Lisa Niemi called the grief that came with the loss of her husband, Patrick Swazye, “an animal all of its own.”
At the “Grief, Healing and Resilience” panel at Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference in Long Beach, Calif., on Tuesday afternoon, Niemi explained that despite knowing she would most likely eventually lose her husband to cancer, his actual death was a tremendous emotional battle.
“I thought during the 22 months of my husband’s illness that it gave me all this time to get used to the idea of losing him,” she said. “And I found for myself, when I actually got to that point, I said, ‘N-n-n-n-n-No.’ It wasn’t the same at all. The actual loss — it’s like an animal all of its own…. It made all the sadness and grief previous to that look like an intellectual concept. This sadness was on a cellular level.”
Niemi said after losing Swayze, who died following a brave battle with pancreatic cancer on September 14, she really understood so much more about how loss can affect a person.
“You hear all these stories about men who die months after their wives and things like that. I can absolutely see how that could happen because… when the grief [sets in], your body’s not your own,” she said.
Married to Swayze for 34 years, Niemi said following his death, she had conflicting feelings over how to move forward.
“In the first few days afterward, because Patrick and I had been so connected and I spent so much of his illness just absolutely devoting myself to him 150 percent, the most courageous thought that I had was that I wanted to, at some point, feel like I had the courage to go on and have a good life,” she recalled. “And in the first few days [after his death], I felt like that would almost be a betrayal… That I would be letting him down somehow.”
Niemi said carrying on is hard, but she knows that is what she must do.
“It’s a brutal truth that you have to go on without that person, but unfortunately, that’s what happens in life,” she said.
And she admitted her friends have been extremely supportive.
“I’ve gotten great advice from all my friends and I’m just going with the flow,” she said of the grieving process. “I just know I have to go through it and it’s going to take as long as it’s going to take.”
For those grieving their own losses, Niemi offered some advice — reach out to others.
“It just enriches the whole tapestry of life when you connect with other people and it just helps you so much,” she said. “Anybody who’s going through that loss, I would encourage it because even though you still have to live with the sadness, it will enrich what you have.”