When Cindy passed away it was a total shock. Certainly, she’d been in poor health for some time, but all outward signs seemed to point to a strong recovery. That’s why her passing hit me like a sucker punch out of the blue.
I’m no psychiatrist and I have no intention of offering medical or psychological advice. What I will share are some things I observed from my own walk and what I’ve learned by talking to others on a similar path. Before we go on, I want to stress one thing very strongly: there is NOTHING wrong with getting help when you need it. If your sadness has reached despair or clinical depression, you need to stop reading Internet blogs and get some competent medical and psychological help. There’s no shame in that.
With that said, let’s look at what I’ve learned.
IT’S OK NOT TO BE OK
One of the toughest things we, especially men, experience is the overwhelming tidal wave of emotions that hit after a sudden loss. It’s like being hit by one blow after another, after another. They come over and over with precious little time to breathe in between. For some reason, we feel that we need to be strong and keep a “stiff upper lip.” Not only is that impossible, but I’m also entirely persuaded that it’s not the least bit healthy.
Give yourself permission to be sad and to cry when the mood hits. Let’s face it, you’ve just encountered a major emotional wound and suppressing it will only make it much, much worse down the road. Let it go. If you’re one of those “old fashioned men” who was taught that “real men don’t cry,” put that foolishness out of your mind right now. That is a lie straight from the pit of Hell and has caused many a man untold grief.
You don’t have to be strong all of the time. It’s OK to let the emotions come as they will and to deal with them as they come.
THE STAGES OF GRIEF DON’T COME IN ORDER
Pretty much everyone has heard about the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When reading about these “stages,” one could easily conclude that they come in an orderly fashion, one right after the other. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, at least in my case. What I found was that the five stages came in random order and often showed up two or three at a time. I could go from anger to bargaining with God, to seeming acceptance, all within the span of ten minutes, only to start all over again a few moments later. It was quite overwhelming. At times, I really felt like I was losing my mind.
Most of the time, I found solace in prayer, but there were times, if I’m to be brutally honest, when trying to pray just seemed to make me more anxious. When the anxiety was running wild, even resting or trying to watch TV was a lost cause. Fortunately, these episodes never seemed to last all that long.
ACCEPT THAT NORMAL HAS CHANGED
When you’re dealing with loss, sudden or not, your idea of normal is forever changed. Things that used to be routine, or even taken for granted, will never be again. Family dinners won’t be the same. Holidays will always be different. Even the familiar presence around the TV for nightly viewing is not the same. You’re in the process of building a “new normal.”
When I was first dealing with Cindy’s loss, I wasn’t ready to make major changes to the home we shared; it’s been four years and I’m still not ready, but I did find that making subtle, little changes was helpful. For instance, I replaced the swivel rockers in the front room (Cindy’s library) with a couch and put the chairs in my master bedroom. It was a small, seemingly insignificant change, but it demonstrated that a new chapter had started in our household. It also served as a reminder that things really had changed and that I wasn’t just in the middle of a really bad dream. Believe it or not, little changes helped me a lot.
GOD DOESN’T BARGAIN, BUT HE DOES LISTEN
I can make this statement without reservation because I tried. I remember standing out in front of our house crying out to God to give me just one more chance to be the kind of husband that Cindy deserved.
Did God hear my cries? I absolutely believe that He did, but my thoughts are not His thoughts and my ways are not His ways. God, alone, is sovereign and He has sole prerogative over life and death. He knew that Cindy’s death was necessary for His plan. He knew that I was in pain, but, through it all, he kept telling me two simple words: “Trust Me!”
No, you can’t bargain with God, but you can praise Him and offer up your pain as a sacrifice, knowing that He makes all things work together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
To be honest, I still don’t know what God’s plan is in calling Cindy home; I probably never will until I reach the other side of glory. Still, I trust that He has a plan. Perhaps, the fact that you’re reading these words is a small part of that plan. Who knows? All I know is that I trust God.
IF YOU NEED HELP, GET IT!
I’m going to end this article the same way that I started it, by stressing the importance of getting help where needed. This can be as simple as letting friends and loved ones help you or getting professional help. In my case, I used both. I’m very blessed to have a family that rushed to my side at my time of loss. They were great and I never would have made it through without them. I also saw my doctor for things that my familial support group could not address.
In my case, I had severe anxiety attacks. For me, that took the form of the sudden onset of shortness of breath, followed by the feeling that thousands of blazing hot needles were being stuck all over my body. I couldn’t sit still and I just wanted to take off running for no good reason, other than to run. One thing I was sure of was that this couldn’t continue very long. My body and mind couldn’t take it. Fortunately, for me, I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for a few days after Cindy’s passing. While there, I told my doctor of my attacks. He was very understanding and prescribed me two medications: one to control attacks after they’d started and daily medication to keep them from starting in the first place. Praise the Lord for the miracles of modern medicine.
We’re all different and your situation may differ from my experiences, but I hope that there is at least one nugget of information here that will help you get through the dark days. When you feel that you are totally alone, know that God is there. Even at times when you may feel that He’s distant, he’s really no farther away than your next breath. Call on Him. Lift up your grief to Him. Trust Him! That last one is not always easy to do, but it’s imperative.
If I can be of help to you, please contact me on our contact page. I’m here for whatever I can do.
May God bless you richly.