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Gwendolyn Guster Welch: Mental Health Awareness and the Power of Love

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By Gwendolyn B. Guster Welch

Regardless of where I am or what I am doing, April 24, 2020 will always be on my mind. It was the day that my husband, Arthur Lee Welch, died. We had been married 37 years after dating for 10 years.

Right before Arthur died, we had had lunch at home. After lunch, we settled in to watch TV. We laughed and talked, like we always do. We didn’t have a care in the world. Then, Arthur asked me to get him some water with plenty of ice and to turn on the fan. When I returned to him, I saw him struggling to put on an apparatus to help with his breathing. I called 911 and our son, Eric. I remain in awe of how Eric got to us before the paramedics did.

I screamed out to God and hugged Arthur until the paramedics arrived. But it was too late. He had already passed. I will never forget that moment. As he took his last breath, the peppermint he was holding in his hand, hit the floor. I saw it fall. It seemed to fall in slow motion, sort of representing the long years we had shared our love.

I have never witnessed anyone die. The whole experience was traumatic and just sent me into a state of shock. I was devastated. I was distraught. I was lost. Arthur and I had done everything together. And when I say everything, I mean everything. We went on trips together. We went to each other’s doctor’s appointments. We worshiped together. Yes, we enjoyed each other’s company that much.

After Arthur died, Eric and I planned Arthur’s funeral. I wrote Arthur’s obituary. And even made food for people and delivered it. Everyone thought I was doing well. They thought I was strong. But in reality, I was only existing.

Facing Arthur’s absence was like no pain I can describe. I woke up with him on my mind. I went to bed with him on my mind. However, I refused to “worry” anybody about the way I felt. I thought, “This too shall pass.’’ I was on auto pilot. But deep down, I was grieving, hard, and I really did not want anyone to know just how hard grief had hit me.

The Bottom Fell Out

Then on Thursday, June 11, 2020 the bottom fell out. I had a wake-up call. The grief I was feeling over Arthur’s passing had left me so depressed and not feeling like myself, that I had to go to the hospital Emergency Room. While at the hospital, doctors said I was dehydrated. I knew I had to stop the downward spiral of sadness and take a step up to a brighter day. I knew Arthur would never want me to give up. That’s the day I took over my life and sought help from a mental health professional.

In talking to my psychologist, I established a blueprint of how to live now that Arthur was no longer living. I had to accept the reality that he was gone and learn to live again. Now, I’m not going to lie. That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. But, slowly, I started to rise up out of my depression. I also joined a grief support group for widows.

I refused to allow grief to win and rule my life. I was not going to allow anything or anybody stop me from living every moment of my life to the fullest. Thanks to my psychologist, grief support group, family and friends, my life turned around. With the help of professionals, I learned that self-love is the ultimate goal for happiness. I put Gwen first.

Making a comeback from Arthur’s death was very difficult, but I had to realize that change was necessary. In order to thrive in this life, I had to release things and people who were not good for me. I also realized that there was no shame in seeking professional counseling. If you or someone you know is having a difficult time dealing with a loss, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a job, a close relationship, a pet or anything, talking to a professional expert is always a good thing. And don’t just do it for you. If children have been affected by a loss, they may need professional counseling, too. Grief and cleansing were my problems, and I was the one who had to deal with them.

You may have family and friends who dismiss professional help. But hey, they are not you. They are not experiencing what you are experiencing. If you feel that a professional will help you, go for it and don’t look back because brighter days will come. They may not come tomorrow or next week, but trust me, they will come.

I’m writing this message in April, but please keep in mind that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a month designed to raise awareness of the impact trauma can have on the physical, emotional and mental well-being of children, families and communities. If you are on the fence about seeking professional help, that’s OK. But don’t wait forever. You have to take care of you, and I hope that you will consider engaging with a professional to get on the other side of your pain.

 

I Am Getting Stronger

I still have some hard days. I loved Arthur. But I know that with each day, I am getting stronger. Only God knows what is next for me, and I accept that. Will I write a book? Will I be an advocate for other widows? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I can never replace all the broken fragmented pieces of my life. All I can do is have joy while trying to glue my life back together and move forward.

I don’t love Arthur any less because I am moving forward. It’s a testament to the power of love Arthur and I had. I want to experience those feelings again in my life. Grief and new love can co-exist. It happens. So, until you have walked behind your spouse’s casket or gone through a loss where unconditional love was present, be cautious in judging when a person desires to move forward to love again. Love is beautiful at any age. It’s left up to us to turn around, recognize it and welcome it.

There is still life in my body and breath in my lungs. I refuse to be stuck in a depressed state. I refuse to sit and rot away. I will live and celebrate love and living. I am not moving too fast or too slow. I am moving at just the right speed for me, GWEN.

Gwendolyn B. Guster Welch, a Birmingham native and retired employee of Birmingham City Schools, remains active in her community through various volunteer efforts.