WSN: Widower, Wounded, Warrior, Waking and Walking
by Jeff Ziegler
I have done a lot of work on myself over the last two years since Suzanne died. This morning, I had a revelation.
My attention has been scattered. The revelation came when listening to a podcast about brain science. It dawned on me that I need to apply attention to what has become—since Suzanne died—the most important things in life to me.
To me, this means placing my attention entirely on the activities and the relationships that truly serve me—not just what I have always been taught to “think,” I need to give my attention. I am changing the focus of my attention.
Brain science is a funny thing to think about. It isn’t something that immediately comes to mind when we talk about grief and losing our person. But we as widows and widowers have experienced significant trauma and our brains re-wire due to this loss (this is what experts call brain elasticity).
For some of us, this manifests as “Brain fog” or “Widow’s brain.” Widow Brain is a real thing for widow/ers, and most of us never escape from that fog because we can’t recognize it is affecting us.
Many of us will go to therapists to seek counsel on our grief (and we don’t always choose the best-qualified person to help us). Many therapists cannot know what we are experiencing, and they don’t necessarily know to diagnose the widow’s brain as a condition. Mostly, they see our thought patterns and behavior as a byproduct of depression, grief, etc. But it is physiological, real, and it can debilitate us. I know.
Toward the end of year one, I had to work through the widow brain and brain fog myself. Overcoming the brain fog was not only “mind over matter”—because it’s the mind that matters in this case. It was something much more challenging to overcome, mostly because we have to recognize it in ourselves and then choose to find a way to cure it.
For me, curing brain fog meant recognizing that I was suffering after making changes to many facets of my life. This included changed diet and exercise—both of which had increased in intensity over the previous few months.
I had decided to stick with my vegan diet (Suzanne and I both went vegan when her cancer returned in 2016). Also, I was still grieving heavily, hurting from the breakup of my first post-loss relationship, and I was ignoring the signs. My body lacked vital nutrients, fats, and acids, which meant the synapses in my brain were failing to fire.
At that moment, I identified these things were happening. While I chose to stick with my diet, I introduced supplements. When I started my new regimen using natural supplements, it was as if someone switched on a light switch on in my head. Quite literally overnight, my brain fog was gone.
When I started to focus my attention on solving the issues with my brain, I overcame what had seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. I was able to succeed because I focused my attention on overcoming the widow brain.
By committing my attention and focus on being present with the sensation of the brain fog—the widow brain—I realized that I could stop it from controlling me. I also realized that if I focused my attention on things that matter—not to “control” the situations and outcomes but to be present in them—I could attract what I wanted most: The things that are important to me.
The old saying is 100% true: “Where your attention goes, energy flows.” Even in these last few weeks, I have realized that my scattered attention was showing up still. While I no longer have brain fog, I am still scattered (relationships and work, for instance). By recognizing this, I chose to transition my focus—and my life—again.
As I revisit the path I have been walking since Suzanne died, I have been able to see all the wonderful things I have achieved in my life and see all the things I did that were maybe not in my best interest (or serving me). But I am genuinely proud of what I have accomplished and look forward to the next step in my journey.
By simply staying in the moment, I realized that I was still scattering my attention, meaning I was not focusing my attention on where my energy was flowing. I was still doing too much for too many others, and once again was losing my true self. So, now I have chosen to narrow my focus—both in my personal life and in my business.
In my life, I have started to focus my attention on my health, exercise, and diet again. It has been a bit neglected as I felt out of integrity with my own goals. In my work life, I have narrowed the focus of my coaching practice to work only with widows and widowers for the foreseeable future. Because this journey has not been easy (none of our journeys are), I know that what I have experienced is relevant to others.
I know my acquired wisdom will help others. That’s why I am directing my attention to specifically helping widow/ers. Who knows, maybe in another year or so, I will help their children, too.
Focusing my attention on one thing is a major shift for me. All my working life, I have been scattered—pulled—in multiple directions. I was always looking for the bigger and better deal. But I know my expertise and abilities lay in being authentic and empathetic to the other widows and widowers that live a similar existence and have had similar experiences to mine—but may still need more healing.
By focusing my energy and attention on helping widow/ers in the short-term, I may be better able to help hundreds, possibly thousands of men and women, achieve acceptance of the life they now live. I will be better able to help them find meaning and purpose after losing our person. Like I have.
Jeff Ziegler’s column can be found every other Wednesday here on WSN-MO. You can write Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org