Emotions

Taken from From One Widow to Another, ©2009 by Miriam Neff.
Used with permission of Moody Publishers.

Have you discovered, as I have, that our emotions upon becoming a widow have an intensity we never experienced before? Grief, loneliness, anger, disappointment—these are not new emotions to us. What took me by surprise was the power, the all-consuming grip, the sudden shock of an emotion rolling over me literally rendering me functionless for a moment or sometimes longer. As I searched for help, I discovered many books on grief, some helpful, some not. There were fewer resources on our other emotions that were specifically relevant to widows. While these emotions are similar for people who experience other losses, somehow ours is different.

While I want to offer some insights and resources on several emotions, I do recognize that these emotions cannot be neatly sorted out: loneliness, anger, grief, depression, each in its separate compartment. At times they clump together like army intent on taking us out. At other times we experience one ‘solo.’ We know some facts about our emotions as widows. It’s comforting to know that, while we don’t like the feelings, they are common, to be expected, and indeed normal considering our loss.

Facts we know about emotions:

Our emotions are intense. Why? Two became one and now half of us is ripped away and every aspect of our life changes like it or not, ready or not.

Our emotions must be acknowledged. Denial is not a healthy permanent option. Admitting what we feel is the beginning of moving forward and being able to make changes in our new life.

Our emotions can become empowering and energizing and a positive force as we create a new life.

Read on my dear sister. I trust you find comfort and healing here.

 

Anger

Taken from From One Widow to Another, ©2009 by Miriam Neff.
Used with permission of Moody Publishers.

Few women become widows without wrestling with the sticky emotion of anger. In those early days, it may be masked under grief and later muted by depression. But few women go through the journey of widowhood without that adrenalin producing, stomach churning emotion.

If you have read what I’ve posted on friendships, you know (and may have experienced) loss of people in your life that you expected to stand by you as a single person. And it hasn’t happened. While anger is a normal response, it is unproductive in those situations. Most of us find that we must forgive, even if those ‘friends’ never apologize for abandoning us. We simply must forgive in order to move on and invest our energies in new friendships given our new status.

Many widows have contacted me angry about injustices related to their husband’s businesses, finances, and people who’ve taken advantage of them in their time of grief and vulnerability. One even stated she had to return to his grave site and scream out her frustration at how their business partner had taken advantage of her upon her husband’s death.

This was a healthy step for her, did no injury or damage, (no one yelled back at her!) and helped her vent.

Living in a real world, family can be unfair and take advantage, organizations can be insensitive at best or even harmful, and even discoveries about our husband’s financial errors or lack of planning for us can be the culprit. If your husband’s death was due to suicide, anger is typically intense. Widows have allowed me to glimpse their journey through that, as well as other tough discoveries. I can report to you that many are moving forward positively. We all can. We have that option.

Rather than go into the anatomy of anger, I’d like to offer some simple thoughts on moving forward.

Don’t ignore your anger. Acknowledge it and determine at whom and why you are angry.

Don’t act or speak until you’ve had time to do the hard personal work of identifying at whom and why you are angry.
Create a plan to address the problem. Some widows have found it necessary to seek justice in the court of law for wrongs done. I have a young widow friend who must endure a lengthy court battle due to a wrongful death issue with a large company. Putting a plan in place will help you sleep even though the process may take months or years.

Forgiveness is essential. It is likely that you and I will need large doses of forgiveness for folks who don’t ask forgiveness (they may be oblivious to our pain) and perhaps seem even undeserving. I return to Jesus’ example with forgiving me and lean heavily on Him to help me do that. When Jesus was asked how many times we should forgive, He stated 70 times 7 which means forever, eternally, never giving up!

Remember that ‘fair,’ ‘just,’ ‘right,’ is not guaranteed here on earth. Only heaven will get and make everything right.

Set boundaries in relationships for self-protection. I liken this to ‘shaking the dust off your sandals and moving on,’ instruction Jesus gave to his followers when they landed in a place that would not accept them and their message for who they were and who and what they represented.

Two things are helpful to us moving forward. One is displacement–filling our minds with positives and counting our blessings instead of fuming. Another is physical exercise. Anger produces adrenaline which needs to be directed somewhere. I choose to swim vigorously, take a brisk walk, and attack weeds!

So my friend, lean heavily into your faith to do the hard work of forgiveness. You’ll move forward in your new life with new freedom.

Grief

Taken from From One Widow to Another, ©2009 by Miriam Neff.
Used with permission of Moody Publishers.

In spite of the countless books written on grief, I’ve found it to be the least understood emotion we experience loosing our dearest companion. My grieving started early as I knew my husband’s illness had no cure, and would march to his anticipated death. Being a reader and researcher, I looked for help early. “Anticipatory grief,” I discovered was the label for this wave that was sweeping over me while Bob was still here. Even as I audibly heard him tell me he loved me, I felt the ache of grieving inside knowing I would not hear those words much longer. How could I experience such joy at the words of his tender, baritone voice, and such pain inside at the same time?

I don’t know that discovering a label for my feelings helped, but at least I knew I was not crazy, just grieving early.

