8 Months

Today it has been 8 months since my husband passed away. It feels like he has been gone even longer somehow. I forget so many of our good times and things about him already. The trauma has made it nearly impossible to remember. I was looking at photos and some video too. Hearing his voice and seeing him very happy is so jolting for me compared to the image of finding him. It is almost too painful to bare and I close the album for another day. I am home at my parents this week. I took several much-needed days off to try to relax and refuel. My happiness is seeing my family and old friends. I am quieter, more reserved, more reflective. I am probably not as much fun as I was but this is me at 8 months.

I feel like I have not been blogging about the suicide aspect as much as I should be. Suicide is getting a lot of attention these days in light of the show 13 Reasons Why. I am not one to watch the show. It is too much for me. However, I see both sides of the argument here. Some feel it glorifies suicide. Some feel it brings the issue of mental health, depression, and suicide out from behind the dark curtains of stigma and shame. I do think however it has brought the topic into many more people’s homes regardless of the show.

I see more people getting semi colon tattoos. Sharing their pain, stories, feelings about mental health. Maybe I see more because I have been through the tragedy of losing my husband this way. Maybe it is the positive side of social media, the connection we feel to our friends when we post our every thought and feeling. I think it is amazingly strong that people talk about their lives with honesty, share their good and bad moments, and provide us a window into their lives. Especially when the topic is depression, anxiety, mental health, medicine they take, suicidal thoughts, etc. For every person who opens up I believe we erase stigma more and more. I believe we have a chance at helping someone else who needs to be heard.

This is a great article and story about Oxford High Students and their approach to showing 13 Reasons Why NOT. Very impressive. I hope more schools will do this.

http://www.theoaklandpress.com/general-news/20170504/oxford-high-school-students-begin-project-called-13-reasons-why-not

As I sit here at the 8 month mark I still have not decided what my role could or would be in terms of suicide prevention. I want to help people by sharing his story. When I look backwards with the knowledge of his death by suicide I can now see things that went on for years and some things that went on the days or weeks before. Maybe this can be my contribution. Maybe something I put here will make you consider if your family member is suffering from depression, suicidal or dark thoughts. Maybe they will get the help they need. It is very hard to write them down but I hope they will help someone. I am sure I will continue to edit and add to this list.

  • nap taker which could last hours
  • often complained of headaches
  • insomnia and sleep issues
  • a general look of not listening/disinterest
  • gave away something to a stranger I thought was odd
  • found out after he passed that he bought a large gift for a family member and did not tell me about it
  • pulled away from me and often did not get the phone
  • stopped joining me for activities
  • carried his gun around more than ever
  • seemed to be nervous about things in the world, paranoia?
  • strange statements out of the blue
  • watching dark movies that upset me and would not change them
  • not affectionate or loving toward me
  • out of the blue planned a party of friends to come over the night before I had a huge business trip
  • clutter and stuff started to bother him
  • never made decisions or stated his opinions (learned behavior to survive his childhood he said)
  • anxiety for things like finding new job, interviewing, change
  • took many things personally that others would brush off
  • never able to forget a perceived slight or actual slight
  • a feeling he was not good enough (“you need a husband who goes out more”, “all I am good for and do is get you food”
  • he never let me in fully, he did not tell me things or open up
  • he saw I shared my heart, thoughts, and feelings with him and sometimes he seemed angry at me for being able to
  • an overall dark cloud that turned into a huge impenetrable boulder that slept between us and followed us around
  • finding pills after he passed that I believe was Trazadone (not prescribed to him and not used correctly is my guess) **** See withdrawal symptoms of Trazadone (dark thoughts and suicide)!
  • quick to anger, quick to upset
  • a feeling of walking on egg shells with him constantly
  • often took everything I said wrong and got angry or upset

 

With help suicide is preventable. But like with anything (addiction, mental illness, life) the person needs to want help and be honest about their feelings and suffering. When we are not aware we cannot be supportive. I hope that suicide continues to be talked about. Because as we remove stigma people will fee safer to discuss the topic and feel less shame in communicating their feelings.

