There is no escaping the unforgiving, relentless pain of grief. After we lose a spouse, the shock and awe of it all is just like being hit with a cast iron frying pan. Whack!! Suddenly we’re transported into a realm of unremitting pain and sorrow. We can hardly speak, read, walk or talk. To everyone else we may seem “just fine”, but we, in our own bodies, are grappling with what has just taken place in our lives. We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to figure it out.
No one knows these feelings more than those who have lost a spouse. No one! A divorce is not the same, a separation, none of these heartbreaking life experiences are equal to the loss by death of a spouse……..period.
Because of the pain involved in the grief experience, why would one want to grieve? Why not become busy and push the grief away until it’s gone? Here’s an answer: the pain of grief never goes away unless it is dealt with, head-on.
I have watched individuals shoulder the burden of the pain of their loss in many ways. Stiff upper lip, ignoring it, acting like they “got this”, becoming so busy that idle time can be a trigger as it may bring up feelings that make one feel so uncomfortable that covering them up with busyness, or some other unhealthy dependency, becomes the only way to endure a “new normal”.
If we continue to avoid the pain, it will linger in the ether. The danger of that is, because everything has energy, the energy from unresolved grief will seep into one’s very being, body, soul, heart. It will find a resting place and quietly demand to be dealt with at a future time. The insistence will be indiscernible in the beginning, but the longer one avoids dealing with the pain, the greater the consequences in the end.
Many, who have small children lose spouses and find themselves not being able to take the time to deal with the pain from the loss. They’re trying to figure out their next move so self-preservation mode kicks in and the focus becomes on practical things: money, home, childcare, schools, living quarters (if there’s a move that might have to happen), jobs and so on.
How do these individuals deal with the pain of the loss of a spouse? Often they don’t feel they have the luxury of time to do so as everyone else’s needs must be met. But a good thing to remember is that children have already lost a parent and they are afraid they could lose the one remaining So it’s imperative that parents who become widowed carve out time for themselves to deal with the pain of their loss. A few minutes before bed, or early in the morning, or in the bath or shower, are a few suggestions as to when one might have a bit of private time to reflect and grieve. If they can join a grief group, this will be a great source of comfort and support for those who are grieving. Also a pastor or a friend who is a good uninterrupting listener, you won’t have many, will help to ease the pain.
A few months after my husband passed away, I was seeing an acupuncturist in Manhattan. When he left me alone after the needles were inserted, tears would fall from my eyes like water. When I think back on that time I remember being certain that this was my “new normal”. I knew I would never ever get over my loss.One afternoon after a session, I told Dr. Lee that I’d wept so much. He told me to, “cry cry cry, weep, weep, weep. Rent a movie that makes me cry and watch it over and over and over again. Get the tears out, do not hold it in”. Then he added that when he was about to take his med boards (he was also practicing physician) his fiance was killed in a horrific car crash. He said he couldn’t bear the pain and just stepped away from it so that he could continue on with his life. In essence, he never grieved. He explained to me that here he was 25 years later and he was beginning to experience the repercussions of that decision to stuff his feelings away. I understood what he was talking about although I didn’t understand what he was referring to in terms of himself. He then told me that because he never dealt with the loss he was now having to deal with it big time.
My next appointment came along and when I went to his office, I was told that Dr. Lee was no longer seeing patients. He was closing down his practice because he’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I of course was saddened to hear this as his work with me had helped me regain my emotional well-being as well as my physical health. Since then, I’ve come to understand the importance of his advice and how his message of “don’t hold it in, get it out”, was critical to my own recovery from grief and being able to begin a new life without carrying underlying unresolved issues from my loss.
Unless the grief that we experience is dealt with along with unresolved , anger, guilt, hurts and all other unsettling emotional issues from our past, they will follow us forever. Unresolved grief will pop up again and again and force one to deal with it, and the longer we wait…sometimes the ramifications may be life-threatening.
I also knew that my time with this good doctor was done, and it was time for me to move to the next level of my healing. My bereavement group was the next level, a group of people who allowed me to express myself and cry without judgment or criticism. They were an amazing, thoughtful, interesting, eclectic group who were put in my path to support me on my journey. And I was there to support them.
There are many grief communities out there, online and in our local communities where we live that are available to assist those who’ve lost a spouse. Many churches, synagogues, hospitals and organizations have support systems for those who grieve.
But in the end it is up to us, we must have the desire to have balance back in our lives and we must want to lessen the burden of grief. Sometimes the pain becomes such a comfort that if we let go of it, we won’t know what to do with ourselves. But actually, if we let go of the pain of grief we will be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel and begin to rebuild our lives bit by bit.
The first step to letting it out is by letting it out. Cry daily, purge the pain and sorrow. Babies cry when they’re uncomfortable, in pain, want attention…and they get their parents’ attention. Tears are a human mechanism that allow us to release pain. Emotional tears actually have protein-based hormones which are a natural painkiller that is released when we are stressed. Suffering is for martyrs and we do not want to live a life of martyrdom after we lose a spouse.
Stiff upper lip does not strengthen you it just makes you brittle. We want to get back into the natural world and experience every bit of life while we have the chance with new found joy and love. Immersing oneself in grief, particularly at the beginning of one’s loss, will lead to a fresh start at the end of that dark tunnel.
To find out more about how you can heal after loss read Brave in a New World:A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/jnjs5fu