Much has been written about the stages of grief. The phases in general include initial shock followed by disbelief. Anger may move into depression. Finally, on its own time table, we move into acceptance. What many of us have discovered is that we don’t move through the stages in any predictable manner. The grieving process refuses to fit in neat packages. Grief defies the outline. In my conversations with many widows, we move forward, and then discover ourselves back in disbelief again.

Since that is our reality, I will not talk about stages but rather our experiences in grief. Please know too, that this is collective wisdom. I am privileged to have women in my new circle of friends who have been on this journey much longer than I. Watching the richness of their lives, I gladly share the insights they have passed on to me.

Your grief is unique. When we cry, where we cry, what prompts our pain is so, so different. Please do not compare yourself with another person. We are frequently asked, “How are you doing?” When you are asked that question do you find your mind leaping to other widows? Am I recovering as fast as they are? If not, what’s wrong with me?

My dear friend, does anyone know ALL that you are grieving now? Yes, they know you lost your husband. Do they know that you are suffering from the loss of future dreams? Do they know the plans you had that will never materialize? Do they know that the 75% departure of your friendship network hurts too? You think of the advice he will never offer your children as they go through life’s big passages—grandchildren events, marriages, all the life events that you will face alone. Please allow yourself to grieve in whatever way and for any amount of time that this emotion floats through your soul.

Grief is a messy emotion. Its face can be tearstained, blank, or a pasted on smile. Sometimes we camouflage it well. Other times there is no mask stiff enough and large enough to cover the fact that we are engulfed in the moment. How do we get through it? Of the following thoughts, I hope at least some will be helpful.

Moving through grief

Be kind to yourself. Sleep in if you need to. Only you know how to take care of yourself. Curl up in your fuzzy robe and slippers and sip tea. Stop to watch turtle doves. Take a deep breath. Wonder slowly through a park.

Give yourself permission to forget the task at hand. Grieving does take time and work. If we don’t allow ourselves to stop and recall, stop and weep, stop and drink in a memory, we miss a valuable moment of healing and moving forward.

Write a journal. If this has been one of your habits, you may find the volume increases. My journal became a way I still spoke to Bob. I still daired my reflections to God, but it became important for me to let Bob know all that was going on. If you and your husband conversed much, you understand.

Surround yourself with positive people. You know who they are. If you have been a helper and encourager in the past, it may be hard for you to NOT make yourself available to those who would drain you at this time. Some people actually seek out those who are grieving. They want to connect to tell them of their losses and woes. Not now. Maybe later, maybe not at all. While they are seeking understanding, please know that your emotional tank is already low, and you cannot risk it being drained further by their story. While grief support groups help some, they are not for everyone. When the program includes going over each person’s story, this may be too much for you.

Give yourself permission to try new things. Visit a place that has no memories. Change your schedule—meal time, sleep time—discover a comfortable new routine. Eat foods you’ve never tried before. Look for something on television that is new, curious, interesting, or funny. (I can no longer watch Cash Cab, which Bob enjoyed, but What’s This House Really Worth is intriguing, especially the international version.)

WHEN IT FEELS RIGHT, change the furniture layout in a room.

Follow your own wish on when, how, and whether to dispose of his things. I read a checklist that advised giving away clothing at least by month three after your loss. (The reason given was that they would soon be out of style and not as useable to others.) Eeee Gads! Please! More than one year after my loss, I am still comforted by Bob’s closet. I know a person who had to move within two months due to an unmanageable mortgage. She did not have the luxury of keeping things. We all must do what we must do—without laying guilt on each other or expecting others to be like we are.

Attend to your health. Grief weakens the immune system. This is a tough one. If you became a widow suddenly, unexpectedly, you may be thinking, “Who cares?” So much simply does not matter any more. Or, you, like me, may have spent months and years being your mate’s primary caregiver. You are tired. I understand. Your weight has changed; you can’t remember the last time you called a doctor for you. I stayed in that “Who cares?” space for several months. Perhaps we are numbed by grief, or have no reserve to focus on ourselves as we simply make it through each hour, each day. But I can tell you that it feels good when you are able to focus on some exercise that renews your body and your mind. I chose not to return to running, a decision my knees are grateful for. I stopped when Bob was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It seemed cruel to step out our door in running shoes given the diagnosis he had to face. I’m loving lap swimming regularly, something that Bob and I did not do together. It’s healing to body and mind.

Don’t compare yourself to others. First, the reasons we grieve are so different. Many are private. Secondly, we are created so differently as individuals including the intensity of our emotions. Finally, no two life journeys are identical. So why are we comparing? There’s no good reason. Rather than judge, let’s grant freedom; rather than analyze, let’s accept; rather than compare, let’s show compassion.

Depression

Taken from From “One Widow to Another”, ©2009 by Miriam Neff. 
Used with permission of Moody Publishers.

The statistics on depression and widows are, indeed, depressing. However, as you read this, remember, we are not defined by numbers!

One third of women upon becoming widows meet the criteria for clinical depression within two months. One year later one half of those are still clinically depressed. While some may be surprised by this, I think it is to be expected considering the importance of this event and the nature of depression.

First may I offer you a definition of depression that may be new to you?

