Good Grief

We, as people, have this driving need to make everything okay. When things are okay (normal routine of life) we are comfortable. However, when something goes upside down and inside out, we feel it, and we struggle. We want to make it better. The only thing harder than pushing through our own tragedies is watching someone we care about face their own challenges.

Getting to the other side isn’t easy. It hurts like hell. We feel alone. We feel lost, unable to choose a direction that might lead us on the correct path. Some of us pray. Some of us keep a brave face and hide our grief, going about our daily lives as if not much has changed. Some of us growl. Some of us go silent–us silent ones, we cause the most gossip and schemes to ‘fix’ us.

When we pray, our supporters feel better because we are reaching out to a higher power. We we go about our normal days, we seem good to the outside world. We look like we are on the right track– even though inside we are tied in knots. When we growl, people might take a step back, yet there is comfort in knowing we have some fight left in us. But those that go silent worry our family and friends the most.

Depression. That’s what swirls around the minds of those looking in. We must have depression. Sometimes, they are absolutely correct and it is important to know the signs of depression (www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-adjustment-disorder). Other times, we just need space. I tend to be one of the silent.

Here is the truth about me (and many others like me):

I am a talker by nature. I love words (just ask my husband). Usually my words are day-to-day stuff or concern for others. I want to know about you and how you are. I want to hear all the funny things your toddler did and how impossible work was this week. When I am struggling or working through an issue I am often silent.

For people who love me, this sets off the alarms. In part, panic ensues because I am the rock for many and when my foundation shakes, it rattles those who depend on me to hold them up. Those same people care what happen to me and it concerns them when I change so suddenly. Rest assured, I am okay. I won’t crumble anytime soon–this rock may roll a bit, but at the end of the day, it is steady. I don’t walk around asking for help–believe me, when I say, I know when I need help and am not afraid to ask for it when I need to.

My silence is necessary–for me. Know that I may not return your call. I might ‘forget’ a lunch date or I might genuinely forget an appointment. I probably won’t cook and clean like I should–and I might not make it to the store to buy groceries so someone else can do it. I probably will miss paying a bill. I’ll nap more than I should and I will end nearly every night with time alone in a hot bath. For me, that isn’t depression, it’s coping.

In times of trouble, I don’t have room in my head to worry about your day–I’m doing good to get through my own. My head gets so full of stuff that dentist appointments and due dates might go unnoticed. You should call before you come over because I might need to make a path through my cluttered house. No one in this family has ever been starving, so someone else can find the store and everyone needs to learn that leftovers are fabulous–get used to them. While I am in bed, chances are I am doing plenty of sleeping, but I am also running through scenarios, memories, and praying–sometimes doing those things exhausts me so much I need another nap. In the bath I read and I think and I think about what I read (I love receiving words as much as I like giving them away). I probably will growl–probably more than I should ever admit–because sometimes my sadness comes through as anger. This is grieving, not depression.

I can also tell you what I won’t do. I will not feel guilty. We all will be better off if that is clear up front. I know I am doing what I need to so that I will be healthy and whole again. When you struggle, I will allow you to growl a bit too. I have enough guilt about other things, I can’t carry guilt for this too. I won’t be the person who is pretends struggles don’t affect me; I know myself too well to be that foolish. I will not apologize for not being myself. When I go through earth-shattering changes, I am not myself for a long time and I will never be the me I was before the experience. I will be different and hopefully for the better. That is the journey.

Fortunately, most of those who care about me know these things about me. Everyone has been wonderful through the loss of my grandparents (honestly). Losing them brought grief back into my life and made me more sensitive to the things people say and do when grieving, but also how it might be perceived by those who are trying to support them through this difficult journey. I watch people on TV and on social media platforms and sometimes comments are cringe-worthy for me. As much as we want to help, many times we aren’t sure what to do.

So for those of you who are struggling, whether it be custody battles, medical crisis, divorce,  someone’s death, or loss of employment, please know that however you feel it is okay. There is a difference between being sad and being depressed. Don’t let well-intentioned people looking in convince you of your path. At the same time, if you are feeling hopeless, or if you are trapped by sadness to the point where you can’t function, or if you feel like you need to get off the couch but just can’t–seek help. There is absolutely no shame in knowing you don’t have the answers to see the way out. Start with your family physician and if you feel comfortable, seek counseling–it can be more help than you can imagine (I have done both of these things in the past).

