After her husband, Michael Marion, unexpectedly died six months ago, TODAY contributor Bobbie Thomas is speaking about her loss in an effort to help others enduring similar tragedies know they're not alone.
In a conversation with TODAY's Hoda Kotb, Thomas reflected on her husband's death in December due to medical complications after he was hospitalized for problems involving several organ systems. Marion had also suffered a stroke in 2019 at the age of 40 but was on the path to recovery.
"I've been so overwhelmed by the support, but I feel incredibly isolated and alone," the beauty and fashion expert told Hoda. "Experiencing so much pain has felt really isolating, and other people going through that who have reached out, it's as if my heart just is connected immediately."
"I feel like it's important to say out loud for myself and for others that you have to give yourself the grace to not try and fix the pain because so often we are in a position where pain is uncomfortable, and it is almost identified as the problem. ... There's a lot of good intention in that but unfortunately, it feels as if you're ashamed for being in pain, and you're further isolated, and that's not OK."
For Thomas, the hurt of the loss is actually playing an important role in her life right now.
"The pain is so precious to me. It's my connection to him," she explained. "I don't want the hurt to go away because it gets further away. ... If I can do anything to tell other people who are going through this because I know how alone I feel and I have so much support, it's to not feel like the problem."
Half a year after her husband's death, Thomas is learning the difference between "how to carry something versus getting over it or moving on. This new vocabulary for me," she said.
Keeping her husband's memory alive for their 5-year-old son, Miles, has also helped.
"I talk about Michael, and I think it's really important that he's surrounded by him. ... (Miles) has so many vivid memories. He comes walking in, he's like, 'Mom, look, Dad's favorite candy.' It's, like, 'Is this an excuse to eat the candy or?'" she quipped. "He's so proud, and he'll say, 'My daddy's guitar, I have to take really good care of it.'"
She went on to share a story about one of Michael's close friends whom Miles calls Uncle Andrew. At the end of a phone call with Miles, Thomas recalled the friend telling him, "Your daddy was my best friend, so you have big responsibility. That means you're my best friend."
"His face was just like, he was so happy," she added.
Marion had been diagnosed with an immune system condition called common variable immune deficiency (CVID), which Thomas said she knew about before the two married in 2013.
"It was always positioned as chronic and manageable. Deep inside, I knew that we may not be holding hands at 80, 90," Thomas told Hoda. "But from all of the information we had gathered and the support we had, I thought we were looking at least 20-plus years down the road."
But Marion developed other health issues, including the stroke, and he also was in a coma when Thomas was going through IVF, she revealed to Hoda.
"He was so sick while the focus was on my IVF, which was a joke compared to what he was dealing with," she recalled. "That was him. He was the epitome of grace. He treated every single nurse, patient caregiver, doctor, anyone with a smile and a 'thank you.'"
Before his death, he had developed a bacterial infection, which led to sepsis, a life-threatening response when an infection leads to inflammation throughout the body.
"It was five weeks in the (intensive care unit), and it was just one thing after the other like a domino effect," Thomas said. "When things just increasingly became problematic, it seemed as if we were up against the impossible. It was multiple organ failure."
"The very worst memory of my whole life was seeing his last breath, was having to look at his parents and his mom," she continued. "I will never ever be able to love anyone more deeply, and I will do anything for his family and his sister. His parents are the strongest, and in the face of losing their son, they were there trying to console me."
Still, Thomas wants people also to remember her husband's success story after his stroke.
"Michael recovered, and it's so important that we focus on recovery, because Michael still over that year, he went from not walking, not talking to learning to talk again, getting out of his wheelchair and actually walking," she said. "(He) was ready to return to work, and it was written off. I was told, 'I'm not sure Michael is aware, but I don't know if he'll ever return to work.' He was relentless in that. He was going to take care of us."
Thomas shared other some positive memories of her husband, telling Hoda that they rarely fought.
"My favorite thing on any given random day, he would just look across the room and say, 'Hey, we have a really good thing, right?' And I'd say, 'Yeah.' ... We were so deeply bound."
"I miss him so much," she added. "He was my person. ... He had this easiness to him, and I was always stressing out, and he would just be like, 'It's OK.'"
Asked if she ever feels her husband's presence, Thomas replied sometimes, in certain places.
"On our anniversary, there's a place that he at one point last year he just got out of the car, and I was, like, 'Where are you going?' And he has a cane, and he just walked by himself down to the water and back, and there's something about that spot on that beach. I just feel the wind blowing, it's like he's right there hugging me."
Even through the hardship, Thomas "wouldn't change a thing" about her time with Marion.
"If I could have him back at his worst ... I would do it, because when you're truly in love, you care for someone else's wellbeing equal to your own," she said. "Instead of worrying about that I lost him, I think the little time he had, he gave to me. (I'm) really, really lucky."
Now, Thomas is navigating feeling thankful and tremendous grief.
"I just want to sit on the couch with someone and watch TV or not have to think sometimes. I don't need to be told there was a silver lining or a bigger reason. There isn't. It sucks," she said. "There is no good about this. He is not here. My son does not have his father."
"That is OK for me to feel," she added. "At the same time, I'm also holding gratitude."