My husband died a year ago, so I am now a widow with school-age children at home. My friends and family have been a wonderful support system through this loss. Lately my friends, in particular, want me to “go out, do things and meet people” but I typically turn down those invitations. They are becoming more insistent and saying that I’m risking depression if I don’t get on with my life. I don’t feel as though I’m depressed, and I do think I’m getting on with my life. It’s just that my life is now about making sure my children and I heal as much as possible from this loss. I’m not a recluse, but for now I feel better when I’m with my kids and not making chit chat with people at a restaurant or bar. Should I force myself to go out just to ward off the risk of depression? Or are they just being too pushy?
Response by Patrick Henry, LMFT, LPC
Thank you for your question and I’m sorry for your (fairly recent) loss. You’re lucky to have friends and family that care so much for you. Sometimes this care and concern comes with a lot of opinions and advice. After all, they care about you so they aren’t going to hold back when it comes to trying to help make it better. Even professional counselors have to occasionally give self-reminders to avoid the urge to “fix” (immediately provide a solution) in order to help their clients stay in process which provides the opportunity for true healing. A year is not a long time when you’ve had to say goodbye to a husband, so I applaud your priorities, resilience, and pace.
Your type of loss and the resulting grief that comes with it is deep and complex. It’s not something that can be rushed or ignored. There are two old sayings that come to mind. The first is “if you don’t deal with loss/grief then sooner or later it will deal with you.” In my professional experience, I have found this to be true. Grief has a way of catching up to us when we push it aside.
The other saying is “time heals all things.” I have found this to be generally not true. In fact, time by itself can make a lot of things worse. While it does take time for many things to heal, time itself is not the healer. It is the work that you do over time (which can come in many forms) which leads to healing. One could spend lots of time avoiding their grief (as one often does when trying to move on too quickly) and heal very little or one can work hard over a sometimes-shorter amount of time and heal a lot. It depends on what you do.
Your friends need to know that you are being smart about it and working through your grief with love and support and with the hope of coming out on the other side. Their timeline and your timeline may be different. Help them understand your pace and that you are not merely wallowing in your pain and suffering and letting it consume you but that you are working through it and helping your kids do the same. Right now healing is your priority.
Now, your friends probably do miss you and the things you all used to do together. And they’re eager to get back to doing those things. Going out with friends once in a while probably would be good for you. After all, you can only take care of your kids if you are taking care of yourself and taking care of yourself should probably include at least some time with friends.
All parents have to balance their kids’ needs with their own needs and a little time for adult relationships is important. You need a few good friends to unload on now and then as there are ways that you can’t lean on your kids for support. If you’re focused on your kids and their healing in a positive way, then it’s okay to take a break from them once in a while for a night out with the girls. This may look like spending some time out with good friends in deep conversation. They don’t want to be left in the dark about your process.
Time with friends may also look like just getting out with them for a movie and a few laughs. It’s okay to take a break from your grief now and then. Set it aside, it will still be there and you can get back to it later. Don’t allow others to pressure you to meet new people if you don’t want to. Explain to your friends that you aren’t ready for that and that right now time with established friends is more important than putting your focus/effort into getting to know new people. There will be plenty of time for that later.
Depression knows most people at some time in their lives. And loss/grief will know every one of us. Life events, like losing a spouse, cause great sadness and this is normal. It sounds like you’re determined to heal and that you are strong. You are fostering a durability and resiliency in your children even as you invite them to be vulnerable and to feel and work through their pain.
It’s okay to have bad days. When you have a bad day, let someone know by talking with a family member or friend. If every day is a “bad day,” then consider seeking out a professional counselor to talk to. Even as healing occurs, there can be setbacks. A professional counselor with experience in grief work can be very helpful in identifying the necessary path and steps to healing so that these setbacks are temporary and you can focus on your grief/loss in a helpful and constructive way. Counselors have no agenda as friends sometimes do.
Whatever you do, continue on in your journey. Listen to others but also trust yourself. It sounds like you have some good folks along for the ride. Be assertive with them about your needs, reassure them you’re working on it, and make a little time for “grief breaks.” Best wishes.
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