My wife died. Is it OK if I *don't* want to talk about it all the time?
February 17, 2013 7:52 AM   Subscribe

My wife died. Everyone keeps telling me I should have someone to talk to - a counselor or someone from hospice or whoever. I don't really feel like I need or want that, though. Am I harming myself by handling this on my own?

Two weeks ago, I lost my wife to cancer, leaving me as a 31-year-old single father to an 18-month-old daughter. Yes, this is sad, and yes, it's a huge adjustment, and yes, being a single parent is a lot of work. And everyone asks me, "how are you doing?" as if I want to answer that question again and again for 10 minutes each time, because no one believes me when I say, "all things considered, I feel like I'm doing OK," so I have to explain what I mean. And still, everyone recommends I get therapy or talk to hospice's grief counselors or something similar. But I don't want to, not because I'm too devastated to talk to them or too shy to reach out, but because I don't feel like I need to justify my feelings to people, nor do I feel like I'm teetering on the edge of a cliff ready to fall off without professional help. And it's not that I don't ever want to talk about it at all, but I don't want to be obligated to spend an hour once a week discussing it when I feel like I'd be better off taking the time to go for a bike ride or go to the beach or something I enjoy.

I feel like I can do this myself. Am I being foolish? Do I not realize what I'm missing? Am I going to come out of this situation in a worse position if I don't pay someone $100/hr to talk to me about it (although my insurance likely covers this)? Also, as a single parent, I have precious little personal time and I feel like there are other ways I'd rather spend it.
posted by tylerkaraszewski to Health & Fitness (67 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry to hear of your loss. Everyone deals with grief differently. I did not have any professional counselling when my daughter died because I did not feel I needed it (and in the intervening decade my grief has not impacted my life in a pathological way). Frankly, I think the people saying those things to you are quite rude. With people who were busy projecting their own feelings on my situation I quickly learned to say I did not want to discuss my daughter, followed by an astonished stare if they were rude enough to persist.
posted by saucysault at 7:57 AM on February 17, 2013 [18 favorites]

I think it would be totally reasonable to chat with a hospice grief counselor, just to touch base.

And if you're okay for now, great, but you need to leave open the possibility that you might want/need to talk to someone at some point. You seem aware of how you're feeling and coping, and that's great. Just keep in mind that someday, maybe soon maybe not, you might need some help or perspective or whatever.
posted by cooker girl at 7:57 AM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

A friend of mine was left to look after his five-year-old daughter after his wife (and the little girl's mother) killed herself. He dealt with it by working all hours that his daughter was in day care and with other family and being there for her. No therapy, no talking about feelings, and he made it clear he didn't want any awkward sympathy. He's doing as well as can be expected now.

When my father died I buried myself in work and tried not to think about it too much. Not very healthy probably, but it worked for me.

TL,DR: Everyone grieves in their own way and there is no right/wrong way to grieve.
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 7:58 AM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

First, I am very, very sorry for your loss.

People grieve in different ways, and yes, of course it's possible to do it on your own. I guess the concern from your friends and family is that you could be in shock/survival mode, and might want to talk, at some point in the future, with a therapist. Nobody should tell you what to do, but just be aware that you might not be in total control of how you'll feel a month from now, or a year.

Best of luck to you.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:59 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

And everyone asks me, "how are you doing?" as if I want to answer that question again and again for 10 minutes each time, because no one believes me when I say, "all things considered, I feel like I'm doing OK," so I have to explain what I mean.

Everyone isn't always the best at asking the questions they really want answered. I would interpret "how are you doing?" as "what are you doing?" That is, what are you doing to cope with the emotional pain? What are you doing about your child? You can probably come up with a much more satisfying conversational experience by explaining these types of things that are actually happening in your life rather than attempting to disgorge the undoubtedly complicated how of your doing each time.
posted by carsonb at 7:59 AM on February 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

Do what you need to do. And recognize that this might shift and you'll need other things going forward. Be kind to yourself and if you can, let others be kind to you. I am so sorry to hear this news.
posted by judith at 7:59 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

No. People grieve in different ways.

You may not notice that some people are merely letting you know that they are there. That's still better then the situations you are describing. Who knows if you will require some way of bringing oneself back to earth in some way.

So I wouldn't discount the idea entirely, but it is not something for the commoner to suggest or try to do with you. It is a professionals skill and care that will be the best method with that.

