Jeanie Daiss and her husband of 38 years, Bill, on a cruise a month before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Grief Journey: The bend in the road is not the end
Editor's Note: The following story is one of many included in a special section "Have the Time of Your Life" by Johnson Publications, Inc. Click here to read more stories geared toward ages 50-plus.
Every grief journey is different.
Growing up in a funeral home, Jeanie Daiss, 70, of Grant, was around death continually, but her first recollection of experiencing real grief came at age 14 when her granddad died unexpectedly.
“I remember how that physically hurt,” she said. “Unfortunately, grief is something we all have to go through.”
Just over 10 years ago, Jeanie lost her husband of 38 years to cancer.
A sign hanging in her kitchen reads, “Journey: The bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you refuse to take the turn.”
On another wall a sign reads, “Life is all about how you handle Plan B.”
On March 17, 2007, her husband Bill was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Almost exactly eight months later, on Nov. 16, he passed away at the home they built together in rural Grant.
After his diagnosis, Bill and Jeanie would walk up a hill on their farm every day, where their neighbor planted a tree for him.
“We sat and we talked about everything that every couple should talk about,” said Jeanie.
They discussed life, death, Jeanie’s future, their daughters’ futures. The couple has two daughters, Jen and Jill, who were 22 and 27 at the time.
Jeanie said the conversations were difficult for Bill, but so good for her. He wanted to see who his daughters would marry. He would never be able to walk them down the aisle. He would never meet his grandkids.
“He would have been such a good grandpa,” Jeanie said as tears streamed down her face.
She said it’s healthy to cry. People need to cry.
After Bill died, Jeanie said she is so grateful she was working, as she felt she would’ve stayed in bed all day.
She would come home, sit in total darkness and cry.
She couldn’t sit at the table and eat because she couldn’t stand to look at the empty chair. She would fix something to eat and just stand at the counter.
Approximately seven to eight months after Bill’s death, a co-worker and friend gave Jeanie a brochure to a grief class.
“It literally probably saved my life,” she said.
The most important thing she took away from the class was embracing her grief and walking through it.
She wasn’t interested in doing that at the time. It was easier to avoid it.
“But you have to embrace your grief and walk through it,” she said, even though “it’s not fun.”
Jeanie said her faith, family and friends got her through it.
Bill had promised he would celebrate her 60th birthday with her in January 2008. It was a promise he wasn’t able to keep. Jeanie’s co-workers and friends in Wallace threw her a surprise 60th birthday party in the teacher’s lounge.
A friend called one night to ask how she was doing. It wasn’t an answer one might expect.
“I said, ‘I’m doing terrible. I feel like someone has ripped my heart out without the benefit of anesthesia. I hurt, physically, so bad.’ And I loved what she said.”
Her friend didn’t tell her it was going to be okay or it would get better with time, she said, “That bad, huh?” She acknowledged her pain.
Jeanie said she wanted people to talk to her about Bill.
“You don’t want the memories to die. You want them remembered.”
Although she and Bill talked and shared everything with each other, after he died she learned of so many good deeds he did for others, and she’s so grateful people shared those things with her.
Jeanie said there is no timeline for grief. She’s so grateful she had eight months to spend with Bill and had the chance to say goodbye.
“I have a really good life now, but there isn’t a day that goes by that I wouldn’t like to have him back.”
Seven years after Bill died, a new Bill entered Jeanie’s life. Although she took no interest at first, a relationship bloomed with the Perkins County Schools interim superintendent at the time, Bill Hakonson.
Two years into their relationship, Jeanie began her grief at square one when Bill died unexpectedly of a heart infection on April 30, 2016.
Two years later, Jeanie is grateful for her faith, family and friends. She looks at the signs in her kitchen every day, and she lives by them.
“Plan A, MY plan wasn’t an option for me anymore.”
One of her favorite books is “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch, who also died of pancreatic cancer.
He said, “You can’t control the cards you’re dealt, but you can control how you play them.”
Another favorite quote from the book is from Charles Swindoll. “The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude ... I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with YOU... we are in charge of our attitudes. We cannot change our past...”
Jeanie sold their country home three years ago and moved to a home she’s always loved in town. Her husband Bill’s cremains were spread on top of the hill by the tree where he and Jeanie shared so many conversations.
Jeanie has three grandkids she visits often in Orlando, Florida, Ava, 6, Graham, 4, and Elise (Ellie), who is almost 3.
“I have lost people in my life before I wanted to, but I have just been so blessed to have a happy life.”