Widow Wisdom

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Not unlike other feelings, anger has physical components. Have others told you when you were angry that your face was strained or red? You may not have noticed, but your blood pressure might have been increasing. How about when you are angry with your children; your voice may become louder or very soft depending on your personality. When people get angry, they experience an increase in energy and usually in expression of their anger. Increased levels of anger can interfere with sound judgment and can contribute to the escalation of emotion, or even physical violence. Contrary to what we may tell ourselves, we are not in control of our emotions when they are in control of us.

Anger is often comprised of other emotions. For instance, when our children are loud and running around the house after an especially hard day, we may be frustrated with the lack of quiet and respond with an angry look or tone of voice. If your daughter is driving and the car drifts into another lane, you may yell at her out of fear of getting in an accident. Or, you may have been hurt by a friend or parent and then responded in anger. Some professionals believe that anger is a secondary emotion and it is a composite of more primary emotion like frustration, fear, and hurt. Our anger response is a developed pattern that can be changed as we focus more on the primary feelings. Free expression of anger doesn’t help others or us.

Here are some suggestions to handle your anger:

  • Seek to listen and understand first before responding out of emotion. Focus on de-escalating your feelings or the situation.
  • When you feel yourself getting “hot,” consciously tell yourself to slow down and take a “time-out.” If the conflict is an important one, make a specific time to resolve it later.
  • Seek to slow down and put the stop/think approach in place. When you feel yourself getting angry say, “Stop,” and then take a few minutes to reason with yourself about the situation.
  • Be aware that not everybody is out to mistreat you.
  • Reduce – or eliminate – the level of substances that can stimulate you (alcohol, caffeine, chocolate).
  • Follow a mild exercise program to reduce the physical aspects of the anger (take a walk, go for a bike ride, etc.).
  • Attend a stress reduction seminar to learn new techniques to cope with anger.
  • Make an appointment with a mental health professional to discuss appropriate ways to cope with your anger.

There are times when a widow can disconnect in her relationship with herself and others and have a tendency to react with irritability and anger. This can be confusing when friends, relatives, or other members of her community are making special efforts to connect and help her. It may just mean the widow is internalizing anger or harboring resentments and is navigating other difficult emotions. Allow the widow the opportunity to express her frustration, fear and hurt.

 

Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010

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What is Different this Week?

The question, “What is different this week?” may seem like a ridiculous question when you are in a fog or feel numb from grief.  However, it is important to be aware of the changes you are going through one small step at a time.  Grief work is like learning to walk all over again.

First you crawl, then you take a few wobbly steps, then you walk and fall down and pick yourself up again as you begin to gain more confidence in your abilities.  At the same time your brain is growing to accommodate the changes in large and small muscle movements. Finally you learn how to walk, then run.  This is all a process of growth that can take months.  With encouragement and confidence you practice, and, after a while, life takes on a whole new perspective.  There are some similarities between this life skill example and grief work. Here are six questions to consider as you begin to crawl and walk through your grief.

1.  What is different this week?

2.  What is better? (If something is better, something is working.  Seek to understand what is working and do more of it.)

3.  What is worse? (If something is worse, something isn’t working.  Seek to understand what is not working and try to do something different.)

4.  What is the same? (If you are stuck, try to think about what obstacles stand in your way to bring about a difference.)

5.  Where and how have you grown this week?

6.  Did someone else notice something different in you this week?

 

Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010

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Are you Suffering from Depression?

What exactly is this so-called emotional epidemic we call depression?  Depression is an emotional and mental state whereby everything in one’s life is seen in a negative light.  A simple definition is a specific alteration of our mood downward.  Therefore, consider depression on a continuum from mild to sever.  At the milder end are people who are discouraged, sad, or suffering from a loss.  As we experience more intense feelings of depression we move more toward the severe end of the continuum.

