Monday, March 26, 2018

In Grief: When Credit Is Due

[Reviewed and updated August 21, 2022]

Recognizing what we’re doing right doesn’t mean we become complacent and stop striving for improvement. It just means we’ve learned one of the most important things we can do for our happiness and success. And that is: Give yourself some credit!  ~ Noch Noch
A reader writes: My wife of 32 years was killed instantly in a car crash seven months ago. She was simply headed for her lunch break from work when an unlicensed, repeat offender hit her head on. He is being charged with felony vehicular manslaughter. We have two daughters and three grandkids. My wife was the love and the soul of my life. We had such a wonderful marriage. We did so much together over the years. The memories are so haunting I can hardly take it. I am so alone now. The warmth in my life is gone. My house seems so cold and empty. The flowers she planted the day before her death are still flourishing. I see them everyday as I walk out the front door and I'm always hit with a ton of bricks. I still haven't fully accepted it.
I am sad inside most of the time but at work and at times when I have to I have a veneer of OK-ness. Since her death I have been trying to make a new life for myself. I've purchased a new car, new furniture, done some remodeling, purchased a lot of new clothes and toys to keep myself busy and preoccupied but I have found this all to be in vain. Nothing can replace her I know that but I was foolish to think that maybe I can distract myself from the pain. It's just something that I have to live with and grow through. 

I have found that unless someone (friends/family) has experienced the sudden and unexpected death of a spouse they really can't understand. I am always alone even with other people. I feel I've been pierced through the heart. I have little interest in things except for gardening now because we used to love doing it together on weekends. I had so many other interests and hobbies but they don't seem to mean much anymore. I am constantly thinking of her and have trouble concentrating at work. My mind keeps wandering off thinking of the memories we made together and just thinking about her wonderful smile and how much she loved life. 

I cannot think about the car crash. I have never looked at the photos or read the police report because I just could not take it. I do everything possible not to even speculate what happened that day. As I write this I am so sad and distracted. I'm at work but wish I were home working in the garden. I somehow feel close to her doing that. I never thought that I'd ever be in this position and now that I am, it is so strange that I can hardly come up with the words to say. Anyway, that's my story. Thank you for listening and I hope and pray I make it though this terrible time. I'm planning to join your online forum for Loss of a Spouse.

My response: I’m so very sorry to learn of the tragic circumstances that led you to write to me, my friend, but grateful that you did ~ and of course you are most welcome to join our Grief Healing Discussion Groups, where I know you will be welcomed with open arms and caring hearts.

I’m struck by how harshly you are judging yourself and your progress in your grief journey, when it’s been barely seven months since suddenly, unexpectedly, in a manner too horrible to imagine, you lost the love of your life, and in a single instant your entire assumptive world was turned upside down. The life you knew and planned to have in the future was forever changed that day – is it any wonder that you’re still having difficulty now?

I want you to know that the feelings and reactions you describe are normal reactions to losing your soul mate, the love and warmth of your life. Of course you “still haven’t fully accepted it.” Grief is a very long process, not a single event – and when a loss is of this magnitude, it becomes a lifelong process. I don’t mean to suggest that you will be writhing in agony for the rest of your life ~ experience teaches us that gradually and over a very long period of time, the unbearable pain you feel now eventually will lose its heat and its intensity, but you will never, ever heal completely from this horrible, devastating wound. The scar will remain with you forever, and you will never stop missing what you’ve lost. Does a person who’s lost an eye or an arm or a leg ever “get over it” and stop missing that vital body part? And would you expect such a person to be completely healed and rehabilitated a mere seven months after sustaining such a life-altering injury?

You say you have little interest in things except for gardening, because it was something you used to love doing together with your wife. Give yourself credit for maintaining that interest, and bathe yourself in the wonderful memories it evokes.

You say that while you’re at work you have trouble concentrating on the tasks at hand. Give yourself credit for mustering the energy to get to work in the first place, and take comfort in knowing that, even though you’re not at your best right now, you won’t feel this way forever.

You say that unless friends and relatives haven’t experienced the sudden, unexpected death of a spouse, they cannot really relate to how you feel. Give yourself credit for searching until you found our online forums, where others do understand and are ready and willing to listen to your story.

In short, my friend, give yourself credit for doing the best you can under the most difficult and trying circumstances, and give yourself time to endure, adjust to, and come to terms with this most devastating of losses. The passage of time will not heal your grief. Time is neutral; it’s what you do with this grieving time that will help you heal. Use this time to do some reading about grief – it will help to reassure you that your reactions are normal, and it can prepare you for what to expect in the weeks and months ahead. I invite you to open some of the tabs at the top of this blog and spend some time exploring all the helpful articles listed ~ and please keep coming back to our forum online. We are here for you, and we won’t let you walk this grief journey all by yourself.

Afterword: Marty, thank you for your response. I needed to hear much of what you said again. I did read a book on grieving early on and you said many of the same things. I guess one gets so buried in grief that after a while you lose perspective. I am glad I found you and your forum. I'm sure you have heard this before but one of the hardest things about losing your spouse as I did, is I never had the chance to say goodbye. There were so many things I could have done better when she was alive. Though we had a wonderful marriage, there were so many times that I didn't give her the attention, adoration or compliments I should have. It took her death for me to see the areas in which I failed and that is so difficult to live with. I was a good husband. I never cheated on her or anything like that. Even so, just in the day-to-day experiences of life I can see areas where I could have done better. She was so caring and loving toward me. So unselfish and so giving. She was so much better at that than I. She loved her kids and grandkids so much. I'm writing this from my office at work and I can't help but cry as I write. Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words. I am trying very hard to live a life that would be pleasing to her and that would honor her. If she could see me I think she would be so proud that I didn't go off the deep end with substance abuse or something like that. I am sincerely trying to be a better person and trying to take on her qualities and improve myself. When tragedy strikes one finds themselves at a crossroads. You can either go the way of bitterness, anger and abuse or go the way of God and living a life that is positive and self improving. I chose the latter. I don't know if this makes the grieving process any easier. I can just write on and on. Again, thank you and God bless.

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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