It is just that the timing is up to you. Next year, next decade or never at all.
posted by Bodrik at 7:59 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your feelings and your time are your own. You are justified in your frustration and you owe an answer to no one other than yourself and your daughter. Don't let the pressure of others intrude on your personal healing process. People say all kinds of stupid shit when bad things happen. They need to feel like they've helped, and that they've shown concern. So you get a lot of advice-offering and boilerplate questions because they have no idea how to help.

All you need to do is grant yourself permission to talk to others IF you feel the need to do so, or if you feel out of control in a way that becomes pathological.

The only thing I might offer is - some people with death experience may know about details or gotchas or things you should do. Those people might be worth talking to, they can help you avoid surprises and ugliness.
posted by fake at 7:59 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

...I don't want to be obligated to spend an hour once a week discussing it when I feel like I'd be better off taking the time to go for a bike ride or go to the beach or something I enjoy.

It seems that you're handling your grief through physical activity and raising your daughter, and that sounds okay to me. Everybody handles grief and loss differently.

Your friends and family may be seeing some indications that your level of "okay" doesn't seem as "okay" as you think you're doing, so it may be worthwhile to consider the fact that you might need some help at some point.
posted by xingcat at 8:01 AM on February 17, 2013

It's possible to be okay. Only, a lot of people who aren't okay think that they are, and it can be hard to tell from the inside. As the child of a parent who spent most of my childhood grieving for a spouse, and little of that time getting help because she was supposedly fine, I can tell you that it led to some abandonment issues for me. If it was just you, I'd say "handle it however you wish," but because you're a parent I think it's worth going to a few counseling sessions with an open mind. A therapist could better tell you ways to go forward than people on metafilter ever could.

Sorry for your loss.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:01 AM on February 17, 2013 [21 favorites]

You're under no obligation to go into therapy. Part of why people are saying these things is that they want to make sure they act appropriately in the situation, by expressing concern and offering some kind of advice. That doesn't mean their advice is good. As you said, you're a single dad of an 18-month-old baby — your time is precious to you. It might not be precious to other people, because they're not the ones who have to deal with it. You can only make this decision for yourself.
posted by John Cohen at 8:02 AM on February 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

Like everyone else, I'm sorry to hear of your loss. I haven't lost a spouse, but I follow a blogger, Elden Nelson (Fat Cyclist) who did. Here's what he wrote three weeks after his wife died of cancer. He had some bad moments, but not many, and I don't think he saw a therapist.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:03 AM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Lots of people get through tough times on their own without medical intervention. Just like some people have pain in their legs that turns out to be a pulled muscle and heals on its own, good as new, while some people have pain in their legs that turns out to be a broken bone or a blood clot or a poisonous spider bite, which does require medical treatment in order to heal. None of us can tell you whether the pain you feel is a sprain or a break. You need to be vigilant for signs that you're not dealing with your grief or that it's negatively impacting your life in ways that might benefit from some expert help. But if you don't feel as though you need it, and if there's no reason to think that you need it for reasons that other people can see and you can't (e.g., if they saw your daughter suffering, or if you were deeply depressed in a way that you couldn't see yourself from inside the thick of it) it's presumptuous and rude for people to be pushy about it. And it's perfectly fine to say, "Thank you for your concern, I'll think about that," and then change the subject, or even to say, "Thank you for your concern, but I'm dealing with my feelings in my own way, and I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't push or pry into this very sensitive subject."

I will not that you haven't said anything in this question about how you actually feel about your wife's death. And I think that's the most important fact in the question. Are you just sad, or are you also feeling hopeless about the prospect of going on without her? Is any part of you angry at her for "abandoning" you this way and leaving you with all these responsibilities? Any guilt over the way you handled things with her? Panic about the future? All of these are totally valid, normal, and reasonable feelings, and there are hundreds of other thoughts and feelings that would be totally normal for you to have. I do think you should find some way of giving yourself space for those feelings. Take up an exercise routine, like running or swimming, that gives you time alone with your thoughts. Meditate. Journal. Heck, when my mom died, I wrote her a series of long, very emotional letters about everything I was thinking and feeling, and that really helped. Your way of dealing with your feelings can be totally private, but please make sure that you're not using lack of time and money as ways to hide from your feelings, because that will come back to bite you down the line.
posted by decathecting at 8:07 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss.

I think people are trying to help you. One way to deflect that is to suggest a concrete way for people to help. If you need childcare or household help or someone to run an errand or help re-distribute tupperware from people dropping off meals (or need some new meals delivered), it might help to give them that idea. I think people are assuming that your grief is too overwhelming for friends or family to help with. "Thank you so much for your concern, I could really use some help with X." or "Thanks for your thoughts, I'm really doing okay, considering, would you check in with me in a few months?"

