On New Year’s Day, 11 months after my husband died, I called the toll free hotline for suicide prevention. Before I tell you what the volunteer who spoke with me suggested I do or share the circumstances of that particularly terrible, lonely day, let me just say that if you are really struggling just to get through the day, I get it. Hang in there Precious One. Don’t hurt yourself or your loved ones by trying to solve your current situation with a long term, irreversible action. Yes, the expectations of the holidays can be overwhelming. Christmas cards showing photos of happy families and a summary of all the good things they did or accomplished in the past year can prick our already depleted souls. One suggestion to try is to hold off on opening those cards till sometime around Easter or whenever you have the reserves to cope. Until then, they can sit in a grocery bag in your closet so you don’t have to see them.
Let me circle back to New Year’s Day, 2009.
I was still intensely grieving. The loss we had suffered the prior year bled into every aspect of my existence. Depression held me down while anxiety got in a few vicious kicks. I didn’t know who I was because the me I had been was buried alongside my husband. When New Year’s Day came I sat at the kitchen table feeling utterly alone. Each of my three kids had been invited on a sleepover. I knew it was good for them to be with friends but it made the day all the lonelier for me. I stared at the wall, zombie like, my mind, body and emotions in slow motion, unable to act, think or feel anything positive. There was no energy for considering how to make life better. The worst had already happened, slammed into me like an 18 wheeler, yet there I was, still breathing, even when it seemed that the pain of continuing to exist was more than I could bear.
Though I keened for a human connection, I believed that calling anyone in this frame of mind would be a major imposition. Hadn’t I reached out for help to the same handful of people enough times already? Yet the longer I sat alone, the worse the grief, loneliness, despair and powerlessness to make my life different became until it was an all consuming, throbbing thing. My thoughts became irrational as I contemplated a way out. ‘Wait! I’m a mom and I have three kids who depend on me. Get help,’ my brain managed to process this truth. I picked up the phone and dialed the toll free suicide prevention hotline. Yes. I did.
The conversation I had with the volunteer who answered didn’t go very well. Seriously. You would think on New Year’s Day the hotline would have it’s A Team volunteers answering the phones. Instead I think I got a newbie. Here’s how I remember our chat:
Me: Hello. I’m having a really bad day. I need help.
Volunteer: OK. Tell me what’s going on.
Me: Husband died…cancer…single mom of three…depression…anxiety…financial worries…extreme loneliness…blah blah blah.
Volunteer: Hmm. I see. Yeah that’s tough. Why don’t you try calling a friend to talk to?
Me: SILENCE while I absorb this advice for a moment. Then I feel myself getting irritated. In hindsight I realize that this was a good sign. It meant I still had a spark of life. So I responded. “If I had anyone to call, do you think I would have called you???”
At that point I hung up.
Looking at the phone in my hand, I actually began to laugh. When things are beyond bad, it can be sort of funny. Sometimes. Which is how it struck me just then. Laughing at the absurdity of the advice I’d been given gave me just enough strength to get through that day. The following week I reached out to my primary care provider to get therapeutic help. I also found a counselor.
That was 13 years ago. Obviously a lot has happened in the interim. My grief has receded and new life purpose slowly moved in to wash over the wounds so they could begin to heal. Grief, recovering from grief, and finding ways to honor the memory of loved ones are the themes I write about. If you are grieving or know someone who is, perhaps we can walk this path together? Sign up for one of my free downloads (one has ideas for the anniversary of a death, the other is on creating a legacy challenge in honor of a loved one) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been where you are. It was a lonely and grief filled place. As a result, I have made it my mission to help other widows by suggesting that taking action to honor your husband’s legacy will enable you to set goals for yourself so you can begin to embrace life again. What do you mean, you may ask.