But surviving the loss of her spouse was only part of what Liz was determined to do. The Cleveland resident chose to face tragedy head-on and prepare for a lifestyle that relied heavily on faith, family and friends, and in the end, discover a new contentment that comes from moving on.
It was a Saturday morning around 10 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2012, when Liz said she was feeding the dogs downstairs just before leaving for work.
“I called up the steps to Sonny, saying, ‘I’m leaving,’ but there was no response,” Liz recalled. “I thought, ‘Well, maybe he didn’t hear me.’ So I hollered again. He still didn’t respond. He usually says something but he didn’t say anything.”
That’s when she went upstairs and found her husband of 45 years lying on the floor in his home office.
“Apparently he had pushed his chair back from his desk, gotten up and that’s when it hit him,” she said. “It was a heart attack. He was already gone. His dog was sitting on the arm of the love seat. The dog knew it too.
“Normally, she would bark when I walked in the room but she knew he was gone. I touched his arm and it was cold. Then I touched his back and it was warm. So he hadn’t been gone very long.”
Liz admits to being in a state of shock when she saw Sonny and confessed she did not know what to do. Her first instinct was to call her best friend, Betty, who advised her to go ahead and call 911.
“There happen to be two or three policemen living in this subdivision,” said Liz, a professional caregiver. “I didn’t much more get down the stairs before an officer was knocking on the door.”
According to Liz, the emergency medical responders arrived soon thereafter and took over, for which she was grateful. In that defining moment, Liz made choices that opened a path of healing for her.
“The first thing I did after I called Betty was prayed and prayed,” Liz said. “I said, ‘Lord, you’re going to have to help me through this.’ And He did. I was in shock. My family was a tremendous help. My son, Jason, owns his own business and basically took off a whole month to be with me.
“My daughter, Amanda, was also there for me. There were more than 500 who attended the funeral and there were many ‘Thank You’ notes to write. She did most of them. They both helped me so much.”
Liz said the day after her husband’s death she was sitting in church among her spiritual family as a source of strength and encouragement.
“I knew I needed to be in church and that’s where I went,” she said. “Most of my friends couldn’t believe I went to church the day after my husband died, but that’s where I needed to go. That’s where I wanted to go. It never crossed my mind not to go.”
Liz, who attends the Church at Grace Point in Cleveland, said her spiritual family, particularly her pastor, Dr. Phil Griffin, made a huge difference in her initial adjustment.
“I love my church. God was letting me know that He was with me all the time,” she said. “So I would say to anyone trying to move on in their lives to get closer to God. Read your Bible and Bible literature that can help you to cope. I lived in the 23rd Psalm for that first month. I read it over and over and it really helped.”
In addition to attending Christian meetings, drawing closer to God, reading the Bible and prayer, Liz said staying active and associating with positive, outgoing people has made her transition far less difficult.
“Our pastor started a singles ministry for our members. I go to the YMCA six days a week,” Liz said. “I would advise anyone coping with a loss to get out. If anyone invites you out and you can go — go. Get involved in the community. Go see plays. Don’t sit around. You’ve got to get out and do things. My best friends and acquaintances call me everyday to get out.”
Finally, Liz said an important ingredient in coping with a loss can be the companionship of loving animals.
“I would encourage someone grieving to consider getting a pet that’s known for being affectionate — a good, loyal pet,” Liz advised. “For the first month and a half, my dogs, Goldie and Baby Treasure, slept with me. The black one is so precious. He just cuddles and licks your hand. It’s great if you have a passion for something. Mine is my animals. I’m never alone.”
Experts say mourning a loss can come in stages of emotions ranging from shock and denial, isolation and anger, to depression, bargaining and finally, acceptance. The grieving process has no specific order since every person is different, but Liz admits that her process went from shock to acceptance without any wide range of emotions.
“Right now I would describe myself as in a state of acceptance,” she said. “I’m living in the moment and taking one day at a time.”
She opened a book and read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, “Finish Each Day” — a poem that captures her philosophy.
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.”
She then looked up and restated, “I choose to live in the moment.”
At the same time, Liz summed up the secret to her successful transition when she said, “The key to my joy and happiness is a grateful heart. I am grateful that God is my provider. I am grateful for two godly children who are both miracles from God. They have been so instrumental in inspiring me with courage to face each day during this transition to becoming a widow.
“The Scriptures I am reading are mostly on peace and joy. You have to keep reading them over and over for them to sink in. It can’t be surface reading. It takes time. Sonny and I always studied the Bible together.”
In retrospect, she recalled, “Sonny told me a few weeks before he passed, ‘You know, Liz, God is your provider. I’m not your provider. God is.’ And He has been. There were times when I needed to know which way to go and He was there.”
According to Liz, her husband was a generous and kind man who provided well for her and cared deeply for others.
“He had a big heart,” she said. “If he only had $5 in his pocket and someone needed it, he’d give it to them. My husband had a good heart. I’ll miss him.”
With faith, family and friends to keep her life rich and rewarding, Liz is facing the future like thousands of widows across the country. Her journey will not be alone, but as she says, one with fond memories, fond moments and the anticipation of new experiences along the way.