My mom went through a harrowing year with my Dad's cancer and from my perspective, she could have used a grief counselor because she kept unloading huge amounts of crazy on us kids. But, she didn't want to and I think eventually time helped her to find equilibrium and we all moved on. You have your daughter to focus on and I'm sure that is taking all your energy so, no, I don't think it is weird or inappropriate for you to not want to focus any more of your precious energy on grieving with a counselor. It couldn't hurt to check in and maybe note some resources for further down the line. You may find that later, after some processing, you might like to talk about some of this stuff with a counselor who has lots of experience and resources to offer you.
posted by amanda at 8:09 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

"I'm getting the help I need, and I don't feel like discussing details with anyone outside immediate family. Thanks for your concern."
posted by thatdawnperson at 8:15 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't have to go to a therapist until/unless you actually feel the need to.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:17 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry.

And yeah, you're not doing it wrong. At some point, your needs may change wrt talking to someone, and then you can go do that. In the first few weeks or months after my mom died (I'm an only child and was her sole caretaker), I worked a lot and drowned myself in bad TV but generally felt ... okay. The emotional roller coaster came a little later. I think my brain was so worn out from dealing with her actual dying that it just kind of took a break for a while.
posted by rtha at 8:25 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I, too, am sorry for your loss. And yes, it is ok if you don't want to talk about it all the time. "How are you doing?" can be reinterpreted as "I am willing to listen to anything you want to say to me, even the hard stuff." and "Hanging in there" is a perfectly acceptable acknowledgement if you don't want to get into it.

I put myself into therapy after my mom died of cancer because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I dutifully went every other week for three months until I realized that it was boring, ineffectual, and that we weren't touching on any of the issues that I was working through on my own. What I needed was time. You might just need the same thing.

At one point right after my mom died, I would panic if I saw someone I knew in town because I was having a fine time grocery shopping or getting the mail from the post office and I did not want to bear the burden of someone else's grief for the loss of my mom when I was getting a few minutes' relief from acknowledging it. It may be selfish, but the hardest part in those first few months was consoling others outside my family who grieved for her, because it was like a punch that could come at any moment without forewarning. If you're in the same boat, a few stock, repeatable answers to the same questions "What can I do to help?" (babysit? keep house? go to a movie with you?) or "How are you doing?" (hanging in there, keeping my chin up, back to the grind, etc.) can help insulate you from the blow.

I think if you can accept ANY feelings you have right now as normal, then you are doing amazing. That is something a lot of people have difficulty accepting when they experience a traumatic loss - that their emotions can be all over the place, and it's ok. Or that they feel fine, and that's ok too - there's no rulebook on what grief looks like, and grief itself is an insidious shapeshifter that will be different from moment to moment. You don't have to be the picture of grief that others want you to be.
posted by annathea at 8:27 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Deepest condolences.

"I'm handling it, thanks for asking."
posted by oceanjesse at 8:27 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

There may be a time in the future that you want to talk to someone. It might not be right now, and that's fine. When that time comes, pursue therapy for sure. I like to think of therapists as professional listeners. Seeing one doesn't mean you're sick, or a failure, or that there's something wrong. It's just a more appropriate person to talk to about stuff like this than your friends or family members or (eventually) your daughter. And having a person you can talk to is better than keeping everything hidden away.

For now, when people ask how you're doing, have a stock answer that assuages their feelings but isn't emotionally difficult for you. In the past I've used "It's hard." Most likely they just want to offer you their support and make sure you know they care about you and your family.
posted by Sara C. at 8:32 AM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

My condolences.

As far as people asking you questions, sometimes they seem to want something from you-- reassurance or something? In a way, it's unfair of people to put that burden on you, even though they may not mean to. Other times they are not doing that but it feels like it anyhow. When I lost my father I started saying, "It's sad but I'll/we'll be all right." That doesn't so much invite the "How are you really?" response.

Take care.
posted by BibiRose at 8:36 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, tyler, I'm so sorry.

