TORONTO – Just weeks after Celine Dion lost her husband Rene Angelil and older brother Daniel to cancer, the pop superstar will soon return to work.
A celebration of Angelil’s life is slated to take place in Las Vegas on Wednesday, and after having little time to mourn privately, Dion is scheduled to resume her residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on Feb. 23.
Angelil had been battling a recurrence of throat cancer, which he was first diagnosed with in 1998. He had three sons with Dion, who took a year-long hiatus to care for him before he died.
But even for those like Dion who know the loss of their spouse is imminent, the experience isn’t any less painful when their partner dies — an experience Carole Brody Fleet knows all too well.
In 1998, she had just left the legal profession to embark on a new career in the beauty and cosmetics field, all while enjoying a “normal life” with her husband Mike, a Santa Ana, Calif., police officer, and their nine-year-old daughter Kendall.
Any sense of normalcy was shattered when Mike was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He died just two years later. Four months after Mike’s death, Brody Fleet’s dad passed away.
“People say things like: ‘You knew it was coming because he was so sick for so long,’ which I’m sure at least one person has said about Celine Dion’s situation since her husband battled for many years. But there’s no way to be prepared for death,” said Brody Fleet, an author and grief recovery expert.
“The difference between concept and reality is about 10 million miles.”
Brody Fleet said work can be therapeutic for the bereaved, and she has “every confidence” that Dion will give her all when she returns to the stage. But she also hopes that the singer takes time away from the spotlight to cope with her grief.
“She is a public figure, and that public is paying to see a show that she feels compelled to deliver. It’s incredibly difficult,” said Brody Fleet, whose new book “When Bad Things Happen to Good Women” is due out in April.
WATCH: Celine Dion lays flowers on casket of husband René Angélil
Brody Fleet said a strategy that served her well was committing herself to work and obligations during the day and later allowing herself to cope with her pain privately in any way she saw fit, whether it was having a glass of wine or crying in the bath.
“It’s very easy to … create avoidance around grief. That’s another reason why the compartmentalizing for me was so important,” she said.
“I was fulfilling my obligations at work while also regaining my traction and my strength at work; and I was also allowing myself the time and the luxury, if you will, of being the grieving widow that I was.”
Aruna Ogale, executive director of Bereaved Families of Ontario-Toronto, said participants in her chapter’s spousal support programs often talk about the social isolation they experience when their partners die.
In addition to seeking out support groups to foster new relationships, she also recommended the bereaved see if their workplace offers an employee assistance program if they need counselling.
“Do what feels comfortable to you,” she said. “Make sure to give time for yourself, but look at things that make you feel like yourself.”
Brody Fleet said it’s important for those who are bereaved to be honest with employers about how they’re feeling physically and emotionally and what they can handle in the workplace.
“It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. It’s not a sign of strength to handle everything alone,” she said.
“If you can get help at work with your workload, take the help. If your employer offers you an opportunity to telecommute, to work shortened hours, if any of these things are options, take them.”