On Sunday night May10th 1998 at 9:18 pm, my life as I knew it changed forever. My beautiful wife of 21 years had died unexpectedly. She was a wonderful human being and she was my soul mate. Words cannot describe the feelings I experienced right after she passed away and for quite sometime to come. What made it worse was that I had already been diagnosed with clinical depression 12 years before my wife’s death. Further, it never occurred to me at the time that grief and depression share a few of the same characteristics. During the time I was experiencing the normal signs of grief, I thought that my depression was getting worse. It wasn’t until I talked with my doctor that I learned grieving was normal but I also had to be made aware that I could go into a deeper depression.
Suffering from depression and trying to cope is stressful enough. But if your spouse has just passed away, getting through the day can seem like an impossible task. Very understandable. So close your eyes, clear your head for a moment and take several deep breaths. Now, there are some steps that you can take to get you through the day and to help you in the long run so you can lead a more productive life even while your grieving and working through your depression. The first step covers the difference between grieving and depression, the next step focuses on your clinical depression, and the final steps deal with your grief. Yes, it can be done. If I could do it, so can you and here’s how.
The following are 9 time tested steps that you need to take while you are grieving and you have clinical depression:
1. Learn to distinguish between grief and depression – Please keep in mind that if you’ve just lost a loved one it’s only natural to experience intense sadness. The problem is that this emotion plus many of the other symptoms associated with grief also mimic those associated with depression including fatigue, sleep and appetite disturbances, low energy, loss of pleasure, and difficulty concentrating and making decisions. Here’s an important point to remember, during grief you should still be able to interact with others, experience pleasurable experiences from time to time, and continue to function while coping with your grief. However it is a sure sign that you are depressed if you disconnect from others, you have no pleasurable experiences, a persistent negative self esteem /self confidence, and you all but shut down. Negative emotions will block your ability to deal with stressors on a daily basis so I strongly suggest that you follow and adhere to the next 8 steps just as soon as possible.
2. Readjust treatment for your clinical depression – During your time of grief more than likely you will suffer some increased and more intense bouts of depression. Be prepared to make some necessary adjustments to your current treatment plan including, but not limited to, (grief) counseling, medication, and coping skills. The period of adjustment varies with each person. If you’ve been seeing a psychotherapist in the past, he is probably qualified for grief counseling as well. If not ask him for some recommendations to a grief counselor. Since grief counseling is different from your regular counseling sessions you might want to write down some thoughts and questions prior to your first session. Here’s a tip. Plan ahead for the “firsts” and how to cope. I’m referring to your first wedding anniversary, holidays, birthdays, etc. without your spouse. Those can really pack an emotional punch to your feelings.
3. You need to mourn before healing – You’ve probably figured it out by now so please remember that expressing your thoughts and emotions openly either in public or in private is not only natural but it is also essential to your healing process. Never let anyone try to tell you how long you should or shouldn’t mourn. You grief is your own, no one elses. When your time comes to heal you will know it. Allow the healing to begin and remember that healing does not mean forgetting. Personally, I knew my healing started when I was able to look back on some of the good and not so good times my wife and I shared with more smiles than tears.
4. Give yourself time to mourn – The answer to the question, “How long should I take to mourn?” should always be, “As long as it takes.” Take it one day at a time and grieve at your own pace. You might have heard that there are certain stages of grief. I don’t buy into that because grief should not be sectioned or broken down into compartments since they could very well be repeated.
5. Join a grief support group – This is an extremely important step. Emotionally, it will help you to know you are not alone. The purpose of the group is to discuss your feelings with individuals who are also grieving. You might not want to participate at first and that’s fine. Just listen to what some of the other members are experiencing. You’ll be participating before you know it. Having the support of other people is the biggest factor that contributes to your healing process. Ask your therapist for some recommendations.
6. Talk to family and friends– To help you even further with your healing, go beyond your support group and talk to trusted family and friends about your spouse’s death and how that makes you feel. Share your memories both good and bad along with your feelings. If help is offered from them, take it. That also includes any help regarding funeral arrangements, legal issues, etc.
7. Dealing with your spouse’s belongings – Deal with your spouse’s belongings only when you are ready to dispose of them. Again, that’s in your own time. Don’t let anyone decide for you when that should be done. I left my wife’s clothes and her other items in my closet and chest of drawers for three years before I donated them to Goodwill.
8. Remember that grieving is normal – There will be times, either in private or in public, when you will encounter emotional “triggers”. Something or someone will remind you of your spouse and you will begin to grieve. Afterward, you might feel confused, fearful, disoriented, frustrated, guilty, angry or even relieved. That’s perfectly normal and is also part of the healing process.
9. Take care of yourself– Grieving is an emotionally and physically draining process so go easy on yourself. You might not feel like it but you must make sure to eat well balanced meals and get plenty of rest. If friends or relatives offer to cook some meals for you take them up on it. To avoid cabin fever take a brief walk just to stretch your muscles and get some fresh air..
There are millions of people (including those who are clinically depressed) who have made it through the loss of a spouse, including myself. Follow the steps outlined in this article and over time you will make it through as well. Trust and believe in yourself. Life does go on so ensure that you continue living in the healthiest, most productive way possible by helping yourself now.