Grieving at the 4-Month Mark: What Helps and What Doesn’t  at this Moment

I’ve posted the last two weeks about what seems possible and doesn’t seem possible now, 3 ½-4 months out from Tom’s death. Today I’m going to continue on that theme but focus on what is and isn’t helping me right now.

I’ll start with what isn’t feeling helpful right now that has been helpful in the past: journaling. I’m surprised by this because it was so very helpful for the first couple of months. I try it about once a week because I have a feeling it will be helpful again and if I don’t try it every now and then, it will just fall of my radar. But for now, it’s not holding my interest.

My list of what is helping right now is much longer:

  • Going to Tom’s bench everyday. I had a bench at a nearby park commemorated in Tom’s honor. Every morning when I walk the dogs, we stop at the bench and I sit for a few minutes. Some mornings, depending on how antsy the dogs are, I’m only there for maybe one or two minutes; other days, I’m able to sit for much longer. I usually tell Tom I love him and miss him and then share a little about what’s on my mind at that moment. It’s typically nothing profound, just the kind of checking in married couples do when they are apart for a while.
  • Grief counseling. I meet every week with a grief counselor. My therapist suggested the idea of a “therapy box”: during the week when painful or uncomfortable feelings related to Tom’s death come up and I don’t want to deal with them in the moment, I can “put them in my therapy box,” meaning to basically say to myself, “I don’t have to deal with that now, I can deal with it during my therapy session.” That makes it easy to let it go in the moment and then process it with my therapist when my next appointment comes up.
  • A remote grief support group. Once a month, I attend a remote support group for widows. I’m usually the youngest person attending, but I still have enough in common with the other widows to learn from their experiences and have something to offer them. Hearing about how others are going to navigate the upcoming holidays, for example, gave me some ideas about what I can ask for when people inevitably say, “How can I help?” For example, I realize that I will be happy to go to holiday dinners but will want the option of stepping into a quiet room to be alone if I need to. Explaining ahead of time to my host that I will need that option will help everyone feel less awkward should I need to step out.
  • Attending local widow group events. Last week I met a group of 15 local widows for dinner. It’s so nice to be with a group of people who aren’t at all fazed when I say my husband died, or I start crying in the middle of a story, or I say I’ve lived in my house for 21 years and am not sure how to turn the heat on because Tom always did that.
  • Having two fellow widows I can text at any time. I met one through my dog walker and then she introduced me to the second one. I know that at any time, day or night, I can text them and they will respond without judgment or nudging me toward anyone else’s idea of “recovery.” For example, if I just text them “had a tough day,” I know they won’t try to fix anything—after all, nothing can be fixed. Tom is dead and that can’t be changed. I miss him and that can’t be changed.
  • The random cards, emails, flowers that still come in. Remembrances of Tom and expressions of sympathy are still trickling in. I love knowing people still think of Tom and recognize that my loss continues.
  • Writing thank you notes and looking at my list of previous thank yous. Seeing the long list of people who have done kind things for me reminds me that I an not alone and that there are many people I can reach out to if I need anything.
  • Asking for what I need. Earlier this week I was at work and a colleague asked me how I was doing. I told her I was having a tough moment and I suspected she was about to try to “cheer me up,” which is what people tend to do when I say I am feeling sad. That wasn’t at all what I wanted; I wanted someone to just be present during my tough moment, so I said to her, “Would you mind just being present here for a moment?” She stood in my office and let me cry for a couple of minutes.

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