A few days ago, a fellow widower asked me “I need to address a few things, I’ve shelved so many feelings of my wife’s death because I just don’t know how to deal with them,” “what did you do Mark?” I was so unrehearsed for this query, I realised I hadn’t even asked myself this question. I was even more off guard with it being off the back of our laid-back chat about Football. So, my reply went “Wow, that’s some question. I’ll tell you what, read my blog next week and I’ll try my best.”
I’ve thought long and hard about his query every day since he asked. With him being at such an early stage of his grief, I wanted to give him the one tool that helped me the most. I had previously done and strained so many different types of therapeutic practices around my own grief. After some deliberation with my past and present efforts; I now feel poised to give my best and probably my most obvious response.
Now, before I share this, let me start by just stating that my grief has been so overwhelming for me since day one. Whatever support or therapy I’ve received, I have never expected to just wake up one morning to realise that all my grief had just vanished into thin air. It will never do you any favours as it certainly doesn’t’ work like that. Instead, the reality is, it will continue to be a drain on you, but on different levels, as time goes by. Always remember, self-therapy will just soften your emotions and teach you to understand them.
Even as I pace through my third cycle since Katherine’s passing. I have found that early grief had always made me feel confident about my emotions at one stage and then desperately insecure with them in the next. Confidence may not be something that everyone associates with bereavement, but it’s something I have certainly felt more of as time has gone by. Maybe this is just how my therapeutic practice has helped me embrace my past and my future.
So, if I could share some insight into my best emotional therapy. It would be this. I found and used a tool that we all have at our disposal. A very important tool that can potentially help any of us cope in any situation: writing.
Writing down my thoughts while grieving boosted my entire immune system and increased my emotional and mental health. This was even before I started sharing them on my blog. During the beginning, when I first started to document my thoughts. I noticed straight away that it triggered my strong emotions. I would even go as far as linking its release to the same sensation as crying or like the moments when I have felt extremely upset. It gave me a self-therapeutic benefit for just “letting off steam”. Especially when I didn’t want to speak to anyone about them.
I always had to remember that most of the people around me found it uncomfortable to discuss. Especially when it came down to the nitty-gritty details of Katherine’s death. My friends would talk to me about “getting through it” and “moving forward” and “healing.” They would shy away from talking about her actually passing, not out of cold-heartedness, but out of natural fear. I guess most people just don’t want to say the wrong thing; death is just downright scary overall. This made me understand why there is so much coverage of celebrity grief and movies about loss: they seem to create a public space where everyone can safely talk and feel something about another’s loss.
As the weeks and months went by, my writing was now the instrument of self-exploration, self-expression, and self-discovery that provided me with a safe space to simply be the grieving single parent widower I felt like. I didn’t need to attempt to talk to others as It was catering for all the things that were left unsaid, my unshared emotions, and those tricky questions for which I had no closure.
Of course, all my written efforts had to happen mostly in my head. Maybe this is one reason I wrote about my loss in real-time, so to speak. Writing seemed to help me puzzle through my bewildering change. It sparked my strength to let go of Katherine’s funeral and to help me bridge the stark boundary between my inner sorrow and my outer functioning.
I like to view everything that I’ve written on my blog as an internal psychological exploration of my grief. I have always felt that I wasn’t just writing about the loss of my wife and my daughters Mother. I was also mapping the intimate contours of this mysterious transformation I was experiencing. I even decided to share it with a lot of other people to, like yourself, reading this post now.
I’m no expert and I am not saying that writing is a substitute for professional therapy, it’s simply not! It has just provided me with a pathway to explore and discover my journey and all the courage and strength I’ve gained to build myself back up again. This was what I ultimately wanted, a more resonant description than any of the stages of grief could offer. One of the most beautiful things about it was the fact that no one could even judge me too.
While writing, I noticed that it became more of a ‘state of mind’ to address and reflect on what is actually going on, logically. Writing down my thoughts and feelings after I lost Katherine allowed me to express myself freely and safely. I had discovered a very rare and safe place to reflect on the meaning of life and death, which relieved me from my shackling thoughts and released a heavy burden in my chest.
With this massive release, it has been a lot easier to not only make it through the day but the weeks and the months. Easier, in the sense that I have full acceptance in the way everything in my life is now. Most of the ‘head banging’ questions have gained some much-needed closure too.
I guess if I hadn’t documented my grief I could have possibly been left slightly paralysed, muted and unable to comprehend my loss. Yet, I am now able to speak — to breathe, to sleep, to eat, to go for walks in the sun, to find myself laughing with my family and friends — to fall in love again — to even marry again.
So, maybe you’re thinking of writing about your grief? I’d say go for it, or even just give it a try?
Here are some concepts I used. Maybe they might help you if you don’t know where to start:
• Always write down thoughts and feelings about yourself and the one you’ve lost (Carry a pen and paper with you or use your phone).
• Try to sort and list any conflicting emotions.
• Develop an understanding of things that have been suppressed inside.
• Make room for other thoughts and feelings.
• Try to be honest and think deeply about what you would want your loved one to know and acknowledge.
• Always express your regret as a way to bring closure
• Respect any change of thought and feeling you have about death and yourself.
• Reflect and understand yourself in a new light.
• Simply just be yourself. Remember your words will remain private and confidential and wouldn’t be published for public consumption. Unless you want it.