As I approach the beginning of a new year, I reflect on the fact that it has been over three years since I faced the trauma of losing my beloved husband of 37 years to Lou Gehrig's Disease.  After this length of time, one might assume that I am finally feeling better. But to be honest, the grief journey has been both relentless and painfully difficult. I don't ever again want to hear the advice that "you should just get through the first year and you'll be fine." It simply didn't happen that way and as I have polled others in similar situations, they have said the same. But I have learned many things as I have walked this unwelcome journey. For those people who are facing 2010 alone, I offer some observations about the grieving process.

Be gentle with yourself. Say no to things that are going to be overwhelming to you such as uncomfortable invitations or demanding tasks, but at the same time, don't hide.  Be with those whose company you enjoy and who can understand your situation. Don't sit back and wait for life to happen, but give yourself a lot of latitude  I attended my grandchildren's soccer games because it got me out of the house but demanded very little emotionally. People there weren't asking me a lot of questions about how I was doing. I took really long bike rides (that's a passion for me), and sometimes when I just needed to get out, I would go for long drives, occasionally antiquing. Do not be afraid to take time to do things you enjoy.

Stay connected. Take the initiative in getting together with others. Grief groups were helpful since we were sharing the same daunting adjustments in our lives. The world revolves around pairs, and it can make you feel very alone. Groups became a good source of friendships with people who knew what I was going through. Don't try to be noble or do it on your own. Don't be afraid to draw strength from friends, family, and church.  

By all means cry when you need to. Let it out and don't keep a stiff upper lip. At times, this was very cleansing for me.

Give yourself the luxury of TIME. A loss takes a lot more time to get over than you might expect. The relationship you had with your loved one didn't develop overnight and the grief won't disappear instantly either.            

Seek the God of all comfort. He says He will be the husband to the widow so I sought Him when I needed a listening ear or the comfort and strength to keep going. Bring your needs to Him and then remember who He is. Focus on all His attributes and place your pain and grief in His mighty hands. Work at leaving it there and resting in Him. Then wait for Him to act in His time.  Pray scripture. He keeps all of His promises. If you find you can't even pray, go to a friend and ask them to pray for you. God understands exactly where you are and loves you tenderly. He promises that He will never leave us or forsake us. He also promises that He uses all things (even death) for good for those that love Him.

Live one day at a time. This helped me especially in the years during David's illness. We relied on this wisdom so that we would not ruin the days we had together with either worry over what might happen or a constant focus on what we were losing. That gave us freedom to live each day and appreciate it for the gift it was. This same focus helps me as a widow. To dwell on the future years of being alone only immobilizes me from adjusting to the new life I have. I do not yet know the blessings that the Lord has in store for me.  But I have learned to get up in the morning and fully participate in the day God has given me, leaving the future in His capable hands.

 

Beth Chilcoat recently published the book Nobody Tells a Dying Guy to Shut Up, edited down from over 1000 pages written in her husband David's journal. David's  journey through ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) from his diagnosis to just before his death was chronicled online through his personal blog and followed by thousands of people.  Beth is now featured on the New York Times' Healthguide for ALS: Patient Voices.  She has been featured on numerous national television and radio shows including Moody Radio's Prime Time America, CTN, and others. For more information, visit www.BethChilcoat.com.