Can You Heal While Living in the Past?

If you are depressed, you are living in the past.

If you are anxious, you are living in the future.

If you are at peace, you are living in the present.

Lao Tzu (6th-century BC Chinese philosopher)

When we first enter deep grieving after losing our wives, we often do everything we can think of to hold on to her. This can include (as it did for me) going through all the old photos, slides, and mementos to try and keep her close and to live in the past.

A part of us has been ripped away, and we don’t want to let it go. We cannot imagine our life without her. Some, like me, may have trouble even remembering how she looked, sounded, and felt as a wall of nothingness cuts you off from her. This may be your mind’s way of protecting itself by anesthetizing you to the pain of remembering her.

I often felt as if the world around me was surreal as I numbly walked through it for months after losing my Theresa. I could not call up an image of her in my mind, or see her in my dreams.

It is perfectly natural for us to fall into a state of deep grief, and even full-blown depression while trying to hold on to these memories of our wives. The anxiety, fear, and depression can cause various symptoms of widowers syndrome, including the threat of an earlier death for us due in part to the added stress and resultant health issues.

As we process our grief, there is a difference between:

  • Melancholy or a “state of feeling sad and with low spirits” (Merriam-Webster),
  • Nostalgia or “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to some past period or irrecoverable condition” (Merriam-Webster), and
  • Depression which can be “a mood disorder that is marked by varying degrees of sadness, despair, and loneliness and that is typically accompanied by inactivity, guilt, loss of concentration, social withdrawal, sleep disturbances, and sometimes suicidal tendencies” (Merriam-Webster)

During our lifetimes we all experience some of these, but during deep grieving it is easy to fall into the more severe expressions of these. It can seem scary as hell, and you may doubt your ability to pull out of these dark places.

Melancholy and nostalgia, if periodic rather than constant, are perfectly normal and are likely to dissipate over time. They can become constant in your daily life, especially if fed by alcohol and/or drugs. We are also likely to experience some bouts of depression during the deep grieving period which usually runs anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.

Friends and family are likely to not really understand what you are going through, so this is why it is so important to involve others who can help you in your grief journey. Grief counselors, grief groups and their facilitators, and even fellow widowers are the ones who can help you to recognize what you are going through and how to deal with it.

The longer your bouts of melancholy, nostalgia, and/or depression last, the more important it is for you to reach out for help, and to accept it when it is offered. So please, if you find yourself in this deep dark place for extended periods and if you avoid talking to others about it, please seek help.

For more help go to: where you can access a list of resources I have prepared to help my fellow widowers.

© Copyright 2021 Fred Colby

All rights reserved


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