I was surprised to find myself fearing some things that I hadn’t feared before, or hadn’t feared as much before she died. When I knew I would be alone in the house for the first time after her death, I was afraid of what my emotional reaction might be. I asked my son and his wife to stay in a guest bedroom that night, and my fear of being alone in my house subsided. The next night was fine. Within a few days, new fears intruded: running out of money, being sick with no one to care for me, making bad decisions without the benefit of her wisdom, and the fear of breaking down crying in front of people. You may find that you have new fears or old fears that are stronger now that you are alone.
Fear can be rational or irrational. Rational fear is your mind warning you of potential hazards. It leads you to take preventive action to protect yourself and others. Irrational fear is unreasonable, out of proportion, and not based on facts. Irrational fear can disable you and slow your grief recovery. If it comes upon you, try to identify it for what it is and do what you need to that day, defying unreasonable fear.
A widow friend of mine fears air travel after her husband’s death. I know that other widows fear driving alone and to be in public places surrounded by strangers. Most men don’t experience their aloneness in these ways. There is enough of the bully in most of us to feel that we can make things turn out as we want. We may be more likely to be surly with other people if things go wrong at an airport or in traffic. We men tend to soldier on stoically, even grimly, rather than seek help or look inside ourselves. We shouldn’t be surprised. Men are, after all, different from women.
If you don’t have fears, other people do. If you have adult children, they will fear for you even if they have little reason to fear. Your friends may fear for you, especially if you expressed natural, open emotion at the time she died or at her funeral. Keep in touch with those people. Don’t ask about their fears or yours; mere contact with them will restore calm. Action on your part will also avoid solicitous inquiries that are awkward for you and your family.
Although I am not Catholic, I am impressed by Pope John Paul II’s frequent advice not to fear. “Do not fear,” he said often. The Bible is full of admonitions to deny fear of its power over us. These warnings have caused me to wonder why they are so important and so frequent. Surely we are not to be unwise about things that warrant real fear, rational fear. But we should not let ourselves be paralyzed by the unreasonable, irrational fear that will hold us back and limit the full lives we can have.
Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at [email protected]