If you want to help someone grieve, here are some things to consider. First things first, you cannot get your friend or loved one through this strugge. It is their struggle. Doing it for them or keeping them from the task at hand can do more damage than good. Be a leaning post, carry tissues with you when you see them, and listen when they want to share. As much as we want to have the right words and come up with some quick fix, often that just isn’t feasable. You are not responsible for making them whole again. You are a supporter.

With that said, look for serious signs of depression. Sometimes a depressed person cannot see how deep their struggle is. In that case, sometimes an outsider can share their concern and what they are seeing. Be their mirror.

Please understand, just because they seem sad and sleep a lot does not mean they are depressed. Silence does not equate depression either.  Chances are, as they heal they will open up–when they are ready. It might be different than when you were grieving and it might be uncomfortable for you to watch. If you were in the car with someone who managed to get lost, you wouldn’t rip the wheel from their hands. That wouldn’t be good for anyone. This is their journey–you are there for entertainment and to read the map–let them drive.

 

 

 

Day 53: 365 Days of Motivation for Widows

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.  

–Anais Nin
American Author

English: A Magnolia tree blossom. Français : F...
Blossom.

Not many would equate healing as a widow with beginning to blossom and I certainly don’t think this quote was written with that in mind. I can’t think of a better way to describe what happens. It doesn’t happen immediately. There is no exactly timeline that it follows. The only thing that is for sure is you will know it when you feel it.

This healing is hard and it hurts every day. It hurts so bad that it leaves us in a sort of frozen state: can’t move forward and life won’t let us go backward. As we heal, we change and develop until the point comes when you cannot grow anymore without leaving that frozen state.

Stepping out into the world again is terribly scary. The world was scary enough with a partner. You have lost the partner and life has shown you exactly how ruthless it is, so moving forward with life isn’t all that appealing–for now.

The day will come, when it will be too painful to remain inside this box and you will take the risk–when  you need to take the risk. When you do, it might feel awkward and confusing, but if you keep moving you will feel the sun on your face again. Don’t be afraid to  step into the light and blossom; the most beautiful things come after darkness.

It’s All About You…

I started this site because I wanted to help other widows/widowers, younger ones especially. It turns out widows/widowers aren’t the only ones who can relate to my experiences. People grieving other types of losses are also able to relate. From those grieving their children to those grieving the loss of a marriage because of divorce.

I have heard from many of you. Many of you say the words are helpful. Most often it’s because you are experiencing the same thing or because you have had questions and knowing how I handled something answered some of your questions. Sometimes it is because you weren’t sure if you were doing the right things and hearing what I did reassured you in some small way.

That got me thinking (I’m a thinker by nature), what am I not answering?

I had a million questions as I was grieving, especially that first year or year and a half. My counselor answered as best she could, using her education, experience, and knowledge from how her sister handled it. That’s what I really wanted to know. How did another widow handle what I was going through? Sometimes I had so many questions, I wasn’t even sure where to start. I want to answer those questions for you, but there is so much to tell.

This process has been eleven years in the making. There were some things that touched me so deeply, they are still vividly playing in my brain. Those things are probably what I have written about first. There is so much more to say, but what if you are wondering something I haven’t mentioned. You are all at different stages of rebuilding from the storm. I bet you all have your own questions. Maybe some of you are wishing I would talk about X topic or wonder if I have ever experienced Y.
Here is your chance. Let me know. What questions are weighing you down? What problems do you wish you had solutions to? What do you wonder about? What would help you to know more about? Ask away. I would love to help you, if I can. Don’t feel stupid. There is no reason to. This is hard and it’s something that makes people so uncomfortable they don’t talk about it. Death really is the elephant in the room sometimes.  Don’t feel like I won’t know because no one else is going through it. Chances are that isn’t true. One thing this journey of blogging has taught me, we are all the same (well, close). There are definitely things you all have written in your blogs that I have not touched on and I read yours and completely relate to what you are saying–down to the exact words. It really is amazing.

This post may get a hundred responses or none. Either is okay. I just want to give you the opportunity. If you want to respond, do so in the comments. Just let me know the topic you’d like to talk about or the questions you would like answered. I will answer them in a post dedicated to just that topic or question. This offer never expires. The opportunity is always open.

 

10 Steps to Healing

The pain is deep right now. Perhaps, you can’t even imagine moving past this heartache. Definitely can’t imagine living life without them. I have been where you are. Circumstances probably different, but pain and heartache know few forms. There is a path to wellness.

I am not an expert  on grief, but I know how deep my heart ached and I know what I did to  help it heal. I will share my list with you. Maybe you can use it as a guide for yourself, or alter the list to fit you.

