A widow may be what we are, but it is not who we are.
FACT: There are more than 100,000 widowed people in Oklahoma; 800,000 people become widowed each year in the U.S.
Many friends and family say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” In shock, struggling with deep grief and overpowering waves of loneliness and confusion, leaving us unable to think clearly we don’t know what we need.
Friends stopped trying to reach us when we didn’t answer the phone, not realizing that I was in the middle of a crying jag and simply could not talk. When I didn’t return calls because I did not feel like talking friends and family assumed they must be bothering me, so gave up trying to stay in touch. When the cards and the phone calls stop and offers of help become few and far between, I wondered if I said or did something wrong.
Friends who have never lost a loved one may avoid us widows. It isn’t that they don’t care. They simply may have no idea what to do or say to someone who is grieving. They are terrified of making us cry by saying the wrong thing or mentioning our husband. Yet, I want to hear people mention him; to know that they remember him and that he hasn’t been forgotten.
A chance encounter at the grocery store, we both feel awkward. I force a fake smile, decline offers of help reassuring them that I am doing just fine and keep the pain inside. Taking me at my word it is assumed that I am doing well and don’t need help. (THEREIN LIES THE PROBLEM!)
Believing I must be strong so others aren’t forced to see my pain and sorrow and pity me, I put on a big act to appear normal. I stay so busy to fill the void, that people around me are convinced that I am doing well. My smile further convinces everyone that I am ok. However, when I am alone, I am often in a heap on the floor sobbing. Only another widow would know the truth and realize the excruciating pain I am in. I can’t even clean my house or cook. Every day is a struggle. Yet I don’t want to be a burden or whine or complain or have anyone know that I still continue to grieve. I don’t want to appear weak.
We must be honest and clear about what it is that we need when someone offers to help. Well-meaning family and friends who truly want to help aren’t mind readers. If we insist that we are “fine” they may feel that we really are ok. This may leave us feeling irritated that “nobody helps”. If complete strangers or the widowed clerk at the grocery store seem more concerned than your friends and family, it may be that you being less than honest about your needs makes everyone believe that your are alright.
Family and friends want to help. Thrive on the fact that they want to help as they can be good company.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GRIEVING: Many widows don’t understand the importance of grieving. Grief is a wound that needs attention in order to heal. Attempting to avoid it only makes it worse. Unexpressed grief lasts indefinitely and will blindside us at moments when we least expect it, taking us on an emotional roller coaster. After the loss of a beloved family member some who have not allowed themselves to properly grieve suffer ever after. Suppressing emotion can have long term, destructive consequences manifesting as physical symptoms.
Once we decide to face those painful feelings openly and honestly, for however long it takes for the wound to heal, the raw, all-consuming shock and intensity of grief will soften.Gradually, at our own pace, we find that we are slipping back into the routines of daily life. It is important to remember that all the unbearable feelings of pain and fears, of being unable to function any more, are normal.
ANSWERS ABOUT GRIEF
HOW LONG DOES ONE GRIEVE? While there can be pressure, often from well-meaning family and friends, to attain “closure” by the time a year has passed the truth is that grief doesn’t necessarily conclude at the end of one year. Dr. Anthony Komaroff, Harvard Medical School responded that even after 51 years the anniversary of his dad’s death is a sad day.
GRIEF, WHICH DIFFERS GREATLY FROM ONE PERSON TO ANOTHER, IS A PERSONAL PROCESS. Everyone grieves differently; coping, adjusting and healing in their own way, on their own timetable. No one should tell you how you should feel or act after your loved one has passed. There is not one “right” way to do it, nor such thing as a timeline.
Give yourself permission to grieve. Don’t push yourself. Take all the time you need, however long it takes for the wound to heal. Listen to your heart. Don’t try to be brave and strong. Don’t be something you’re not ready to be. Cry when and where you need to. Be patient with yourself.
The length of time the loved one has been gone does not make a difference in the grieving process; grief takes it’s own time. Perhaps if people were not made to feel they had to get over it, life might be easier on them. The only people who think there’s a time limit for grief have never lost a piece of their heart.
The more important someone was to your life, the more opportunities there are for both happy and sad reminders. A familiar scent, song or likeness may trigger feelings of grief. Remember this is entirely normal.
Love is stronger than death so you will always have that special place in your heart and never forget about you loved one, even as you begin to enjoy new things that make you happy.
Welcome comfort wherever you find it, but most of all take good care of yourself. And if you need a break from grieving, that’s OK, too.
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” ~Washington Irving.
We grieve with hope (I Thess 4:13-18)
ARE YOU FORGETTING THINGS? DOES YOUR MEMORY SEEM BAD?
