As defined in dictionary.com: an emotion or emotional perception or attitude: a feeling of joy; a feeling of sorrow, a feeling of…. “I don’t know what I’m feeling.”
Feelings can be good. Feelings can be not so good. What they are is exclusively yours, and no one has the right tell you what you are feeling is right or wrong, or deprive you of whatever feelings you are experiencing.
Grief begets every possible feeling, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all together. Sometimes you will know exactly what you are feeling. You will be clear and know exactly what step you need to take at that given moment to cope with what you’re feeling. Other times, you are blindsided by the depth of what you are feeling and won’t even know where to begin. Both are normal.
There are also times when you don’t know what you are feeling. That is normal too. You cry for no reason. You laugh for no reason. You feel just overwhelmed. No one told you it would be like this. Nothing prepared you for this. Everything is new, especially the feeling you get in your rib cage, like the laces on a corset being pulled tighter and tighter, until you think you can’t breathe. When this happens, slow down, inhale through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth.
Just b-r-e-a-t-h-e. Then just b-r-e-a-t-h-e again.
Let’s start with anger. Or call it what you really feel. Rage. Rage at your partner for “leaving” you. Rage at yourself for not going first. Rage at both of you for not arranging it so you would go together. It wasn’t supposed to be like this… You were never supposed to be alone. Decisions are harder to make. Aches and pains hurt more with no one to tell. And, there’s resentment. So much resentment. Why didn’t you know/teach me how to (Women) pay the bills? Deal with taxes? Pump gas? Run the business? (Men) Cook, clean, do the laundry? Balance our children’s schedule. And, what about our social life? Since when does the husband make the plans? How dare you leave me unprepared to go on? I’m just so lonely…
There’s depression. Defined as anger turned inward, when you feel you never want to get out of bed again, even though you feel the bed is suddenly too big for you alone and you don’t want to be there at all. Depression is a feeling of hopelessness, when everything/anything you need to do seems like too much…and it is. This is the time to be gentle with yourself, to not ask yourself to do anything big, to keep life very simple. Make a list of the important, the not so important and the “this can really wait a while.” Then pick one thing…a chore, a bill to pay, an at home task, and do just that. Then give yourself an “Attagirl” or an “Attaguy,” and silently applaud yourself. The smallest thing completed is monumental. Be proud.
Depression manifests itself in many ways oftentimes culminating in sickness. Remind yourself to eat healthfully, if only a little at a time. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated, or tea, or broth. Good nutrition will help your body to heal as you do. Nap when your body feels it can’t move another step and treat yourself kindly. Indulge yourself in a warm bath, a massage, a stroll (nature is very recuperative) and a heart to heart with a good friend, family member or support group. Or, if verbalizing is too difficult, write. Keep a journal, your self-therapy of grieving. The blank page will always be receptive to your feelings; and, it will always be without judgement.
Accept support that is offered. It has a way of making the one who is offering, as well as the one receiving, feel so much better. It is a kindness to accept support. It conveys that it will be okay for him or her to ask for your support one day too. Support gently given and support gratefully received is a gift.
Next comes guilt: Many jokes are made about guilt, as though one ethnicity has greater claim to it than another. I define it as wasted emotion, without merit. “I should have taken better care of him/her.” “I shouldn’t have left the room.” “I should have fed him/her better, etc etc.” Guilt never brought anyone back and never will. You did your best! You loved your partner in his or her lifetime, and that partner loved you. Otherwise you wouldn’t be feeling the enormous sense of loss that you do. Please let the guilt go and congratulate yourself for having been a wonderful spouse.
Sadness: Samuel Butler wrote, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” A thought very difficult to agree with or even consider when your heart is freshly broken. I remember hearing those words and wanting to scream… but, they also made me think, and subsequently reword in a way that felt right for me. I consoled myself with these words that have become my mantra, a word I didn’t even know up until then. “It is better to feel you lost him too soon, than to feel you were together too long.” As with any mantra, when repeated often enough, it becomes part of you and in this case was exquisitely consoling.
Even with a mantra, a silent prayer of sorts, one still feels sadness you are sure will never pass. Don’t deny yourself. Give into yourself. Talk about. Write about it. Cry about it. Tears are so healthy that according to the Talmud, a collection of Jewish law and tradition, they were the second gift G_d gave to Adam and Eve after the Sabbath. Cry alone. Entrust another person with your tears, there to acknowledge your feelings, and if you are not one to cry, find an outlet to help you do so. A book. A sad movie. Something that might resonate in you. It is important to release the flow of tears, because it is the healthful thing to do. It rids the body of toxins, which is especially important, especially when you may not be taking care of your health in other ways.
Crying won’t last forever. You needn’t be afraid to cry. As I’ve often said, be gentle with yourself. You deserve to be.