1. Get out of bed or off the couch, take a shower, and get dressed.

It’s hard. It’s very hard. Some days will be easier than others. Do it every day, even on the hard days. There is something about a shower that lifts your spirits and gives you a better outlook on the day.

2. Eat regularly.

Don’t skip a meal (or several). Don’t  binge at night when you are alone and in pain. I rarely felt like eating. I simply had so much on my mind and heart that food didn’t cross my mind–at first. And, when I was alone and hurting, I would go to the kitchen and just eat and eat and eat. I gained 40lbs. Not eating at all or eating too much isn’t good for you. It’s bad enough that your heart hurts, don’t allow your body to deteriorate too. Be mindful of meal times and emotional eating. Not every meal has to be an event. Eating at the table painful? Sit on the couch with a sandwich and fruit. I know eating in front of the TV isn’t the best, but that’s an easy enough habit to break later. Replace binge eating with healthy habits (see #3, #4, and #5).

3. Write.

No one has to see it. It doesn’t have to be beautiful. It doesn’t even have to make sense. Just write. Write down the ugly things you are thinking. Write out all the pain. Do not hold back. It helps.

It helps for a couple of reasons. Normally, you have all these jumbled thoughts running through your head. The could have beens, the need tos, and the what ifs. Writing allows you to put all that on paper. It clears your mind for more organized thoughts. It also puts all of that confusion on paper. You can read it and sometimes that helps you see things a little more clearly. You can mark things off the list, expand in another writing, or just spew and forget it. The important part is that it isn’t taking up space in your head.

Writing also leaves a trail of your process. Meaning, you can go back and look and see how far you have come. That is important. It’s important because there will be times when you feel like you will never grow, never heal. Intellectually, you probably know that isn’t true, but it is hard to convince yourself of that in those sad moments. It’s in those moments you can go back, look and see where you started and how far you have come. It will remind you that you are well on the way to healing and might give you some renewed strength to keep moving.

4. Exercise.

I don’t like to exercise, until I get started. Like I said earlier, I gained nearly 40lbs after Randy died. I knew I couldn’t stay like that. I had to do something.

I hoped I’d lose weight, but it came with other benefits too. When I felt anxious, I would exercise. Even if I couldn’t leave the house, I would stretch or do some simple sit ups. It took the place of the binge eating and gave me something to focus on other than how miserable I felt.

It also wore me out. Sleeping was always a problem for me. I fell asleep to the TV every night because I just couldn’t fall asleep. Between the thoughts and the loneliness, I was a mess. With exercise, I was so tired, when I laid down I fell asleep. No need to fall asleep with sad thoughts or the TV.

I also didn’t realize how angry I was until I started exercising. Exercising allowed me to pour out all of anger and frustration I was feeling. What a relief not to carry that with me anymore!

5. Volunteer.

Volunteering gets you out of the house and giving feels good. I volunteered at a christian pregnancy center. It’s a subject dear to my heart since I was a teen mom, but you can volunteer anywhere you want. It sounds strange, but volunteering reminded me that my life was tough, but in some ways, others had it tougher. It reminded me how many blessings I had and how amazing my support system was.

6. Get help.

There is no shame in admitting you can’t do this alone. It takes a village, my friend, to have an amazing life. We were not made to be alone, especially in times of trouble. You might think that your kids, spouse, or friends are enough. It’s true, you are so fortunate to have them in your life and any one of those people would do anything they could for you. Often, they are hurting too. And, usually, they don’t have a degree. A counselor is an irreplaceable tool for healing.

It feels silly at first, I admit. The rewards are many. Your counselor can help things make sense, answer questions, relieve stress, give you tips and advice to make life easier, and look for more serious signs of real depression. I’ll be honest. I dreaded every single appointment. I would fill with anxiety, and look for a way out of the appointment every week. Some weeks, I succeeded and stayed home. I’ll tell you what I noticed. When I stayed home, my weeks were terrible. I felt burdened and overwhelmed. I rarely did the other things that helped me and I stayed on the couch more often than I would like to admit. When I went to my appointments the opposite was true. I left the fear and anxiety at her office. I found I had more energy through the week to start tasks, and I actually accomplished some of them. I could sleep, eat, and even smile. It was a huge difference in my daily life from one short office visit.

