BW 008: Give Yourself Grace While Grieving

tips Dec 02, 2022

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The Transcript is below.


Hey guys, I’m Emily Jones

I was widowed at age 37, one month shy of our 20 year wedding anniversary.  Nathan and I have four beautiful children together.  My world was turned completely upside down when I lost him.  With faith, community, and wisdom from others, I’ve been able to find hope, joy, and dream again for the future.  I want to help others do the same, too!




[00:00:00] Emily Jones: Hey guys. Welcome to episode number eight of The Brave Widow Show. Today we're gonna talk about giving yourself grace, managing expectations, and setting boundaries.

So glad that you tuned in today to talk about giving yourself grace. This is something that I really struggled with early on. I've always been a high achiever. I've always been someone who practices resilience.

In fact, my word of the year for 2021 was resilience and I've just always been so proud of the fact that I can just keep pushing and keep pushing and that I don't ever give up, and I don't know why it is that sometimes it feels like if we allow ourselves time to rest, if we give ourselves grace or if we set boundaries in certain situations that we're giving up or we're throwing our hands up in surrender and saying, I can't, I just, I can't do this anymore.

So this is a topic that's really close to my own heart of how I was able to heal. How I was able to maintain any sense of sanity, especially in those first few months, and how I was able to set boundaries, especially in your personal social circle where it feels really uncomfortable to be able to do that.

One of the things that, in those early days, weeks, months of grief, your brain is on overload. It's not really functioning the way that it normally does. A lot of people have that widow's brain or brain fog where you can't really remember what you were doing walking from one room to the next. You can't keep track of what needs to be done.

You often just feel like you can't really think clearly, and that's why a lot of people say that you really need to give yourself a year or two before you make big decisions because scientifically, your brain is not functioning as it normally would prior to the grief or prior to the trauma.

And I'm gonna share with you guys a resource. I am currently reading this book, I, it may be about a third of the way through, so I haven't finished it. But if you're not on video, it is called the Grieving Brain: the surprising science of how we learn from love and loss, and it's by Dr. Mary Francis O'Connor.

This is what it looks like. And so it's a little more technical, a little more scientific maybe than a lot of the reads that are out there. But what appealed to me about it was that it scientifically addresses how our brain functions, why we grieve the way that we do, and there were several things in there that really made sense to me.

One of the things the book mentions is so hard about grief and why we struggle with it so much is that our brain learns by patterns. So let's think about this. You're married to someone for a period of time. Maybe it's one year or maybe it's 20 years, and you know that pretty much without fail every night you go to bed around a certain time and you have your spouse in the bed next to you, or you know that.

Saturday morning, you wake up, it's time to go do some errands around town or time to do something with the family, and you're used to your spouse being. Maybe it's every time you see a funny cat video, you know that your spouse loves those. And so you always had a habit of when you see a cat video, your first reaction was to text them and send it to them.

So grief is hard because we have all of this information and all of these patterns in our brain of what we know should happen. So we know typically during the day where our spouse is at, we know where in the universe they are. We know generally they're in this state, this town, they're probably at the grocery store.

They're probably home with the kids. We kind of know these things. Grief is hard because when our loved one is gone, even though we may know they're in heaven or they're in this component of the afterlife, physically and geographically here on earth, we don't know where our spouse is at, and our brain has a really hard time reconciling that on our internal gps.

And because we have all of these patterns, the new patterns, and the new habits, aren't nearly as great as the old ones. So going back to that example where you go to bed, let's say 10 o'clock at night every night, and your spouse is in bed there with you, maybe you've done that for 10 or 20 years, how many days?

Weeks, months, years has your brain held to this pattern of going to bed with your spouse in bed beside you, and then that first night is really like the first time your spouse isn't there, and maybe your brain thinks, oh, that's kind of a fluke. Sometimes we have spouses who travel or we have spouses that don't feel well and they sleep in another room, or just having, they're stayed up too late watching a movie, whatever it is.

We occasionally may have those nights. But the more of time that we experience, the more weeks and months with this new pattern, the harder it is to accept that that's reality. Cause we've had so many past histories of the old pattern of we go to bed, our spouse is there in bed beside us, and now we're starting to create this new pattern that we're going to bed and our spouse isn't there.