Don’t worry about it. During a stressful event, such as grief, catecholamines suppress activity in areas at the front of the brain concerned with short-term memory, concentration, inhibition, and rational thought. (Simply put: our brain protects us by affecting our memory when life is overwhelming or too painful. You may find that you don’t have the ability to handle difficult tasks during that time. In great pain and feeling deep loss and sorrow you cannot comprehend or think as clearly as you normally could, yet, you are immediately called upon to start making important decisions.)
You might feel that you are in complete control and behaving normally but you might be wandering around in a fog. You are not going crazy. This is very normal.
Left alone to grapple with financial and legal questions you now have the worry of getting rid of all of the things they collected over the years. Where and how does she start to get rid of it all? There is much needing to be handled in a very short period of a time.
Not thinking clearly your decisions can be very flawed and based on just getting past the loss. Making major life decisions or missteps, while in shock, can prove complicated or perhaps impossible to undo years down the road.
You may feel lost, alone and worn out. Fatigue, anxiety, and stress can affect your health. Physical illness can also affect your memory.
DEPRESSION, COMMON IN WIDOWS, IS A NORMAL AND APPROPRIATE RESPONSE TO THE LOSS OF A LOVED ONE.
To not experience depression after a loved one dies would be unusual. Grief is a process of healing and depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way While depression feels as though it will last forever it’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness.. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, wondering, perhaps, if there is any point in going on alone.
Overcoming Depression: Research has shown us that while exercise is the last thing a depressed person wants to do physical activity is a powerful tool in treating depression. Getting the body moving helps boost the recovery process because exercise helps by releasing mood-elevating hormones. These hormones relieve stress and promote a sense of well-being to lift spirits. A simple walk, a bike ride, yoga or a harder workout can ease agitation, anger and depression.
ANGER IS A NECESSARY STAGE OF THE HEALING PROCESS
At first, grief feels like being lost, with no connection to anything. Then you get angry at someone and your anger has no limits. Quite often family and close friends become a convenient target. We may turn our rage toward someone we love because they don’t understand the true pain and loneliness or see exactly what we need help with or they don’t behave the way we expect.
We may come to resent the ones who step up to help during the period of time when we aren’t thinking clearly. Caring family and friends may at times annoy you. While still in our foggy state of mind we assume they are being pushy and focus our anger on them. The important thing to remember is that they cared enough to help. Hold tightly to them.
The anger can extend past family and friends, to the doctors, inanimate objects, and complete strangers. We may be angry with ourselves that we could not save him. Anger, which is tied so closely with grief, may even be directed at our loved one who died, when rationally we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry. We may even be angry at God.
Suddenly we have a structure with our anger toward someone else. The anger becomes a bridge; a connection from us to them. It is something to hold onto; and a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing. We usually know more about suppressing anger than feeling it. Anger is just another indication of the intensity of our love. http://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief
ONLY ANOTHER WIDOW WOULD UNDERSTAND
It is impossible for anyone, including a therapist, to understand what we are going through or how to respond unless they personally have experienced the death of a spouse. What is difficult to put into words another widow understands. Someone who has been through it, and known the absolute depth of despair, can provide comfort and hope, by assuring the widow that what she is feeling is normal. No amount of therapy is going to be enough unless a widow has other widows to talk to.
Amazing conversations happen and a lot of healing takes place when widows connect with other widows. We become each others mentors and good friends as we share advice, confusion, pain, sadness, anger, friendship, hopes, suggestions, family happiness, love, laughter dreams and a deepening faith. “Small groups” within a church require minimum time from pastoral leadership.
Whatever we say, in a small group of widows, somebody has experienced something like it and that helps us to feel safe. We can talk honestly about everything, confiding our true feelings and thoughts we won’t share with others. We cry as we share tears when talking of the unrealized hopes, dreams and expectations for the future and now the journey through life after death of a spouse.
HELPING OTHERS HELPS US
We learn from those who have been down a similar path of loss and grief that our feelings are normal and that we are not going “crazy”. Although we all have different stories and a different journey we all have one thing in common. While circumstances may be different, the feelings aren’t and we find that by helping others we are helped with our own healing.
Viktor Frankl, in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, says that if you cannot escape suffering, dedicate yourself to a cause, a person, or a goal. Living to help others gives meaning to our suffering. God will provide us with the strength to help others.
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“When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” – the Dalai Lama
“Each time I perform an act of kindness, a part of me heals.” – Lupi Ngcayisa
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” – Edith Wharton
“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela
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Be sure to read the comments below. We’d love to hear your comments that can help other widowed folks.
WILL YOU SPEAK UP FOR THE WIDOWED?
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