New York State Funeral Directors Association

Sydney Vickers used to peer around the corner expecting to see her husband Peyton in his car on his way home from work.

It was a habit that continued for about six months after Peyton died of esophageal cancer, nearly three decades after they married.

For Vickers, a telecommunications professional in Florida, the two years that followed Peyton’s 2012 death were bearable -- and she has Peyton to thank for it.

Now she’s hoping to spark thought and conversation about death and how people can make it easier on their loved ones.

In June 2014, two years after Peyton died, Vickers launched a Facebook Page “Until Death Do We Part,” a title that points to the vow they shared years before.

The page is labeled a “cause” because Vickers is trying to share the benefits that her late husband’s ideals and hard work brought to her life after he was gone.

And she’s encouraging people to consider death’s impact ahead of time to make it easier to persevere after the death of a loved one.

The page is catching on quickly. In about 3 months, it drew 1,000 “likes,” and counting.

The goal of Vickers’ page: “To change public knowledge, attitudes and behavior towards dying, death and bereavement.”

She envisions the site as a clearinghouse of information and discussions about death – a topic she learned too much about just over 24 months ago.

Planning for Death

Peyton Vickers spent his final months preparing the family property and penning a book for his wife titled “After Peyton.”

“He really began it the day after we found out he had six to eight months to live,” Vickers said.

He organized paperwork to make sure his wife wouldn’t have to “dig for information,” and he pored over decisions she’d face once he was gone – like detailing the pros and cons of keeping the house versus moving to a condo.

“That really was something that he worked on for the next six months. It gave him purpose as well as giving him closure,” Vickers said.

He drafted “After Peyton” in a loose-leaf notebook, outlining all the basics.

Things like names and contact information for the plumber and electrician, the garage door maintenance company and the insurance firm.

He brought Sydney outside to get familiar with the home's exterior.

Peyton showed her where the switch is to turn off the pool pump in the event of a malfunction and made sure maintenance was completed on important things like the home’s air-conditioning system.

He made a numbered list of all the filing cabinets, detailing what’s in them, and called different entities and agencies to let them know what was going to happen.

“It made getting the pieces back together go much faster,” Sydney Vickers said.

Her husband’s actions before he died are but one of the strengths Sydney Vickers brings into the growing discussion about death.

Foremost among them is experience with the relentless pain of losing a loved one, one that still hurts.

“It always does and it always will,” she said.

Sydney Vickers was able to deal with her husband’s death by making it a “conscious process,” telling herself that she can’t do some things she used to do.

Like going to the same place the couple used to frequent on vacation.

“You can’t do that anymore, it’s not going to happen. You’ve got to make a new reality and you’ve got to make a conscious effort to do that,” she said.

Confronting Grief

Vickers’ experience is likely not the norm – she studied social work in her earlier days and, after her husband died, earned a certificate in bereavement counseling.

“I’m fairly analytical about everything. That helps me understand what’s going on. I never expected the process to be easy,” she said.

Grief is a different animal for people who are told by doctors that they have “six to eight months to live.”

“You are terrified that death will be difficult for the person you love and you are panicked about life without them,” Vickers said.

The pain of losing Peyton doesn’t detract from the love they shared while he was alive, she said.

“It’s absolutely worth it. What people don’t realize is no one can take the relationship away from you,” she said.

Sydney Vickers’ Facebook page is already fostering dialogue among the online community.

She's engaging friends in discussion about inheritance after death, sharing articles about what a "good death," is and talking about subjects that arise when a loved one is in Hospice.

“I want it to be an incentive for other people to at least give thought to the same type of activity [Peyton engaged in].”

“Everyone needs to have some form of advance directives. Where in the file cabinets you can find wills … But I think people so run from death in every way, shape or form, they don’t even want to see it,” Vickers said.

“My other hope is it will help get people a little more familiar with the concepts.”

There are things a surviving spouse may not consider either – like how people change, she said.

“How strangely people behave. Finding yourself a widow, friends you thought you would be able to rely on, those that you didn’t come out of the woodwork.

“But your status changes too – you don’t know if you’re married, single or something in-between,” Vickers said.

After two years, Vickers is sure where she stands – she’s “something in-between.”

In this situation, you’re “certainly not single” as one would be after divorce or the never-married, she said.

She’s also bringing to Social Media knowledge of things that are difficult to hear from friends and strangers when your spouse is dying – like “enjoy every day.”

“It’s kind of hard to enjoy every day. People mean well,” she said.

And when she can, Vickers is offering advice to those who find themselves in a similar situation.

One piece of advice she offers to those enduring a major void in their life: “Get a dog, get a puppy.”

About six months after Peyton died, Vickers brought home her new friend Faith, a red French poodle.

CLICK HERE to see Vickers' Facebook Page

EdsPhotoEd Munger
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association