I've lost my spouse. I'm having a hard time coping. What can I do?


Therapist Answer and Transcription

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Losing a spouse is one of the most stressful and traumatic experiences that we can walk through in a lifetime.

That’s true whether we lose a spouse through something tangible such as death or through a more intangible loss like divorce or incapacitation through dementia or a physical disability. Either way, the rules of grieving still apply and I’d like to offer you four tips to move through the grief process successfully.

They are the “4-F” tips.

Number one is, feel it. This is very challenging for so many of us who don’t want to sit with our painful emotions, but to use an overly trite clinical phrase “we have to feel it to heal it. The only way out is through it.” In order to move through our grief and come out on the other side, we have to be able to name our losses.

To grieve and really release our feelings in the way that feels right for us, we might journal, talk or create a memorial with symbolic representations that represent our loss, or do particular artwork that’s really meaningful to us in our grief process. However you feel it, I would encourage you to really lean into the feelings. That will allow them to be processed and released. When we don’t do that our grief becomes impacted, when we push it down and try to ignore it or make it go away.

And, when we have impacted grief, we may notice that it develops into suicidal ideation or chronic depression where we go weeks at a time and really aren’t able to function. Obviously, if you’re dealing with impacted grief, I would invite you to reach out for professional support right away.

So, tip number one feel it.

Tip number two, keep first things first. When we’re going through crisis, especially traumatic grief and loss, our bodies kind of go into survival mode and it can suddenly become very difficult to do basic things like eating and sleeping. So, we have to keep first things first and keep our goals manageable, when we are walking through grief. You need to eat three nutritious meals everyday, hydrate, drink plenty of water, move your body, practice prayer and meditation in brief and manageable ways, so you’re connecting with a spiritual source and presence outside of your grief process. These are some seemingly very small and basic goals. But, in the midst of the throes of grief and loss, eating, moving and hydrating is a really big deal. So keep first things first.

Number three-friends, especially when our loss involves a relationship that was very close. It’s going to leave a chasm and an ache and we need to connect with safe relationships. Either people really understand what we’re going through, because they’re going through it too. Such as in a grief support group or with safe emotional friendships. So, people who don’t put a timeline on our grief process, people who aren’t impatient with our grieving and the messiness of the stages of grief, people who give us permission to feel our feelings and don’t have that need to rush in and fix it or offer platitudes or tell us how we should feel or what we should be doing. These are the kind of friendships that we need to connect with. So, I would invite you tip number three-connect to safe friends.

Finally, tip number four is to freeze. Freeze any major life changes. Before you sell a family home, or move, or move in or out of a significant relationship, you want to give yourself time to go through the grieving. So, where you are able, freeze any major life decisions for 6 to 12 months, until you’ve had a chance to really walk through the most intense part of the grieving process.

Just as a reminder-number one feel, number two friends, number three first things first, and number four freeze.

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