Bereaved Spouses/Partners, The Road Less Traveled

Shannon’s Gift

by Nate Bennett

Nate Bennett
Nate Bennett

In September of 2011—just about a month after our 26th wedding anniversary—I lost Shannon. We were just weeks into being empty nesters, having recently dropped our younger son off at the University of Colorado. Shannon had waited until our son was settled to schedule routine shoulder surgery. Post operation, the doctor came out to tell me the procedure was a success and he sent me to get the car. In those few moments, Shannon collapsed and never regained consciousness. Shannon died, and I went from being half of a couple, anticipating the joy of time and travel with an amazing partner, to a person struggling to find a way back into the light.

After she passed away, I looked for stories that might help me understand my pain. I wanted to know what to do to stop hurting. I wanted to know what to do so I could be there for the other people who were hurting with me—especially our sons Spencer and Reid. I was in a place that was completely unacceptable; I had to find a way out. What I found didn’t help cut through my haze of grief. None of it came close to describing how hopeless I was. None of it pointed me to the set of concrete steps towards the recovery I desperately wanted.

Since I couldn’t find enough of the right stuff to read, I started to write. During Shannon’s hospitalization, a friend started a website we could use to keep everyone informed of what we naïvely hoped would be progress. I took over the effort on September 13. I have no doubt that the writing and the responses from friends are the primary reason I can sit here today as a mostly functioning adult. Eventually, Shannon’s site got more than 40,000 hits. My blog, the online community, and its support kept me from feeling quite so alone and were invaluable in my effort to work through my grief and to find love again.

In my book Shannon’s Gift, I compiled my blog entries, as well as some of the responses in real time from friends and strangers alike. My hope is that this book will help anyone who has lost his or her soul mate. Or maybe seeing how I staggered through this terrible storm will help someone understand what a friend or family member who has lost someone is feeling.

Shannon gave me many gifts over the years. She gave me this opportunity to try and help others through sharing my grief. If I can manage it, she will have given a gift to those struggling with mitochondrial disease, the condition that hastened her death. She will have given a gift to people struggling with loss, as well as to people who care about friends or family who are trying to get up from what I promise is a terrible blow. And finally, Shannon was brutally honest regarding her challenges and her likely prognosis due to her struggles with mitochondrial disease. Her unselfishness in repeatedly and unequivocally expressing what she expected of me should she predecease me is a gift that has made it possible for me to not simply survive losing her, but to find love again.

About the Author: Nate Bennett is a management professor with the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia Stateshannons gift University in Atlanta, GA.  Previously, he was a member of the faculty at Georgia Tech (1999-2012) and Louisiana State University (1989-1999).

He is co-author of two management books, “Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO” and “Your Career Game:  How Game Theory Can Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals.”  Both are published by Stanford University Press.

Nate has also published in Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal. Has more than 20 years experience in the design and delivery of executive development programs for companies in a wide range of industries and has an active practice as a consultant on issues related to top management t team performance innovation and change management. Current and past clients include The Coca Cola Company, GEICO, UnitedHealth Group, Lockheed-Martin, GE, St. Jude Medical, McKesson, Rollins, and NCR.

Nate holds a BA in sociology, as well as a MA in Social Research from Tulane University. He earned his Ph.D. in Management from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He resides in Atlanta, GA. You may reach Nate through his website.

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