A Friends and Family Post
I was recently visiting with my friend about his mom. Their family was in the terrible-no-good-very-bad-place where they knew they were going to lose their dad. It was imminent. I remember the pain of that time period all too well: not sleeping, of being afraid to leave the house, and even step away long enough to take a shower. I remember being afraid to be there when he died and terrified I wouldn’t be there when he did.
So one evening when my buddy had some time to breathe, I asked how his mom was doing. I remember asking if she already had the brain fog, something we W’s refer to as widow brain. He said yes, very worried about her. I think I surprised him when I told him the brain fog was a blessing.
I know, I complained about my experience with the brain fog for a long time. But looking back, I see it for what it was. It was my brain protecting me from the horror of it all. Just like when the brain forces your body to the ground if it’s not getting enough oxygen (your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump oxygenated blood if you’re prone, so your brain makes you faint), the same thing happens when we’re dealing with unimaginable pain and loss.
Whether you call it shock, brain fog, or widow brain, the result is the same. And it IS a blessing. It can also last for months. Years, even. So if your W is on the fritz, do your best to be supportive. Try to remember that as frustrating as the fog can be it’s also a gift to her.
Pro-Tips for W’s
Here are some tips I learned along the way that may help you.
1. Write it down. Write everything down. It may seem like overkill, but the days blur far more quickly than you’d ever imagined possible, especially if you’re sleeping a lot or suffering from insomnia. My worst blur came when I was informed I’d been in bed for four days, and not the two that I’d thought.
Write it all down. Write down when you need to pay bills, when kids have events, or appointments, or phone calls you have to make (i.e. social security and the insurance company). Did you get that? Write it down. Three years later and I’m still religious about writing every little thing down. If you don’t see me put it on my calendar, there is a good chance it won’t happen.
2. Outsource. Just because stuff has to get done, doesn’t mean you have to be the one to do it. If people are asking you how they can help, take them up on it. Have a list handy of things you know need to be done: the lawn mowed, the car taken in for an oil change, help with transporting kids to sporting events, whatever. If you’re in a position to hire it out, that’s even easier. There are companies out there that will do pretty much anything these days, including picking up doggie doo. (Genius!)
3. Journal. Write down your feelings. It will help you later as you are processing your grief. I burned all my journals before I left town on my big adventure, but read them first. I had forgotten a lot of what happened, who was with me, and how quickly things changed. Or didn’t. For the first time since he died, I was able to realize how far I’d come.
Pro-Tips for Friends and Family
1. Never forget your W just had her universe implode. Don’t take what little control she has away in your well-meaning efforts to help. Here are some examples.
Instead of “get out of bed, you have to pay bills” try, “do you need any help organizing the bills this month?” Or, instead of “you haven’t showered in four days and are freaking me the f*k out” try “I’ll bet fresh sheets will feel really nice. Why don’t I change them for you while you take a hot shower.” Instead of “why haven’t you booked a grief counseling appointment yet?” try, “I know you mentioned trying grief counseling. I’m happy to help make an appointment if you’re too tired to make the calls.”
And I shouldn’t have to say this at all, but I know it still happens. NEVER say “you should be over it by now” or any variation of “pull your shit together.” The correct response is a hug and, “I’m here with you, no matter how long it takes.”
2. Be patient. It can take a long time for the brain fog to fade. Just love your W and nurture her the best you can. She’ll get through it. Eventually.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.