Try, "It's tough, but we're coping," and if they press, add, "I don't really want to talk about it right now, can we talk about your kid's ballet recital/your trip to Arizona/my child's new word/March Madness?" Expression of grief, expression of okayness, firm redirection of thing that is appropriate to discuss now. I think people want you to acknowledge you're sad, want to know whether or not you're okay, and then need you to direct the conversation to the next place because grief makes people awkward with their good intentions so you need to tell them specifically what you're going to discuss next. I think people will understand that you don't want to discuss it and you just want to have a normal conversation, but I think you have to specifically tell them that so they know exactly where to direct their good intentions.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:40 AM on February 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

I am so sorry for you and for your daughter. My condolences.

My suggestion is that you accept the good intent behind these statements, and tell people "I'm not ready, but when I am, I have resources, thank you." That may well be a bullshit statemetn or whatever but it's also a shut down statement - there isn't a lot people can say to that besides "Go on with your bad-ass self." I'm okay with bullshit under the circumstances.

And hey, you know, it might not be bullshit - grief is a long process and it's only been two weeks. Maybe in a year or two years or 10 years you will feel you'll get some benefit from a single hour or a whole year of hours with someone. Or you won't. There isn't a right answer here, but there isn't a wrong one, either.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:47 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do what you think is best for you and your daughter. If, what you are doing is working for you, then keep on going on that path. The only thing I would add is that this is a hindsight decision. You will only know if you took the right course of action much much further down the line when you have the benefit of hindsight.

You also seem to be looking at this as sort of a binary decision between going it on your won or succumbing to odd pressures to talk to someone about it. You don't have to commit to talking with a therapist, hospice worker or whomever on a regular basis. You could meet with someone once, talk about the process or what they think they can do for you and then make a decision to meet again or not.

I happen to think that to get something out of talking to someone, you would need to buy into the idea first, so to me, it would be a waste of your time right now, but I am just some idiot on the internet who read a few paragraphs about your situation.

Best wishes to you and your daughter.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:49 AM on February 17, 2013

You don't have to do anything you don't want to but be mindful of how you are feeling and the effect it will have on your daughter.

Women tend to seek out support when they need it. A lot of men don't until it's too late.

I'd recommend you talk to the counselor about how you're feeling, whether it's nothing or everything.
posted by discopolo at 8:53 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry for you.

Everyone handles things differently. Trust yourself. Do what you need to do. When that stops working, do something else.
posted by mazola at 8:54 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Aww that sucks and I'm sorry to hear it. And no, you grieve how you want to. It's tough in this sort of a situation because people have a tendency to project and consider this one of the Worst Possible Things and it makes them a little tongue tied and makes them want to connect because they feel so helpless. I lost my dad suddenly a few years ago, and did not go to therapy and had maybe one or two people I really talked to and everyone else I basically didn't. Not part of my healing process, not useful to me. One of the things that is decent about grieving is how intensely personal it is for people and so you're given a lot of leeway after the initial contact from people has died down. So do what you enjoy and do what you like. There is some therapeutic evidence that suggests that moving on, if possible, is one of the healthier things we can sometimes do in the face of a really bad thing. Thank people for their concern because it's nice to be cared about. Feel free to do your own thing.

That said, the only caveat I would offer besides "be kind to yourself" is be on the lookout for aftershocks way down the road. Like a year later you have sleeping problems or weird stress-from-no-place or sudden aggravation from a thing that gave you no aggravation before. Just keep your mind open to the fact that how you feel now may or may not be how you feel later and it may all be tied in to this one thing somehow. Know what your resources are, be honest with yourself about what might nudge you in their direction. Might never happen.

It's a weird thing so say but sometimes losing someone you care about after an illness can actually free up parts of you that lived in their illness somewhat to not have to do that anymore. And that's a good feeling and not a bad one. I miss my dad but my life changed for the better after he died and specifically because he died. I wish a lot of things had gone differently before that point, but they didn't. Best wishes to you and your daughter.
posted by jessamyn at 8:54 AM on February 17, 2013 [25 favorites]

As somebody who lost both parents to cancer, I would urge you to not close yourself off to the option of counseling. It has been only two weeks. Grief is a long process, as in the rest of your life. Self-care, so that you can be the best possible parent to your daughter, will likely involve both the emotional and physical sides of your being.

Please accept my condolences for your loss.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:59 AM on February 17, 2013

Those of us (including your friends & family) who have lost someone they were very close to over an extended period of time understand that in those situations, you do much of your grieving while your loved one is still alive. It feels like you're losing them in pieces, and it breaks your heart over an over again as they continue to decline and you lose all hope that they will recover.

