Life, Loss, and Love
Written by Invictus Member Sofia Tannenhaus
I started getting double-takes when I was still snatching at 30 weeks pregnant. I was perceived to be defying the odds by performing a complex movement well despite having an obstacle in my path: my belly. What most didn’t know is that my greatest obstacle wasn’t my baby bump. If you looked closely, you would find the greater obstacle right in front of you.
For the past 7 months, I’ve worn my husband’s wedding ring on my necklace because he can no longer wear it himself. That’s because Dustin unexpectedly passed away while we were on vacation last year. We left for a six-week trip ready to start a family. Instead, I came back with my husband’s ashes. The day after my return, I found out I was pregnant.
I am traumatized from seeing my husband die. “I could never imagine,” is the statement I hear most. But what if you did put yourself through the discomfort of imagining what I’m going through?
You’re in your early 30s, you’re on an unforgettable European vacation, and your spouse goes into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital. Days later, you need to figure out if to have them cremated or buried. One week later, you find out you are going to be a solo parent.
How might you feel months after their unexpected death? How would you get through the pain of each day? How would you handle not having them here for the birth of your first child? How would you react to people saying, “I’m dying,” when they’re not really dying, but your spouse is actually dead? How would you answer the question, “How are you doing?”
Dustin was an exceptional human being. He was generous and never expected anything in return. He was driven and hard-working, which inspired a stronger work ethic in those around him. His athleticism and competitive spirit helped others realize their athletic potential. He was incredibly intelligent. He could captivate the attention of an entire room through his charisma. Dustin cared deeply for his coworkers, friends, and family, and he was eager to become a father. I am now living the life we planned for and imagined together, only he is not here to experience it with me.
We tend to see people laugh or smile and think that they’re well. The truth is…you never know what the person squatting next to you is going through. Instead, we only see a snapshot of someone’s 24-hour day. On occasion, someone observant will catch me having an authentic grief moment. I’ll forget to smile because I’m either longing for Dustin, sad that our daughter will never know her father, in disbelief about what has happened, anxious about the future, dreaming of what could have been, or all of the above.
Photography by Audrey Rynberg (@SDfamilyphotographer)
As human beings, we seek connection and belonging. However, these needs become difficult to fulfill in a society that doesn’t deal well with grief. My husband is dead and there is no solution. There are no words. If we truly want to support the bereaved, “I can’t imagine,” simply isn’t good enough. I couldn’t imagine either, but I don’t have that luxury. Here I am, a 32-year-old pregnant widow, just trying to do my best each day. And sometimes, my best is curled up in the fetal position for most of the day.
As a society, we must get comfortable talking about death and grief.
I thought things would get better with time, but grief is not linear and going through an immense loss fundamentally changes you. Some days are worse than others. Many of us are going through something tough. And if you’re fortunate to have never experienced something tragic, you might know someone who is (or who has). The reason I am managing to stand on my own two feet is because of good people who have shown up for me in countless ways.
Regardless of who you are or what you do for a living, you are capable of making someone’s day and even making a difference in someone’s life. Tragedy has helped me realize the importance of three daily habits:
Be kind. Do something nice for a friend. Do something nice for a stranger. Lend a helping hand. Make someone smile. Pay someone a compliment. Find ways to be a good human toward others.
Listen more, talk less. When I feel comfortable enough to share with someone that my husband passed away, human nature often gets the best of them and they ask, “What happened??” What most don’t realize is that asking a young widow how her husband died is selfish and inappropriate. Answering that question requires us to go to a dark place so that you can get your answer. Instead, hold space for the grieving heart. Listen intently for the purpose of the bereaved. Ask them to talk about their person. You don’t have an answer or a solution, because there isn’t one, but you have the ability to make us feel heard and cared about just by listening. In fact, you have the ability to make anyone feel cared about just by listening.
Love your people hard. Show your loved ones that you care about them. Don’t wait for special occasions and holidays. Today is a perfect day to express your love.
It has been seven months since I lost my husband and best friend. I’d like to make a concrete ask of you.
The moment you finish reading this, call (or at least text) a friend or family member and tell them you love them. Express how much they mean to you. Share what you appreciate about them and the impact they’ve had on you. I lost two grandparents and my husband last year. I would give so much to be able to tell them I love them and what they mean to me one last time. Today is a gift and tomorrow is not guaranteed. What can you do for your relationships and for others to make today (and every day) count?
Invictus will be hosting a workout in Dustin’s honor on Saturday, February 29th at both of our San Diego locations’ regular class times. Sofia will be speaking prior to the start the 10:30 class Downtown. If you wish to support Sofia with costs related to raising Baby Tannenhaus, please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/DustinTannenhaus