Waves of Grief

Death and grief have their way with us in life. They change us. These beautiful thoughts from an old man ring true and bring comfort.

When Asked for Advice on How to Deal with Grief, This Old Man Gave the Most Incredible Reply

    

Someone on reddit wrote the following heartfelt plea online:

“My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.”

Many people responded with words of encouragement, but one response in particular, by an older gentlemen, really stood out from the rest…

Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love.

So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

 

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out.

But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

 

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Goals & Grief – Widowed and Resolved to Be a Better Me

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You’ve made it through the holidays and perhaps you’re saying good riddance to this year, your soul scarred by love lost. In the transition to the new normal, from you to new widow you – time can be cruel. You don’t have enough time now that you have the responsibilities of two people; and yet you have too much time on your hands, the long stretch of lonely hours.

But time is also on your side. It may sound trite, but there is truth to the old adage: ‘time heals.’  With that mind, the New Year holds great promise, a future filled with hope and comfort.  Try to embrace this season of new beginnings.

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This time of year also speaks to our sense of self improvement, looking back and thinking ahead. These might feel like daunting tasks in light of losing your loved one. Resolutions may seem pointless and trivial.  But the opposite is true, now more than ever you need to think of yourself. Focusing on a goal, unrelated to your loss, can be a tremendous aid in the grieving process.

During this time of bereavement, goals may be more about soul-enriching than calorie-counting. Now may be the time to pursue a passion (painting lessons), a lifetime goal (learn to speak French) or a lifestyle change (kick that nicotine habit). Whether you enroll in a yoga class or start volunteering – choose something that makes you feel good about yourself.  It’s time to be the best you you can be.

One of my new year’s resolutions that first year was to slow down, which was difficult to do, I’m hard-wired to rush, a true New Yorker.  Plus, it’s in my genes. My mother was notorious for cutting slices of dessert before we even sat down to dinner.  “Cake or pie, dear?” was the call from the kitchen, my Mom in a rush to cross it off her internal To Do list.

To all my widowed friends, I wish you health and happiness, peace and comfort, and the ability to find joy in every day.

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What We Read When We Grieve

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There are plenty of surprises during the grieving process, such as the unexpected emotional meltdowns in the unlikeliest of places. One unanticipated side effect (aftershock?) was my indifference to fiction immediately following Robert’s death. The time I most needed to get lost in a good book, I found myself shunning my favorite genre. My theory? I didn’t have the patience for other people’s stories; having lived with an alcoholic for years, my story seemed more dramatic than anything I would find in the pages of a novel.

Not only that, seemingly overnight I became a slow reader. (I don’t recall reading that in any of the bereavement brochures.) It lasted almost a year. Eventualy I began finding my way back by reading other widows’ tales. Over time, I reverted to my normal reading habits. But that blip on the radar of my reading life intrigued me. Why the change?

What type of books were you drawn to when you became a widow? Did your reading habits change in any way? Were you drawn to widows’ tales? Did you switch from fiction to non-fiction? Bury yourself in a series? Find yourself engrossed in a particular genre? Perhaps you stopped reading for a while.

I’m writing an article about what we read after experiencing a loss, specifically the loss of a spouse and would love to hear from other widows. Please contact me directly at licata@optonline.net or post comments here at Widow 2.0 or on the Widow 2.0 Facebook page.

 

 

  • “To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” ~W. Somerset Maugham
  • “We read to know we’re not alone.” ~William Nicholson
  • “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ~Stephen King
  • “Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” ~Voltaire
  • “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” ~Anna Quindlen
  • “Reading brings us unknown friends” ~Honore de Balzac

Mixing Grief and Gratitude? Really?

 

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After a loss, being thankful might not be at the forefront of your mind – but it should.

How do you focus on gratitude in the midst of grieving? Start by thanking your loved ones, all those who have been your support system during this difficult time – family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances. The act of sharing your gratitude will initiate positive feelings.

Be thankful for the love you had. That’s a gift for a lifetime; it’s never lost.

And be thankful because it’s healthy. An article in The New York Times on 11/21/15 notes:  “…gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our “reward circuitry” that produces the sensation of pleasure).  It’s science, but also common sense: Choosing to focus on good things makes you feel better than focusing on bad things.”