The National Association for Mental Health has compiled a list of ten danger signs identifying whether a person is suffering from depression.  Many of these signals can be normal reactions to major changes in life.  Only when a person doesn’t bounce back or when the ability to function normally is impaired for long periods of time, is the problem considered clinical depression.  The ten danger signs are:

  1. A general feeling of hopelessness and despair which a person feels about several areas of their life.
  2. The inability to concentrate because a person’s thinking is preoccupied with their inner turmoil.
  3. A change in physical activities like a loss of appetite and sleep disturbances.
  4. A loss of self-esteem accompanied by continual questioning of self-worth.
  5. A withdrawing from others because of fear of rejection.
  6. Threats of suicide as a way out of hostile surroundings, stemming from a belief that life is hopeless and worthless.
  7. Over sensitivity to what others say or do, along with general irritability.
  8. Misdirected anger and trouble handling most feelings.
  9. Frequent guilt feelings arising from our assumption that we are wrong or are responsible for the unhappiness of others.
  10. Extreme dependence on other people, leading us first to feelings of hopelessness, and then getting angry because of our hopeless feelings.

There is no doubt about it, depression is very debilitating.  If you find yourself suffering from several of these danger signs, call your family physician and/or call a professional for a depression screening appointment.

 

Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010

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Journaling your grief work can be an extremely helpful tool to get clarity on your thoughts and feelings as you write them on paper.  Journaling is not a new concept for a lot of women.  Many have been keeping journals for years and find the discipline of it gives them time to think, feel and document their lives.  Several books have been written about journaling, we offer only a few suggestions to help you begin your processing on paper.

  • Try to find a quiet place in your home where you can write in your journal every day, or at least regularly. Try to journal in the same spot, at the same time, in the same way every day.  Routines can be helpful for widows.  You may feel more comfortable with some of your favorite music playing softly in the background.
  • Start with the date and begin writing your thoughts, memories, and feelings you experienced that day.
  • Write down spiritual questions; also reflect on ways God is speaking to you.
  • Be honest and open with yourself.  This is the record of one of the most difficult times in your life.  Some widows find it helpful to look back over their journal from time to time to see how far they have come on their journey.
  • Use your journal to write letters to your husband.
  • Write about your husband and your marriage. Write about the happy memories, the fun times, and those times that you celebrated as a couple.
  • Write about the harder times and any regrets you might have had or currently feel.
  • Write about the surprises, the triggers, secondary losses, (friends, family, etc.) and what it is like to experience the “firsts” of grief.
  • Write down questions you have, and then seek to address those questions.
  • Consider this your private confessional to yourself, your husband, and God.

In the beginning, you may find that you dread this work, but it can eventually become like a friend you look forward to talking with every day.  As you continue to journal you may, perhaps, become one of those who uses this tool for many years.

 

Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010

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“Loneliness is the greatest social problem in America.” ~ Billy Graham

Loneliness is no respecter of persons. Loneliness plagues us all. What is this feeling or state that drives us toward social involvement and activity? It is defined by Webster’s as; “the quality or state of being lonely; cut off from others; sad from being alone; producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation; lonesomeness.” It is a sadness or dejected feeling which results from a lack of companionship or from being separated from others.

Seven practical steps to cope with loneliness:

  1. Live in a way which makes you proud of yourself. Do things which create self-respect.
  2. Reach out to help others who are in need. The person who reaches out to someone else is often the one most helped.
  3. Become genuinely interested in other people. A person’s name is, to them, the sweetest sound. Let others talk about themselves.
  4. Form relationships with people who make you feel worthwhile.
  5. Form reasonable expectations of yourself and others.
  6. Learn to take some risks again.
  7. Look for common interests with others.

Taking practical steps to cope with loneliness may be easier than you think. Rather than doing it in an unhealthy manner, seek to understand your real need and cure loneliness with intentional relationships and causes.

 

Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010

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[accordion_toggle title=”Make A Positive Change”]

Many widows don’t like change; unfortunately, change is inevitable.  Either we deal with it or it will deal with us.  Positive change is possible and consists of four principals.

