Ask Dr. Giles: Am I just existing? Will it ever get better?

Betty writes:

Am I just existing? Will it ever get better?

On April 10th, it will be 1 yr. and 8 months since losing Sam. I feel like I am doing everything possible but recently two of my closest friends suggested that I get some professional help. The reason that this got my attention is that one of them lost a daughter and a spouse so she has been there and does understand. Will seeking professional help at this time do any good? I feel like I am doing all the right things that are not signs of depression but every moment that I am not asleep, Sam is constantly on my mind. I’m working every day, I go to social events, I shop, I play the piano for Sunday School, I study my Bible, I have probably read 50 books on grief, I paint, I do all of my yard work, I’m planning an addition (art room) to my house, I entertain some, still redecorate my house which I use to really enjoy and help others with their decorating. I use to be so full of life and now I really don’t enjoy anything anymore; the sadness and loneliness are just absolutely overwhelming. I can cry at the drop of a hat and like Marianne said – been in some pity parties a bunch of times. Going home to an empty house everyday and waking up to an empty house every morning is just not working. By the way, I have a cat. Sam and I worked together for probably 40 years, were married for 34 years and did everything together. He was absolutely the love of my life.

Any advice? He certainly would not approve of my grieving; he was such a strong individual. I thought I was too; I think while he was here I drew my strength from him and now that he has gone, I don’t have it anymore.

I admire your ability to keep moving despite your significant loss. You describe a life which appears to be full but not fulfilling. It seems like you are doing many good things, but those things are devoid of feeling. This is very common in the wake of loss and is part of the grieving process–even when it has been over a year. Apparently, some of your close friends have seen the emptiness you feel and have been concerned enough about it to address it with you. You have caring friends!

What you are experiencing is a manifestation of what a colleague of mine calls “The Law of the Universe.” Would you like to know “The Law of the Universe,” Betty? Are you ready for the “Law of the Universe?” OK. Here it is: “The Law of the Universe” states that if people don’t get a chance to talk things out, they’ll act them out. In other words, if we don’t get a chance to talk about our emotions, they will come out in our behavior.

In your case, it seems like you are keeping your grief to yourself and what’s coming out in your behavior is a kind of an emotionally muffled (depressed?) existence. You mentioned staying busy, reading an impressive number of grief books, and consorting with your cat. You did not mention much in the way of talking with others about your emotions and what it is like to be you at this time of your life.

Sometimes people confuse grieving with complaining. To me, they are very different. Complaining is a passive behavior where we assign responsibility for our circumstances to anything but ourselves. Complaining keeps us stuck where we are. Grieving, on the other hand, is a process of coming to terms with our loss and its impact on our life so we can move forward. I tell my clients that we don’t decide when we’re done with grieving, grieving decides when it’s done with us. It takes as long as it takes–with no regard to the calendar or our convenience.

The task of grieving includes “talking it out” ala “The Law of the Universe.” It sounds as if your friends have recognized that this process of “talking it out” is missing in your life.

There are many arrangements which would offer us the opportunity to “talk it out:” conversations with family, friends, church leaders, or professional counselors. Many people will choose to address their grief with a professional counselor because it is private, the counselor is educated and experienced, and there’s no worry about overburdening the counselor–they are trained professionals!

Hospitals and medical centers often maintain a list of grief counselors to give to those who have recently lost a loved one. Another way to find a good grief counselor is by word of mouth. Perhaps your friend who lost her daughter and a spouse may know of someone?

Not everyone who loses a loved one will go to therapy for it, but I believe all would benefit from it if they did. You may want to consider visiting a grief counselor. You may find that “talking it out” is the missing element to moving forward in your life.