When asked to share my mental health journey I was not sure where my thoughts would guide my writing, after all at 56-years-old I obviously have years of mental health hurdles. Self-doubt, body image issues, people pleasing, and anxiety (to name a few) have plagued me at different times in my life from childhood through adulthood. My heart led me to focus on the life altering experience of grief. A subject often avoided and believed to be something you get over. I am not trained in grief therapy but here are my thoughts addressing it:
Grief, something everyone goes through, right? Going through something insinuates that you will come out on the other side. My experience tells me that grief is a life altering emotion that changes your past, current and future self and although I am not stuck in the shocking grief of day one, I am a new me and by no means through grief.
In 2020, just as COVID-19 was beginning to be the topic of conversations, my mother and my father-in-law had been having medical issues and my husband, Todd, and I were juggling medical appointments for our parents with our family and our careers. We were a great tag team to maintain our home and support our extended family. Hindsight would show that this was at the expense of our own plans and self-care. Our children were grown and our youngest would soon be graduating from his undergraduate program.
Admittedly we were in survival mode, but with so much on the horizon. We had begun discussions about Todd’s retirement and a new pace for our days. Then, unexpectedly, and horrifically, life changed. A car accident took my husband’s life. I remember when the deputy came to my home to tell me, I kept repeating “I don’t even know what this looks like.” I have wondered why that thought kept repeating itself. In retrospect, I now know it is because I am a planner and every plan I had for eternity, included Todd.
In the moment of loss, I felt compelled to “be strong” for my children as I did not want to hurt them any more than they were already hurting, (I knew the pain of losing your dad while still young. I had lost my dad to cancer years before). I did not want them to have to care for me. My job was to care for them. My character traits are to be of service and a fixer. This could not be fixed.
Methodically, my children and I planned the service, chose a funeral plot, which included lamenting over what town to choose for our final resting spot (we had joked about the subject but had never seriously shared our wishes)! We honored my husband with a service he would have approved of, even adding a little Ozzy Osbourne at the end. Our friends and family surrounded us with love and support. And then they all went home, to their life, their future plans, careers, and daily responsibilities and I stayed here surrounded by reminders of what I would never return to.
In the two years that have followed, I have realized that losing a spouse changes everything! The way I start my days, end my days, watch television, eat my meals, destress at the end of a day and the way I socialize with friends will forever be different than the past 35 years.
On the good days I can tell myself that Todd would want life to go on and our dreams to continue but on the bad days I overthink minute details and freeze because carrying out our plans alone is just too emotional to imagine.
My mantra is one foot in front of the other. Each day that is exactly how my day begins and ends taking small steps, one foot in front of the other. Celebrating the “good” days and giving myself grace for the not so easy moments.
If you are experiencing life changing grief, give yourself grace, surround yourself with supportive people and accept the new normal you are faced to live. I would be a listener for anyone needing to share. I do not have answers, but I do have a compassionate heart and listening ears.
Grief rocks your world and alters your mental capacity. I know I will never be the same person I was March 14, 2020, but I will continue to put one foot in front of the other serving and making a difference for others.
If sharing my story consoles one person experiencing grief, it has been worth opening my heart and sharing a very personal piece of who I am. Love and blessings from my heart to yours.
Billie Jo Bakeberg
Director of Operations
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