I spent the evening co-facilitating a three hour grief workshop entitled “Your Heart Still Beats” in Wailuku. In attendance were several widows and being with them taught me so much. All of them had been married for decades. Each one lamented how her husband had been so strong and strapping in life and how shockingly hard it was when he died. The relationship between spouses is of course different than a parent and child, or siblings, and so, those differences carry over with grief too.
There is the trauma of being forced to adjust to a new identity. Many don’t know the ins and outs of the family’s finances or how to cope with a sudden change in status. The pain of losing a best friend, confidante, lover, co-parent, life partner is so huge. Talk about overwhelming!
Guilt was a big theme too. I am pretty sure that your loved one would not want you berating yourself because you didn’t do x, y or z. Guilt doesn’t serve any good purpose. So please try to let it go so that you can use your energy to make it through the obstacle course and come out whole on the other side of the grieving/healing process.
Here are some important points when forced into the role of widow or widower.
- You will experience a range of unfamiliar emotions. Feelings such as shock, numbness, anger, pain, helplessness, hopelessness and especially confusion can take you by surprise. Just know that these emotions are completely normal and that there is no set pattern for grief.
- Give yourself permission. Men and women grieve differently. Repeat after me, Men and women grieve differently. Trying to “bop til you drop” postpones the reality for while but filling each day with frantic activity may compound your grief. Denial doesn’t work forever and at some point you will have to face it.
- You will eventually overcome your grief. There is no magic time frame for the end of your mourning process. It doesn’t work that if you just wait long enough, it suddenly stops hurting. It just doesn’t. You have to work at it. Also, mourning is a natural and highly personal process. No one grieves the same way or in the same amount of time.
- Feeling off balance is normal. Grief is not a mental illness. The strong feelings suffered during grief gradually fade. You will start feeling stable again at some point. It will take work and you are not losing your mind or going crazy. You are grieving.
- You can say goodbye and survive. This may be the hardest part of the grief process but you will have to say goodbye. You will have to wish him or her well in your heart and acknowledge that he or she is no longer suffering or in pain. It feels overwhelming but letting go and saying goodbye is a sure sign that you are healing.
- Take care of yourself. Grief puts us in a state where we often don’t care about our own health and welfare. You may have been so focused on care giving that your sense of self is lost or put on the backburner. Or if the death was sudden you are in a funk feeling numb and cannot even perceive that your health is being compromised by stress or neglect. Try to maintain some form of regular exercise, eat healthy foods and get good sleep. If any of these become an issue please see your doctor.
I hope to see these women again in the future to see how they are faring on their own. They each touched my heart. You just never know what life is going to hand you so, do yourself favor and tell your loved ones at least once a day or more often how much you love them.
Steve, Brie, Noel, Keawe, Keoni, Keili, Malia, Miranda, Shaina, the babies, my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, etc. I love you more than you will ever be able to fathom.