Wherever you find yourself this Thanksgiving, be grateful for your strength and resolve in moving forward. You provide comfort and guidance to those around you. Inevitably, they are just as grateful for having you in their lives.

Empathy Online

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Social media often gets a bad rap, but when the widowed need empathy, it’s always available online.

Empathy comes in many forms and forums. Certainly we can avail ourselves of in-person bereavement groups and widow/widower support groups, but finding someone who understands at 3:00 in the morning when you can’t sleep or Saturday nights when everyone else is busy can be a lifesaver. It’s not just the round-the-clock availability that’s so inviting, but the forum itself consoles, allowing us the time to digest others’ thoughts about their loss, as well as provide an opportunity to carefully compose our feelings. The act of writing is not only cathartic, but often clarifying.  As E.M. Forster wrote: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say.”

Can online compassion trump in-person sympathy? Occasionally. Coming face-to-face with a well-meaning well-wisher’s “How are you doing?” can be difficult at times, the answer almost impossible to convey. Facebook groups and websites for the widowed serve an important niche: grieving privately, expressing communally.

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A recent article in The New York Times noted that Larry D. Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University who specializes in the effects of technology, found in a recent study that “virtual empathy was positively correlated with real-world empathy.”

Of course the goal isn’t to replace human contact; on the contrary, the widowed shouldn’t isolate themselves. But when family and friends can’t be there or those in your inner circle can’t fully comprehend the widowed experience, online communities provide comfort and consolation.

The Mourning Forecast – Grief Surges

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There’s no five-day forecast for our emotions, especially during bereavement.  We can’t predict how we’ll feel tonight, tomorrow or at any point during the Year of Firsts – as well as every day thereafter. What we can expect are grief surges – an unexpected rush of emotions.

We brace for grief on the usual markers, those dates in our calendar imbued with meaning: birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. But there are moments – sparked by a song or the aroma of that signature dish or a glimpse of a photo – that sets us off. Although many times there’s nothing in particular to identify in terms of a trigger, the grief just comes crashing over us.

And it doesn’t just wash over us with sadness, it knocks us down. Grief impacts us mentally (in the form of anger, guilt, anxiety); physically (by disrupting our sleep and affecting our appetite), socially (with the tendency to withdraw), as well as emotionally.

There are no easy answers for coping with grief, but it’s often comforting to know that we’re not alone; others are going through the process – only their version of it. Here’s what we can expect…in the unpredictable realm that is the New Normal.

  • Grief cannot be scheduled, rushed or avoided.
  • Mourning does not adhere to a timetable.
  • There is no antidote for bereavement.

No Need to Go Ostrich, But Resolve to Remember the Good

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I heard myself telling people at the wake and funeral how lucky I felt. Yes, lucky. Robert and I had some wonderful years together for which I was grateful. Despite his alcoholism and other marital struggles, I felt fortunate that love had found me.

Many of Robert’s students told me how he talked about our life together in the classroom. “He was always telling stories about you, his dad and your mother,” said one of the university students with a smile. Communicated in their facial expressions – grief-creased brows of smooth young skin – was Robert’s love for me. How could I not feel lucky? Who wouldn’t savor the validation of love?

I’m hard-wired to see silver-linings and was able to put the past in perspective. Not all of us can do that, or do it after a death.

Some widows may find themselves dwelling on the hurt and pain of their marriage, robbing themselves of the good memories. We make choices even in the thoughts we ponder. Is your brain on angry widow autopilot, defaulting to unresolved issues, resentments, fights? Make a conscious effort and choose to see the good. If I never met Robert I might not be a widow today; but, had we never met, I wouldn’t have had all those great experiences and a relationship full of laughter and love. Perfect? Nah. Problems? Arguments? Ugliness?  Absolutely. Was it worth it? Yes.

March is a good time to revisit new year’s resolutions.  Lose weight. Get organized. Save money. While others are cutting calories and clipping coupons, some widows have the all-important year-round task of resolving to remember the good. As you adjust to your new life, be determined to appreciate the past. You don’t have to go ostrich. No need for denial. But make room for the good. Remember you’ve been loved and adored – you’re one of the lucky ones.