A lot of widows will say that nighttime is really one of the worst times of the day that they struggle with grief. And it could be because there's fewer distractions. When you're at home, in bed at night, you're typically not working.

You don't have things happening with the family and the house like you would during the day. People aren't calling you to sell you things and just all this flurry of activity that happens during the day isn't happening at night. But then you also have that solidified pattern that isn't happening, which is, my spouse would be brushing their teeth, they would be getting ready for bed.

They would be, gargling with mouthwash, taking a shower, whatever that looked like. Now that pattern has been completely disrupted and so when people say Time heals all wounds or pain gets lesser with time, one of the reasons why we say that is because our brain starts making a new pattern, and you will get to a point in which your brain expects the new pattern and stops looking for the old pattern.

I remember early on in grief that anytime I would travel for a work trip as soon as I got to the hotel, I would typically text Nathan or call him to let him know that I was there, and the first few times I took a work trip, I would get into the hotel, I would throw my things on the bed, and I would go to pick up my phone and then I would have to put it back down.

So I thought Who wants to know about my travel who wants, who needs to know that, hey, I got it into the hotel safely. And sure I could text my kids. My dad, as heartfelt as he is, says, you can always text me. I wanna know about your travel. And I do. I do let him know, but. I think it's different when it's not your person.

I remember times where I'd be watching funny TikToks and that was something Nathan and I loved to do together every day is we would have, a couple days would go by and we'd save up some funny TikToks and then at night we'd lay in bed together and share with each other the ones that we thought that the other would appreciate.

And I could remember seeing some funny video or meme or something that someone would post and I would go to hit forward, or I would go to screenshot it and then I would put the phone back down. There's no point in texting him, he's not gonna get it. That didn't happen for years. Right after my first few work trips and my first few travel experiences, I stopped physically reaching for the phone because my brain was forming a new pattern in that I wasn't going to be texting Nathan to let him know that I was there or to send him that funny meme or whatever it was.

So as we think about giving yourself grace, especially when you're in those early days, weeks, and months, Keep in mind that your brain is trying to form new patterns. And so it continues to look for something and someone who isn't there. And that can be shocking to us and to our systems at first, that we continually look for someone who isn't there.

And then the reality of it all sinks back in, oh yeah, I lost that person. They're gone. Grief and sadness pours back into us and we remember why we can't find that person as we reach out for them, as we reach out to them.

One of the phrases that I love from Dr. Betsy Guerra is you have to feel to heal. So as that sadness and pain and sorrow comes into your heart, comes into your mind, just let it soak in. Feel it, hold onto it for a few moments, let it process and then release it back out into the wild from where it came. Feel the pain, feel the sadness.

Don't push it down or push it off to the side. When we're working professionals, sometimes that's really hard to do because we don't wanna be in the middle of a meeting and have a meltdown or burst into tears unexpectedly because we've had a pain of sadness or something that's risen up within us.

Okay. If in that moment you feel like you need to postpone feeling it, that's fine.

But as you're in your room later that night or as you're back in bed and you're reflecting on just the overall events of the day, don't be afraid to open yourself back up to those feelings of sadness, of pain and sorrow, and just feel and process those emotions and feelings and what's happening to you now.

You don't have to live there. Stay there forever, but don't be afraid to feel and process those things and then let them move back on, and then move them back on. People often dread holidays and get togethers because those are the things in our mind that we know we are somewhat bracing for. Right? So we have Christmas and our person isn't there to open their Christmas presents or. Nathan was the one who made the Turkey for many of our Thanksgiving events over the course of several years.

And so I know that I won't get to experience Nathan's Turkey each year for Thanksgiving going forward. So typically we'll mentally brace ourselves that we're gonna go through these get togethers events or holidays, and we know that it's not gonna be easy, and we're gonna have moments where we're missing our person.

It's somewhat predictable that those types of holidays and get togethers are gonna cause pains of grief or moments of sadness. But what we don't always expect are certain milestones that come up. Especially I've noticed with the kids, let's say they have a choir performance or maybe one of them gets accepted into a special program or one of them is gonna graduate from high school.

