IMG_0969Yesterday I wrote an overview about the process caregivers go through after a loved one dies. I mentioned our three-step process to developing an Attitude of Creative Indifference and asked you to take the first step, which is to become AWARE of the situations that are causing you the greatest emotional stress. This can be a complicated process, because when we are in the middle of intense emotional pain, we may not be able to separate and identify all of the specific reasons we are upset.

My husband Alex lost his first wife to lung cancer. When she died, he experienced a lot of conflicting and simultaneous emotions. Feelings of loss, fear, loneliness and regret swirled continuously through his heart. He was grieving the loss of his life partner and the mother of his children.

He was also grieving the loss of the life they had planned to have together at this point. Their children were raised; he was at the peak of his career, and they were financially stable. So when he buried Amey, he also buried their plans for travel, adventure and fun. He didn’t know what his future would hold. He felt like he was too young to spend the rest of his life alone, but the idea of dating was absolutely terrifying. Her death turned the rest of his life into a huge unknown, and that made him very, very angry. For years Alex and Amey had fought over her smoking. She tried many, many times to quit, but she was never able to give it up.

Alex was a community college president in New Mexico, and a few months after Amey’s death he was scheduled to speak at the American Association of Community Colleges Conference in Colorado about life – work balance. He had a prepared speech in his briefcase. As he left Albuquerque on I-25 and headed north, he started to talk to Amey. His conversation with her quickly turned into a rant. He pounded his fists on the steering wheel as he cried and yelled at her. He let her know that her refusal to quit smoking had taken her life and made a mess of his.

It was a long drive, and he let it all out. When he got to Breckenridge, he set his prepared speech aside and spoke to the other community college presidents from his heart. I’ve been told that there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. That was Alex’s first step to recovering from his loss. He then joined a Hospice Grief Counseling program and learned that everything he was feeling and experiencing was normal. He met other people who were having similar struggles. They shared their stories and learned coping strategies. Eventually Alex was able to move on.

This is a big topic, so come back tomorrow, and we’ll talk about the grief spiral. In the meantime, if you are trying to keep a lid on your grief, I would like to encourage you to take it off. Acknowledging and expressing your feelings won’t stop the pain, but it will help you understand it and it may help you work your way through it.