Imagine traveling to a strange land where, for some inexplicable reason, your travel partner has permanently disappeared. You are anxious and bewildered to find yourself alone. In addition to being abandoned emotionally you realize that your resources have now been halved. Every aspect of your journey moving forward is affected by your status as a solo traveler. All the fun things you intended to share, the work of figuring out the logistics, and even your ability to pay expenses – nothing is what you had planned or hoped for when you both packed for the trip. This is sometimes how it feels after your spouse dies.
Each day you awake, you are keenly aware of your husband’s absence. Yet there is a certain time of day where the fact that he has died overwhelms you. For many, this time occurs in the evening when the day is nearly over. The one you always waited for doesn’t come home now. Night’s darkness underscores the hole. For others it may be that moment when he died, or the time you would normally get his text or phone call, or do a certain ritual together, or perhaps it’s when you wake up only to realize, once again, that he is gone and you must face the day without him. That’s how it was for me. Waking up alone was hard but then, the worst time was after I’d sent our children off to school. By 8:30 AM the house was quiet, the day stretched before me and there was only emptiness. I wasn’t working, had little motivation to use my time productively, and my north star, the one whom my life revolved around, had been removed from my sky.
I dealt with this by sitting alone and crying till I’d worn myself out. Though the pattern continued day after day, it didn’t occur to me to look for other ways to plan for what to do differently. When my grief was still raw, I wish someone had talked about the idea that there is a worst time of the day or had suggested something I could have done to face it head on. Please know that this discussion is not about fixing what cannot be fixed. Also I am not a professional but merely another widow who endured the worst season of grief, stumbled forward and eventually found a new life that brings me joy.
My goal in writing this post is simply to offer a few coping strategies so you can face the worst part of the day with a bit more strength and resources. As part of your healing, however, always consider talking to a grief counselor. He or she is trained to assist in processing grief and can best advise you how to navigate the particular challenges you face. I eventually saw a grief counselor and his supportive presence was crucial to enabling me to get unstuck.
When grief hits you hard, one way to begin asserting a measure of control over its intensity is to consciously name what you are feeling. “I feel afraid (or angry, sad, lonely, numb),” or some combination of these and others. There is scientific evidence that naming what you are feeling allows the brain to connect thoughts with emotions and helps tame the impact of those emotions. This exercise also reminds us that we can choose how we are going to respond to our feelings. It is important to say the word “feel” as in “I feel afraid,” rather than “I am afraid.” Emotions are what you feel, but you are more than just your emotions.
After naming your feelings, be still for a moment. You might think about how you have dealt with this emotion in the past and what was helpful to you. You might also try to remember that despite your loss, you still have and will always have your awareness of his spirit and the love you shared together. No, you did not get to love him for the rest of your life but he got to love you for the rest of his. If you can, draw strength from the gift of his life and his love.
Sometimes when you are grieving intensely, your mind stays focused on a particular event or memory of the past. To bring your mind to the present, take a few conscious, deep breaths. You could also direct your attention to the tangible things in front of you, perhaps by identifying their colors. These exercises are intended to help you to mentally ground yourself in the present. In this present moment you are very sad but you are alive. At some point, you can choose to live again and to deliberately move into the future despite your loss, your tears and your grief.
Depending on your schedule, you might consider doing a brief devotional or inspirational reading during the worst part of the day. If you are unable to do a reading at that time, write out an encouraging quote or a scripture verse that you can refer to as needed. You could even make a deck of sayings, verses, and comforting quotes that you can keep handy. Use a hole punch, some index cards (cut them in half if they are too big) and a piece of string, ribbon or a binder ring to keep it all together.
A dear friend told me of a practice she did which I found especially comforting. When she is grieving or upset, she sleeps with her Bible held to her chest. Maybe you have a similar book that centers your world or is meaningful to you that you can hold as you fall asleep. To keep this book from getting squashed, wrap it in a pillowcase folded over so it’s like a package. You can use a ribbon to hold the pillowcase in place and keep the pages closed.
Another technique for self soothing is to place your hands under running water or your feet in a foot bath. You could also place a damp washcloth over your face. I’ve found cool water seems to work best for my hands and face though you may experiment to see what you prefer. The sensation of the water is both distracting and calming.
Here are a few final ideas that recruit different senses to help you cope with your grief during the worst time of the day. Light a candle in his memory and place it in front of you. Use essential oils or aromatherapy to create a soothing environment. Hold something soft in your hand. Listen to music that inspires you. Combine one or more of these if they appeal to you. Also, to repeat what was stated earlier, consider seeing a grief counselor or therapist as one of the best resources available to help you process your grief.
If you’ve found other ways that help you better endure your own worst time of the day, would you please write to me and share them? I would love to hear from you.