In thinking back, I thank God that I took the numerous difficult steps that were necessary, after Joe died, to build up my life.
They were the foundation that strengthened me. I had developed the discipline over those years to move into consistent writing and to build my coaching practice, enabling me to share the things that losing Joe taught me.
I have learned that doing the things I thought I could not do, were just the things that were ultimately the most rewarding.
Do the Thing You Cannot Do
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along… You must do the thing you cannot do.”
The things we do over and over become our habits. Even the slumber of pain can become a habit and as unpleasant as it is, it can become what feels oddly familiar. We need to shake things up…step out of the usual and take a chance on the unknown. Do the thing you think you cannot do.
That thing you just cannot do, however, does not have to be accomplished immediately, but soon. Promise yourself that you will fit it in. Make the huge effort. Do just one thing. Move out of your numbness. Take a difficult or even ‘impossible’ step, and then take another. When you stretch in this expansive way, your progress will accelerate. Confidence will gradually return and stir emotions, making it easier to take the next ‘impossible’ step.
It has been just a little more than twelve years since I was left alone. In those first days, the mailbox was always full. They kept coming… kind notes, loving thoughts, letters, and the beautiful cards wishing my family and me well, and offering prayers, meals, and warm words of concern. I felt nurtured. At the same time, I felt overwhelmed by them all! I asked myself, “How can I actually answer all these?” I could not think. I could not feel. I was exhausted. I did not want to read or talk with anyone…
While lying awake in the night, which I did a lot of during that time, it finally came to me-a way to get this task done. As hard as thinking is, maybe answering the cards could be a part of my grieving. Perhaps it was meant to be. Here they were: stacks of cards, just piled up in front of me. I could spend time with each one, taking in the kind words and letting their healing sentiments wash over me. It would certainly have me crying and thinking about Joe, but the tears would be useful; one more step on the way to feeling better. I started reading a couple of these cards each day. I wrote just a few words, thanking and blessing these dear and thoughtful friends and family. Some days, all I could manage was one card. But I did it and I continued every day, and the healing began…
Soon I started expanding on the things I ‘must do’, listed below. You will want to add those things that are uniquely yours. Go even further. Strike a major chord.Go just one step beyond what you think is necessary, or expected, or is even comfortable. Then reach out just a little bit further….
- Have you made that difficult phone call that has been eating at you? When you find yourself on hold for many minutes, make it easier on yourself and press the speaker -phone button. Even better, ask a dear friend or family member to make those calls for you. People genuinely want to help; that’s why they ask. Now is the time to take them up on their offers. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with the things you need.
- Sort through your spouse’s belongings. This can be a tender task and one that is difficult to tackle. Take it on prayerfully, gently folding, remembering and thoughtfully dividing into piles. Decide which items will be appreciated by family and close friends, and which might be donated to the needy. Doing this could be valuable therapy for you.
- Write a comforting letter to someone in your family. It may be his sister or brother who is having a particularly difficult time with the loss. Take comfort in realizing how loved your spouse was by so many. Your words on paper are a special gift. They can be savored in the moment and returned to again and again.
- By far, the best way to heal those terrible feelings of leftover guilt, anger or resentment is to work on forgiveness. If you have been wrestling with some guilt and you are not quite sure what it’s all about, write down your thoughts in your journal. Be candid. Pour out your thoughts where you can read them again later from a different viewpoint. Are you holding some resentment over things that were not quite settled between you and your spouse? Now is the time to deal with it; work a little every day on your forgiveness. Write in your journal. If you seem to get nowhere, call a close friend or even a grief specialist for help. People want to listen to you and you will find that speaking face to face with a caring listener can give clarity and comfort.
[The foregoing is an excerpt from chapter three of I'm a Widow, What Now? Embracing Life after Loss]