace. Don’t get caught up in assumed timetables. People, circumstances, and needs are different. It took me eight months before I could go out with friends and not feel guilty about it. A year before I couldn’t go through her clothes without completely breaking down. And, it took me two years to go out on a date without it feeling like cheating.”

“You have the potential to help each other through this.”

Treadwell encourages all parents to tell every story you can about the parent your kids lost. He believes they deserve every story and tidbit you have to offer. He adds that if kids are not ready to talk because the stories are too painful, write down reminders on a calendar and try again later. He also would like to remind others to stay in touch with those who knew and loved their spouse.
“I lost my wife, yes, but someone else lost their daughter, their sister, and their best friend,” Treadwell offered. “Don’t let it be a contest of pain, a competition over who’s hurting the worst. You have the potential to help each other through this.”

“I want my girls to know that their daddy never chose to leave them and that he loved them more than anything in the world.”

We also asked both Nicolaides and Treadwell if they had any advice to offer children who may be going through the loss of a parent. Nicolaides empathized with those who have grieved the loss of a parent, but she stressed that in no way does it lessen their love for you.
“As a surviving mom, I want my girls to know that their daddy never chose to leave them and that he loved them more than anything in the world,” said Nicolaides. “I’m going to tell them that, and tell them about him every day so that they get to know who he was even though they don’t get to know him like they should have been able to.”
Treadwell stressed the importance of letting kids know that losing your parent wasn’t their fault. “Love the people who are loving you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And if your parent is not ready to talk, if they are too upset to talk, write down your questions and ask them later,” he said.

Source: After Losing A Spouse, Finding A Different Kind Of Happiness by NPR. Interview with Billy Soden from Epoch Times.