Recently, I was thinking about all the challenges of being a widow. Some of these challenges can overwhelm a widow adjusting to life without a spouse and continue for several years afterwards. I am fortunate to oversee a widow’s support group in my city, and we were discussing some of the emotional and physical manifestations of grief.
- Being irritable, even at the smallest things
- Insomnia, nightmare and staying up late at night
- Anger and bitterness towards others and the world
- A feeling of the world being unfair
- Difficulty socializing and avoiding social functions or church
- Difficulty completing daily tasks or doing them poorly
- Lots of crying
Even after many years of being a widow, I can still experience many of these reactions. And even more. Like being anxious with rapid heartbeats or conversely being depressed, moody and feeling lifeless. Trying to find reasons to live again after my husband unexpectedly died has taken all these 6.5 years. Most days I think I’m an overcomer and have succeeded in rebuilding a life worth living. Other days, I want to just quit under the weight of managing a household alone with less financial support, while juggling a part-time job.
Early in my grief journey, I studied and read about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a condition that can develop after a stressful event. They classify “sudden grief” as a PTSD condition, that can start within a month or even years after a sudden, unexpected death. PTSD can show up as nightmares or reliving the death event. Or even avoiding things associated with the memory of the event. I remember whenever I saw or heard an ambulance, I would have anxious thoughts or cry. For years I purposely re-routed my daily trips to avoid the hospital location where my husband took his last breath. Anything that brought up those horrifying memories I avoided.
And I thought I was alone. The only widow experiencing such stressful, seemingly inappropriate feelings. I couldn’t tell anyone for fear of being made fun of. I wanted to be the “strong black woman”, able to handle my grief! So, I kept it to myself. All bottled up. All that pain, anxiety and hurt.
I have learned the feelings I felt (and still feel) are a normal part of the grief journey. We are meant to let go of those tears and experience the refreshing feelings of relief. That’s the natural result of being hurt. To cry. To be angry. To lie down on our faces sobbing. We are wounded. The love of our lives is gone, never to share another smile, laugh, or life experience. And it hurts. It hurts hard at times. Often very unexpectedly.
A woman in the support group the other day reminded me very clearly: our hearts are broken. Very simply put. We are living with a broken heart. And it is not a sign of weakness, or lack of resolve to hurt that we have these feelings. It just hurts. It’s just grief.
If you are experiencing PTSD, it is important to seek out help and support. You don’t have to do live alone. Find someone to listen to you and your heart story. It’s also important to seek out clinical, professional advice, if needed. Not all grief is the same, so not all therapists can relate and be able to provide the best treatment or services. But start somewhere. Don’t suffer in silence.
Hope for Widows Foundation is an excellent resource for widows to connect with others experiencing the loss of a husband. Read the blogs, use the resources and if you’re able, locate a local grief support group to help you navigate through this grief.
I love you and remember, we are in this together trying to live with a broken heart.