When they finally pass, it can almost be a relief - they're out of pain; you can finally think about something other than this overwhelming impending tragedy. I've talked to several people who contrary to what others expected of them, once their loved one passed they had already done most of their grieving and were ready to get moving on to the next phase of their life.

Perhaps you can help others understand this by responding, "Thanks for asking. I had a long time to grieve while she was still alive, so I feel a bit relieved that she's no longer suffering. I'm looking forward to moving on to whatever is next in my life."
posted by summerstorm at 8:59 AM on February 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

My mother, who raised me alone for a decade, died of cancer when I was just becoming an adult and everyone said I should talk to people, grief counsellors, therapists, family members, friends, whatever. It just never seemed necessary to me.

For me, the moment of her death was the punctuation mark at the end of the last sentence on the last page in the last chapter in the last book of a multi-volume series books documenting her life, of which the last few months were almost exclusively focused on pain and suffering with a few moments of mild pleasure. Her dying at 5 in the morning, at home, with palliative care, with her youngest brother at her bedside, was not sad at all. In fact, it was a relief. At last, she does not hurt any longer.

I had a very long time to get used to the idea that she would be dead. When she finally was dead, the hardest thing to deal with was getting a lawyer to have checks made out to her name released to mine. This isn't cold, or mean, or disrespectful to her memory. Her mortal flesh betrayed her generous spirit and she was wracked with pain for years, and then she died, having made the best of her life that she could.

My only regret is that I should have been more compassionate myself, and I am still taking guidance from that to this day.

Do what seems right for yourself, your daughter, and for your memory of her. Nothing else is important. And if anyone gets pushy on you when you don't feel like grieving in a way that makes them comfortable, just look at them silently until they melt away with shame.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:01 AM on February 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

Tyler, hang in there.

In 2001 I lost my girlfriend to leukemia. Through that experience I found that everyone handles grief differently. There is no right away or wrong way to grieve. However you choose to handle it is the right way for you.

Some people, who have never experienced what you are experiencing, project themselves into your situation and think about how they would feel, and what they might do, or say, or need.

Other people, who have experienced loss like this, in addition to projecting, try to hasten you to the point where they themselves started to feel better, completely forgetting all they had to go through to get there.

Some people are, unintentionally I believe, selfish bastards (and I mean that kindly) and are more obsessed with how they feel, rather than how you feel. In a way it's human nature.

The biggest issue for me was that I didn't really want to talk about it, for awhile, but that didn't mean I didn't want to talk about *anything*. The people who don't take it personally when you tell them "We're doing alright. But I'd rather talk about something else right now." will probably be the people who most know you. You certainly figure out who your real friends are pretty damn quickly.
posted by dgeiser13 at 9:02 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry for your loss.

You are not required to attend therapy. You are not obligated to talk about your feelings. You are allowed to work through your grief on your own in the ways that help you best. And I agree with those above who suggest having some stock phrases at the ready to deflect well-meaning enquiry.

However, I think you should consider appointing a couple people you love and trust as your check-in people. Sometimes when we're hit with something big, while also carrying a big responsibility, we have to triage. Taking care of your daughter may trump grieving at the moment. But sometimes when we do that, we may not actually be doing as well as we think we are. Your check-in people should let you know when you don't have things as under control as you think you do.

Although not totally analogous, I was suffering from PTSD while single parenting my infant daughter. No one really knew (myself included) and even though I was unhappy, I still thought I was still doing a pretty bang up job. I considered therapy, but I just never felt like I had the time or energy or spare cash, and I really felt like it was something I could deal with later.

In retrospect that was a mistake. It took 8 years, but eventually things came to a head in a bad way and I had to take time off work and deal with the accumulated stress and trauma I had tamped down. It took the repeated gentle proddings of a close friend--who would not let it drop--for me to recognise that the train was indeed completely off the rails. And a horrible side effect of not dealing with things is that I don't have very many really strong or vivid memories of my daughter's first years, because I was just in survival mode. And I don't like to think about what kind of abandonment issues I've laid the foundation for in her.

Really, though, just find those couple people who know you well, who love you and who you can trust, and, once in a while, compare how you think you are doing with how they think you are doing. And let the concerns and advice of everyone else just roll off your back.
posted by looli at 9:04 AM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

My mother was a lot like you when my father passed away from lung cancer, it was at a point about 6 months after that she found she wanted to talk to someone and got professional help. She went a grand total of four times and it helped her immensely, but she went when she was ready to go and got the help she needed when she needed it.

