Categories
Grief/Dispair Mental/Emotional Health

Escaping Anxiety

When my wife passed 4 years ago, I first experienced shock and then numbness, after that anger and depression, and after that resignation and doubts about my future without her. It wasn’t until around my sixth month of grieving that I began to experience something unfamiliar to me since my 20’s and 30’s, anxiety… and I mean full-blown anxiety.

This coincided with my re-entry into life as I began to socialize again through a Meetup.com group called the Breakfast Club. I also started to date again via online dating services. My self-confidence was nearly non-existent at the beginning, so I had tremendous doubts about my ability to meet and engage with new people. Though I could put on a good front, I would go home after each meeting or date and question my every word and action. It was worse than when I was a teenager.

Soon, I met a widow whose company I really enjoyed, and who made me feel more at ease about the whole dating concept. However, I found that I would think that I had control and then would be overcome with euphoria and anxiety at alternate times (part of the hyper-emotional response). I did not have things under control. It was months before I saw how out of control I was during this period. Anxiety is a normal part of any relationship. While in a heightened hyper-emotional state, anxiety can become overwhelming and dominate your thinking day and night.

The ups and downs, the drama, and the uncertainty about what we really wanted doomed the relationship from the start. As our relationship evolved, I experienced increasing anxiety over possibly losing her, I am sure because of the recent loss of my wife. But I also had fear and anxiety about:

  • moving too fast, 
  • saying the wrong thing, 
  • how our relationship would impact my friends and family, and
  • her deciding it was too soon to be in a relationship again, 

The anxiety only got worse as I had more trouble sleeping, causing me to spiral out of control. If you can recognize this anxiety for what it is and confront it before it ruins all your relationships, you will be way ahead of the game.

I first got some help from my therapist, and then from reading Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, which challenges you to engage with your emotions and doubts, to face your fears and self-doubts, and to be vulnerable. However, this vulnerability actually led to more anxiety in some ways. I was still dwelling on past mistakes or shortcomings and fearful of what might happen in the future.

This led me to a spiritual philosopher, Eckart Tollé, whose central message is to stay in the present and turn away from worrying about the past or future. Tollé often quotes Lao Tzu: “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.” 

Once I adopted some of his teachings that I thought useful and combined it with meditation, I began to calm down and learned just to enjoy the moment. You can find some of his talks on Youtube, which you may find helpful. Tollé is an intriguing character with a funny laugh and gentle way of speaking, but his messages often go to the core of feeling and thinking. (With someone like Tollé or Chopra, you don’t have to accept everything they say. Just take in what works for you and is in conformance with your own values and beliefs.)

Whether you decide to look up and adopt some of Eckart Tollé’s ideas or not, the key point is that I encourage you to look outside your normal belief systems and find ones that help you to deal with your grief and often resulting anxiety. Some may find solace in their religious beliefs, others may find help through meditation or yoga. When you go through the kind of trauma and grief that we all have had to do, sometimes the only way out is through a new path… one you have not tried before.

Learn to be courageous enough to try one. You may be pleasantly surprised and rewarded.

Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair

Widower: Self-Isolation – What Now With COVID-19?

If you are a recent widower, this blog is for you!

Widowers often are advised to avoid self-isolation. It is harmful to our physical and mental health. Fear, anger, doubt, and depression can run rampant. Destructive behaviors, such as alcoholism and drug use, are common. This can lead to alienation from our family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. 

We are told to get out, try new activities, meet new people, and reach out to those who still love us and are in our life. All of this is critical to eventual healing.

But now we are being forced to isolate-in-place due to COVID–19. So, how the hell are we supposed to heal now?

Just when we are most vulnerable, just when we need human contact the most, and just when everything in our body and mind is screaming at us to hunker down and hide from everyone… then we have this COVID-19 crisis come along and force us to self-isolate.

Many of our friends, family, and acquaintances are unlikely to reach out to us, as they are often afraid that they are imposing on us and our grief… or afraid they will say the wrong thing. So, I am going to tell you something you might think is counter-intuitive:

IT IS UP TO YOU TO REACH OUT TO THEM, NOW MORE THAN EVER!

Because now you may not be able to:

  • have dinner with your family, 
  • go out for a beer with your friends, 
  • attend church,
  • go to work, 
  • eat out at a restaurant, or
  • participate in group hikes, dances, ball games, or other activities.