There are many types of counselors to see. I chose a Social Worker. You will probably see the letters ‘MSW’ or ‘LCSW’ behind the counselors name if they are a Social Worker. Social Workers are not trying to find out what is wrong with you. They allow you to talk and they let you know what they hear, and what they have seen in other clients. Their approach is a little more casual. Find someone you like. It’s okay to meet someone and not like the way they talk to you or their approach to healing. For this to work, you need to have someone you can connect with, talk to, and trust. Little by little, month after month, you heal.

7. Do the work.

Healing doesn’t just happen and it isn’t a straight path to the finish line. Healing is hard work. If you slack, you dip backwards. Sometimes, you just go backwards for no reason. If you do the work, you will gradually keep moving forward, and that is what is important.

I’m sure you are wondering what ‘do the work’ actually means. There are 5 stages of grief as established by Elisabeth Kubler Ross. Those stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (in no specific sequence). Just because you have worked through anger, doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. It could resurface. And just because you think you have finally reached acceptance, doesn’t mean you are done. It is possible, in fact probable, you will re-visit at least one of these other stages off and on for years. That’s okay.

I call it work because it is. It isn’t easy. There is no way to go around it. You just have to trudge through and work at healing every single day. It might even be work from now until forever. There is no right way, wrong way, or timeline. We are all different and move through it differently. No matter who you are, or what your personality is, your healing is solely dependent on how willing you are to work and your drive to live a full life again. You can do it. I know you can do it because I did it. Just don’t be afraid of the work, my friend.

8. Resolve issues.

Life is messy. There are no clear paths. We are all human with faults and insecurities. Often there is unfinished business to contend with. If you lost a spouse or child, there might be bills that need to be paid, accounts to change, or personal possessions to get from law enforcement, work, or school.

If your loved one died as part of a criminal act, try to resolve the legal aspect and your emotional response to the act. Randy’s death involved a drunk driver. I had to think about what punishment I could live with in order to be able to forgive him and be okay with my decision. I also had several types of court cases to contend with. Every time I had to do something in the court system, it brought up all the pain from the day he died. So, if you can, try to resolve these issues as quickly, honestly, and completely as possible. Remember, forgiveness does not equal forgetting. If you choose not to forgive the person responsible, you give that person the power to control your life. I think he/she has had enough power. It’s time to take it back. Find a way to forgive the act so you can keep the focus of your life on you and your family.

Because we are not perfect, often we have a sense of missing out. We carry an internal dialogue of what we could have done, should have done, or would have done if given more time. We wish we would have said goodbye before they left or made sure we got up that morning to make their lunch. Perhaps you were in a hurry and skipped the scheduled goodbye kiss or maybe you had been fighting. It could even be that they did something so hurtful that you didn’t know how to forgive them and now wish you would have done it. Whatever ‘it’ is, resolve it.

Please understand, they knew you and loved  you. They know as well, as you do, that you felt the same way. It’s never too late to say it, though. It’s never too late to apologize or say what needs to be said. Find the place that you feel most connected to your loved one and say it. Do what needs to be done. You will never be able to move forward completely if you don’t do it. There will always be that wall that stops you. Your sister, child, spouse, friend, mother, uncle, or grandfather would never want that for you.

9. Forgive yourself.

There is never a way to change history. This wouldn’t be a problem, except, we are human. We make mistakes and we can be mean. We forget things, we over-react to others. We have good days and bad days. Heck, sometimes we have bad weeks or months.

Randy and I started young. We didn’t know who we were as people, how could we possibly know how to love each other? We didn’t. We made so many mistakes. I tried fixing us, but I couldn’t do it alone and he didn’t seem interested. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have answers and couldn’t do it by myself, so I made a choice and was willing to accept the consequences. What I wanted was to wake him up. I knew that instead, we might lose it all. I told him I wanted to separate. He wasn’t happy. I got a job, put kids in day care, and told him to move out. He refused. He tried so hard to fix things, but nothing was changing. I demanded he leave. That was his breaking point.

He came to me, we talked and talked and talked. We cried for hours. We did this for days. We came to realize that we needed to find ourselves, redefine love as adults, fix the misconceptions we had, and learn to be the people we needed to be. Above all, we realized we really did love each other and we could make it work. We really put in the work. We ended up with an amazing marriage. One that most wish they had. We were both so ecstatically, down to the depth of our souls,  happy. And then, a year and a half later, he was killed.

All I could think about was how much time we wasted. How many years we spent fighting and hurting each other. I felt so much guilt that I wasted what few years he had on this earth. Terrible guilt for him, terrible guilt for messing up what little time the kids had with their dad. That guilt turned to anger, anger to sadness, the sadness to depression…you get the point. I had to work hard to move past that. I forgave myself.

