A friend’s husband died a few months ago, and during this time, she’s been asking me questions about grief. Since some of them are things I haven’t talked about, with her permission, I am posting her questions (in bold letters) and my answers.
I just got back from a visit with a relative. The emptiness is horrible!
Yes, the emptiness is horrible. I wasn’t sure if I should warn you about how awful it would be when you got back to the empty house, but I figured you’d find out soon enough and I didn’t want to ruin your visit. It’s really hard living with grief.
Did you ever have a weekend where you couldn’t stop crying for more than an hour?
Yes, many, many. I cried for twenty-four hours straight once.
How long did it take before you didn’t cry every day?
A long time. Years. Sometimes it was for just a few minutes. Other times it felt as if he had just died, and I cried as I did at the beginning.
I thought it would start to back off by now.
No. Maybe after six months, the time between crying bouts will get a lot longer, but the tears come back. It’s kind of a shock when the tears return after a period of relative peace because we’d begun to believe it was all over. When the tears come and stay too long, about all you can do is distract yourself by going to the store or a museum, but then you often have the problem of DWC (Driving While Crying). Or crying at the grocery store. It’s not fun.
Did you ever see a grief counselor?
Not a grief counselor, but I did go to a support group for about a year. A support group is good because it helps being around people who are going through the same thing you are and who understand. In my case, it also helped because I was new in town and didn’t know anyone.
What did you have the most trouble with the first year?
It was all horrific. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t stand the pain and loneliness.
What sort of things helped during really bad episodes?
Walking. Working helped – housework, cleaning, clearing out stuff. Screaming helped. I did a lot of screaming. Writing letters to Jeff helped a lot. It made me feel as if we were still connected somehow.
How do you make yourself not cry for things like doctor’s appointments?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. Sometimes my tears stopped when I was with other people. Sometimes not. If they didn’t, I just told people to ignore them. Also, being at the doctor’s office rather than at home might be a big enough change to stop the tears.
Is nausea one of the signs of grief?
Yes. I was often too sick to my stomach to eat. But pay attention. The nausea could have other causes.
Did you have different food choices the first year?
Oh, my yes! It took me over a year to be able to eat meals Jeff and I fixed. In some cases, it took longer. In fact, there are some foods I still haven’t eaten.
Did you have any trouble with hair, skin, and nails the first year?
Absolutely. My hair turned to straw, my skin dried out, and my nails got soft. It’s because of the stress. Studies have shown that losing a spouse is the most stressful experience a persona has, by a large margin.
Are you ever scared?
Sometimes. At the beginning, I was often terrified. And for a long, long time I was scared of growing old alone. I still am, but having a house helps. Also, I’m to the point where, if I do get afraid of living alone or anything else, I can turn my mind to other things. But yeah, fear does niggle at me.
Living after the death of a husband is really, really, really hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s not just the pain and horror of grief that’s hard, but having to find a whole new way of living because your old way of life died when he did.
I don’t feel strong enough.
You might not be strong now, but you will find the strength to get through this. I promise.
I’m glad you are so sure.
I am. I know. It’s the way of with all of us who are left behind. We have no other choice but to live one minute at a time. As time passes, we look back and see all the minutes and pain we have survived, which gives us strength to continue. You’re still at the start, so you can’t see yet all you have done since he died.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator
September 13, 2020 at 6:36 am
Great answers, often succinct, factual and never namby-pamby. Not a cringe-worthy word to be found (I hope you know what I mean by that). Well done! Myself, I had severe aching in my arms and shoulders for months on end. A bodywork/massage trainer told me that this is where we store our grief. It went away after several deep-tissue massage session for those areas. Unfortunately she left the salon to open her own and I don’t know where she went.
September 13, 2020 at 8:42 am
People have a hard time answering such questions. They always cop out with the trite, “everyone’s grief is different.” The truth is, that while it may manifest itself differently, such as tears or body aches or illness or frenetic activity, the pattern of grief is the same for many people who have lost their mates. Which means that non-namby-pamby answers are justified and welcome. I hope you find another masseuse.
September 13, 2020 at 6:52 am
That is a good blog. Thank You!!
September 13, 2020 at 4:28 pm
Now nearly one year I am fallowing you. I feel as you said the pattern of grief smiler for lot of people. First time in my life after her departure I understand better and better of grief often your observations and suggestions very thoughtful. Even though at the moment I feel sad and strange try to stay calm and sane. Well done Pat thank you
September 13, 2020 at 7:16 pm
I am so sorry about your wife and your continued grief, but I’m glad you found me. I have liked “talking” with you.
September 14, 2020 at 2:53 am
I am sorry Pat. I am not the only person suffering with grief. At the moment pandemic, fire disaster, political disaster, freedom of expression suppressed in lot of countries, lot of damage in their own countries bye the name of peaceful demonstration ! (what is peaceful that I never understood)
I accept the logical fact during these demonstrations that you can shout and make lot of sound because that you are angry and opposed
Climat change dysfunction due to all these events.
(if you check all electronic materials in your house heats a lot including your computer and internet distribution box)
Simply an observation of a IT technician myself.
Because of these facts people never had the chance to be united and fight for the green, peaceful and civilized world (not with each other)
I am not a pessimist person.
But people manipulated by telephone, television, internet, social networks, dependent on consummation radicalized by all theses media’s doesn’t help me at all to respect and go through with my own grief.
As usual try to stay calm and sane to continue to walk (walking is my anti depressed pill) walking, thinking and learning …
At the moment I am really helpless to understand lot of things happen around the world.
I am always grateful to your contribution to the people continue to suffer of grief and to understand.
Without her I need lot of calm, peace, and sane.
I wish you good health
September 14, 2020 at 8:32 am
I hadn’t considered the extra problems a person going through grief would have during this unsettling time. It’s hard to find a measure of peace when there is no peace around you, and it’s hard to find a respite from the sadness when everything that is going on makes us sad.
I too am helpless to understand a lot of things going on the world today. As you say, we’re being manipulated, but it’s hard to see what the point is. I can’t believe they really want anarchy. I can’t believe they really want to tear down their country, because then what would they have? I am very confused by it all.
September 20, 2020 at 1:46 am
40 years ago I would like to by a good and very expensive atlas. I said to myself naively, innocently wait a little all countries are going to settle their border problems then I can buy a good atlas. Painfully I have find out I never going to buy one in my hole life.
What I try to say about manipulation is simply for money any power.
I never interested in television and if you see all advertising the simple example is for sell home products and other whether good or bad.
I don’t want to brooding some subjects like politics, arms, religion that you understand better than me I suppose.
September 20, 2020 at 8:49 am
I don’t blame you for not wanting to brood about certain subjects. There’s nothing we can do about most of it anyway except brood or argue, and I don’t want to do either one.