DEAR DOCTOR K:
My husband recently passed away unexpectedly. I feel like I am drowning in grief. Please help me.
I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. Just getting through the day may seem very hard.
My patients sometimes have sought my advice about how to deal with the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one. When they, like you, are still in the early, raw stages of grief, my advice is to let the nonessentials slide. Don’t feel guilty about not attending to your usual responsibilities. Believe me, people will understand. Instead, focus on getting yourself through this difficult time.
When you are grieving, you may neglect your health and well-being. But it’s important to take good care of yourself. In fact, it’s even more important than usual. Grief makes you more vulnerable to illness.
Keep taking your regular medicines. Keep up with regular physical exams and dental appointments. Get the sleep you need. Nap if you need to. Go to bed early if you can. If you’re have trouble sleeping, talk with your doctor about temporarily taking medication to help you sleep.
Try to exercise every day. A simple walk or a harder workout can relax your body. Exercise can distract you from your grief, or offer you time to meditate on your loss.
If you need to cry, cry. If you feel angry, express it. If you need a break from grieving, allow yourself that.
Stress can skyrocket when you’re grieving the loss of a spouse. Suddenly, new responsibilities fall on your shoulders. There may be difficult financial issues to deal with. For most people, talking these problems through with the appropriate professional is helpful. That can mean mental health professionals, financial counselors and stress management programs.
Family and friends can provide a strong source of support. I’ve had patients who reached out to someone else who was not a close friend but who had experienced a similar loss. They were reluctant to “impose” on the person, but almost always, talking things through helped both people.
A grief support group can accomplish the same thing. It connects you to others who are suffering or have suffered the same fate and the same set of challenges. The others in the group will understand you when you express strong feelings. They’ve felt them, too. And they may have lots of good advice.
We have a lot more information on coping with grief in our Special Health Report, “Coping With Grief and Loss: A Guide to Healing.”
If time doesn’t ease your grief, or if you suspect that you are struggling with depression, seek out a counselor or therapist. An antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication may also help. But the best treatment for a tragic, sudden loss is seeking out other human beings to listen, comfort and advise you.