After many hours of thinking, beating myself up, and talking to friends and my counselor, I came to some realizations. I couldn’t change history. There was a variety of events that brought us together as a married couple so young. That was a tough spot and we did the best we knew how. All of that fighting and the ‘separation’ was learning. It was part of growing up. There were definitely growing pains, but wow, what a reward. I finally saw that had we not been through the turmoil, we never would have had the marriage we did in the end. Had we not been through the storm, we never would have re-built such an amazing, strong marriage and family.

The real tragedy would have been letting us continue to live like that. That year and a half of complete happiness was worth the pain that led to it and I don’t think that either one of us would have changed that course of action. We were who we were supposed to be.  I finally was able to forgive myself. Forgive yourself.

10. Live.

You deserve it. Your loved ones deserve it.

Moving forward doesn’t mean moving away from the life you once knew.  Randy is not a closed subject here. Stories are shared often. I never want the kids to forget (two of the three have little or no memories). Moving forward allowed me to share in a healthy way. I remember his likes and dislikes and guide my children in some of those. He lives on through them, even if it’s on a very small scale. I know they appreciate it, his parents appreciate it, and I feel good about it. He rarely is out of our minds. The difference is now, we don’t think about the day he died or his funeral every day. We remember the man, the spirit, the life we shared. That is a big difference. One you may not be able to imagine right now, but I assure you, life can be happy and complete without forgetting the person you lost.

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I hope this all helps you as you travel down your own path. I’ll leave you with one parting note. It might seem a little hokey to you, but I’ll share nonetheless. I often create my own mottos to get me through whatever I am going through. It’s just a simple phrase that I can say quietly to myself, or just think, and it reminds me of my task at hand. On my own journey of healing my motto was ‘strength, compassion, and faith’. That simple. It reminded me to stay strong on my weakest days, have compassion for others, even the man who killed my husband, and remain solid in my faith in God. After all, it was God who carried me when I couldn’t even stand. More than anything, those three words are what I wanted my kids to remember. Not hate, victimization, and pain. It’s amazing what three small words can change.

May you always keep your strength, compassion, and faith.

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“The power to change your life lies in the simplest of steps.”
― Steve Maraboli

Letter to My Younger, Newly Widowed Self

Dear Sara,

Life is a blur. It doesn’t feel real. I know you don’t care about eating or even getting out of bed. It’s hard for anyone to imagine what you are going through, yet their lives go on. It goes on until they see your face. Then, it becomes all too real how quickly life can change. You are a constant reminder of everyone’s worst fear.

To make themselves feel a little better, to ease their discomfort, they offer you encouraging words. “It’ll get better. I promise,” they say. “Time heals all wounds,” they reassure. “Everything happens for a reason,” they add. You listen nicely and move on. Afterall, you do realize they mean well. And they do. To be honest, these comments are not about you. It’s about easing their own discomfort. It’s about wiping this particular nightmare from their sleep. It isn’t that they don’t know what it’s like or they can’t see the pain. They might know how it feels. Believe me, they can see the pain.

They know nothing can make you feel better. Nothing can ease that pain. There are no words to fix what you are going through. None. If they could do something to fix it, they probably would. So, put away the negative thoughts. Quit the banter going through your head. Cut them a break. Besides, they might just be right, or at least on the right track.

You can’t see it now, there is too much pain. You can’t even manage to get through a whole thought. Your world is spinning. Oh, believe me, I remember.

You are doing the right things. The time spent with the kids does matter. It’s okay to stay on the couch. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay not to return phone calls. And it’s even okay to give up on ever being happy. At some point, you will get out of bed, shower, and leave the house–all in one day, even. Eventually, you will smile. When you think of him, you might even chuckle. And, one day, you will miss companionship so badly that you will consider meeting someone new.

If I could pass on one thing to my younger, newly widowed self, it would be this: You will live again–and happily.

I don’t want to seem apathetic or idealistic. You work hard. You put in long hours. You worry and cry. There are good days and bad. It does get better. Eventually, time does help you put things into perspective. And, everything is going to be okay.

As I sit here, happy, looking back, I can tell you that much of what those do-gooders said was true.

Please, don’t be afraid. That is the one thing you don’t have to be. Be kind to yourself. Take time for yourself once in awhile; wrap yourself around the kids the rest of the time.

It’s a journey you didn’t ask for, but it’s one worth taking. Just hold on.

Love,

Your older, wiser, happy self.