How I trained my brain after the death of my husband.
It’s been 18 months since my husband died. The first month I was in denial. This could not possibly have happened. It was all a bad joke. I had been with him sitting on the beach with friends, watching the sunset, an hour earlier. Any minute, his car would drive down the street or he would walk into the T.V. room and give me that charming smile of his. This whole thing was simply ridiculous.
My obsession over the night he passed (The night my husband died )took over my mind. I kept replaying his last day. I didn’t see him die. I imagined it all the time. I woke up at night and imagined what had happened to him. It was always terrible. I tried to reason that the result of the events should have been different. Why did he have to die? He was a great person. A loving husband, a supportive dad, a good neighbor and a hard working attorney. I would think and think about this and each time try to change the ending.
Initially I ran away from these thoughts. I was thankfully distracted by loyal friends and neighbors who kept me busy. They stopped by. They brought food over. We went boating. They invited me to do stuff with them – play bridge, join book clubs, go to the movies, do yoga just to name a few.
I took a road trip to visit my son in his first semester at college in Mississippi. My older son joined me and we traveled for 2 weeks to Nashville, TN., Oxford, MS, Destin, FL. and then to Bradenton, FL. to visit my sister. Being away was good. My thoughts were less obsessive and sometimes I was actually enjoying myself. I had often gone away without my husband so I didn’t miss him that much on the road. One time when I felt inappropriately dressed…in Mississippi.
When I got back to New York, I was full of positive affirmations about life and living and thought I was ready to go back to work. That lasted about one month.
I think the holidays triggered my emotional downward spiral. I started to obsess about the night Mike died again. It wasn’t fair. I got angry. It was time to seek professional help.
Finding a good grief therapist was important in my journey after loss. She diagnosed me with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and I engaged in EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. The goal of EMDR is to reduce the long-lasting effects of upsetting memories. Using a special light machine that moves the eyes from side to side, the patient initially is asked to recall distressing images. It was pretty intense.
Well, there was no running away from that type of therapy. I did have an opportunity to experience all the feelings that I had been avoiding. Fear, anger, sadness, loneliness, anxiety and guilt just to name a few. Once I understood what I was upset about, I could then learn how to refocus my thinking.
I read a few books which helped me understand other people who had lost a spouse. I went to the local library and checked out books (only a couple out there) written by people who had actually lost a husband unexpectedly and how they functioned in the year following their loss. I purchased books on Amazon.com written by widows and some healing and inspirational books. Reading Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief was a good way to read something short every day as my attention span was limited. I began to write down quotes that resonated with me and read them over and over.
I also read quite a few books written by psychic mediums. It was comforting to hear accounts of people who had connections with loved ones on the other side. Reading the book “The Light Between Us” written by Laura Lynne Jackson encouraged me to seek out a personal reading. I met with a psychic medium who surprised me by knowing so much and I found that comforting. During those first few months it helped me look for signs that even though Mike was not physically here, he is with me in spirit.
Finally, I trained my brain to not let it go toward the memories of the night Mike died. First, I tried to STOP thinking those negative thoughts. Once I realized that I could not change the events of that day, I needed to cease obsessing about it. The way I stopped those thoughts was to recite the alphabet backwards. If you have never done it, it works! It got easier when I said them in groups of 3. If you do that you can’t think of anything else: zyx wvu tsr qpo nml kji hgf edc ba.
I replaced that thinking with positive memories. I needed a good handful of our best times together to refocus on. I remembered the night we took turns playing our favorite songs on you tube and danced on our front deck to UB40’s version of “I got you babe” – from our first date together at a Jones Beach concert back in the 80’s. I remembered the sunset in Croatia when we sat on the rocks by the water and took about 40 selfies of ourselves giggling like teenagers. I remembered the first night we bought our house by the beach and we brought blow up mattresses over to sleep here with the kids because we were so excited and how the next morning our mattress had no more air in it.
How could I be sad when I had been so blessed? We had a good run. We still loved each other very much on his last day here and I wish he could have stayed to enjoy our golden years together. He had wanted to move to Costa Rica. We were going to have some fun traveling times. Our kids are awesome and he would have been a great advisor to them as they make their ways through their 20’s. I hope I will be able to give them advice their dad would have thought worthy.
Some days are trickier than others to go on living positively. We all have the choice to call the glass half empty or half full. We have a choice on how we think.
I find starting the morning with a gratitude session has been helpful. Once I am out of bed, which is getting easier, I have a set routine with my puppy. I am allowed a few sips of coffee before he starts to eagerly jump on me. We don our winter coats and walk to the nearby beach. That is when the gratitude statements begin.
Where do I begin? I usually start by saying, I am thankful for my puppy. He likes that part. I’m thankful for my home. I’m thankful I can still live in my home. I’m thankful for my 2 fabulous sons. I’m thankful for my mom and sister and brother and all my relatives. I’m thankful for my dad and my husband who have passed. I’m thankful for my friends (sometimes I name as many as I can). I’m thankful for my job. I’m thankful for the kids I teach and people I work with (sometimes I name a bunch of them too). I’m thankful for the beautiful beach, clean sky and singing birds. Once you get started, it is hard to stop.
I listen to my 5 affirmations on my ThinkUp app. This app records your own voice telling you the affirmations you want to hear with music playing in the background. Here are the ones that get me focused for the day: I trust I am being led to where I need to be, everything comes to me at the right time and place. The more I focus my mind upon the good things in life, the more good comes to me. I look forward to this day with love and joy and peace and the anticipation of abundant good. Whatever you are thinking in your mind you are letting into your spirit. Guard your spirit. Being calm and centered are the top priorities in my life, I practice this feeling every day.
