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Following the Intuitive Compass-The Healing Model for Those Who Are Actually Grieving

I was in so many ways destroyed by John’s death, literally brought to me knees, or more accurately I was brought even lower than my knees, as I spent nearly every night of that first winter after his death curled in a ball, huddled next to a kitchen cabinet sobbing, lost, scared, lonely, and absolutely bereft. At that time, I never wondered how I would move from that spot. I never thought about what road I would travel to stand upright again or what avenue I might seek counsel so that my laughter would reach both my ears and my heart “someday” in the future. Those early months on the floor were dark, both outside winter dark, and inside bleak and hopeless. 

Sometimes now, so many long months out from those early days, I hear about how brave I was or how wise I was to do this or that, but that is on the outlier side of early grief that I hear this and to be honest I did all sorts of things you weren’t suppose to do in the first year and then some as I desperately clung to reality and to the small sliver of sanity that had not been snatched away when I was handed John’s personal effects and told he was dead, never coming home.

Today, after being applauded by someone not touched by grief on my bravery and wisdom of my early days,  I felt it was important to share all that I “did wrong” so early on, because quite frankly the advice about what to do and not to do in that first year after the death a loved one was absolute bullshit for me. What I felt I needed to say today was that everyone’s path back from the early on shattered days of initial impact is different and they are all appropriate and okay. They are all valid ways of coping. And although it is nice to hear that I was brave or wise or any other kind adjective, I have heard as many times or more that I had lost it, dropped my basket or became self-centered and non-responsive to others needs. It’s probably all true to some degree but what I think is important is that I don’t really put much stock in any other person’s idea of how I did or even now how I am doing now, even when they are complimentary I let the comments roll off and away. I do this because they are truly only glimpsing the actuality of my world, they don’t and can’t really know it in any deeper way. In truth only the person doing the grieving can really say how well or not well they are doing, or how correct or incorrect any action is for them at any given moment in time. Grieving is incredibly individual.

Still, in my own grieving, as time eventually gave way to small respites from the hopelessness, I picked myself up off the kitchen floor, and then again off the same kitchen floor again and again, until I stayed off the floor more than not. I knew I had to move, to do something, that my world could not continue in that way, that I could not continue in that way. I was reminded then that my grandmother sold the house she had lived in for fifty years that my grandfather built a mere three months after he died. One morning after waking up she said to herself, “I cannot live like this anymore. I cannot be this sad, in this place anymore. It’s time to leave.” I had very much the same epiphany the spring after John died and so 40 weeks, nine months to the day of John dying I moved out of our house and I have not-for-one-minute missed that house or regretted the move, even though I was told over and over again to wait the full year to make that decision or I would regret it. 

To be quite frank, early on I did all kinds of things wasn’t supposed to do in my “altered grief state” I changed jobs nine weeks after John died, I sold my house, I made big and lasting financial decisions, I dated, I even launched a business. I also did things I knew I needed to do that others approved of as well. I found a good grief therapist, joined grief groups, journaled, and most importantly kept the lines of communication open with those closest to me so they could know when to come lift me up and out to keep me from falling too far into the sea of sorrow that is so all consuming in early grief. 

In short, I did what I intuitively felt needed to be done, for me and me alone. Others walking their own individual grief paths will surely follow a different way, authentically them and equally brave and wise. This makes each one of us, destroyed in so many ways by loss, brave and wise and very much teachers for those around us who will inevitably have to travel some sort of loss of their own someday.

Over two years later I am still listening to that intuitive voice. After almost two years of going strong - I stopped. I heard my spirit call to me that I was in a safe space with my grief and that I could be as still as I wanted and needed to be, and that even in the stillness I would not be consumed by grief and John’s death, but instead, I would be further healed and strengthened by facing it, gently, full on and with an open heart. And it may seem very backwards to the outsider to move and change so much early on and then to sit still later, but that's what I needed to do, that is what my heart and soul told me to do, and in the face of all the advice of what I should have done early on and what I should or shouldn't be doing now I turn my head away and close my ears to it all, that way I can better listen to the only voice that truly knows what will be healing for me, the only voice that honestly matters after such devastation, the only voice that could reach me in those early days of desperation-my own.

If you find yourself walking this grief path with advice loudly being thrown at you from every conceivable angle, I hope you know that it is perfectly fine and actually good to close your ears to it and follow your own inner compass. As I have said before, I really believe that each griever knows what will best help and what won’t. May we all have the courage to walk our own grief paths as authentically as can. May we all find solace in our own ways, in our own time.

