How I trained my brain after the death of my husband using an attitude of gratitude.
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.