Among the many things I have been told since Suzanne died was that I should not try to distract myself from the grief. No matter what the form, a distraction (from what I can gather) is anything I do that stops me from thinking about Suzanne’s death and my love for her while I am in the process of thinking about it (and feeling sad, upset, angry, etc.).
What I find is that it’s nearly impossible not to get distracted by something. Children, work, TV, walking, doing anything… Pretty much whatever one may do after our person dies will be a distraction. Unless you sit in a dark room, thinking and weeping for that person, you are distracted from your grief.
In the hours, days and weeks after Suzi died, I was in deep grief. I didn’t stop thinking about what I was experiencing and feeling. I was in a grief fog. There was a dark cloud of grief surrounding me and everything I touched. I wanted to talk but couldn’t. I wanted to eat but couldn’t. I wanted to sleep but couldn’t. But I was already distracted.
I wept. I closed my eyes and dreamed she was going to come back from the hospital, and everything would be fine. I hoped that my brother telling me I had to make arrangements at the funeral home was just a distraction and I didn’t really need to do anything.
But none of this was a dream. It was all happening. And starting to go through photographs to create a memorial video for her was also a distraction—even if I was weeping uncontrollably as I went through each and every stack of photos to choose those that meant something to me.
For the first few weeks after she died, I couldn’t listen to music. Nothing. Not a sound. I couldn’t watch anything. Nothing. Not a single image. I couldn’t read anything. Nothing. Not a word.
Facebook irritated me but I used it as a vent. I couldn’t find any solace in the reality I was facing.
I took four days and went to Hawaii. Another distraction.
On that flight were a few honeymooners. All I wanted to do was tell them to cherish every moment together because they never knew which would be their last.
I mourned my life as it was (the life I thought I would have with Suzi) starting way back in 2007 when she first got cancer. We never thought it would come back, nor that it would kill her, but everything changed in 2007. Our focus became entirely about our girls and raising them with their mama. That was our joint purpose. To keep Suzi alive for our girls.
When she died, I lost that purpose. I lost direction. I lost passion for living. I needed distraction.
Today, things are different. I have a new purpose—as a life coach, I am helping other widows and widowers find their purpose and passion again, like I did. It’s not easy. We find ourselves easily distracted by things we choose instead of choosing to do the hard work of sitting in grief, feeling deeply and expressing the emotions. Men, in particular, are pretty bad at this. I can and do help others. That’s not a distraction. It’s a purpose.
As we approach Valentine’s Day and seek out ways to distract ourselves from the pain of knowing we no longer have the person we want most in our lives, I ask you… Are you distracting yourself from the grief?
Probably. You are going to drink. You are going to go to a movie. You are going to do something alone. But will you sit in your grief and feel? Will you truly feel the emotions and all the feelings that accompany them? Will you sit alone and grieve for the person you lost without distraction? Are you brave enough to feel? Are you sensitive and compassionate enough with yourself to really, truly open up about how you feel—not to another person, but to your true Self? Most of us are truly afraid so we seek to distract ourselves. We fear ghosts. We fear feelings. We fear loneliness. We fear our own death because we know what it means.
I recently read a Facebook post by a fellow widower. He called himself out for being “sensitive” and crying about his late wife. A person he described as his “widow friend” (a widow that attends the same church), said he was “too sensitive”.
In a society that has created a serious level of toxic masculinity, the idea that a man expressing his emotions makes him somehow into a weakling, too sensitive, or a “sissy” is just plain wrong. The inability to express emotions creates such a huge degree of stress on the body and the psyche that it’s unhealthy.
Distractions are a key to avoiding grief, and men are experts at finding something to distract themselves from dealing with grief.
I know. I was an expert at it, too.
Then I realized I truly had to address and accept my grief in a constructive and open way. I had to acknowledge the emotions. I had to sit with the feelings of emptiness, loneliness, fear, anxiety, anger, rage, heartbreak, fatigue, sleeplessness, restlessness, love, jealousy, and many others.
These feelings were all attached to the emotion of being abandoned by the one person I thought would always be there for me (and I DO NOT use the word ABANDON lightly). Abandonment was the most raw of the emotional sensations I felt when Suzi died. I felt truly abandoned. Adrift. I was rudderless on a wide-open ocean without any clue where land might be.
I lost my sense of what I was. I couldn’t find who I was. I was emotionally and physically paralyzed. I lost weight. I lost my own worth. I lost my life as I knew it.
I didn’t want to address any of it. So, I distracted myself.