Here are a few options to help keep you engaged with others: 

  • call (video call if possible) at least one person each day and have a real conversation,
  • text and email friends and family daily,
  • communicate with others through Facebook,
  • exchange ideas on how you are dealing with the crisis,
  • view humorous or inspiring Facebook posts dealing with our situation, such as Laura Clery  
  • join online video groups now being offered through Meetup

Also, consider some activities to help you through this:

  • Exercise, exercise, exercise – and eat right
  • Meditation – you have time to try one of many free ones on Youtube
  • Reduce Stress – read or listen to people like Eckhart Tolle 
  • Change your routine – mix it up
  • Keep the television or music on to fill the void
  • Find a home project that keeps you occupied and feels good to finish (write a book)
  • Plan one positive thing for the future, such as a road trip to visit family or old friends, that gives you something amazing to look forward to.

You might also identify some people in your neighborhood who need help, such as picking up groceries for them. Take a walk in your area and pick up trash. Go pull some weeds, which can be a very therapeutic project. 

In other words, find new ways to maintain your contact with others and to be active. DO NOT use this pandemic as an excuse to take your isolation to a new level! Reach out to others; don’t wait for them to reach out to you. 

P.S. Please take a moment and share your ideas on how to un-isolate while in isolation!

© Copyright 2020 Fred Colby

All rights reserved


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Fred Colby is the author of Widower to Widower, which is available on Amazon.com. You can find Fred’s column appearing here on WSN-MO every other Tuesday. Widower to Widower is available through your local bookstore, my website, and Amazon. Buy Widower to Widower through Amazon. (If living in Canada go to Widower to Widower – Amazon-Canada) See Testimonies and Reviews of Widower to Widower. Website: Fred Colby, Author

Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair Mental/Emotional Health

We Are Worthy!!

WSN-MO: Widower to Widower with Fred Colby

Whether quoting from Wayne’s World or the Bible, the phrase “I am not worthy” may describe how we feel at times after our wives pass away.  A ritual of self-condemnation and feelings of inadequacy often overwhelm us at this time. It is so easy to fall into a pattern of blaming ourselves or others.

This pattern may lead to self-destructive behaviors, may drive friends and family away from us, and may lead to self-isolation and growing behavioral problems.

We might condemn ourselves for:

  • Imagined or real failings during our wife’s illness
  • Outliving her (after all, she was an angel and deserved to live longer)
  • Not recognizing her health issues sooner, or not taking them seriously enough
  • Imagined or real past failings dating back decades ago

Or, we might be angry at:

  • Medical professionals for not saving our wife
  • In-laws for their behavior before and after our wife’s death
  • Family members for not being there for us when we needed them most
  • Neighbors and friends for real or imagined insensitivity

This may all lead to our feeling inadequate to:

  • Deal with all the post-death issues such as finances, funerals, notifying others, etc
  • Continue without her in our life
  • Maintain important relationships with those most important to us and our well-being
  • Build new relationships to help escape the pit of loneliness we find ourselves in

To confront and deal with all of this, we first have to decide that we DO NOT want to be in this place of self-condemnation and inadequacy. Often, the best people we can turn to gain the courage to move forward are: 1) OUR WIFE, and 2) A Grief Counselor. 

You may be asking yourself right now, “What is this guy crazy? Why my wife??”

When you stop to think about it, it makes sense. Who was your most important compass, your most important advisor, and your biggest supporter during all those years of marriage? Your wife, of course! And you know what, in thought, she is still with you, still a part of you, and still able to guide you. 

If you ask yourself, “Am I worthy? Who is the real me now? How do I move forward?” … and if you listen, you know what she would say! Heck, you are still having her participate in your real and imagined conversations anyway.

She would tell you to pull yourself together, that you are still loved, and that she wants you to live life again… not hunker down and hide in sorrow for the rest of your life. She would tell you to let go of the anger at yourself and others, to forgive yourself and others, and to get out there and meet new people and engage in new activities.

I am not saying that this is all easy. It is not! But, if you can get to this place, you can begin to heal and to move forward in a way that can be rewarding gradually. And yes, life can even be joyful again. Each of us must find our unique style of healing. I can tell you from my personal experience and those of many other widowers, whom I know personally, that it is worth the effort.

So, please accept this challenge and honor your wife by taking this first step in your healing journey, because YOU are worthy of healing and of living a full life again. And if you need help on this journey, as I and many others have, don’t be afraid to ask a grief counselor for help. There are many excellent grief counselors (often found at your area hospice or church) who can be your guide. 