A good description of Suicide from the website Project Semicolon

https://projectsemicolon.com

  • People who experience suicidal thoughts and feelings are suffering with tremendous emotional pain. People who have died by suicide typically had overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, despair, and helplessness. Suicide is not about a moral weakness or a character flaw. People considering suicide feel as though their pain will never end and that suicide is the only way to stop the suffering.
  • Many factors and circumstances can contribute to someone’s decision to end his/her life. Factors such as loss, addictions, childhood trauma or other forms of trauma, depression, serious physical illness, and major life changes can make some people feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. It is important to remember that it isn’t necessarily the nature of the loss or stressor that is as important as the individual’s experience of these things feeling unbearable.
  • Suicide is the result of actions taken to deal with intolerable mental anguish and pain, fear or despair that overwhelms an individual’s value for living and hope in life.
  • While there is a well-established link between suicide and depression, each suicide occurs in a unique mix of complex interconnected factors, individual, environmental, biological, psychological, social, cultural, historical, political and spiritual, including psychological trauma (both developmental and intergenerational).

Widowhood, Grief, and Alcohol

When he died I would not touch the stuff. I barely ate the first few weeks. The only drink I consumed was a full week after he passed away. I just worried that if I started I would not stop. I also did not wallow in unchanged bed sheets for that same reason, or put myself into his worn clothing for comfort. Instead I stayed sober and alert and ask my mom to wash all the sheets and clothing immediately. I know that not everyone would have done this. It was not me being less sad it was literally a survival mode that kicked in. Some days I wish I could be the person who laid in the filth of days old clothing and sheets and smelled of him. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to keep his scent around me. But I promise if I did I would not be where I am today. I would not be coming to you in your living room on a blog about grief waves and resiliency. I would still be there wallowing because it would have felt so safe to be amongst his things.

Does any of this sounds like you?

At home you have monitored your intake. You want to be sure you are not over indulging alone in your house. You are conscious of each bottle you drink, how many drinks you have. You know for a while you had a bit more than you should have. But then you have that support person sending you happiness via text, call this person Distraction. You notice your intake is down to barely nothing. You have a person taking your mind of the sad loneliness for long enough to make you forget to have a drink that night. You are thankful.

Fast forward to the time when you start to attempt a new life for yourself outside of the confines and safety of your house. At the bar or out at a concert you fall into the fun of the crowd and the dream that your life could be like theirs (less complicated, more fun, happier). You watch in somewhat envy at the time they are having, their biggest worry may have been who will watch the kids, or who will drive home if we all drink. (By the way you are not so self-indulgent that you think none of them have issues but in this moment you are not considering those because they look like they are having the time of their lives.)  In this new life you are now considered SINGLE. You are thrust into the scene you thought you were done with. You enter the bar and you immediately are hit by the share number of people having a wonderful time. You too want to have that kind of evening. You tell yourself you will have one or two to loosen up. But sometimes two turns into more and you start to sway with the music, socialize, and live.  Then it hits you hard and fast. Alcohol is a depressant. After that initial loosen up moment you start to feel lively and then you start to feel sad shortly thereafter. You have had too much. There is no turning back to the happy side.

When you crash into sad mode you start to cry, feel sorry for yourself, and soon after despise the person you are even more than when you walked into the bar. You may be with people, you may be alone, but either way you need to go home. Home to the quiet again. You are embarrassed by your silent tears. You just wanted to be ok and have fun.

Then you Facebook message your friend to confess you messed this night up (again).  You say “alcohol and grief don’t mix”. Reply “Alcohol & many things don’t mix in a good way”… That is true. You decide that you will be on guard even outside the house and strongly consider not drinking anymore at all. Many people do it of course and it sometimes seems like they have less drama and complications. You decide you will limit the nights out entirely and be kinder to yourself and give yourself more time in terms of social situations.

When you are trying to avoid stormy waves, Alcohol needs to back off.

When to FALL and When to FLY

As you know crying and sadness is really tiring. It is not living. It is all-encompassing. Wallowing into my bed is something I just have not done. I have not allowed myself to FALL. Believe me I think it is great if you can pause long enough to let yourself fall completely. There is certainly no judgement in how you grieve from me. For myself however,  I just worried if I started to FALL I would not be able to pull myself back up from the hole I was in. I grieve in waves instead.