No. I did not turn to drugs (some do), or alcohol (some do that, too). Nor did I turn to gambling, high risk sports, or anything that might put my own life in jeopardy. Instead, I distracted myself with my thoughts and avoided the feelings when they came up. I started to exercise and do things instead of addressing the emotions and feelings. Except I wanted to avoid loneliness. As one whose love language is touch, I craved the intimacy of physical touch.
So, within a couple of months after Suzi died, I started to “put myself out there” on dating apps. I wanted to have someone to hold onto. I wanted to have another person fill this gaping hole in my life. I was distracted, unhealthily, by the idea of finding someone new. And I started to meet other women. I knew that I wasn’t searching for a replacement, but I wanted someone. Someone to help me achieve the “happily ever after”. I wanted this person so badly, because if I found her, then I wouldn’t have to address the fact that I had already had something so amazing and wonderful but lost it. I was not going to have the happily ever after. Not again… But what I was doing was wrong. It put enormous pressure on the people I was meeting and on me.
But it was not the only thing I got wrong. I went back to work too soon. I started to throw myself into a fitness routine. I dropped another 10-lbs and gained a little muscle tone. I started to look and feel good physically. “I want to look good for the ladies”, I would say.
But emotionally, I was still a wreck. Dating and working out were distractions and ways to avoid dealing with my grief. In early 2019, I met the person who became my girlfriend. We had an up and down relationship as instead of being healthy and good for each other, we instead reflected all the negativity I was dealing with (and she was, too). She was still hurting from her impending divorce but wouldn’t admit to it. “I had healed”, I said at the beginning of our courtship. So had she, she said. But neither of us were truly healed. And it deeply affected our relationship.
In the months that followed our breakup, I worked hard on myself. I saw two therapists and worked with coaches and natural medicine healers. I did not want to medicate. I did not want to turn to pharmaceuticals or to alcohol or anything else.
I dove deep into my own head. I discovered something amazing. I had a heart at the center of my universe that allowed me to hold space for my Self, my wife, my children, my friends, my family, strangers and every other being on the planet. In chose to focus on living from my heart, and that changed everything. It allowed me to be free to grieve when I needed to. It allowed me to be open and honest about my feelings. I “got in touch with my feminine side”—the side that allowed me to express my emotions thoughtfully and with enough conviction to know that I was safe doing so. I was honest with my Self and others. I was vulnerable.
In this way, I chose to be a better man. I chose to be a better version of my Self because it was the right thing to do FOR ME (and not for anyone else). And you want to know a little secret? I stopped distracting myself from the grief when it arose. I let it come. I cried when the overwhelm came. I opened up and I talked about what was coming up for me and how the emotions were affecting me. I opened up my heart to my children and to others, and I started to communicate with everyone better. I recognized that some of the trauma I suffered after Suzi died was not coming from her death, but from my childhood and was only awakened after she died (and after the breakup with my ex-girlfriend). All this helped me to address my need to be distracted.
I won’t lie. None of what I went through was pretty. In fact, at times, it was downright ugly. I had to face some demons in my own mind and in my past that I had buried deep behind a thick wall of protection (and behind a strong, narcissistic ego). But I made friends with it. I made friends with and “heeled” my ego. I stopped allowing it to distract me from my pain. From my feelings. From my emotions.
Now, I write freely about it and my experience. It is part of my coaching practice, because life coaching is about being open to becoming a better version of your true Self. And I project the love and lightness of peace and tranquility that I found in my own existence because I have recognized that I am truly okay. I am okay being alone (in solitude) without the need to be distracted.
Yes, I still get bored. Yes, I still have waves of grief that sometimes feel like a tsunami. No, I do not go out of my way to distract myself. I no longer want to be a thrill seeker, carpe diem, seize the bull by the horns, person; but I like to do things that are fun and challenging—that take me out of my comfort zone.
If I didn’t try new things, then I would be dishonoring Suzi and her memory. She died without having had the chance to do so many things or see so many special places we talked about going; so I am living my best life and being the best version of my Self—not just for me, but to honor her memory.
In that vein, I have stopped dwelling on the need to control outcomes. I have let go of expectations. I have disavowed the need to find another “happily ever after”, because I know I had that already.
Now, I have made a new choice. Rather than distracting myself and no longer addressing my feelings, I choose to use my time and my experience in service of others. I now also ask myself two questions when I choose to do something: “What’s the worst that will happen?” And, “Does this serve me or others?” If the answer to the first question is “it’s not going to harm anyone or anything”, then the answer to the second is what truly now motivates me.
I hope expressing all this in my own words and in my own way will serve others. Thank you for reading. It truly comes from my heart—the center of my universe and the place of true love and kindness.