Adversity… Susan’s Growth through Tragedy

At 47, Susan had finally found the love of her life in Dennis, and he with Susan too. Strongly committed to their relationship, they expected to spend the rest of their lives together. But 4 1/2 years into their relationship together, the day came when Dennis and Susan’s world would tragically change.

Dennis was a painter by trade. He owned his own business and just happened to employ Susan’s former husband, Neil. At work, on this one fateful day, Dennis had a small oil-based paint job to finish. Dennis, having some other things to do, asked Neil to finish the job. But Neil, not wanting to use the oil-based paint, declined and went outside to eat his lunch instead. So needing to get the job done, Dennis decided to go ahead with it. After all, someone had to do it.

As Dennis began to spray, and being too close to a furnace, within minutes, an explosion occurred.  Badly burned and injured, but still alive, Dennis was rushed to the hospital in an attempt to save his life.

Meanwhile, Susan, who accidentally left her mobile phone behind at home while she went off to play tennis, was oblivious to the tragedy that was now rapidly unfolding in her world.

Upon returning home, Susan got the shocking news from Neil that Dennis was in the hospital fighting for his life. As Susan arrived at the hospital, she was met by a Social Worker who wanted to talk to her first, which was usually not a great sign. The Social Worker informed Susan of his burns and that he had only a 50% chance of living. Also mentioned, was that Susan should try to be as positive as she could when she spoke to him.

But, before very long, the 50% chance of making it soon turned into a 75% chance of dying. As can be expected, Susan was crushed. Wailing in tears, Susan insisted on seeing him. As she looked upon his burned body under some of the bandages, she thought, “This isn’t that bad.” What Susan didn’t understand at the time, was that 99% of his body had 3rd degree burns, meaning, all three layers of skin were completely gone, along with the receptor cells. Chemically paralyzed in a medically induced coma, Dennis was beyond pain.

That night, an anxious and emotionally exhausted Susan had difficulty sleeping. Eventually, she drifted off just long enough to experience a telling dream with Dennis in it. Next to Dennis, was a woman who wore a long flowing gown. As Susan watched, this woman seemed to be inhaling and breathing something away from Dennis, into herself. As Susan saw that this seemed to be helping him, for he was improving, she said, “Oh Honey, you’re all better!” Reaching out to hold him, he stopped her by saying, “Don’t touch me.” Believing this dream was a positive sign, for it did calm her greatly, Susan fell asleep and slept throughout the night.

The next morning, Susan received a call to meet at the hospital. Because of Dennis’ rapid decline, the decision was made to take him off life support. You see, during the night, Dennis went into cardiac arrest, which coincidentally, happened at the exact minute that Susan’s daughter woke up out of a sound sleep as she sat up in bed!

This time, Susan’s visit to see Dennis was even more difficult. “It was horrible” Susan said, “He was all swollen up and because of his lack of skin, he couldn’t hold water in his tissues!”

Angry and needing to place blame for this injustice, Susan blasted Neil, in a not so uncommon grief response, when she told him, “It should have been you!”

Devastated and distraught, Susan had only just begun her downward spiral into an emotional hell. Every day that passed, she would lie in bed wondering how she would make it through another day. And just as she couldn’t stand the pain for one more minute, she would disassociate for awhile. But if she was really lucky, a sudden release of “feel-good” brain chemicals would flood her bloodstream, giving her temporary moments of relief from her pain.

Remembering their commitment to stay together, now, Susan felt alone and betrayed by his departure. But only to make things worse, all the horrifying details of his death were now ingrained in living color in her brain, causing her to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And now, Susan, who had always depended on a man for her wants and needs, felt like an eight-year-old child who had just been dumped on the streets.

One day while driving in her car, enraged, she screamed out to Dennis, “I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! YOU SAID YOU WOULD NEVER LEAVE ME!!!”

Not a day passed by for the first year, that Susan didn’t think of suicide. Every day was a bad one that was filled with the pain of depression and anxiety attacks. But, what scared her the most, of course, were her tormenting thoughts. One of those days when things were the worst, Susan walked out into her garage to plan out her suicide. As she studied how she could soon orchestrate her desire, the phone rang. Amy, Susan’s friend was awakened from a deep sleep with Susan on her mind. Prompted by the “unseen”, she called and asked, “Are you okay?” Unable to hold it in, Susan sobbed in pain as she confessed her suicidal intentions. Amy came over and held Susan in her arms, and with her love and compassion, this kind earth angel gave Susan the strength and courage to continue on again.

Time passed, and Susan found ways to deal with the sorrows of her loss. She developed a routine of walking. Even if she wasn’t in the mood, she would force herself to walk anyway. During the second year, instead of all bad days, there were now some good days mixed in there too, and she was beginning to see a little light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Susan, now gaining more perspective and time to reflect without such excruciating pain, remembered back to a time, just a month before Dennis’ death. She had just read the book, Journey of Souls, and was having a conversation with Dennis. In it, she asked him,
“What would be our symbol to each other if one of us died?” And as this serendipitous question arose, they had the opportunity to discuss this together.

Susan recalled another time when she was lying in bed and this thought came to her, “If anything ever happened to Dennis and I was mad at him at the time, I will not feel guilty about his death like my mother did when her father died.” Apparently, Susan’s mother suffered greatly with guilt just because she turned down a game of chess or checkers with her father, shortly before he died.

As even more time passed, Susan began to heal as she gained clarity, peace and even greater perspective. In hindsight, she could see that the signs were there all along. Dennis didn’t really leave her in a brutal break-up, it was just his time to go.

With courage and time, Susan had faced her worst fears. She moved past the false belief that she was alone in the world and couldn’t take care of herself. She learned that, bit by bit, she could! Rising from the ashes of that refiner’s fire, Susan realized that she had actually been afraid of nothing!!! With newly developed grace, Susan surrendered to all her resistance in full gratitude. With this amazing transformation, came newfound power, strength, freedom and LIFE! And, whereas, just a few years earlier, Susan was cursing Dennis and the life he had left her, now, with all she had learned from her experience, her words to him were, “THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!!!”

Eleven years later, Susan’s life is completely different. She can tell you of the many ways she’s grown through her tragedy, how her life has changed in every way and how the erroneous belief that she could not survive without her loved one, turned out to be, only an illusion of fear. Completely healed now, she says it was the best thing that ever happened to her, even though it was also the worst!

Today, Susan loves her life with or without a man. When I asked Susan for some parting words of advise to those who grieve, she replied, “This too shall pass… It will get better. You don’t get over it, but you do get through it and come out a stronger person!”


Dennis Returns to say “Hi!” is the after-death communication that followed, approximately two years after his death.

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