Those Crazy Emotions

 

“When did they offer the roller-coaster training? Somehow I missed that.” — Sally, a hospice patient

 

Grief does strange things to us. It pummels our hearts and rattles our souls. It’s confusing and unnerving. We can be shocked by its depth and power, especially when we lose a spouse. To say that our emotions are stirred by our partner’s death is a gross understatement. Our feelings hijack us and threaten to take over our entire existence. It’s a rough and unpredictable ride. Like hospice patient Sally above, most of us are ill-equipped for the onslaught of this emotional roller-coaster.

 

THE NORMAL BALANCE OF REASON AND EMOTION IS GONE

Human beings are both emotional and rational beings. Some of us operate more on emotion, while others trust more in reason. Which one tends to dominate and how much depends on a variety of factors like background, experience, gifts, talents, and personality. Each of us has a natural sort of equilibrium, a balance of emotion and reason that we settle into in the midst of routine, everyday life.

When grief strikes, this equilibrium is upended. Our usual balance of emotion-reason cracks under the strain. The heart exerts itself, and emotion floods our being.

As Sam put it, “I never knew I was capable of feeling such things. I’m suddenly an emotional basket case. I’m not myself at all.”

The truth is, Sam was still himself, but he was in a very different situation. Something traumatic occurred. His wife died. Powerful emotions surged forth from deep within him. Because his feelings took up a lot more space than usual, his reason naturally got squeezed into the backseat.

In other words, having roller-coaster emotions during this time is normal.

 

UP, DOWN, AND ALL AROUND

“How am I doing? Up, down, and all around. My emotions are all over the map,” Sandra shared.

Grief emotions come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from mild to severe:

• Shock, numbness, feeling nothing

• Sadness, sorrow, depression

• Fear, dread, terror

• Irritability, anger, rage

• Nervousness, anxiety, panic

Some feelings are fairly constant, like a dull ache in the heart. They form a new atmosphere of sorrow that surrounds the death of a spouse. Others are like sudden, sharp daggers. They strike like lightning. As one widow put it, “It’s like a thousand needles have been thrust into my soul.”

How do you deal with this complicated quagmire of emotions? It begins with recognizing a key truth about feelings.

 

A FOUNDATIONAL TRUTH ABOUT EMOTIONS

There is a foundational truth about emotions that everyone in grief (and not in grief, for that matter) needs to know: Feelings are not facts. They are just emotions.

In other words, your feelings are real, but they are not reality.

Here are some examples:

 

You might feel very alone. Are you? Yes, in the sense that your loss is unique. But in another sense, you are

never alone. Many have endured the death of a spouse, and many are going through it now.

 

You could feel like you’re going crazy or about to come unhinged. Are you? Probably not. But you are in a crazy situation compared to “normal” life. Everything has changed. No wonder you question your sanity.

 

You might have increased anxiety and even panic attacks. You could feel like you’re going to die or the world is going to end. Anxiety is a natural reaction to loss. Your system is being hit by grief. All is not lost, and you will get through this.

 

Again, feelings are not facts. Emotions are real, but they are not reality. So what do you do?

 

HANDLING THOSE CRAZY EMOTIONS

How do you handle these crazy emotions?

Feelings are meant to be felt. When the emotion comes, acknowledge it.

“I feel sad.”

“I’m really angry right now.”

“I feel so alone. I feel empty and depressed.”

Simply voicing feelings out loud has tremendous value. Some people keep a “feeling journal,” where they can write their emotions uncensored. Others share freely and honestly in a support group setting or with trusted friends.

As you acknowledge the emotion and feel it, you’re processing what’s happening in your mind and heart. You’re opening yourself up to grieve well and to begin to recover and heal.

Emotions must be felt. Let them be what they are. When you do this, you honor your spouse. By taking your emotions seriously, you’re telling your loved one (and yourself) how important they are to you and how much you love them.

 

BEWARE IMPULSIVE DECISION-MAKING

Feelings are sneaky. They can dupe you. They can come on so strong at times you’ll doubt your ability to deal with them. You’ll want to run.

Grief emotions can be oppressive. They can wear you down to where you might be willing to do almost anything to feel better.

That’s the danger zone.

Remember the basic truth about emotions: Feelings are not facts. They are real, but they are not reality. Acknowledge and feel them, but don’t go making major, life-changing decisions based on them.

The desire to feel better can push people to unhealthy decision-making like hasty relationships and poor financial choices. People can revert to old addictions, or pursue new ones. This time of grief is hard enough. You don’t want or need a pile of regrets on top of it all to deal with later.

A counselor friend of mine says, “The only way out of the pain is through it.” Grief is real. It is designed to be felt. Healthy grieving is one of the keys to healing your broken heart.


WE ALL NEED REASSURANCE

Most of us who are grieving need reassurance. Perhaps you do too. While grieving, you need to know that:

You’re not alone.

You’re not crazy.

You’re going to be okay.

In the readings that follow, widows and widowers share with you their roller-coaster journeys in handling the crazy emotions of grief. Chances are, your heart will resonate with their words and you’ll see yourself in their stories.

Emotions will surface. As they come, acknowledge and feel them.

Don’t get in a hurry. Take your time.

Be nice to yourself.

Remember to breathe.

 

An Excerpt from Chapter One of the ebook Heartbroken: Healing from the Loss of a Spouse written by Gary Roe - an author, a speaker, a hospice chaplain and grief specialist for Hospice Bravos Valley in Central Texas, USA. Reposted with permission from the author.

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