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Comment by lizbeth4 on December 30, 2014 at 9:42am

It has been 21 months since the death of my Husband (30 years together).  I put on a brave face in the beginning and lost it when I was alone.  I was in the biggest fog!  I sold my home 8 months after his death and relocated to a small town even though other's were telling me to wait at least 1 year.  It was one of the best choices that I ever made.  I love it here!  I have made quite a few mistakes, like going through his personal belonging too soon.  I didn't feel like it was right for me but I went along with what a relative thought.  Big mistake!  I think that everyone wants to help but doesn't know what to say or do.  No one can truly help you, that falls on you to find your way and to grief the way you need to.  I am still grieving and on Christmas eve I cried when my Daughter told a story about her Dad.  It was happy memory tears.  I am able now to cry and not feel like I need to do it in privacy.  I have been told how brave I am by my friends but I don't feel brave.  I feel like I am doing the best I can with my heartache.  We all need to follow our own paths and live our lives the way we see fit.  That's all we can do.

Comment by flannery on December 16, 2014 at 4:55pm

Callie2, You are correct . I think so many people want to be positive in the face of such loss, they want to help but don't know how. I know i didn't know how before it happened to me. I too have made decisions that were failures but as you said I didn't let them stop me, I've learn that failure is indeed okay, especially in the face of grief. I LOVE what you late MIL said lol! I might adopt that same phrasing:) thank you so much for sharing you story and your widsom. It is so helpful for me to know I am not walking this alone. 

Comment by Callie2 on December 16, 2014 at 12:30pm
Flannery,
Your description of the early days could describe a lot of us. We then do what we feel we need to do to survive. I, for one, have made a few decisions that I realize now, were not good ones. We can either get depressed over it or accept that failure is okay as long as we learn from it. I've had more than a few failures however, I have had successes too! Life is going to be different and I have also accepted, not as perfect.

Do you think, perhaps, when others remark about your bravery, etc. they are trying to be positive or encouraging? You know most couples will more than likely at some point in their lives, suffer loss. It is not something we want to think about beforehand (scary) nor can we relate until we experience such grief ourselves. I'm the first to admit, I never really understood how awful it can be till I went through it myself.

I wish you all the best in the future. I'm hoping the advice being thrown at you is well-intended. I listen then I make my own decisions! My late MIL was widowed and she would make decisions on some things maybe not popular to all the kids and she would say, "I know what I'm doing, I haven't lost my marbles yet."
Comment by Leslie Dianne on December 15, 2014 at 8:34am
I wanted to thank you for your sweet comment on my blog I posted recently and then I read your blog! It's exactly what I needed to hear right now, what I am feeling more than 2 years after my husband suddenly passed away. When out 2 daughters graduate in May, I'm going to try to sell our home too. It just feels like it's the right time. And even though I was on auto pilot those first few months after his death, I made decisions that were right for my family, like sending our 15 year old daughter to a one month summer school program on a scholarship in another state or letting my college age daughter study abroad one semester. Even though my sister-in-law called me and yelled at me that it 'wasn't the right time'. I'm glad to hear tht you followed your intuition and I will too. Thank You. Leslie in Little Rock
Comment by Mariposa on December 14, 2014 at 8:09am

Thanks for sharing how you listened to your intuition and followed your innermost voice. Your story is inspiring.

Comment by laurajay on December 13, 2014 at 1:12am

oh jenny   individual indeed.  Though extremely sad and  alone  my first year I accomplished a great deal cloaked in a garment of God's grace.  I had no support system,  meds, or therapy in  my life.  I became very introspective and read and wrote and immersed myself with music and literature on loss and grief.  used music and meditation... had great hope even full of grief I could not bear....slowly as I realized the finality of his death I  emerged exhausted and overwhelmed because life now became 24/7  with no relief ever. But I had acquired wisdom in doing this time of grief alone.   I did not die.  I changed.  Fully aware I will not ever have things my way again. I have learned not to take what others say to heart--  Barbee  for me it was/is people telling me to get out more-   tempted to say shut up to them I just ignore them because they have no idea what 44 yr of together means and never will... connection to others is important but does not require  physical scurrying at a fast pace any more for me and it's OK.  Whatever happens to any widow or widower is just right for them.  We should not compare with expectations.  just let it unfold...and take the time it needs.  yes jenny---the answers are within awaiting their bloom.     love your writing my friend   thank you lj

Comment by only1sue on December 12, 2014 at 9:47pm

Thank you so much for writing this blog.  I do some talking with people after their bereavement as part of my church role.  When they ask if this is right and that is wrong I always say that grief is individual and they need to do what their instincts tell them.  I also add to do this with caution as some decisions made will effect a long time into the future. I guess this is partly right but not right for everyone.  Some people will have to have failures to show them what works for them. I hope by doing so that I will be able to give them opportunities to discuss what is happening for them and my role is not to give advice, simply a listening ear.  But being human I sometimes do give advice.  How relevant it is I will never know.

Comment by barbee on December 12, 2014 at 4:36pm

Flannery, you said this so well. In my first few months many people mentioned that I was a strong woman and so very brave. Oh, if they only knew how shattered I felt inside! One night, here on WV, I posted that it seemed if one more person told me I was a strong woman, I'd smack them upside the head! Someone answered my post that I must have an anger problem and he would pray for me. Yes, grief is like a snowflake--very unique and individualistic. And, every one and every bit is perfectly OK.

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