There are those milestones with the kids that are really sweet and I love them in the moment. They also have a little bit of sadness to them, and sometimes I can anticipate when that's gonna happen, but other times I can't. So I have to give myself grace and just be patient with myself that there are gonna be these moments of events and milestones and things that pop up that I wasn't really expecting, and I don't need to be angry with myself or frustrated or.

Upset beyond feeling what I'm feeling in that moment, but I just need to check in with myself, process it, be sad for a moment, and then move forward with the event the best that I can.

You have to manage expectations for yourself and for other people. When you're grieving, you're trying to just get through the day to day. And I remember having a conversation with my dad because I was making a list of all the things that needed to be done and as I kept thinking of things, I just wrote them down.

I also had like post-it notes everywhere and I was just trying to keep a handle on personally what all things needed to happen and I was talking to my dad cuz I was frustrated that it just seemed like more and more things were piling up and I couldn't complete things fast enough to. More things from being added where the list was just exponentially growing.

And he told me, look, just focus on today what has to be done today. If it doesn't have to be done, don't worry about it. You can keep it on your list and slot it for a future day, but there's no point in trying to accomplish everything when all you're given to deal with at one time is today.

And even though logically I know that, and even though I've probably said that to other people as well, it was just really helpful to hear that and to be reminded that we have to give ourselves grace and be patient, and we have to manage our own expectations really for what's possible.

When we're struggling with grief we are in a fragile state. A lot of times things will take way longer than we expected them to take, or our time may be limited in which we have to accomplish that thing. And so we have to manage our own expectations for reasonably what can be accomplished in this sort of pseudo new capability of what we're able to do and what really has to be done versus would be a nice to have.

So one of the exercises I went through, of course I used a spreadsheet because I'm an nerd like that.

But essentially I just went through and decided who really needed to do what and when that had to be done. And, if I needed to hire someone out to complete that task. And that really helped for me minimize the things that were important and I had to do them versus things that other people could help me with, even though I don't like asking for help.

And I do consider myself fiercely independent at times, maybe a little too independent, but it was really helpful at least to just get everything into a sheet or on a piece of paper and prioritize it based on what absolutely had to be done and by when then I felt like I could breathe a little bit easier because there wasn't this massive list of vague to-dos.

It was an organized approach into really what had to be done by when, by whom?

Part of managing expectations for yourself and others is to set boundaries. And what I mean by that is there is, in many of us in innate eight, desire to take care of other people, to make sure that we continue some of the same traditions, to make sure that our family's doing okay, our friends are doing okay, and that we are serving other people around us.

And while normally that's a great thing and a good quality to have, you can burn yourself into the ground pretty quickly by taking care of everyone else and not focusing on yourself or by trying to hold yourself to some standard that you can't do and function decently well while doing that. So there were several friends or family members I had where I would just say I can't.

Or where I may not respond to their text as quickly as I normally would, or maybe I wouldn't host a certain holiday or a certain event. I think even the first Thanksgiving, I just had to tell my family, Hey, I'm sorry can't host that this year. It was just a few months after I lost Nathan and the thought of having a whole crowd of people over at my house and having to juggle cooking, which I wasn't really that skilled at the time, and trying to keep everything organized.

It was just too much for me and my family. So I ended up hosting Christmas because I felt more comfortable and more confident at that point to be able to do that. But I didn't hesitate to tell people, no, I'm not available. I can't do that. Or, I'm not able to host things at this time. I've also learned not to overload myself. And again, I think this goes back to me being someone who's high achiever.

I wanna get things done. I wanna be able to say, Hey, I can do that. I can take that on. And sometimes I would get into these, almost spiderweb complications of, okay, on this day I've gotta run the kids here. I've gotta take care of this Also at 2:00 PM I have to run this errand. I need to go by the DMV office.

I need to also do this. And then this person wants to meet up for coffee. Great. That sounds like a fun day. I really have taken a step back to say, let's keep the expectations of what has to be done or need to be done in a day low, and then if I can accomplish more, that's great. That's fantastic. But I'm not gonna stress myself out or have anxiety around all these things that need to be done and getting them done when at the end of the day, I'll just feel tired, annoyed, and like everyone else got what they needed, but I didn't get what I needed for myself.

