The first year is hell. There’s just no two ways about it. Once the shock and horror wear off, and the rush of critical tasks is over, you are left disoriented, with a gaping wound to try to heal, so your most important job at this stage is to face your grief and start the long, slow process of integrating your loss. Author Daphne Rose Kingma wrote a profound little book called The 10 Things to do When Your Life Falls Apart. She encourages those affected by great loss to:
Cry your heart out. The first thing to do is just cry. But who do you need to be with to cry and where do you need to go? Honor the immensity of your grief and don’t try to force yourself into a place of strength.
Face your defaults. Your defaults are the reactions you have when you don’t know what else to do. Take a firm look these habits and ditch the unhelpful ones.
Do something different. So instead of self-defeating coping habits, like isolating yourself, or pretending that you're OK, try something different. In the end, we will either fly or get crushed in the rubble of our partner's last decision. You want to give yourself every chance to overcome.
Let go. Instead of holding tight, a knee jerk reaction to catastrophic loss, try letting go. What do you need to let go of? I don’t know, but you should figure that out.
Remember who you’ve always been. There is a continuous thread of power and genius that runs through your life and you need that right now. Remember how amazing you really are, and pull out your best self to get through this.
Persist. Do not give up on yourself. It is the steadfast but simple act of slogging through each day that will get you out the other end at some point.
Integrate your loss. You will have to slowly make your partner’s suicide a part of your life story, because it is. We have no choice in this.
Live simply. With so much energy going into coping right now, try to keep the externals as simple as possible. Pare down your living situation, your commitments, and relationships, and only keep the stuff that supports your healing.
Go where the love is. Seek positivity like flowers seek the sun. Look for chances to feel a little joy. Spend time with positive people who love you and understand.
Live in the light of the spirit. Develop your spiritual muscles, whether that’s attending religious services or spending time in nature. Seek out the sacred.
You need affirmations right now, messages to help you manage your runaway thoughts. Like me, you might find it helpful to get a chalkboard or a white board and literally write something encouraging in bold print somewhere you’re going to see it everyday. I remember writing “remember who I’ve always been” on a chalkboard in my kitchen about six months into my journey. It reminded me of my core strength at a time I felt completely incapable of healing myself.
Seek counseling, join a survivors’ support group, or both. Mental health care should be covered under your health insurance so find your insurer’s provider directory online, or call the insurance company to get a few referrals. Grief deferred is grief denied, and professional support is a necessity right now. You may also need medication if you are depressed or anxious in a way that negatively affects your functioning, or if you experience panic attacks. The Resources section of this site describes some of the symptoms of the more serious emotional states we can fall into. Talk to your doctor or see a psychiatrist if you are struggling. If you are uninsured call your community information and referral agency and ask them to tell you about low-cost counseling services. Go to www.211search.org to find your community information and referral agency.
Trauma researcher Dr. Stephen Joseph also encourages survivors to focus on simple things in the early months. Try to make sure that you are eating right, getting enough sleep, and making time for exercise. Exercise is an excellent outlet for stress and may free your mind for a little while and improve your sleep. Exercise has also been shown to alleviate depression, so make it a weekly priority. Try to maintain your routines, as they provide comfort, and keep pleasurable activities in your life. He urges us to resist fatigue and lack of motivation, which are common at this point, and purposefully plan dates to see your friends and family. Spend time doing things you usually enjoy, like a hot bath, a movie, or a favorite hobby. Our emotions will follow our behavior, so if you DO things you usually like to do, you likely will feel happier and more motivated to do them again, thus creating a positive cycle.
We should also learn to relax our bodies and minds. Maybe you will want to take a yoga class or learn mindfulness meditation. This skill can help you handle the triggers that will send you into a “grief attack”. Special songs, a specific date, the smell of his cologne or his model of car driving by, many things will send you reeling emotionally, and this is normal. It is our mind’s way of processing the loss one bite at a time. So be gentle with yourself and don’t judge these dives into sadness or anxiety. Just continue your program of self-care and seek extra help when you need it.
To optimize the chance that we come out the other end of this experience healthy, Dr. Joseph also offers us the following advice, outlined in his book What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Psychology of Post-Traumatic Growth.
And that’s actually my best advice. Every single day do what you can to help yourself. Some days may find you absorbed in an activity and forgetting about it all together, while many more days may feel like crawling through mud. You WILL make progress if you follow the healthy steps mentioned above, and you will only see this progress by looking back. Have faith in yourself and a universe that ultimately loves you. And lean on your loved ones, as they can be strong for you when you can’t do it for yourself.