Depression is a normal reaction to loss, crisis, or any traumatic event.

Psychologists and medical doctors generally agree on the definition and describe it in terms of observable symptoms. They speak of clinical depression (i.e. when the normal reaction to loss, crisis, or any traumatic event intensifies, and the symptoms interfere with normal, productive living) which typically includes:

1. moodiness (or sadness)
2. painful thinking (negative thoughts about self, lack of motivation, indecision)
3. physical symptoms of sleeplessness and loss of appetite
4. anxiety resulting in irritability
5. delusional thinking

Of these five symptoms it seems to me that most are normal, to be expected, and quite appropriate given the immensity of our loss!

So here’s some good news about depression:

It’s normal. (We are not crazy!)

It’s manageable. (We will move through it.)

It’s treatable. (For some, medical and/or therapeutic assistance is needed and helpful.)

What causes it?

Our traumatic event that triggers depression is obviously the loss of our husband. Our friends and acquaintances know and acknowledge that. What they do not see or know, and sometimes we ourselves are taken by surprise, are the myriad of other losses that accompany no longer having our husband in our life. Our circle of friends, our routine, our social life, the size of our income, possibly our home since moving is sometimes necessary or beneficial, our travel plans, our shared goals, our dreams. The list grows the more we ponder it. In order NOT to experience the symptoms of depression, we would need to be robots!

I have a new friend in her second year of widowhood. She is vivacious, energetic, and to outside appearances, parenting her five children splendidly. However, it’s hard! Sometimes in her secret moments she says, “O.K. Darrell its time for you to show up now. This is too much!”

Would anyone blame her for momentarily thinking, “His plane will land.” “This has just been an overlong meeting.” For those of us who have caught ourselves watching the driveway an 6:15 pm, we understand. Delusional? Not given our loss; this is normal.

Why are our experiences so different?

There is a growing body of research on depression in widows. As I read the information, I found much of the ‘research findings’ to be common sense. Research shows that the incidence and extent of depression depends on the length of our marriage and the quality of that relationship. (Of course!) Women who had had longer satisfying marriages were more likely to experience depression than those who had been married for less years, and/or their marital relationship was not as intimate a bond at best or troubled and dysfunctional at worst. (Naturally.) I have known women who were contemplating divorce when their husbands became terminally ill. Yes, their recovery appeared faster, understandably. They were already prepared to give up what they lost.

Research shows that the extent of depression depends in part on a person’s physical and mental health at the time of her loss, as well as her network of friends.

We don’t move into the trauma of our loss with a blank life slate. Women who have struggled with depression prior to this crisis often are back in the struggle. How did we face crisis in our past? Most of us, by this time, have had other trauma’s to face: post-partum depression, an unexpected, unwanted move, heartbreak over a child’s choices, divorce, or the death of others we cared for deeply. How did we move forward?

Healthy recovery ALWAYS REQUIRES that we change. With a change in life, crisis, trauma, or whatever, we must change to accommodate the new reality or hurt forever.

Those tools we used in the past to move forward positively, given our loss, can be summoned again to help us today. The extent of depression can be impacted by using successful tools from our past and developing new ones.

So, how do we move through depression? Hopefully of the following ideas, at least a few, will be helpful for you if depression is your struggle.

Accept the fact that events in real living may result in depression. We are not guaranteed a ‘no trauma’ life and we’ve been hit by one of the biggest. Therefore, depression is normal; there’s no need to feel guilty about being normal. Feeling guilty that you are depressed serves no positive purpose. In my observation, Christians are especially good at feeling guilty about being depressed! Give it up, sister!

When depression waves its flag, pay attention. The symptoms of clinical depression should be addressed. You may be able to address them on your own. If not, seek counsel and/or medical intervention. Many widows find that an antidepressant is helpful for shortened periods of time when their emotions are interfering with daily living.

Make adjustments. For example, to remain sad over reduced income does not fix the problem. That’s why this website includes information on our finances. We learn, we change, we budget. We can learn to be content with what we have. Grieving our lost friendships does not need to lead to depression. We forgive, let go, and enjoy our smaller social network and a few close friends. I am not surprised that half of the widows who experience depression are still depressed a year after their loss. Change takes time. No one else can dictate your schedule. There are so many necessary changes. If it were as easy as cleaning out the refrigerator, we’d all be dancing in a few months.

Address health issues. You’ll find this tip for each emotion. Depression seems to be especially connected to other health issues. The hospitalization rate for the recently bereaved is 600 times that of other people. Facing surgery alone, delayed recovery time due to grief, discombobulated living patterns can intensify depression. If your ‘Who cares?’ attitude is preventing you from addressing a health issue, enlist a friend as your support system or accountability partner. Encourage each other with weight goals or daily walking. Small steps are better than no steps. Celebrate and enjoy each accomplishment. God values our bodies. They are important enough to Him that each is an original. We only get one. We can replace some parts, but not the whole thing—in this life.

Remember what the professionals can and cannot do:

They can
Help you identify sources of your problems
Help you clarify and see additional choices you can make
Validate straight thinking
Prescribe medication when appropriate

They can not
Change your circumstances
Change or fix your past
Create your future
Change you