I also set boundaries and managed expectations with how and when I would respond to people. So in the past, if someone text me or sent me a Facebook message or a card, I felt like I needed to respond right away. And sure for work, I did need to respond quickly, and I still continued to do that. From a personal perspective or people just asking, how are things going, or wanting an overall update, it could feel very overwhelming to almost copy and paste the same response to everyone and feel like I was giving a unique and updated update, and also being able to respond to them in a timely manner. And so I would just tell people, Hey, I'm sorry. I'll respond when I can. Or if it took me a few days. I would still try to respond and let them know.

There are several people that I would respond to them days later, or for some people I just never responded at all. And sure, there were some cases where I would simply just forget to respond. It wasn't intentional at all. But then there would be times where I would intentionally put my phone away or I would intentionally put it on do not disturb.

And I just wouldn't respond. There were days where I would just be exhausted and I would think I cannot send one more person an update or continue to copy the same information over and over and over about how things are going. And I just had to tell myself that the people who really care about me, the people who

know that I'm just trying to make it on a day by day basis. The people who truly love me, they're going to be understanding, they're gonna understand that their text doesn't have to be responded to right away. There are so many great things about technology, like texting, like emails, like Facebook, like messaging and all of those things, but they also can come with some cons.

So we text people because we don't necessarily have the time to call or we just have a quick question. But sometimes we also expect that we have a immediate access to that person. So if I text someone, then I'm expecting them to respond to me back in a couple of minutes. And while the capability and functionality of doing that is nice at the same time, It also puts expectations on other parties.

So what I've really tried to do is retrain myself that I don't have to respond right now, because typically what happens is you're in the heat of the moment, right? You're cooking like three different pots on the stovetop. You've got laundry going, you've got the dog that's getting into something outside.

You have kids that are asking you questions, and then your phone is just blowing up. Text, text, text, text, call. And if you glance at it, it's all just Hey, wanted to let you know this, or, Hey, wanted to ask you that. Or Hey, can you send me, what you thought about using this product? Or, Hey, I have a question for you.

And it's all non-urgent things. It doesn't mean that it's not important, but it doesn't have to be to right that second. And what I would catch myself doing is looking at all of the messages and requests that come through and seeing those as like those red notification flags on your phone, like those little badges that pop up that are like, Hey, you need to resolve us.

I can't deal with unresolved red flags and notifications on my phone or in my email. So to me, it was very stressful to see all of those messages and things come through and not to be able to respond time. I really had to make an effort to tell myself, it's okay. You don't have to respond right now.

Most likely somebody's not gonna be upset if you don't respond right away. And if it's something urgent or emergent, in most cases, people are gonna pick up the phone and call and they're not gonna stop calling and tell you, answer them, and have a conversation. So give yourself some grace with what you're able to do with what you are doing if you're trying to survive, manage expectations for yourself and for other

people. You may be overloaded. Your brain may not be functioning the way that it did before. You may be having to learn a whole lot of new skills and tasks that you never had to do before. You may be struggling to find passwords to all the websites you need to access in order to pay the bills or to take care of other things.

So just give yourself grace. Manage the expectation that you have for yourself and for other people and set boundaries where you need to so that you can have the space and the time that you need.

All right guys. That's it for episode number eight of The Brave Widow Show. I would love for you to join the Brave Widow community where we can talk about topics like this and more. We're gonna have live coaching and q and a calls. We're gonna have small group coaching courses, resources, checklists, all kinds of tools and things that you need in an environment where you can connect with other like-minded and faith-based widows.

Head on over to brave today to learn more.

Hey guys. Thank you so much for listening to the Brave Widow Podcast. I would love to help you take your next step, whether that's healing your heart, binding hope, or achieving your dreams for the future.

Do you need a safe space to connect with other like-minded widows? Do you wish you had how-tos for getting through the next steps in your journey, organizing your life or moving through grief? What about live calls where you get answers to your burning questions? The Brave Widow Membership Community is just what you need.

Inside you'll find courses to help guide you, a community of other widows to connect with, live coaching and q and a calls, and small group coaching where you can work on what matters most to you. Learn how to heal your heart, find hope, reclaim joy, and dream again for the future. It is possible. Head on over to to learn more.


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