I want to FLY.

Just because I want to fly does not make me love him less, miss him less, or diminish him in any way. I believe he wants to see me FLY. I heard it from him in fact when I saw the medium. He said I would fall in love again and it would be great. He wants me to live, dance, and be happy. He said he would be sure he is not a scumbag. (a term I often used to describe some of my past).

Does this make everything easy? No, of course not! But, his blessing is certainly helpful and allowed me to step into life again.

Reading grief blogs I hear several things consistently from Widow(ers).

  • They feel guilt and shame for living, for having a good day, for getting a date, etc. I do not think any of our spouses wanted to die (even if suicide was the way they died like my husband). If they did not want to die then please explain why would they want us stop living?
  • The other consistent thing I see is if they do move forward they compare someone new or something new (house, job, etc) to when they were with their spouse. This really is not giving the new experience a fair chance. It is not giving you a fair chance at life.

I hope that other Widow(ers) will support each other and others will support them to start to live, to be fair to the new experience, and to have a good Life after Loss. Do not let fear stop you because Grief transforms quickly to fear. It will make you pause just try to swim through the tidal wave. If we could get a Widow Pass and FLY without fear of wrong decisions, broken hearts, dead ends, risk that would be wonderful but then we know that is just not reality. So we must be bold and risk mistakes, sadness, and even scarier additional losses. Somehow I think its the last one that holds us back the most.

I just read the Alchemist by Paul Coehlo and I must leave you with a few of my favorite quotes that make sense here.

  • “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
  • “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
  • “The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

Who to tell What to and When…

I sometimes feel like I should have a script prepared.  Maybe I should plan out what I will say when the inevitable questions come from the various people I encounter.

  • Where is your husband?
  • Wait how old are you that he died?
  • How did he die?
  • Was he sick?
  • Was it unexpected?
  • Did you know he was sick?
  • Did you have any warning signs?

The trouble is I never know when I am going to encounter a person who is curious. I never know which line of questions it will get into. I never really know what I will say and to whom.

I get asked by people who knew him well, people who knew him a little bit, people who only know me, people I just meet, people I will meet.

Think about how many different scenarios we as Widows would need to prepare for and I am sure I am missing many:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Colleagues
  • Partners
  • Strangers
  • People who provide services to your family (Doctor, painter, etc)
  • Person at the bar who is interested in you
  • The guy online wondering why your profile says status: widow

It is nearly impossible to come up with all of the scenarios and the paths the conversations would take. Some people know he died, some do not, some know how, some do not. Because of my concern for his privacy I limit who I tell about how he passed away. Another reason is because quite honestly most people cannot handle it and then I have to deal with their feelings about that. I do not need to take on anyone else’s grief/fears/anger/questions in addition to my own (and neither do you).

So as Widows we decide who to tell what to for many reasons:

  • safety (does everyone working on our home need to know?)
  • privacy (his and mine)
  • self-preservation
  • to save them from what they cannot handle
  • because we compartmentalize our work/person lives as a general rule
  • because we are tired of the sad eyes
  • because we do not want your sympathy right then
  • because it’s Friday night and we are out to have a fun/normal time not a widow wallow

When is it the right time to tell certain people who you plan to? No rules on this one either so it is just a factor that we go along with.

How much should be shared? This varies with whom your speaking to and what you feel comfortable sharing at the time.

And then people wonder why we are in our heads a lot…. think about this a moment.

We wonder daily who to let in, what questions to answer, when to answer them, and to what level we answer them. We are constantly hoping we choose correctly.

Sometimes people ask at the wrong times or ask insane questions and you are in such shock that even if you had a script ready to go for that scenario you probably could not pull from it anyways. So we do the best we can with handling who to tell what to and when…

No one to tell – Loneliness

This is going to be a short one today. It is pretty simple to express. It is not something I feel every day and I had been feeling really great for the last 7 weeks or so until this week. This week I am weaker. This week I felt like I got another blow to my heart. This week I feel ALONE.

I feel loss of him most when I come and go. When it’s really good or really bad.

I feel it most when I have work business travel. When I land and arrive at my destination no one cares I’m safe. When I come home no one cares that I did. No one to tell.

