September 12, 2023
Finding a Path Through the Grief of a Spouse's Death
The death of a spouse is one of the most traumatic events a person can experience. Thousands of Iowans go through this each year and for many, EveryStep Hospice or EveryStep’s Amanda the Panda grief groups guide them through their pain.
Married for 53 years, Shirley and Craig Butterfield were a team personally and professionally. Coming out of graduate school in 1975, they founded Butterfield Marriage and Family Counseling together. When a daughter, and then a son was born, Shirley took a behind-the-scenes role at the practice. “She was a strong-willed German,” says Craig. “She was very determined and always positive. When she made up her mind what to do, she did it. There wasn’t anything holding her back. That’s why the cancer was so difficult. For the first time in her life, she couldn’t do anything about it.”
But Shirley did fight. For five years, she battled multiple myeloma with chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. She went into remission for two-and-a-half years after the stem cell transplant, but in 2021 the cancer returned. As Shirley’s condition deteriorated, her oncologist suggested hospice care, and she and Craig turned to EveryStep Hospice’s metro team in Des Moines.
“Shirley wanted to stay in our home, so the [EveryStep] staff were here on a weekly basis, doing blood tests and checking to see how she was feeling,” says Craig. As Shirley’s condition worsened, the EveryStep nurse gave the family insight into the dying process and what to expect going forward. Shirley passed away July 12, 2021, at the age of 72.
“I was a therapist for over 40 years and I remember going through many, many grief experiences with my clients. When it came my time, I decided the smartest thing to do was to take my own advice,” says Craig, who participated in EveryStep Hospice’s grief support groups for over a year and also met one-on-one with an EveryStep Hospice bereavement counselor.
“For the first three to six months, you're in shock — you’re numb,” remembers Craig. “Then you're dealing with the reality that you're by yourself and you have to cope. The group helps each other through the process. As new group members joined, I was reminded of where I used to be compared to where I am now, and I could be supportive of those new people coming in.”
Grief support groups are hosted at EveryStep Hospice locations in seven Iowa communities and at the EveryStep Grief & Loss Services office (home of Amanda the Panda) in West Des Moines. EveryStep Hospice bereavement counselors are available to meet with families or visit by phone. These services are available to anyone. The counselor can provide families with information or simply lend a friendly ear.
All support groups are free and open to the public. If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946 or complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website at www.everystep.org/find-care. EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.