6 Ways to Keep Going After A Devastating Loss
Why you should keep breathing, accept help, and never beat yourself up.
Posted Aug 05, 2015
I was 33 in 2007 when my husband was diagnosed with adrenal cancer; he died eight weeks later. From my own experience, and through research for my upcoming book, I know that dealing with a medical crisis, caregiving, and the days following the death of a loved one can be very stressful.
We’ve all experienced some sort of suffering or loss. This loss may have been a job, a marriage, a friendship or other significant relationship, but it may have caused us to weep or to question everything. We all have deep emotional wounds complete with crusty scabs and faded scars.
In our suffering, we feel completely undone and often search for an honest conversation. We want to feel loved and accepted. Yet after a loss or traumatic event, things can be confusing. We often seek a quick solution. We are emotionally fragile and obsessed with finding inner peace. This vulnerability can be our tender and weak spot. Think about the soft spot on a newborn’s head; as adults, our hearts all have a similar spot. Yet it is seldom exposed because we cover it, both literally and figuratively.
During a time of loss, others may not know how to appropriately interact with you, so keep these 6 suggestions in mind:
1. Don’t try to be a people pleaser. Sounds simple, right? But you may be on the receiving end of odd requests, bizarre questions, impractical demands, and unwanted advice. Be polite, but say no when necessary to save yourself some stress.
2. Don’t speak (or think) negatively about yourself. Your self-esteem may take a plunge after a loss, especially when you lose a spouse. But you're not doing yourself any favors by getting down on yourself. Silence the inner critic and treat yourself as you would your best friend in a similar situation.
3. Trust your gut. You may know instinctively how to respond to a comment or request, but after a time of loss, you may be second-guessing yourself. Stop and listen to your instincts; they're probably correct. This can relate to so many aspects of your life at this stage—friends and acquaintances offering unsolicited advice, people making suggestions that don’t apply to you, salesmen trying to push a product on you, financial planners getting in touch with you—even off-base suggestions from your children.
4. Breathe. There will be moments when you are scared, uncertain, and terrified of what lies ahead. Remember to take deep breaths. This will help ground you. Your breath is the one thing that you can control: This is your therapy for now.
5. Write. Get a notebook and write down each day what you did, to the best of your recollection. There will be unusual phone calls and conversations that you may need to reference later. If they are all in your notebook, you can easily go back and recall them.
6. Accept help. You may not be sure what you’re going to do with a pan of lasagna or a bag full of magazines, but saying yes to those who reach out is good for you. Maybe you like to think of yourself as Superman or Wonder Woman, but this is one time when you need to give yourself a pass. Go ahead: Say yes to that free haircut or the friend who wants to take you to dinner. Don’t just accept help; be proactive about it.
There may be no swift or simple answer to your situation, but these are some first steps you can take to take charge. You may not experience a spiritual awakening just yet, but moving through these steps will bring some light. And remember: Be gentle with yourself.
Kristin Meekhof is a graduate of Kalamazoo College and the University of Michigan. She is a licensed master's level social worker and author of the forthcoming book, A Widow's Guide to Healing. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and her website.