© Copyright 2019 Fred Colby

All rights reserved

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Fred Colby is the author of Widower to Widower, which is available on Amazon.com. You can find Fred’s column appearing here on WSN-MO every other Tuesday. Widower to Widower is available through your local bookstore, my website, and Amazon. Buy Widower to Widower through Amazon. (If living in Canada go to Widower to Widower – Amazon-Canada) See Testimonies and Reviews of Widower to Widower. Website: Fred Colby, Author

Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair Moving Forward

Let’s Heal Now!

Widower to Widower with Fred Colby

If you are going to survive this hell-on-earth experience and if you want to heal, you are going to have to grow as a father, brother, son, friend, and community member. If you retreat from the world to stew in your grief and anger, that is likely where you will remain. While this retreat is often normal during the first deep grieving months, it may be a sign of complicated grief if it continues beyond a year or so.

We each must find our unique healing path out of grief. My journey will not be the same as yours. But I offer the following as an example of a healing path:

A little over four years ago, I started to attend our area hospice’s monthly co-ed grief group meetings. I could not help but notice that the women usually outnumbered me by a factor of around eight to one. While I found some solace in these groups at first, I felt constrained in terms of what I was comfortable talking about in front of widows. After a few meetings, I approached the hospice about starting a men’s group.

Last week I co-facilitated the 48th meeting of the Men’s Grief Group, which I co-founded precisely four years ago. The attendance at our meetings grew steadily from around 4 – 5 attendees up to a monthly average of 15.  Attendees range from first-timers to old-timers. Ages vary from the late ’40s to the late 80’s. Almost all are widowers, with a smattering of those who lost a child, sibling, or parent.

Through the years, we have helped to save lives, and we often helped men to pull themselves out of the pit of grief. Their expressions of gratitude are a balm for my grief wounds. In short, my efforts to help others has helped me to heal much more quickly than I would have without these activities.

Other widowers, I know personally have:

  • Started and built up the Widowers Support Network, which has provided thousands of widowers with a members-only site where they can provide mutual support for each other.
  • Joined nonprofit volunteer groups and boards of directors to help others in their community.
  • Founded and nurtured the National Widower’s Organization, which provides all kinds of resources for widowers.
  • Provided free trips from Fort Collins to Laramie, Wyoming, for veterans who need to visit the Veterans Hospital.
  • Helped to start grief groups at various churches and nonprofits.

And there are so many other ways of giving back. Some widowers are left with young children to raise, aging, and ill parents to care for, as well as friends or siblings to help. There is no end to the number of ways we can help others, and through that activity, heal ourselves.

When I think of my wife today, I know that if she is aware of what I am doing with my life now, that she would be so proud and happy for me. I have found a way to become a better person in large part because of her and all that she instilled into me.

So, this holiday season, no matter your faith and no matter your history, take the time to think about how you can make a difference going forward. How can you become an even better person, a person your wife would be proud of and love even more than before?

Blessings to all of you this holiday season.

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Fred Colby is the author of Widower to Widower, which can be found on Amazon.com. You can find Fred’s column appearing here on WSN-MO every other Tuesday. Widower to Widower is available through your local bookstore, my website, and Amazon. Buy Widower to Widower through Amazon. (If living in Canada go to Widower to Widower – Amazon-Canada) See Testimonies and Reviews of Widower to Widower. Website: Fred Colby, Author

Categories
Grief/Dispair Mental/Emotional Health Moving Forward

Widower: Maybe I Don’t Want to Heal!!

Are you floating in a sea of grief with only a life vest of memories and past love keeping you afloat? If you are not careful, that life vest can instead become a weight belt of anger, regret, and fear that drags you down into depression.

Grief during the early stages can be both physically and mentally painful to the point that you are desperate for it to end. But you might eventually find yourself welcoming the grief as a way to be close to and honor your wife.

At this point, you may begin to avoid healing because you fear losing touch with your grief, and therefore with your wife! Sometimes when we are in pain, we become accustomed to it to the point where we would prefer the pain to the unknown that lays before us. 

This unknown, a life without her, a life that is different in so many respects, may scare us after so many years of contentment and knowing exactly what to expect. You completed each other’s sentences and knew each other’s habits, schedules, emotional states, and more. You could count on each other for support when things went unexpectedly. Now, you have no one to do that for or with you.

