Phil riding his bike

On The Anniversary of My Husband's Death

Healing Through Loss is a bi-monthly feature on Your Turn To Care. Guest columnist Michele Neff Hernandez provides insights into the process of healing after losing a loved one.

August 31st was the seven year anniversary of my late husband's death. Each year, on this day, I reflect on what I have lost, what I have gained, and what I have learned since the last time I heard Phil's voice call my name. I'd like to share with you a letter I wrote to him. I'd also like to ask you to hold close to you those who mean the most, savor the moments with them...even the hard ones, because our time here is finite.

Hi honey,

Every August I approach this anniversary day with trepidation. I wonder why the reality that you are never coming home doesn't lose some of its sting. Shouldn't I be used to this by now? You'd think after 2,555 days I could open your cupboard in the garage without tears burning my eyes. And yet, on Saturday when I pulled open both wooden doors to reveal the "stuff" I haven't yet been able to move...the life I used to lead jumped out and smacked me right in the face. The force that was you screamed from each tire tube, sports watch, track shoe, Livestrong band, and trail map that are safely tucked inside that 2'X4' space. The memories of daily runs, weekend bike rides, day long hikes, and various family trips floated through the open cabinet doors, taunting me with the nearness of what was; I had to shut the doors a couple of times to take a breath.

Because your death still takes my breath away. Because it still isn't fair that you aren't going to need those stupid deflated tire tubes. Because I loved the life I had that included you. Because you were important to so many people. Because collectively, we miss you every single day. Because the world isn't the same without you in it. But when I opened that wooden cupboard, it was like time traveling. Whirling back through the moments that made up our life together at warp speed, only to come to a crashing halt on the door step of reality. You are still dead.

And yet, you aren't. I still feel you. Not in the ghostly sense, but in the warmth of love. You can be found in laughter, especially the laughter of children. I feel your determination and discipline when I want to quit; your confidence in me when my own wanes; your ability to let go of troubles, every time I face uncertainty. You know me, and knowing that you know moves me, changes me, and propels me to dig deeper, try harder, reach further...make a difference.

Your sense of fun has inspired many a silly conversation, and a number of pranks. Your dedication to the people you love has changed their lives, even after yours ended. Your ability to push yourself to achieve your personal best has inspired many an athlete, some who race in your memory. Your refusal to be anything other than who you were, has cemented your place in the hearts of every person who loved you.

But perhaps your greatest legacy is the fact that those whom you loved, know they are loved still. That is what I hold onto when the reality of your death sneaks up on me. You loved me. And you still do.

I love you now and always,


Michele Neff HernandezMichele Neff Hernandez is the founding President, and Executive Director of the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation. Soaring Spirits is a non-profit organization committed to providing resources and peer support to people grieving the loss of a loved one, with a special focus on those who are widowed. Michele inspires people as a motivational speaker and freelance writer. She also works as a member of the Bereavement Training Team for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and is a regular contributor to various websites, blogs, magazines, and collaborative book projects. Ms. Neff Hernandez is a resident of Simi Valley, California where she lives and laughs with her three amazing children, and is newly married to an amazing Aussie who supports and encourages her work with the widowed community. An avid runner and outdoor enthusiast, she actively encourages others to embrace the life they are given.

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