The First Year of Grieving
By: Heather Erickson
Today, April 26th, marks the first anniversary of my husband’s death. What a difference a year can make in your life. At this time last year, I was running on very little sleep. I was so afraid that he would die while I was asleep on the couch next to him. By the day he did die, I was so tired that I asked his brother to come and stay with him while I took a nap. Another hour later, and the nurse arrived. She told us that it was time.
That was the worst day of my life, but we were given some mercies through it. My husband left nothing unsaid that needed to be said, by the time he took his last breath. It wasn’t romantic, like the movies. It was awful. But in the end, he was surrounded by me and five of our six children. Our daughter, who lived in California, was in the air, trying to get back in time to say goodbye. We were able to put her on speakerphone so she could tell him she loved him and that it was okay for him to go if he needed to. She would see him again one day.
When someone is actively dying, you are focused on what is right in front of you at that very moment.
Comfort. Calm. Hold.
For the next several months, I lived in a fog and hardly ever cried. Soon, I was misplacing things of great value and importance. I joined a Living with Loss group at Gilda’s Club, which helped me to process the pain of such a profound loss. The other group members in various stages of grief inspired me. We had a special camaraderie, but it wasn’t enough. My grief became what is known as “complicated grief.” Rather than getting better as time passed, it was getting worse. Nightmares plagued me every time I slept, and I cried with little external provocation. My grief-group counselor suggested individual therapy to work through these issues.
I got an incredible therapist. She helped me a lot. But then I took another turn for the worse. I couldn’t stop crying. My rheumatologist felt that this emotional stress was exacerbating my pain. He suggested getting on an antidepressant. I told him, “I don’t think I’m depressed. I’m just really sad.” With that, I burst into inconsolable tears.
The next time I saw my therapist, she did the questionnaire that assesses depression. She told me that she had been watching me go downhill for several weeks and that she was very concerned about me.
“I want you to make an appointment with your primary care doctor immediately,” she told me. Then, she told me what I should say to them, word-for-word, to get an immediate appointment.
I met my new primary care doctor (my previous one had moved to a different clinic). I told him my thoughts on which antidepressant might be the right choice for me. I’d done a lot of research the night before. He agreed with my decision and wrote a prescription. What a difference it made. At my next appointment, he had to raise the dose, but it helped me very quickly and very dramatically. Even my friends noticed how much more positive I seemed.
I remain on the antidepressant to this day. Someday I will go off it, but for now, I am thankful that it improved my life with very few noticeable side effects.
The reason I share this is to encourage caregivers and those who have lost a loved one to pay attention to your emotional well-being. Depression, anxiety, and a host of other stress-related issues can sneak up on you while you are trying to just get through the day. By taking care of yourself, you are preventing more significant problems down the road. There is no shame or weakness in it. Caring for yourself is an act of strength and empowerment.
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