The black void that lays before you is scary! And when we are fearful, we tend to hold on to what we know… even if it is bad for us. At this point, you may bury yourself in innocuous chores, hide in your home, drink too much, or take drugs, or do just about anything to avoid confronting the challenge which lays before you… that is to reinvent yourself and learn how to live again, now as a single widowed male.

The first step towards healing is to admit that you are afraid and then reach out for help from others, including grief counselors, family, friends, and others who care about you. Tell your (and your wife’s) story to anyone who will listen, honor her by being the man she helped to make you into, and give gratitude every day for having had her in your life.

We all need to find ways to help others, as our wives would have wanted us to do. Every time you help others, you begin to feel like you have a purpose again, a purpose that gives meaning to your life and why you are still here.

It is not like a football game that can be won with a single hail-Mary pass. It is more like a marathon where you have to stick with it and keep pounding through the pain and exhaustion. It takes consistency and persistence to break out of the grieving into a healthier healing journey. 

It will still hurt, and there will always be moments when you cry and want to be alone. But you will gradually find yourself able to laugh again, to return love for love, and to feel that life is worth living again.

Categories
Grief/Dispair Mental/Emotional Health Moving Forward

Storytelling Yourself to Healing

WSN-MO: Widower to Widower with Fred Colby

Grief can be like cancer, festering in your body and soul until it corrupts and destroys all that is good in you. If grief is left alone or ignored while it mutates into something that threatens your very existence, it can:

  • send you to the hospital with very real health issues (mine was an emergency hernia operation), or
  • cause you to self-isolate and cut yourself from all those whom you love and who love you, or
  • ferment anger that can build up as a response to your loss, and real or imagined wrongs, or
  • accentuate the bone-crushing loneliness you feel after losing a spouse who can lead to sleep deprivation, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

There are several ways you can learn to process your grief in healthy ways and begin your healing journey. These may include burying yourself in projects which honor your wife (mine was to clean up and organize her craft room), joining efforts to help your community, engaging in parent or grandparent duties, or even reorganizing your home. Each of us must find the way that works best for us.

An alternative method, often used by widows and widowers, is storytelling or journaling. For me, this took the form of writing a series of 33 blogs that began shortly before my wife’s passing. These blogs, which were shared via Caring Bridge (see https://www.caringbridge.org/), a website which offers you ways to connect with family and friends during challenging times.

Each blog was written to share our experience with those closest to me and my family. It provided them with a way to stay in touch without my having to speak with each one individually. These blogs carried over into my in-person conversations with family and friends, as well. 

I found that each time I told my (and Theresa’s) story, I would heal… just a little bit. It helped me to allow others into my grieving without them or me being intrusive. I could be completely honest about what my daughters and I were going through while still allowing myself private time for my grieving. I found it freeing and therapeutic. 

Through my blogs, I was also able to advise my friends and family on how best to interact with me. This included a warning to them that if they were going to help me through this, they had to understand that there would be times when I would cry or become choked up. I also encouraged them to share their own special stories about their time with my wife. This helped me immensely as I became even more aware of how wonderful she had been as a wife, friend, and family member.

Eventually, these series of blogs, together with my verbal storytelling, became the foundation of my book, Widower to Widower, which I published last year. While not every widower will want to follow this path and will not become an author, I do encourage everyone to reach out to others and share your story with them. You will usually be rewarded with love and support. 

Those who love you most will stick by you through this hell on earth experience, especially if you include them rather than shut them out.

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Fred Colby is the author of Widower to Widower which can be found on Amazon.com. You can find Fred’s column appearing here on WSN-MO every other Tuesday.

Categories
anticipatory grief

Anticipatory Grief – An Early On-Ramp to One’s Grief Journey

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By Herb Knoll

Author: The Widower’s Journey

Loss of a spouse or a life-partner can occur suddenly as in the case of a drug overdose, an auto accident, or someone falling down a flight of stairs. Some spouses are lost to their families following a prolonged illness such as cancer, dementia, or Multiple Sclerosis, leaving the door open for survivors to experience anticipatory grief. As the founder of the Widowers Support Network, I have witnessed members frequently debate which scenario is more comfortable with the survivors. The jury is still out. 