Getting some counselling is not something you have to do now, or any other time, if you don't want to, but be aware it doesn't have to be a weekly commitment for months on end. It was just that mum found that when she was finally ready to deal with the reality that my Dad wasn't coming back her friends had all assumed she was "over it" as she had been so strong for so long and so didn't think to offer the help themselves.

As others have said grief is personal and on going, two weeks is nothing so don't wipe off the idea of a some help at some future point. Do what you have to do, to grieve how you want to grieve, know help is available, just remember that you have not only your self, but your child to look out for as well and you don't have to "man up" and do it all alone all the time.

I am sorry for your loss.
posted by wwax at 9:07 AM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

You're absolutely okay for handling this the way you are doing this. The therapy culture is insidious in its insistence that only some third part relationship can fix what are typical human experiences, conflicts and problems. Studies seem to be saying that three months after an experience that is emotionally challenging like the death of a loved one, people are in almost all cases back to the same state they were in before the experience. So, getting on with your life as best you can manage is a valid and reasonable way to proceed.
posted by diode at 9:18 AM on February 17, 2013

One thing you might keep in mind for some point in the future is finding other dads in your age group whose partners have died. I was the first in my close group of friends who had the misfortune of losing a parent (both, actually - separately, but within a year of each other), and getting to know a couple of people my age who had lost one or both parents made me feel less alone, because it was good to be with people I didn't feel like I had to explain stuff to. They also tended to say stupid things way less often. And they also knew - really knew - that I wasn't "done" grieving after some arbitrary time period.

So, again, and emphatically: this is not a thing I think you must seek out right! now!, but there may come a time when a cohort like this might be helpful to you and your daughter. And other guys in your situation don't have to become your BFFs and don't have to be guys you only get together and cry with, but can act as a kind of relaxing relationship where it's okay to laugh, to make bad jokes about parenting skills or lack thereof and stuff like that.
posted by rtha at 9:40 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's just my opinion, but running to a counselor or therapist for every hardship or disaster that comes by us in our lives is a relatively new societal norm.

I'm not saying counseling is a bad thing to do, but rather a lot of people made it through life for a long time before the world of constant therapy came along. They did it with the help of family and friends - in general because people and their communities were, ironically, more interconnected than today. Today we're more connected to others globally, yet have no idea the names of those who live right next door.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if YOU feel ok, aren't noticing any thoughts/emotions/feelings that are out of the ordinary at a time like this, then stick with what seems to be working for you. Lean on your family and friends when you need to, and focus your energies on the things that bring you peace.
posted by matty at 9:48 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

That said, the only caveat I would offer besides "be kind to yourself" is be on the lookout for aftershocks way down the road. Like a year later you have sleeping problems or weird stress-from-no-place or sudden aggravation from a thing that gave you no aggravation before. Just keep your mind open to the fact that how you feel now may or may not be how you feel later and it may all be tied in to this one thing somehow.

This was my experience, too. So yeah, just be vigilant.
posted by fake at 9:53 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You sound like an emotionally strong and resilient person, and the way you want to handle things sounds appropriate for you. The only suggestion I would have, which is obvious, is to make sure you get professional advice about how to discuss things with your daughter when she gets older. Not that you won't have your own good thoughts and ideas about how to do that, but getting additional input from knowledgeable and experienced sources (counselors, peers, books, etc.) should help make sure you are doing the best thing for your daughter.
posted by Dansaman at 9:58 AM on February 17, 2013

Grieving is personal, and stylized. Down the road somewhere you may encounter a handy soul at a time when you have some thoughts to share about your wife. I'm certain that you and the daughter will have conversations about her as time goes by. In that vein, I've found that discussing certain things like this with my young son was the perfect venue for helping me to sort things out. I was required to be direct and uncomplicated, then had to state in simple terms how I felt. Honesty, the gold standard when dealing with children, is truly the best policy.

One such issue, when our dog died, came up when my son was four years old. After our talk, he nodded and said, "Broke. Can't fix him." This isn't in the same ballpark as losing a parent, but the dynamic works the same way. We missed Bowser, and mourned him together, is what I mean.

In the meantime, consider that folks, in trying to be helpful, mostly succeed in thumping bruises. Sometimes it's more like having someone keep ringing your phone when all you want to do is catch a nap. They mean well, but they are bothersome, and sometimes hurtful with their attention. Anyhow, that's how this works for me.

Could be you could say: "Yeah, doing okay, but I'm not really into talking about it right now."

