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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Advice for a Broken Heart

Free Advice for a Broken Heart
Take it for what it's worth

You know how, if you have a baby, you suddenly notice how many babies are gurgling, cooing and barfing out there? The babes were always around - just not on your radar. For me, it's been the same with the death of a husband. I knew one widow under age 50 before Sean died. Now, I know about a dozen. I've received several messages via Facebook from friends of new widows asking, "What do I tell them?" I remember asking the same question of my friend, Rev. Jeff. Jeff served as an Air Force Chaplain in Iraq (among many other places). During one of Sean's operations, he sat with me in the surgery waiting room and told stories about helping families after a son or daughter had died serving their country. I asked Jeff, "What do you say to them?" He said, "I believe God gives me the words. But mostly, I listen. Mostly, I'm just present."
 Presence. If you know someone who's hurting (don't we all?) your presence is the gift. To sit or stand shoulder to shoulder with someone, even offer a hand or a hug... these are incredibly powerful gestures. You don't need the "right" words to help. In fact, your "right" words may be exactly wrong for the person you're trying to comfort. The fact you listen is what's most important.

Now that I've trashed words, let me perform an about-face and offer advice (Hey, it's my blog!).

I wanted to pass along a note I wrote to a Facebook friend (one of the many "friends" I don't know) in hopes it might help someone else. Keep in mind, this is top-of-the-head stuff, and not an exhaustive treatise on counseling the newly bereaved. Please, do add your own advice in the comments section.

I lost my husband Dec. 28 2010. How do you handle the loss of a husband?
I'm so very sorry to hear about your loss. It's a horrible thing to lose your spouse. That's a big, big question. I'll give you a few ideas that helped me:
1) Reading. I'd suggest "Getting to the Other Side of Grief," and "A Grace Disguised." Excellent books. One of them was recommended by a widow with whom I've had healing conversations. Also, grab a book about something you've always dreamed about doing, because you need hope for the future. For me, it was a travel book. For you, it could be something different.

2) Get a good counselor. Even if you only go 3 times, 6 times, whatever... it helps to have a trained professional who'll mostly listen without presenting his or her own history and problems. Hospice could probably recommend someone if you need a referral, and many Hospices run grief support groups.

3) Don't think too far ahead. I've learned I can bite off about a week at a time.

4) Find support from other widows/widowers. Widows truly understand what you're going through. Find someone who was widowed several years ago, and ask how her life has changed since those early dark months after death. I just met several widows who are at least 5 years past their husbands' deaths, and it was incredibly hopeful to hear how well they and their children are doing.

5) If you belong to a faith group, seek support there. If you've ever considering joining a church, synagogue, etc... now's the time.

6) Get outside. Notice what's happening in the yard, the woods, on the beach. I sometimes imagine my husband's a bird, or has sent a bird, to remind me he's still "out there somewhere."

My heart goes out to you - really. Just know it'll get better. You're still alive - don't feel guilty about being alive.

Peace and love to you,
 P.S.:  I just returned from dinner after writing this post, and one of the guests was a woman who was widowed 10 years ago when her daughter was 5 years old.

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