My brain sometimes wants to do it’s own thing and there are ongoing situations that force me to go back to that night and deal with his death. However, I am in a better place now and I have learned to focus more on being grateful for what I have. Do you have any suggestions on keeping a positive outlook? I’d love to hear them! Thanks for reading.
God Bless. I too suffer from PTSD. I found my husband the day he died and it was a traumatic and unexpected death. The EMDR really did help. Thank you for sharing your story. Prayers.
Thank you for your comment. I’m glad the EMDR helped for you too. It is definitely an ongoing challenge.
So many good positive ideas, thoughts and affirmations good for you in all your research and work, God Bless.
I am so sorry for your loss. My dad died when I was 16!and my mom 42 and it took us all a long time to process. It is great to see you are finding coping mechanisms.
Thank you for reading. I’m sorry that you lost your parents when you were so young. That must be awful.
I use meditation and repetitive positive affirmations as well. I know growth through grief is not easy. Change is not easy. So happy for you.
Thank you so much for your nice comment and for reading.
You are such an inspiration. I’m still struggling but it’s not even a year yet. Some days are easier then others. I always look forward to your blogs. Hope to see you soon
Thanks Sheri. Hope to see you soon.
Authentic happiness is a way of being and a valuable skill to cultivate. When we first begin, the mind is vulnerable and untamed, like that of a monkey or a restless child. It takes practice to gain inner peace, inner strength, and other qualities that lead to authentic happiness.
When we engage in mindfulness, disturbing thoughts come and go without ruffling our feathers or disturbing our inner peace.
Over time, we become calmer, less impatient, less prone to anger, more resilient, more deliberate in our actions, less scattered in our thoughts, and more serene.
As we begin to master our thoughts, we master our life.
Wow – yes. I’d like to look into meditation next to practice mindfulness. Thanks for reading and your comment.
Kristen, I am so happy you feel you have turned a corner with your coping with Mike’s loss. Your PTSD sounds so horrific, I am glad you had the where with all to get help! I am here to help you on this journey! XO
Thanks Leslie – and you already have helped me so much!!xo
I’m sorry to hear about your loss, and the associated PTSD. But as so many other have already mentioned, I’m glad to see that you’re actively participating in your recovery and your efforts are starting to bear fruit.
For what it’s worth, I’ll continue to be here, reading and supporting from the blogosphere.
Thank you. That is so nice to hear and keeps me motivated to write.
Sorry for your loss. Thanks for mentioning Thinkup and spreading the word.
It means the world to us!
Great – It really helped me through some tough times and gives me a positive outlook each day. Thank you
I would like to talk to you, please write me your mail.
“We all have the choice to call the glass half empty or half full. ” So true. I loved reading your blog. Peace to you.
Thank you so much.
Hi, I know it is difficult to let loved ones go. I had my share of difficulties too when I lost a loved one. I could not let go of the whole memory. After sleepless nights, I started listening to spiritual lectures and it really helped me. Its been 8 months now and I feel free, relaxed and very positive. I myself have started SPIRITUAL topics on my blog page so that I can help people. I will write about this topic also. I would love to help you if you go through this phase. Let me know.
Yes – I am very interested in SPIRITUAL topics and will check out your website as well.
Let me know your mail ID. i will personally send you few audios and videos that will help you. These really helped me also.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Wow, this in an intense and beautiful post. It is filled with poetry, and so honest. Thank you for sharing. I also have PTSD, although for very different reasons, and I blog about it. I am currently setting up interviews of other mothers with PTSD; if you are interested, I think your story could be really beneficial for my readers, especially the fact that you have so many simple yet effective coping tools. Are you interested in participating? If you are, you can reach me at email@example.com. I would be honored to feature you.
That sounds great. Thanks for reaching out and reading my blog. I will email you.
I have just found you in my search for meaning in my life. My seemingly healthy husband died 9 months ago from a pulmonary embolism. I kissed him goodnight after a normal day and he was dead 2 hours later. The shock is so hard to explain to people who have not experienced it. I am a teacher and have a son 25 and a daughter 28. I went on a 2 week holiday and have suffered from depression since my return. School starts for me tomorrow and teaching 5 – 8 year olds will keep me busy. I so look forward to following your blogs as you are further in the process and your posts have inspired me already. Thank you. Debbie
I’m so happy to hear that you liked my blog. We are very similar in that I also teach 5-6 year olds and they keep me very busy and help me find joy in every day moments. I love having vacations but always feel a bit bummed out when i come home and come back to reality. So sorry for your loss, just remember, one day at a time.
Absolutely love this post. I too used psychic mediums, which helped tremendously. My husband’s death has turned into a spiritual journey, trying to understand why. Thank you for your wisdom!
I found the mediums to be comforting when I needed it and it sent me on a spiritual journey as well. Thanks for reading.
My husband Mike also passed unexpected. He was up the street ( dirt road) from our home and had somehow lost control of his truck and it flipped. I was told later by a 9 year old medium that he jumped out and the truck ended up landing on him. I couldn’t believe it because he always survived everything that has happened to him ( which was alot) He was my rock my best friend and my everything. I read everything I could too on spirits being with us. I know he was with me during the first two months but now I feel that he’s with me anymore. I am going to try the app that you used maybe it will help me also. My husband passed in 2017 and I feel like I’m ok but the little things will trigger a memory and I cry but I learned to push it away as soon as it starts. Thank you for your story. God bless.
Thanks for reading. I’m sorry for your loss. Grief never really goes away and triggers do happen. I’ve learned to appreciate the feelings and then move forward. It’s not a place to stay.