The first principal is honesty as evidenced by our words and actions.  It is a quality most obviously absent from life today.  We are continually bombarded by perceptions and deceptions.  Many widows find it hard to get a bearing on what is true in life and grief, be honest with yourself and others.  Honesty is to positive change what blood is to the body.

The second principal of positive change is choice.  Daily living is a series of choices.  It is important to realize that you can bring about positive change by taking personal responsibility for your choices in thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.  You can also bring about change for the good if you want to, and are intentional about creating it. As the saying goes, “Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours!”

The third principal to positive change is courage.  Courage is the ability to conquer fear or despair by mentally standing fast when facing opposition and hardship.  To commit to change means leaving the known security of a present state, and to move out into the unknown.  Once the first step is taken, there is no turning back.  Be courageous!

The fourth principal to bring about positive change is having patience in the realization that positive change takes time.  Your life changed immediately when you experienced the loss of your spouse.  The acceptance of your loss is imperative to your ability to bring about positive change.  Take time to adjust and readjust.

Change can be positive!

 

Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010

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How do you know if the stress is becoming too much for you?  The following is a list that might indicate that you need help.  Take a moment to identify those areas that are a problem for you or may be potential problems in your grief recovery.

  • You don’t get out much anymore.
  • You argue with the people that care for you.
  • You have conflicts with family members.
  • You abuse drugs, alcohol, or medications.
  • Your appetite has changed.
  • You isolate yourself from others.
  • You behave in a compulsive manner or are overly focused on minor details.
  • You feel listless; you lack energy.
  • You feel more angry, anxious, or worried than usual.
  • You have a difficult time controlling your emotions.
  • You have a hard time concentrating.
  • You have physical symptoms of anxiety, such as an upset stomach, headaches, or a racing heart.
  • You often forget things.
  • You are clumsy or accident prone.
  • You have self-destructive or suicidal thoughts.
  • You sleep more or less than usual.
  • You never seem to get enough rest.
  • You feel guilty about your situation.
  • You are spending excessive amounts of money.

 

Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010

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  • Set up a social networking site where you can post how you are doing.  This protects you and acts like a journal while at the same time giving information to others who care.
  • Stay close to God even when you don’t feel like it.  Read a Psalm and a Proverb every day.
  • Seek to keep some routines.  (Take a shower, put on makeup, and eat something that is good for you).
  • Do some physical exercise every day.
  • Seek to understand the grieving process.  Be aware that grief is on a continuum between Observer and Participant.
  • Work with your pride.  Allow others to give to you.  Don’t rob them of the blessing it is to serve you.
  • Seek all the support you can find.  Look for groups, individuals, and organizations that provide emotional, social, physical, and financial support to widows.
  • Seek to stay connected to the people you trust, by phone, text, or email.
  • Seek to stay connected with yourself through journaling, reading, and taking some time for you.
  • Do something positive for yourself every day no matter how small.
  • Ask your family and friends for help.  They may be able to provide you with time, knowledge, or some financial support.
  • Consider having meals delivered for a while.  Friends and churches are more than happy to help.
  • Find out about homemaker services.  These services can assist with shopping, laundry, housecleaning, preparing meals, and taking you to various appointments.
  • Maintain your interests.  Keep balance in your life.
  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish.  Recognize what you can and cannot do.
  • Maintain communication with your family and friends.  When tensions and misunderstandings develop (and they will), address them quickly.
  • Seek to understand your purpose and your mission.  Keep a journal so that during bad days you can see where there were also good days.

 

Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010

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“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen (The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey)

 

Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010

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There is a drastic contrast in life when a woman becomes a widow. One day she is a wife and the next day she is a widow and is on a totally different journey into the strange and foreign land of grief. Her life is turned upside down and inside out. She asks, “Where are you God? When will I see and feel you again?” She continues to ask many questions: “Why, God, why? Why did my husband die? Why didn’t God intervene and heal him?” All of us want reasons to answer the why questions of life. Have you ever tried to give a child a reason to why? Did they accept it? Or, have you found, like we have, that the answer only leads to another “why” question?

