Grief can be unpredictable, relentless and draining

Belinda Ouellette, Special to The County
6 years ago

Many of you who read my words know that I lost my husband on Aug. 18, 2017. We were in Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, in the critical care unit on the fourth floor. Dale had been diagnosed with leukemia just about a week before, and he had been given his first chemotherapy infusion. 

When the treatment was complete,  I noticed a great change in his heartbeat and his response to my voice and I went out to the nurse’s station and asked them to please come in and take a look at the monitors and at him.  In no time, he was moved to the critical care unit that evening and he died the next evening at about 10:50, with me at his side.  I could have stayed right there in that room, holding his hand in mine, forever.  When I left the hospital that night and returned to my hotel room with my sister, Dale came with us — tucked safely and eternally in my heart, where he remains always.

There is truly no adequate way to describe grief.  I find grief to be unpredictable, relentless, snide, and draining.   It is raw and horrific.  It is clinging and ever changing.  It wraps its arms around anger, sadness, regret, denial, and torturous afterthought.  Perhaps the most prominent of its features is its ability to come and go as it pleases; appearing and disappearing at will. On this day and at this moment, I see no relief from its infatuation and its stronghold on me.  When I feel it creeping toward me in the dark of night, I surrender, for there is no place to hide.

We are told grief is a natural state and to expect that the great dismay of losing someone we love will remain with us for the rest of our lives. There are books and pamphlets we can access to research the many stages of grief and the possible remedies to lessen the pain, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to you versus grief.  You can go into battle with all of the recommended tools and expectations, but you can find no reprieve.  I believe you must face it head on and let it run its monstrous course. I am not able to sprinkle sugar on grief. 

I am forever talking to Dale, believing that somehow he is hearing me and praying that he is near me.  That small gust of wind; that rustling of the curtains; that wheezing of the hot water heater;  that familiar warmth in my bed; all of these I consider to be signs of his presence.  I see him from the corner of my eye, sitting in his chair and working on his laptop.  From time to time, I go to YouTube and listen to his voice explaining how to set up notebooks for his students or how to complete a wood burning project.  I close my eyes and imagine he is speaking directly to me with a voice that is strong and confident; not weak and discouraged. 

Dale left our house on July 11, 2017, by ambulance, and he did not return.  I sat there in our living room, clad in pajamas with my dog Barney  in my arms, and watched my strong and courageous husband leave on a gurney, surrounded by caring and capable EMTs; some of whom were his former students.  Within a month, we went from Cary Medical Center to Maine General in Augusta, to our final destination at Dartmouth Hitchcock in New Hampshire.  I know there are bits and pieces of Dale and of me left behind at each and every stop we made. 

A few hours before Dale died, he thanked the doctors at Dartmouth for their many attempts to save his life, and he told them he hoped they discovered something from dealing with his particular illness that would assist in future treatment of those with his affliction.  The main oncologist who cared for Dale stood beside me, his arm around my waist, and wept.  After  Dale’s passing, the hospital administrator knelt before me and held my hands in hers; tears covering her cheeks, as she assured me that they would never, ever forget Dale and that he had touched them in ways that they could not explain.  It was difficult for me to find words to respond, as I felt the hole in my heart grow deeper with each passing second. 

As we drove away from the hospital, I told my sister that I never wanted to set foot in that hospital again; as a matter of fact, I told her I never wanted to cross over into the state of New Hampshire again, as well.  Grief had already crept into my soul along with bitterness and contempt.  Dale had just turned 58 years old!  He had dreams and goals.   

I hated myself and I hated God as we struggled from the car to the hotel room, where I laid down upon the bed and called the first phone number on my contact list; not caring who was on the other end.  It happened to be a dear friend and for the first ten minutes, I did nothing but cry as she waited patiently on the other end of the phone, her breathing soft and loving as she listened to me crumble.  I don’t think I slept at all that night, or for many nights thereafter.  I still do not sleep as I did before; I am restless and on guard. 

I don’t know where to begin to pay tribute to this man who I was married to for 22 years.  He was one of the finest educators in the Caribou school system and his legacy goes on.  Dale was born to teach.  On days when I know it took everything within him to walk across the floor, he would go to school to do what he loved the most in life -– touch the lives of countless children; a job he had done for 38 years. 

In the course of my life and the lessons I have learned, the greatest lesson of all was bestowed upon me on that warm evening on the fourth floor of that ivy-league hospital in New Hampshire.  I discovered the true meaning of love.  We often toss the word around somewhat carelessly in life, with all of the best intentions.  There are countless types of love; all of them glorious and essential in this world.  When we come face to face with it and its divine power, the impact is profound.  It is love that gives me the ability to put one foot in front of the other day after day.  It is love that soothes me in the early morning when I lie there in my bed imagining he is still here.  And it is love that compels me to write this essay; the first I have written since his death. 

“Northern Yarns” is a collection of writings describing the lessons I have learned thus far during my lifetime.  I will be writing once again and I apologize for this first, very difficult and sad submission, but I want each of you to know about my experience with grief and also of my adoration for my beloved husband, whom many of you knew and loved. 

I acknowledge that the world continues on its axis; despite my grief.  From time to time, a young lady or a young gentleman will walk up to me and without a word, reach out to give me a hug.  When our eyes meet, I see and feel the impact he has made upon their lives as we stand watery eyed and silent.  Dale L. Ouellette: son, husband, brother, friend, and educator.  His name and his memory continue to thrive, and this brings me great comfort. 

Belinda Ouellette lives in Caribou with her Goldendoodle, Barney. You may email her at: