Two Practices That Helped Me Survive My Grief

There are two separate but related, and equally important, practices that have helped me through my grief journey. At the beginning of loss, you are simply trying to survive. You struggle to keep your head above water and try not to drown. But eventually you will have to learn how to live again. These two practices have helped me move from survival to living.

Gratitude

When I lost my husband, the earth collapsed and I shattered. Time stood still. Everything was wrong and nothing was right. I wanted to go with him, and it felt so unfair to know that I couldn’t. I didn’t know how I was ever going to make it through this new life of sorrow and pain, but I knew one thing – I knew how grateful I was, and always will be, to have had him in my life. We never even made it to our third wedding anniversary. I had him for such a small amount of time and it wasn’t enough! That small amount of time wasn’t enough time for us, and yet it was. Because he changed me. I lived so much life in that small amount of time, and in that time I felt so much love. It was enough to last through his death and through my life. For that I will always be grateful.

I am now living the life of a widowed parent, a life I never wanted for myself, yet here we are. It would be easy to spend my days frustrated and bitter about never having a break or the chance to get proper sleep, about the messy house I have neither the time nor the will to deal with appropriately, or about the inevitable loneliness that sneaks up on me when I’m exhausted from life. And then, of course, there’s the parenting… alone. Everything about parenting alone is hard. Now pile that on top of the grief and what you are left with is a mess. Frustration, anger, and bitterness are easy to fall back on, but they don’t help you. They don’t make life easier, they just making living harder. I have my days when I fall into the trap of self-pity and focusing on what I lost, but I try to keep those days few and far between. Instead, I try to focus on all that I have and who I am – an imperfect mess who tries hard and falls a lot but, despite the fear and exhaustion, tries again anyway. Because I had him, I have an amazing little girl who reminds me not of what I lost, but of who I was blessed to have had. And because I have her, I will always have a piece of him here with me. Every day I remind myself how grateful I am to have known him, and to have had the chance to share that part of my life with him. He is now part of my story, and even death cannot steal that away.

Leaning Into Pain

Because of my writings, many people have commented on my strength. But I am not always so strong, and I certainly don’t often feel that strong. No one can be strong all the time. I believe it is important to allow yourself time to break under the weight of your grief. The idea that we need to suck it up and deal with the pain by pushing it down and hoping it will go away, or by simply pretending it isn’t there, is not only detrimental to our mental health, it’s a lie. Losing a loved one can be deeply devastating to our lives and to our own sense of self and belonging. Instead, you need to bring this pain into the light, acknowledge it, feel it, let it devastate and break you. You cannot tend to a wound you won’t acknowledge. I think of the pain as a black hole in the center of my life. I could keep walking around the hole, avoiding it, but it wouldn’t make it any less there. So, I took the advice of someone who had faced grief long before I did and I leaned into it. I leaned into the pain I felt every overwhelming, mind numbing, piercing bit of it. At first, I did this every night after I put my daughter to bed. I would put on music that made me cry and I would sit on the floor and talk to Matt and cry. I would cry so many tears that I stopped bothering to dry them up with tissues, I wanted them to fall as far as they could fall. 

No matter how you do it, you need to reach into the part of you that is dying and give it a voice. Give your pain a voice. Let it speak those terrible words and feel those awful truths, because they are your truth. The overwhelming brokenness and the feeling that you are drowning in grief, those feelings are real. This is not permanent, but it is real now. And to get past it and away from this terrible truth means giving it a voice, leaning in, and then being able to stand tall in your gratitude for having had something that is this hard to lose.

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My Grieving Heart Still Begs To Have My Husband Home

No one knows how to beg like a person who’s lost their love. It was February last year when my husband died. Our daughter hadn’t even learned to walk yet. It’s been nearly 21 months now and our daughter is a firecracker! We have moved and life has changed. It’s not easy finding a way to let it be ok that he is not here, but I’m doing it. I’m here and he is not… and I have this sweet angel to get me through it all. 

I hate the terms moving on and moving forward. I hate those terms because it feels as though it means leaving behind. And it does matter that it never feels as though you are having to leave them behind. And it does matter that you don’t feel as though you are being asked to leave them behind. So I will not say that I am moving forward or moving on… but that I keep moving. I keep putting one foot in front of the other and I don’t stop. 

