Last week another one of my girlfriends lost her husband. I’m devastated for her and their sons. Her husband was a brilliant, funny and beloved professor at a university. The Facebook stories from students, faculty and friends underscore the ways he encouraged and enriched so many lives. At some point, my friend will refer to those stories again and again. They will make her laugh, give her comfort and remind her of the wonderful man with whom she shared her life. Other than the passage of time, nothing will ease her pain. I know how she feels.
Whether we’re 30, 40, 50, or older, nothing prepares us for the death of a spouse. While I can’t take away her shock and anguish, I can share some things that helped me after James died.
Go to bed and get up the same time every day. Force yourself to develop a regular schedule. The outside world still awaits, and whether you want to or not, dealing with it is good therapy.
Exercise daily. Even if you walk to the corner and back, it’s better than doing nothing. It’s easy to stay in bed with the covers over your head, or sit in a chair in front of the TV. Inactivity gives way to depression, making each day more difficult.
Eat a healthy diet. Grieving physically hurts, like you have the flu. I lost a lot of weight after James died. I was never hungry, so it didn’t occur to me to eat. At the other end of the spectrum, comfort foods make us gain weight, which can be just as unhealthy as losing weight.
Ask for help dealing with the Will and settling the estate, even if it’s relatively simple. You have a lot to deal with, and many estate matters are more than you’re mentally prepared to handle.
Find friends who will let you grieve. Grieving is hard work. We can’t put our grief in a jar on the shelf and expect to be fine. Be around people who let you take down your walls. At the same time, be aware of people who may take advantage of your vulnerability.
Don’t make any major decisions for a year. Don’t buy or sell a house, unless you have no choice.
See a counselor, or join a grief group. A huge part of who you are has been ripped away. Many counselors say you can deal with it now, or you can deal with it later. If you confront your grief head on, you’ll be in better shape six months, or a year from now, than someone who doesn’t want to deal with it at all.
Don’t get into a rebound relationship. More than likely, it’s too early to go looking for Mr./Ms. Right. It doesn’t take away the pain, and if you settle for Mr./Ms. Right Now, you may have one more thing to grieve. It’s been four years since James died, and I’m still not interested in finding anyone, and that’s okay, too.
Be mindful of depression. If you think you’re depressed, regardless of the cause, ask your doctor for a referral to someone you can talk to. Don’t tough it out alone.
Grieving is a yo-yo process. Don’t be surprised if grief and sadness washes over you years after your loss. It doesn’t mean you’ve taken a step backwards. It means you’re human.
While family, friends, grief groups and God can help you through this time, only you can walk this road. It’s one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do, and you may be on autopilot most of the time, but I’m here to tell you, “You will survive.” Tell yourself, “I can do this.” Know in your heart that your spouse wants good things for you. Don’t let the memory of “what was” keep you from finding “what could be.”