Sudden death may deprive loved ones of the opportunity to say good-bye, to reconcile a long-standing dispute, or to say “I love you” to the deceased.  Conversely, anticipatory grief has its own set of pluses and minuses. Writing for the Journal of Palliative Care, Therese A. Rando wrote: “… in the area of anticipatory grief, the caregiver has the golden opportunity to use primary prevention strategies and to make therapeutic interventions that may facilitate appropriate grief work and a more positive post-death bereavement experience for the survivor-to-be.” A period of anticipatory grief provides family and loved ones the time to get used to the reality of the impending death gradually. 

Perhaps this is why, after serving as a caregiver for thirty-nine months, I did not shed a tear while attending my deceased wife’s Celebration of Life. After all, I had been experiencing anticipatory grief for thirty-nine months. Each morning, and before I would even open my eyes, I would think to myself, my wife is dying, and I need to give her another good day. 

Dr. William C. Shiel (MedicineNet) cautions: “Although anticipatory grief may help the family, the dying person may experience too much grief, causing the patient to become withdrawn.”

The view of some soon-to-be mourners is that anticipatory grief is a sign of abandonment of the dying patient, leaving in the aftermath of the patient’s passing, a sense of unwarranted guilt by the survivor, perhaps for years to come.  Moreover, one shouldn’t assume that by their experiencing anticipatory grief, they will automatically experience a lessen amount of pain following the eventual passing of their loved one, as each survivor’s grief journey is unique. Anticipatory grief entrenches itself into a caregiver’s daily life, absence of any fanfare, or noted entry. The soon to be survivor will be burned with having to carry any fear associated with their anticipatory grief as well as its emotional weight each day, each hour, each minute. 

One occasion I experienced anticipatory grief occurred about two months before my wife died, as I was sitting at a traffic light at the corner of 1604 and Blanco Rd., in San Antonio, Texas. As I glanced to my right, I noticed a grey-haired elderly couple in the car next to me. As I gazed upon them, it struck me how lucky they were to have been able to enjoy their senior years together, and how I was not going to be so fortunate. At the time, I felt cheated. Little did I realize that the human heart is capable of loving again and that I would discover love and marry years later.         

Commenting on his experience with anticipatory grief, widower Joe Netzel of Cincinnati, Ohio, said, “My 

mind tended to drift toward the possibility Tracey might not win her battle with breast cancer when I had  “alone time,” which usually took place in the car during my weekly trip to and from the grocery store, and when I had a private moment to think/ponder/wonder/tremble about life without her.” 

Widower Mike Simons of Cleburne, Texas, lost his wife Amy in May of 2019, self-discovered he was “pre-grieving” when he found himself needing to visit with a financial advisor, a lawyer, and ministers.  

“I cried in the shower or the car when running errands so I could be strong for the family.”           

Dr. Shiel adds, “Expecting the loss often makes the attachment to the dying person stronger.” A feeling I can personally attest to as the thirty-nine months I served as a caregiver for my deceased wife were among the best years of our sixteen-year marriage.   

Working with hundreds of widowers from around the world, I have found that the degree of anticipatory grief or pre-grief experienced by a survivor may not only influence the severity and duration of their grief journey, it is also likely to accelerate their desire to rebuild what remains of their own life following the passing of their loved one. This may include their romantic involvement with another woman or life-partner soon after their spouse passes, an action that may risk alienating family and friends that may view such conduct as disrespectful to the deceased, if not worse.   

Caregiver Nathan Siefert of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, wife Becca is currently fighting cancer. “I’m slowly taking on more and more around the house and in our family,” said Nathan as he describes the current state of his anticipatory grief journey. “Faith has helped.  I chose at the moment to evict any intrusive worries.  I chose to focus on what is in front of me.” 

To help combat the onset of anticipatory grief, Nathan remains proactive. He works out three days each week, and he runs to keep depression at bay. He shares his fears with friends, a little bit at a time to not scare anyone away because he will need them to listen to his concerns during the dark days ahead. Nathan encourages caregivers who believe in a higher power to read Matthew 6:25-34, which reads in part, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.”

Those dealing with anticipatory grief are encouraged to see a mental health professional. During my caregiver days, I knew I needed to be on top of my game. I also knew I would be ill-advised to evaluate my mental state, yet I needed to know that I was capable of dealing with my anticipatory grief for as long as my wife needed me to do so. For her sake, as well as my own, I decided to visit with a psychologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where I was pleased to learn a trained professional thought, I was handling the rigors of being a caregiver pretty well. Nathan’s doctor prescribed a medication for anxiety for him, something just to taken some of the edge off.    