When I am sick or need medicine or my inhaler fast there is no one to help me anymore.

When my work day is successful or I have good news to share. There is no one to tell.

When I see something cool, something frightening, something interesting. Who do you tell?

I feel ALONE. When I say no one that may sound harsh because of course people care. But no one is here to tell anymore that is my go to. I feel like I tell my brothers, my text friend, and my family, and friends. But it is not the same at all. I am still learning which people to get which support from. (another topic for another day and difficult to navigate as again no manual). I really screwed up this week on this one by the way.

The room can be filled with people who love and care for you. But without a person who loves you truly like a spouse would after all these years of being together… you do not feel anything but ALONE.

Sometimes I worry I will get hurt or die and no one will know for days. If I did not reach out to people and say how I am they really would not know. I work from home and I could literally disappear and no one would be the wiser.

Sleep deprivation as you ride your wave…

Well folks I think I was doing wonderful riding the waves of grief. I feel like I was conquering the big ones on my own. And then yesterday happened. Some of the vivid imagery showed back up to haunt me. One of the things I have not told many people is that one random day I could not find him. When I did it was in our attic and he was touching a beam and looking around. He had carried up some items to storage so it seemed normal. But I looked at his hand grazing the beam and I asked, “Hey is everything OK with the new home construction?” He said yes it is, look how beautiful it is outside from here. We had a window in the walk in attic space (which is really just a gigantic unfinished room. We looked out together and left the space side by side happily, so I thought.

So why is this entry about sleep and not negative imagery and needing more EMDR? Well because I had not slept good I was vulnerable to the darkness, the thoughts, less on my resiliency game. Less on my guard with people and what I should say and when and to whom (as all of you Widows(ers) know you do not tell everyone the same things and certainly not the same way).

Why didn’t I sleep you ask? You see I have a good friend who was having some girl problems. He took my mind off my grief and let me into his life. He treated me like a human not a widow. He always has since he found out. I would happily stay up late and debate the subtleties of the craziness of love and romance with him. Shoot years ago that was all we did. He was there for me too. We exchanged conversations on messenger until we both fell asleep. I was useful (or maybe not being I am hopeless romantic!). I was not just the sad young widow who had her husband taken away at 35. Thank you (I am studying gratitude too). So I went to bed late and I was dreaming when I woke up. Dreaming a good dream one of my best ones in a long time. I was actually feeling good about the day ahead not a cloud in site.

The bad stuff seeped into my daytime. So I let it creep into my conversation with another friend. A friend I think is good with me sharing this with them (maybe not?) . And I cried. I dealt with it I got it out. I let the wave swallow me for a short time. But I came out unscathed. And then I stupidly, opened up on another level to that same person that I had told I was crying. I said something to that person that was very scary for me. Something that showed I am thinking about them sometimes and curious. And then the wave hit me again and crashed me to the ground. This wave has another name it’s called LIFE. You see in life re-entry, as you start fresh, the universe does not care about your past and will knock your ass to the ground. It was maybe too soon, at the wrong time, it was definitely poorly defended and random. It was a weak attempt that should have been held back until I knew more details. It was unplanned. And the response in my opinion equally less thoughtful and not what I had expected to hear. But it may have been fair with no context, no explanations, no background. It was a feeler question that needed to wait. But our self consciousness is out to play as we are grieving. Our lack of relevance and purpose is out to play along with it. And we do things that we hope won’t ruin it. We try to jump in but really we are still looking for some drift wood because we are not good swimmers yet. We have a false sense of ability based on our sleep deprivation. We are sorry for how it came out. We are sad for the response but understanding. We hope sometime to have the right talk at the right time.

Sleep my friends. Sleep is good, it is nourishing it is replenishing. It is how you will ride the waves again day after day. I remember saying to that same person that I wish someone would just help me for a few days so I could sleep. Take me to somewhere quiet where I can be. Find me a lake or ocean to sit by and help me escape. So I could turn it off and tune it all out. Remember I only took off 11 business days when it happened.  It is excruciating when you are so sleep deprived that you are in pain. You wish someone would know what you need but they just cannot understand because their life path hasn’t been a big grief wave.