Most folks would be relieved to be off the hook, so to speak. Those who are less responsive to the "I don't want to talk about it right now" clause can be dealt with a little more directly: "Please, let's just drop it, okay?"

Seeking counseling may, or may never, be warranted. If you don't feel as though you'll have to mourn forever, I'm guessing that you have a handle on things. Chronic depression and/or agony, of course, would be a sign that you need to touch bases with a professional, who can help you sort things out. The most common issue is survivor guilt, and its ugly cousins.

In another "down-the-road" scenario, certain grief issues lie dormant for weeks, months, maybe years, while you make adjustments. Maybe (for example) you'll be at a movie when the perfect scene appears, which encapsulates, like a cameo, something about your late wife, and the tears will flow. This is a sort of sweet agony that your inner self has reserved, so that you will be prepared to deal with it when it happens. This may be a way of avoiding a feeling of bottomless grief, if you had to release it now. I'm just saying that the variables related to grieving are nearly boundless. You don't need to fit into anyone's pattern.

If you begin to have behavioral swings, lack of sleep, temper issues, emotional flatness, then let yourself be alive to the possibility of seeking a professional grief counselor. Whether you seek a peer-group setting or individual counseling sessions is up for grabs. If you decide to seek counseling, it may be best to go to a few one-on-one sessions first.

Being a survivor has its downside. Please accept my condolences for your loss, and my best wishes.
posted by mule98J at 10:10 AM on February 17, 2013

"...everyone asks me, "how are you doing?" as if I want to answer that question again and again for 10 minutes each time, because no one believes me when I say, "all things considered, I feel like I'm doing OK," so I have to explain what I mean. And still, everyone recommends I get therapy or talk to hospice's grief counselors or something similar."

Everyone is asking because it's so recent; it's only been two weeks and because you have such a young child so I would cut people some slack. This will lessen over time.

When you respond with, "all things considered, I feel like I'm doing OK," add, "thank you for asking" and then stop talking. You don't have to spend ten minutes discussing things. Also, keep in mind that people don't know what else to say. What they really mean is, I care about you. After saying "thanks for asking," I would change the subject and ask the person about their life, their hobby, the weather, sports team, cars, whatever, just make small talk. It lets the person you're talking with know that you've ended any discussion of your grieving and lets them know that it's OK to talk about something else.

If someone is recommending counseling, tell them you'll take it under advisement. Enough said, no need to explain why you do or don't want to go.

It's early days and people don't know what to say so they say what they think they should say. "I'm coping well, thank you. Did you happen to catch the All Star Game?" They'll get the message.
posted by shoesietart at 10:32 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

While it certainly isn't required, and I realize this isn't exactly your question, getting professional advice, perhaps starting with her pediatrician on how this all may be impacting your daughter, and what you can do to minimize the impact on her could certainly be worthwhile. Much of development occurs in children before age 3, the right counselor could provide some valuable guidance for you in making sure that her emotional needs are met during this challenging time for both of you.
posted by txtwinkletoes at 10:36 AM on February 17, 2013

This is all okay. You aren't wrong for not wanting/feeling these things people may "expect" from you right now. First of all, it's only been two weeks. I'd give myself much more time to absorb everything before I decide what I "should" be feeling. I think many times people say these things because they feel as if they have to do something or offer something to you but they don't know what. Bury yourself in time with your little one for now, and if you're doing okay, great. Just be open to the fact that you may need to talk someday or sometime and be sure you have people (not necessarily ones you have to pay for, just an open ear) available for you if you find yourself in that situation.

So very, very sorry for your loss. I've seen your posts about your wife over the last few months and you've been in my thoughts.
posted by takoukla at 10:40 AM on February 17, 2013

My goodness, I'm so sorry.

No, you don't have to talk about it unless you want to and when you want to.

But I do nth the look for signs down the road thing, especially since you have a child. I know someone who experienced some pretty traumatic, life-altering events. Never got therapy. Seemed to do just fine for years... then went off the deep end. Don't do that to yourself. Neither you nor your loved ones (your kid!) deserve that.

Go seek professional help when you are ready, because it's not an easy process. Keep an eye out for warning signs such as ego defense mechanisms (denial, projection, rationalization, etc). Those are there to protect you in the short term, but can be very detrimental if employed long-term. Good luck!

*sending good vibes your way*
posted by Neekee at 10:50 AM on February 17, 2013

Spoken as an experienced widower (24 year of marriage to a woman I met when I was 11), here's my advice: Whatever gets you through the night. Your life, your call.

