You’ve made it through the funeral and are now facing the reality of people returning to their lives. This is a reality check that you must actually begin to walk through your loss.
I thought when I sat graveside and received the folded flag in my lap that I was doing the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. Nope, that wasn’t it. It was actually getting up days and weeks later and living life through my overwhelming grief.
Since I did not anticipate that I’d be a widow at 33 years old – raising our one and only son by my lonesome – I did not cope well with the pain. My insides hurt and I wanted to change that so badly.
My faith in God was still in tact. I read the books of Job and Ruth on a loop eager to expedite the grieving process. Like most of my life to this point, I wanted to put this experience in a process and control my experience. I wanted to find myself in a loving relationship because I believed that it would numb the pain and fill up the gaping hole in my heart.
I found myself around a lot of well-intentioned folks eager to help me fill that hole too. They had activities they wanted me to sign up for, causes they wanted me to support and platitudes for days. I’m not sure, but I wish that another widow who’d been down the road as a young woman would have told me the following…
GET YOU AND YOUR CHILD(REN) INTO SOME SORT OF THERAPY.
It won’t be easy and what we found was that we had to try different set-ups before we found one that worked for us. In the 13 years since my husband’s death, I’ve seen five therapists, counselors or psychologists. Me. On my own. I didn’t think I could convince my child to go if I wasn’t doing the work myself.
And by now, you know that grieving properly is work. Something we must take time and make room for.
Another thing I learned was that my son’s voice about the therapy he was receiving – EVEN AT 6 YEARS OLD. He was highly intuitive – he’d seen a lot already – and I knew to listen to and trust his evaluation about his experience.
But we kept trying. The thing that worked best for us was a pediatric grief support group that separated the children from the adults on the same night so that everyone in the family working through grief could get help. It took many years for us to find it and for my son to be ready, but when he was, it was powerful.
For him, camps that focused on his grief (without me present) was also powerful. He did that for about four summers and it helped tremendously.
Look for the group(s) that best fit your needs and keep looking. It’s important.
REFRAIN FROM MAKING ANY MAJOR DECISIONS FOR ONE YEAR.
I mean, down to your hairstyle or color. Unless it’s a temporary wash out, I wouldn’t touch it. If you’re able to continue to afford your home and lifestyle, try to keep it the same for as long as possible.
I was in such a hurry to move forward that I prolonged my progress, stunted my growth by rushing forward. It was hard to know how I felt, what I liked anymore, who I was – I should not have been making any major decisions. I was re-learning. How to breathe, how to think, how to feel and how to love.
Take your time if you can, it’s better to go through it up front than to prolong dealing with the pain.
FIND A HEALTHY WAY TO ESCAPE EVERYDAY.
I’m not encouraging you to escape in the effort to avoid the pain but in this moment, give yourself permission to do anything (moral, legal, beneficial) you want everyday.
Watch movies that aren’t main stream. In doing this you may discover gems like Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine. You’ll also discover that your sense of humor is a little dark and that you enjoy stories where people go through hard things in life rather than the mainstream, Hallmark Channel stuff that loops shows about first world miscommunication problems rather than digging into real loss and pain.
Plan getaways. Travel alone, with your child, with gal pals. Go for a walk.
Cook + eat new food. Your baby may love spaghetti but 5 nights a week (with the other two nights being cereal) but consider a different flavor pasta sauce, a healthier box of cereal and add a vegetable or fruit. Take small steps to do new things.
DEVELOP YOUR OWN “CATCH PHRASE” TO RESPOND TO PEOPLE.
This was so hard for me. I was in so much pain. And because I did not take the time to create a simple phrase to be used in response to just about everyone, I caused pain for others and ultimately for myself.
You can’t plan for the triggers that may trip you up when you’re in line at the post office or the grocery store and it’s best to attempt to be prepared with a short sentence that helps you respond to people without trying to figure out the right, specific thing to say.
Work it out with trusted friends. People who can speak into your pain without shutting you down or asking you to mute your feelings, but who will also gently encourage you to consider that others just don’t understand what you’re walking through.
It is worth your time and energy to develop something like this in your own words. Write it down to send in texts or emails. Write or print it and post it on your mirror and say it into a voicemail or read it while on Voxer or Marco Polo, however you are staying connected.
You may already be doing some of these things. And for that I want to tell you, I’m proud of you!
I’ll be sharing another four ideas in part two on this topic.
Breathe. You’ve got this.