Writing for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, Vince Corso suggests caregivers work through their feelings of anticipatory grief and to take time to examine unresolved issues between their loved and themselves. “Say what needs to be said,” Corso advises. Moreover, if your spouse or life partner is still well enough, settle legal and financial matters and discuss end-of-life wishes.

Anticipatory grief or pre-grief is a condition that ebbs and flows and should not be ignored; sufferers should seek medical attention. For those who think seeing a doctor is not manly, I’m here to tell you; you’re mistaken.  Seeing a doctor for a legitimate medical condition is a smart move, especially if you genuinely care about being able to serve your ailing spouse or a life partner better. 

“Some days are better than others when dealing with my anticipatory grief; the denial, the depression the bargaining and the pain,” said Nathan. “Today is a good day. Tomorrow I may be on the edge of tears as I can’t stop thinking about life without Becca.”

Categories
Grief/Dispair

Widower: Surreal Grief

Ever feel fuzzy, out of focus, or even surreal?

Remember in The Matrix movie when a glitch in the program would cause fragmentation of the image, or when Neo first entered the Matrix and could not determine what was real and what was a computer program. Well, during my early deep grieving, those type of feelings were common.

Following my wife’s passing in 2015, I would often feel that everything around me was surreal (strange, dreamlike, bizarre, unreal). As the number of sleepless nights grew, this feeling only grew stronger until it felt like I was hallucinating. This, combined with my upset psycho-emotional state, scared the hell out of me.

I have heard many fellow travelers on this grief journey describe similar thoughts and feelings. It may be as simple as waking up at night and seeing a dark form next to you that makes you think your wife is right there beside you. Or, it may be thinking you are hearing her voice or feeling the touch of her skin. At moments you might feel as if she is with you every step of the way.

Theresa and I used to take nice long walks together during the afternoon or early evening. After her passing, I could almost feel her hand in mine as I walked our path alone. Sometimes these surreal events would be comforting, and other times it would come out of the blue and be very discombobulating. I would have to stop and ask myself if it was real, or if I was losing touch with reality.

I can remember sometimes feeling that everything around me was not real, that I was just imagining my “solo” existence, and the real me was still there with my wife living a normal life. It could happen while I was driving around, in a store, or even when I was visiting with family or friends. It would just inject itself into my thoughts and cause me to stop and try to recalibrate myself back to “normal.”

I would later learn that these thoughts and feelings, like déjà vu, are perfectly normal during the grieving process. Your whole being has been disrupted by the loss of half of the combined you that your wife and you built over many years together. You finished each other’s sentences, instinctively knew when each of you needed something, relied upon each other for comfort and wisdom, and supplied the physical and spiritual love you each needed. You relied upon each other to check your worst impulses, and to help put you back on course when you wandered away from it. 

How could your mind not be slightly off-kilter after losing someone that important to you? The answer is that it is probably inevitable. Famous writer and religious philosopher C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, “…it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.” 

So, if you find yourself having these surreal moments, don’t be afraid for your sanity and don’t let the fear affect your thinking and state of being. Just let the process flow, hang on to that which is real and important to you (e.g., children, grandchildren, friends, community), and allow yourself to settle into your “new normal gradually.”

C.S. Lewis said after losing his wife, “Sorrow… turns out to be not a state but a process” Accept this process and allow it to run its course. You will heal, and these surreal moments will gradually diminish until you begin to feel that your feet are once again firmly on the ground.

Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair Moving Forward

Why Am I Still Here?

WSN-MO: Widower to Widower with Fred Colby

After my wife (Theresa) died, after the numbness, and after the severe physical and mental pain of the first few weeks, I began to ask the question most widowers ask, “Why am I still here? Why did she go first? Wasn’t the plan that I was supposed to die first?”

Only four years before her death, we both expected that I might not survive another year or two due to a debilitating bout with skin cancer. This cancer was finally treated successfully in 2012. Suddenly I found myself healthy and energetic again; so much so that I joyfully returned to the workforce.

At this point, we both thought we were safely entering our golden years and that I just might be around and able to enjoy it with her, at least for a while. And then… that dream blew up in our faces. In 2014 she began to experience some severe rashes which the doctors were unable to help with until it was discovered that she had uterine cancer and needed surgery. This was to be followed by chemotherapy and then radiation treatment. Within a year, she passed away, and I was the survivor left standing.