“When, God, when? When will I get my life back?” We tend to want to see answers “now” to answer the “when.” “When will my pain stop? When will God show up and provide? When will the losses stop?” (Psalm 13:1-2). It is hard to hear God when we have so many questions running through our minds. Even though we don’t like it and the silence becomes deafening, sometimes silence is the best answer, at least until we are ready to listen and accept. The problem with silence is that we tend to try to give it meaning and interpret it. If our interpretation is negative, then our mindset and attitude can get worse as we look through this filter of ourselves, others and the world around us. We need to give up control and our own timetable before we can hear God and can grow spiritually again one step at a time. (Psalm 37:1-8)

It is hard to hear God in the midst of bereavement, but it is important to focus on the promises of God at this time. They will give us security and trust until we can hear God. We have known His promises to be true before our loss and they will become true to us again.

Job asked the question “why” at God or to God 16 different times. The same questions were present for the prophet Habakkuk. Look for his attitudes, feelings, commitment, and faith. What is he telling God?  In Habakkuk 1:2 the prophet asks, “How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and Thou wilt not hear?” Then in Habakkuk 3:17-19, the prophet answers with confidence and faith. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail, and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold, and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord is my strength, and He made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places.

During grief though, it is difficult to even read God’s promises.  “Sorrow makes us all children again – destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. We may struggle with confidence in God and in our faith during this time. The question, “Is this really true, God?” or the statement, “I must have done something wrong because this did not happen for me/us”, may be there, but then slowly the black and white spiritual world turns to color again.  There is peace when we focus on the stability of God. As we surrender to the wisdom of God, we gain strength through Him, and we realize that we are going through this together with God.

The questions change during the grief journey:

At the Beginning of Grief

Why me, God?

Why God?

When God?

How God?

How long, God?

What God?

As Grief Progresses

What can I learn from this?

How can I grow through this?

How can God be glorified through this?

How can you possibly use my broken heart and shattered faith?

How long will it be before I can see something positive as a result of the death of my husband?

What could be the purpose for this in my life?

As this happens over time, widows develop the ability to trust again and continue to develop a Biblical perspective on life. As Job said to God after all his trials in Job 42:5, “I have heard of you, but now I see you.

 

Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010

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Worry has been defined as “a small trickle of fear that meanders through the mind until it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”  If you ever have doubted the power of a “trickle” think about the Grand Canyon.  So it is with worry.  It can begin with a little fear and when it is allowed to grow, can be blown up into something that can be paralyzing.  How can you fix the trickle of worry?

1.  Understand the nature of worry’s paralyzing grip and actively seek to keep things in perspective by asking questions like, “What is the evidence that our worry is true?” or “What are the facts of the situation?”  We need to move our thoughts from the overwhelming emotion of worry to thinking logically about the situation.

2.  Work towards what you can change about the situation causing worry and accept what you have no control over.  You must learn to accept that which you can not change.  Easier said than done for those that worry, but it must be done. A change of perspective is vital.

3.  Practice living one day at a time.  Look for the good and enjoyable aspects of everyday life.  There are aspects of each day and every situation that we can be thankful for.  No matter how small, we need to look for these things and spend the same amount of energy that we would give to worry focusing on what is positive.  Rather than anticipating the worst, anticipate the best.

4. Get busy with some physical exercise or make a change in our physical surroundings.  Go for a walk, bike ride, or take a drive in the car.  In other words, you need a time-out and a change of scenery from your worries.  A change of pace interrupts your thoughts and feelings of worry enough to get you out of the “worry rut.”

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.  ~ Leo Buscaglia

 

Copyright © Widow’s Walk 2011
Copyright © Walking with Widows 2010

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