That old life is now a past life. But I can’t leave it in the past. That is what it means to leave something or someone behind. That past life needs to come with me on my journey through the present and into the future. That past needs to remain my present, so it is imperative that I do not leave it behind, that I do not leave him behind. 

This is why I beg. I used to beg for him to come back, to come home. Today, I still beg for him to come home. The pain isn’t over and the longing hasn’t stopped. But more often now, I find myself begging him to stay with me, just don’t leave me! Because the idea that I might move forward in this life and that he may not remain with me… that’s excruciating. So I need him to remain with me. 
You may have your own beliefs about what happens to a person when they die, but after your love dies, another persons beliefs are of little comfort. My own personal belief that he is with me is all the comfort I will ever get. And I can work to strengthen my spirituality if I choose to, but I will find my way in this on my own.

You see, I have come to believe that the very reason religion exists is because death exists. Spirituality I think comes natural to people as a whole, but the need for community and answers drive us to find religion. And I have come to believe that what you believe in and what I believe in are equally valid, because the only thing that matters at the end of the day is the comfort it brings to a heart in need. Right now my heart has found its way to a spiritual place that I am comfortable with. Right now my heart is still broken and still yearns for another moment in the past and a future that will never happen. And my heart begs. My heart begs for him to stay with me, to never leave me, to stay by my side until the end of my days. Even if I were to find love again, I need him to be with me, too. Because my heart will always love him. And it has been forever changed by losing him, and forever changed by having him. 

So hold the ones you love. Remind yourself why you love them, and then tell them that. Don’t forget. Don’t lose sight of what is important in the forward motion of the day to day. Don’t let “in a minute” become your “should haves”. Love eagerly and passionately. Don’t work so much that you can’t enjoy your life. You will never get another chance at today, and you never know when your time is up.

Healing Through Creativity

Over the last year I have spent the majority of my “spare” time and energy on personal growth. Being widowed is hard. But I am not just a widow. I am a stay-at-home widowed mommy of a toddler. This pretty much goes without saying, but sanity is relative for me. The house is always messy, even when its clean! And there is not a single corner of a single room that does not scream toddler. The biggest problem, of course, is that this new life of widowed motherhood makes it nearly impossible for me to find time for myself. But I recently made a change to this and I now have “creativity Tuesdays”.

Since shortly after my husband died, Tuesdays have been my “day off”, when my daughter goes to Grandma’s house. I used to have a simple rule for Tuesdays: NO GUILT. I spent so much time overwhelmed and broken that occasionally I could do something for myself on Tuesdays, or use it organize my life. But many days I was so tired and just wanted to sleep, or stare at the wall, or sit on the floor and cry. So Guilt Free Tuesdays was what I needed to survive.

I have recently changed the rule. I decided that it is time for me to have Creativity Tuesdays. My two creative outlets are writing and photography. The last birthday gift my husband ever got me was a very nice Nikon DSLR camera, but after he died I stopped using it. I just couldn’t see beauty worth capturing, so it ended up hiding out in the back of my closet just sitting there. Well, I dug it out and I’ve been playing with it and learning how to use it. I have started teaching myself a little here and a little there. I love it! So now between writing and photography, I finally have hobbies. I finally have something that I have started doing just for me. Both are solitary activities for me, something that I am a little surprised about. I have always thought of myself as a social butterfly, and I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed spending this type of quality time by myself so regularly. But I find it peaceful and personally rewarding, even if most of what I write is read by only myself and my photos are only seen on my walls. And as I am raising a toddler by myself, with no one coming home to me at the end of the day, without a workplace to escape to during the day, without someone to share any of these responsibilities with… it is nice to feel like I can finally breathe. It is nice to have an identity that is more than just mommy.

Somehow, in losing my husband, that transition from wife to widow changed everything and I lost me. I am starting to feel as though I am getting me back. Not the same me, that person is gone and won’t be coming back… and I am fine with that. I like the new me. I am not the person that I once was. I have changed in ways that I couldn’t explain if I tried, in part because I don’t exactly know who I am yet. I’m working on it… thanks to my husband.