For forty-five years, we had worked and scrimped and saved to build financial reserves that would insure that she and our children would be okay after I died. The life insurance policy was on me, not her. Everything we owned had been placed into a trust to make the transition smooth, with her as the primary beneficiary. 

Now I was left alone, with no plan, no purpose, and lots of questions. I could find no rationale for why I was left alive. She was the one supposed to live a long life, with time to participate in the lives of our children and grandchildren, with time to enjoy her friends without the encumbrances of work, limited finances, or health issues. I was angry and felt lost, sinking into depression, and even suicidal thoughts. Going alone every night to a cavernous empty and silent home was a challenge.

Fortunately, I found some great support from a therapist at Pathways Hospice, from friends and family, and from new activities that got me out of my house. Gradually I found new purpose in: 

·       writing my book (Widower to Widower) to help other widowers, 

·       joining the Pathways and Poudre River Public Library Boards of Directors, 

·       starting a Men’s Grief Group and co-facilitating it for the past four years, 

·       finding new relations and companions; and in 

·       re-committing to my role as father and grandfather.

All of these activities became more normal and gave me a stronger sense of my life’s purpose, as well as new joy which gradually filled the void left by my wife’s departure. This did not happen overnight, and there were often setbacks in my grieving process, but incrementally I began to fill whole again.

If you find yourself in this position, I offer my experience as but one example of how you can begin to answer these questions about “Why am I still here?” Each of us must find our own way and in our own time, but we can learn from each other and grow from there. I have watched many widowers come through our Men’s Grief Group and find their way to a different new life which often gives them solace and allows them to get value from life again. You can too!

Fred Colby is the author of Widower to Widower which can be found on Amazon.com. You can find Fred’s column appearing here on WSN-MO every other Tuesday.

Categories
Faith/Religion Grief/Dispair

Widower: Reaching Grace Through Grief

Widower to Widower with Fred Colby 

When you find yourself in the deepest pit of grief, when you are hurting as you have never hurt before, and when you feel that you will never be able to feel good again… that is when you can find grace, in this… the most unexpected place.

It can come at the most improbable time… that moment when you suddenly peek over the edge of that pit of grief to glimpse at something that is seemingly out of place… gratitude. It is at this very moment when you are lamenting the loss of your wife that it sneaks up on you to remind you how damned lucky you were.

You can suddenly feel immense gratitude for:

  • this wonderful woman who stuck by you for 20, 40, 60 years, and who
  • grew alongside you through good and bad times, and who
  • loved you unreservedly even when you were not at your best, and who
  • nurtured and matured you in ways no one else could, and who
  • made every day special just by being there!

The feeling you have when you allow this gratitude to take hold… that is grace. You may think of it as a sense of peace, or as a feeling of wellness… or you might see it as a blessing from God.  Whatever you call it, it is uplifting, it can give you a moment of feeling good and hopeful, and it can give you a temporary reprieve from the deep grieving you have been experiencing. It is a shaft of light in the darkness.

Once you recognize this powerful path to healing for what it is, you can begin to actively and purposefully welcome it into your daily routine to counter all the negativity of grieving. Eventually, you can begin to reverse the downward spiral of grief to now becoming an upward spiral towards healing and life.

Instead of waiting for that next moment to come as a surprise visitor, you can take steps to encourage this growth of gratitude and grace in your life. It may not suddenly transform your grief into joy, but it can whittle away at the grief bit by bit until it no longer dominates your every moment and thought.

Start simply with beginning every day when you wake up by giving thanks for her and your life together, and maybe again when you go to bed each night. For me, it meant typing up all the key things I was grateful for, starting with my wife, and then posting this list where I would have to look at it first thing each morning.

Every time I was able to move my thoughts from grief to gratitude, I was able also to feel a little more “grace” in my life. I was able to realize that, through this gratitude and grace, I was holding my wife close to me in a way which was uplifting rather than depressing. It took time, but eventually, it helped me to climb out of the pit of grief and into the sunlight where I could once again partake of life in a positive and rewarding way.

So, even today, when I have moments of slipping back into grieving, I remember to stop and give thanks for all that I was so fortunate to have in my life… and to pause and feel the grace that comes along with that. 

If you are in that pit of grief and depression, give this a try and hopefully bit by bit it will help you as it did me. Blessings to you.