Sleep stole your strength. You looked weak. You dropped the ball and your guard at the wrong time.  Rest. Sleep. Nap. I promise with time you will be able to sleep a bit more. I believe it took me close to 5-6 months to sleep. I hope you will find sleep much sooner.

 

Secondary Losses

I am just beginning to explore this topic. After listening to the What’s Your Grief podcast on the topic I was writing down some of the secondary losses. The more time that passes the more secondary losses I notice. But what does this mean?

In my case the primary loss is the death of my husband. But there are all the small things, the nuances, the people who surrounded us as a couple, the friends who simply don’t know how to handle grief, etc that may also become losses. Here is a great picture from www.whatsyourgrief.com that helps to show what we are talking about. Considering making your own list of secondary losses because it is important to also grieve these.

 

  • Loss of my best friend/ my person/partner in crime
  • Loss of my confidant
  • Loss of the feeling that you knew your spouse (specific to a suicide or if you uncovered journals that was contrary to how you knew him in life)
  • Lost of trust (in your own ability to judge people, yourself, spouse who left you, friends)
  • Loss of memories (especially if you had a trauma and the good ones are gone)
  • Loss of a travel companion
  • Loss of security as I am constantly alone in everything I do and in the night-time
  • Loss of our coupled friends who do not know how to handle me alone now
  • Loss of my identity as wife and a reason to hold his last name
  • Loss of his side of the family (parents and siblings) as they have no tie to me anymore
  • Loss of confidence in myself because of how he died even though I know he was in pain
  • Loss of relevance now that there is no one for me to love, care for, cook for, clean for
  • Loss of all dreams of the future because they were tied to us growing old together
  • Loss of faith
  • Loss of the idea of having children at my age
  • Loss of our dream house/pool that we just moved into
  • Loss of help with the 5 animals I keep alive
  • Loss of help with the man stuff around the house
  • Loss of things that represented him around the house as you start to go through his things

Some are of course more important than others, some have a ton of impact, some do not. Some of these things can be as hard to grieve as the primary loss or wrapped up so closely into it. I have a feeling this is a post I will add to. This list is still probably being developed at this point. The reason it isn’t done is to be honest I did not think about the secondary losses in those terms until the podcast.

Consider taking a listen now.

Secondary Loss Podcast by What’s Your Grief

Status: Widow

WIDOW… I did not even know if that applied to me or if that was the male version (widower) I had to look it up.

I know I have to accept this term as it is what I am, a Widow. A woman who has lost her spouse by death and has not remarried. At 35, a widow?

I always pictured someone who is over 80 and wearing a cardigan all day remembering her young years with her grandkids as the image of a widow. The fact is with the mental health crisis, cancer catastrophe, and heart conditions in the world no one is safe from the big W. We are one stressful heart attack, one cancer cell, and one suicide away from making another young Widow (or Widower).

Signing paperwork to sell my previous home was the first time I saw it staring me in the face next to my full name. I could not believe the audacity it had to just glare at me that way. I immediately started to crumble in front of my realtor and the lawyer. Thankfully they were very kind and aware of my recent loss. The buyers were late to their closing so I was able to get out before they even walked in the door.

It sounds like I have a disease not that I lost a spouse, best friend, lover, and companion. Widow seems like a condition versus a status. I think I will find another word. I just do not know what it is. Maybe the W could be for Wisdom instead because we sure gain a lot of wisdom in short order after loss and grief.

I have started to say LATE husband which is another foreign one for me. If you say husband people are confused, he is not an ex so that does not work, you do not want to say former, so you are stuck with dead, deceased or with late. Seems like late is a nicer and softer way to say what is so sad and shocking.

As I try to re-enter my new life I have been forced to remind myself of my new status as Widow again. Check the box that best explains your status (doctor’s office, online dating, employment paperwork, etc). You are so used to checking married or single but widow is foreign for sure and one we just did not see coming.

Being a widow does not define any of us. We should not let it try to. Get up and grab life and live it. Seek out friends who do not treat you differently or look at you with sad eyes. Find the ones that bring life back to you. Thank you to those who do this for me.

Our spouses would want us to live. I know for sure that my late husband wants me to move forward and find love again while he watches over me.

