During the first few months after my beloved husband died, I was in shock. After that I learned to reach out for help and establish my grief tools. I talk about both of these stages in these articles: https://www.reinventingmyself-agrievingwidowsjourney.com/post/tools-for-healing-grief-part-1 and https://www.reinventingmyself-agrievingwidowsjourney.com/post/tools-for-healing-grief-part-2
Throughout my life, prior to the devastating event of losing my husband, I was an overachiever. I was a HUMAN DOING. My husband used to joke that he never saw me just sit. I was a multi-tasker, and if I didn’t accomplish several things in a day, I would not feel complete. My husband, wherever he is, is probably laughing heartily at how much I sit now! There is an irony here; sometimes I feel like he had to die for me to “get it”.
What do I mean by “getting it”?
It’s amazing to me now, how much I was missing out on, by not taking care of myself. Before my husband died, I spent almost every waking moment taking care of others or busying myself with tasks, many of which weren’t important or didn’t really need to be done right then. I literally did not know how to stop and take care of myself. This is one of the greatest gifts that I have received from grief. This is what I mean by “getting it”.
I learned my grief tools and took time out every day to sit with my feelings, but there was still this nagging, judgmental voice inside telling me that I wasn’t DOING enough, or that I wasn’t “accomplishing” anything, or that I didn't know how to grieve properly. Questions and doubt would run through my mind all day long:
Why don’t I feel motivated to do the dishes, talk with a friend, or read a book?
Why don’t I cry more?
Why did I spend all that money traveling?
Why did I sell my husband’s tools?
Why don’t I take my cat to the vet?
Why can’t I go out in public?
And, on and on.
Just as everyone’s grief journey is unique, so is the list of judgments they place upon themselves. Some fortunate grievers may already understand that judging themselves while grieving is highly counterproductive. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way. Early on, in one of my sessions with my grief counselor, I brought up some of the things I was questioning. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I feel so bad that I sold all my husband’s tools. It was impulsive.
GC: It’s okay that you sold all your husband’s tools. That’s what you felt you needed to do at the time.
Me: But I feel so bad that I spent all that money traveling. I was irresponsible.
GC: It’s okay that you spent all that money traveling. It’s what you felt you needed at the time.
Me: I feel like I should cry more when I’m sad. It just doesn’t come.
GC: It’s okay that you don’t cry more. You cry when you need to.
Me: I don’t feel like seeing any of my friends. I just sit like a blob and do nothing.
GC: It’s okay that you sit like a blob and do nothing. Maybe that’s what you need right now.
And on and on...
The bottom line is that I finally GOT IT, that no matter what I did while grieving, it was OKAY.
Grievers need a break from judgment. I realized that the healthiest way for me to BE, was to do (or not do) whatever felt okay in the moment. There are no GRIEF POLICE. There is no WRONG in grief, as long as we are not harming ourselves or others. If we take our life savings and buy a cabin on a cruise ship to live on the open seas, then that’s OKAY. If we feel like curling up in a ball on the sofa in our husband’s pajamas for a month or a year, then that’s OKAY. If buying a paddle board and taking up the ukulele brought me some solace, then that’s OKAY. If I'd rather do that then go to a party, then that's OKAY!
The point is, we need to let judgment, along with guilt, go by the wayside. It’s difficult enough to just sit and BE with our feelings. We don’t need to be judging ourselves on top of it. Most of us never learned how to just BE with ourselves. And if we had a busy, active life with our husband, and possibly children as well, we may not know how to just BE. And this is OKAY too! We learn how to do this one day at a time, one foot in front of the other, slowly and GENTLY.
Learning to be Gentle
In my article "Tools for Healing Grief - Part 1" (link above) I talk about treating ourselves like newborn babes. Once I settled into my daily healing routine, it was easier to take time out each day to sit with my feelings and to remember to be GENTLE, LOVING and KIND with myself – treating myself the way I would treat a newborn baby. It took some practice, but every time I would catch myself questioning or doubting what I was doing, I would stop and breathe into this feeling of gentleness. Sometimes all it takes is a breath. Other times, a walk outside will shift the energy.
It’s amazing how much being gentle and kind to myself helped me get through my days. I was able to slow down. And it really is a lot easier than I thought it would be. It was freeing. I felt relieved, like I could finally let go of all these conditions for living I had once placed upon myself. It opened the door for love of myself and helped crack my heart open for allowing more love in.
I guess if a griever asked me for advice about this, I would say, “just try it”! It might feel awkward at first, but acknowledging how fragile we are, especially in the first year or so, allows us to let go and relax into the experiences and feelings that we need to feel in order to move forward.
Grievers are in a special place, a unique place, and we deserve to feel fragile, because we ARE! It’s our societal and cultural norms that dictate how we "should" be while grieving, but this has nothing to do with reality. The reality is that we are in PAIN and we need to be gentle and kind with ourselves. And if anybody in our life is not treating us gently and kindly, then we need to look at that and evaluate if that person needs to be in our life right now, at least until we are more recovered.
Repeat this mantra: Gentle. Kind. Loving.
And, no matter what happens during the grieving process, it’s ALL OKAY!