5 Important Life Skills I Learned in Grief After My Husband Died

“”Sit with it. It is your responsibility to sit with you. You can also sit with it. Sit with it. Even if it’s tempting to run. Even when it’s heavy and difficult. Even though you’re not quite sure of the way through. Healing happens by feeling.” ~Dr. Rebecca Ray

Deep grief was something I experienced when my husband passed away from terminal brain tumors in 2014. This is the type of grief that takes you deep into an unimaginable valley of despair. It can take years to find your way out. In the beginning, I didn’t want to deal with grief because the pain was too intense. Then, I avoided grief. Instead, it was a pit of despair that I had to deal with.

The biggest fault of my grief was the way I imagined it ending. In my naiveté I figured I’d reach a point where I could wash my hands of it and claim, “Whew, I’m done!” But that’s not how grief and living with monumental loss works.

Grief doesn’t like to be ignored. It is important to remember that grieving does not go away. The trick is to allow it.

A few years after my husband died, I kept seeing the quote “what you resist persists.” It was like grief sending me a message to stop running and pay attention.

The message arrived at the right time for me because I had exhausted trying to hide the pain. So I allowed the sadness to sink in and watched what happens. I gave up asking. Why are you here?And he began to ask questions. How can this be a learning opportunity?I chose to let my grief guide me, rather than trying to escape it, which would have been too painful.

Surprisingly, I found a new way of living despite all my pain and sorrow.

I didn’t realize I was morphing into a new, more self-actualized me because it’s hard to see the changes happening in real time. You can’t possibly appreciate your progress until you look back at how far you’ve come.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see how grief’s guidance taught me the following important life skills I never would have learned without it.

How do I accept my feelings?

Prior to my husband’s death, I didn’t have time to feel my feelings. My mind was constantly busy, so I tried to avoid the emotional tsunami that was surrounding me.

My mistake was believing that my emotions were a reflection of me as an individual. I convinced myself that sadness meant I was weak, and I couldn’t possibly be healing if I still cried over my husband’s death years later. My anger and judgmental nature led me to believe that I must be angry.

Grief brings along a host of emotions. I was forced to learn how to feel everything because grief is so overwhelming. After practicing, I began to identify my emotions. I discovered what was happening and why. Instead of labeling emotions good or bad, my emotions were just brief emotion surges that I was experiencing.

To find out the place of every emotion, I went through all my self-help books. We feel things so we can process what’s happening in our lives, learn from it, and eventually express its meaning. Each of these feelings was different. They did not affect my healing process or the way I managed to cope.

I learned I’m not an angry person, I’m just a person who occasionally feels anger. I’m not a judgmental person, I just feel judgmental sometimes. And sadness doesn’t mean I’m weak. It means I’m a human being experiencing a human emotion.

I took a long time to realize that my emotions were just blips on my radar screen. If it weren’t for grief, I might not have uncovered the secret to accepting all my feelings –they mean nothing about me as a person.

If I’m being honest, I still get angry way more than I want to. But I don’t keep busy with distractions anymore. Let them come through, and I will let them out.

What can you do to be more vulnerable?

I never made a mistake or admitted that someone had hurt me. I also didn’t admit to being afraid. As far back as I can remember, people viewed me as strong, brave, and determined because that’s what I portrayed. People rarely see the fearful, anxious or disappointed side of me.

So, it was no surprise after my husband died, when card after card poured in with the same sentiment: “I’m so sorry for your loss. However, I am confident in your strength. If anyone can get through this devastation, you can.”

It comforted people to think I was “strong” enough to endure my loss. As if “strong” people grieved less than their more fragile counterparts. But their condolences were of little comfort to me after I learned a very basic principle of grief; it doesn’t discriminate. It tests the mettle of everyone’s soul.

My grief forced me to open up about my emotions. I had to show my vulnerable side because fear took over and I didn’t know how to conceal it anymore. It seeped from my pores

My vulnerability had the upside of creating deeper and more genuine relationships. Before I was able to share my fears, shame and regret, I didn’t realize just how important it was for people to get to the core of me. Others trusted me to share their deepest secrets when I shared my grief, the stress it caused and how hard it made me feel.

It is much more enjoyable to let others in than keeping them out. I never want to go back to keeping people at arm’s length and pretending to be someone I’m not. By being so detached for so long, I had done a terrible disservice to me. It was all I did before my husband died. I had no other options after my husband died.

I’m not afraid of being afraid anymore. I can readily admit now when I’m scared. Sometimes life is too hard for me and I break down, cry and even throw a temper tantrum.