 

EMDR

EMDR ((Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a technique used by some therapists to help us overcome traumatic situations, images, thoughts, or things affecting us from our past. This is something many PTSD patients find useful. I will explain it to you how I understand and interpret it but you should of course speak with your therapist and specifically one who does study EMDR for additional details.

I had never heard this term before the passing of my husband. Just something else new to learn and understand. My friend brought it to my attention as an effective technique for trauma patients either before or with talk therapy. It is “Tapping” into your left and right brain while you imagine a stressful, traumatic experience. When you go through something traumatic (finding your spouse deceased or combat where a fellow soldier is killed) that image is in the forefront of your mind. You cannot move past it or file it away in your memory bank. It is ALL encompassing. It is all you see.

Ways you can do EMDR:

  • Tapping on the body left and right by a therapist (bilateral stimulation)
  • Music playing in your ears left and right switching
  • Movement of the therapists finger left and right while you follow the finger

I personally chose the physical tapping. I felt that this would be most effective for me and following the finger seemed the most annoying for me. We did try all three techniques out.

I went into the office and we began with thinking of finding my husband passed away in the darkness of night. As I replayed the movie of the October 23rd experience I cried and cried like it was just happening again because for me it felt exactly like it was still happening. Everyday after he died and until the experience of EMDR I replayed the same movie repeatedly and experienced the same fear/shock/paralysis. In the evenings if I was lucky to close my eyes for a brief time I would find myself replaying again and I would be unable to move, get up out of bed, grab a glass of water, etc.

For me this treatment just worked. It worked fast. It blew my mind. It changed my mind. I was so in need of something to work. Everything was so new and raw and I had no preconceived notions on any of this. I replayed the torture of finding him and when that went away it was onto working through the words and statements he made in the few weeks before he passed away, the way he seemed distant and odd and dark. He made a few comments that I would not stop replaying over and over in my head. They killed every chance of me feeling remotely OK, even though there was no chance of that. Things like “you need a husband who goes out more” which was said to me while I was in the shower being happy. Then while we laid in bed with our dogs he said once “you all would be fine without me”.

It is not something that works immediately for everyone and also the degree and length of the experience, and how long ago the experience occurred all factor into how many times you need to replay the scene and go through EMDR.

When it works… you get your mind BACK. It is YOURS again. Now when you want to draw up the traumatic experience it is you recalling this from your memory. It is not sitting there hanging out in front of your face where you cannot push it away.

Please consider trying this. It is by far and away the best thing I did for myself in the early stages. I would still be laying in bed imagining him dead and unable to move if this was not something I did.

This image was posted by https://innerhealingresources.com/emdr/ and I thought you may find it helpful. 

 

 

 

 

 

Brain Scans before and after EMDR (this is something my therapist showed me to help explain what is going on up in the mind. Saved from

http://gulinaydin-msw.blogspot.ca/2012/11/brain-scan-before-and-after-emdr.html

Where do you put your warmth, kindness, and affection now?

Where should all the affection and warmth and kindness go now?  I keep putting it in a bottle. The bottle may burst soon. When is the right time to move forward and pursue more than a friendship?  From what I read there is No answer to this. We should do what we feel and not worry about what others think.

I am reading Second Firsts by Christina Rasmussen and it is wonderful. She is so inspirational when she speaks about life re-entry. She explains that you had a life you lived with your spouse, a life you live while your waiting and this is something we should keep to a short term. Then there is your new life when you embrace re-entry. When she said that grabbing your new life is hard because you are afraid to get hurt and experience more grief, that resonated.

I want nothing more than to take a leap into life and love but doing so means putting my fragile and vulnerable self out there.

I am forever changed. I am trying new things and new experiences. I am independent and strong. While I do not need a man, I do want to share my time with someone wonderful.  One amazing man came around unexpectedly and on paper I’m sure it seems ridiculous to consider me as anything more than a friend. But I do want to get to know more about him. Grief and fear hold me back. But really what else is there to lose? I have so much warmth, love, kindness and affection and nowhere to put it. It is more than lonely it is painful. More uncertainty and doubt in myself. My heart is ready to try but how do I proceed without knowing?