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