If it wasn’t for grief, I would’ve never known the benefit of letting others see the real me.

What to ask for help

Because I was a shy person and avoided emotions, it wasn’t easy for me to seek help. Not that I didn’t need help. Because I was afraid of asking, I assumed that people would be willing to answer my questions.

I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.

My husband passed away and I was left with the responsibility of lawn care, house repairs, childcare, and other tasks. I realized quickly I couldn’t do it all on my own and it took everything I had in me to ask for help because it was such a foreign concept.

The most important thing I have learned in my journey through grief was that healing takes honesty. Practice is the best way to be honest. When people said, “let me know what you need” I understood what they really meant was, “I have no idea what to do! I feel so helpless and I’m begging you to please just tell me what you need, and I’ll do it!” People aren’t mind-readers, so I practiced being as honest and explicit as I could.

To be able to ask for help took some practice. However, I understand how great it is to be able to give specific instructions. They want to be of assistance and I am happy to oblige.

One simple change made has greatly improved my relationships and healing heart.

How to Deal with Uncertainty

I used to think I controlled the universe—until my husband died. I was wrong to believe that control is an illusion. That truth hit me hard when my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I’ve never liked uncertainty. I’m not a spontaneous person. My world works better when I know what’s going on and no one has any surprises up his or her sleeve. But after my husband’s diagnosis, we lived each day with uncertainty because we knew for sure he would die from his disease—we just didn’t know when.

It was torture for the twelve months between his diagnosis, and his death. Because we couldn’t avoid it, however, we accepted the uncertainty and made do with what we could. We chose to focus on the now, rather than worrying about the future.

It was after he passed that I discovered the importance of uncertainty and grieving. When you’re grieving, you don’t know what emotional wave will hit you from day to day. Life is unpredictable. You never know what could happen next. And you can’t control it. It’s both a blessing as well as a curse.

While the curse of uncertainty is true, the blessing of this is that you can take on the entire responsibility for the world. Because you realize that you are not in control, you surrender.

I am now open to the possibility of not knowing and surrendering. I discovered it’s easier to live in the moment instead of focusing on things outside of my control. This is a huge relief! Allow the emotion to take over.

Whenever the control urge starts to churn and makes me think I have a chance to influence an outcome, I imagine my husband tapping me on the shoulder and whispering, “remember how we used to surrender? Please do that with me until this feeling passes.”

What can you do to allow others to have their own feelings?

When I got better at feeling my feelings, allowing vulnerability, and settling in with uncertainty, I also learned one of the most important life skills—how to let other people have their own feelings, too.

Because I know I’m not in charge and I don’t control the Universe, I know I can’t control what other people think or feel either. If grief has taught me anything, it’s that everyone has their own way of doing things and thinking about things and expressing their feelings about things. It doesn’t mean anything to me.

Sometimes I was easily offended by someone or got upset by someone. Because I believed it was my duty to live harmoniously, I attempted to make people happy and fix things.

That distorted lifestyle was put to the end by death

My world was at risk of falling apart and I had no time nor the desire to share my knowledge with others. My focus had to be on me. It was an internal job that I had to do. I learned how to manage my emotions and my grief. I could not do this for anyone else. And I couldn’t or shouldn’t try to do that for anyone else. Every person comes with their own understanding of the world and themselves.

Because I was unable to comprehend it, it took me quite a while to grasp the concept.

Now I don’t pretend to know what or how or why someone else should think or feel a certain way. If other people share their feelings with me, they are my truth.

It’s not my job to try and change someone else’s feelings any more than it’s their job to try and change mine.

How it is Today

I don’t wish my monumental loss on anyone, but looking back now, I see how my crooked, confusing, and soul-crushing path taught me essential life skills I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

Even though I’ve had my fair share of hard days and months and years, I became a more compassionate and considerate person with grief’s guidance. Because of my experience with pain, I had to change how I saw the world. Now, I accept what it is and don’t try to make things better.

It’s only after spending time with your pain that you develop an understanding of its purpose. I never thought I’d find an upside to grief because I thought grief was all about death. It was not just about death or surviving loss that I learned the value of grief.

You will learn how to live.

Kim Murray

Widow 411 is the brainchild of Kim Murray. Here widows will find many useful resources that can make living with widowhood less painful. She created The Ultimate Survival Guide for Widows to help widows navigate the crushing list of to-dos after a spouse dies, as well as other journals, workbooks and mentoring options to support widows learning how to navigate a “new normal.”

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