People cast themselves in your position and wonder how they'd be doing. I think that's part of their reaction. As common as death is, you'd think it never happens.

I did some talk therapy, went intermittently crazy, grieved gradually and variably to this day, 15 years later. Forged new pieces of my personality, tho I bet my late wife would object to the less desirable ones being anyway associated with her! Good and bad came of it, just as came from her life. As it is with all of us.

My hope is that good stuff is available to everyone... the concept that we're finite, weak, transient creatures whose lives are precious and who deserve love and happiness before we die. The ride is so short, it's over before it begins, almost. Carpe diem, amigos.

Good luck. I'm sure you'll be all right no matter what happens when. Everyone reading this will face the chance of being in the same place.
posted by FauxScot at 11:15 AM on February 17, 2013 [12 favorites]

It sounds like people are saying this because it is the societal script, not because they have any actual knowledge of your needs.
posted by thelonius at 11:17 AM on February 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Not only does the grieving process differ person to person and with the nature of the relationship, but the nature of the death itself is also important, I think. With cancer, people generally have some time to adjust to that reality.

A coworker lost his very young child in a bloody accident over the holiday season; the entire family witnessed it. That kind of severe trauma and PTSD requires a whole different kind of psychological support, hence everyone is participating in significant and intense counseling. In my coworker's case, talking about it does help (as he told me).

You sound like you're coping well enough, and good luck to you. Sorry for your loss. As some others have mentioned, the awkward way people may approach you has just as much to do with trying to show care as being socially appropriate from their end, so I wouldn't write them off as being wilfully rude even if they may come off that way.

If you need space, you might consider a blanket response--Facebook, your company department mailing list, that sort of thing. My coworker's boss notified the department to give him some space for a while, and it worked out...
posted by Ky at 11:47 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

After you thank people for asking how you're doing, feel very free to ask them for any real assistance you might be needing now, whatever that might be: grocery shopping, home repairs, or someone to hang with while watching a movie or a ballgame on tv, whatever. We here, who don't know you, offer our condolences and advice. Your friends and family can give more concrete help and I'm sure many of them will if you ask. Most people your age haven't experienced the death of a spouse and they don't know how to respond, they don't know how to be supportive, so they offer support services instead.
posted by mareli at 11:54 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry for your loss.

I have never lost a spouse, but I have lost many loved ones and invariably I find that grief is mercurial and it comes in waves. So you may not have any need or desire for talking about your grief now and that's totally fine, but don't rule out the idea that it might feel right or necessary later on.

Also. I suspect that between work and single-parenting a toddler you have basically no downtime. Can you find a way to incorporate some of that into your life? I would suggest a recurring, non-negotiable event like a two-hour bike ride every Tuesday morning. Put that shit in your Outlook calendar. Could your boss truly object, all things considered?
posted by kate blank at 12:15 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are only two weeks out. Having known people who lost their spouses, I would believe you are still probably in the "numb" stage, particularly since this was cancer and you most likely are experiencing totally normal "relief" that this is "over."

Everyone IS different in how they handle grief, but there is a very good likelihood that at some point the wave is gonna hit and hit hard. I think my own personal preference would be to have someone lined up to talk with that I trusted before that happened. But, ymmv.

That having been said, your process is YOUR process, and you are not obligated to experience it the way people expect you to. (They will also expect you to be totally over it in a probably inappropriately short time, too. Again, not their judgement call.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:35 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am so very sorry for your loss.

So. People grieve in different ways. My father chose to grieve my mother's sudden death by not addressing his grief, except when he would come into my room in the middle of the night and tell me he was afraid he was dying. Otherwise, he just checked out emotionally for years, which was really hard on my brother and on me.

Perhaps the people who are actively encouraging you to address your grief with a professional have had experiences like mine in their lives. Which doesn't mean they're accurate in believing that something like that is going on for you. But I think the "oh, they're following a social script" assessments people are offering in this thread may well be unfair; they might have first hand experience of what can go wrong when people don't address grief at all, and maybe a limited understanding of how you might be addressing yours.

My very best to you. You and your family will be in my thoughts.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:47 PM on February 17, 2013

If you want to head off solicitous acquaintances, tell them that you are in group therapy at a private place. (That's us! It costs $5.00 to practice pop psychology here, so we are a private group.) Later, when the first shock of loss and increased responsibility has worn off, you are free to find a more conventional counsel. We are all in your corner.
posted by Cranberry at 12:55 PM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yes. It is OK.
posted by trip and a half at 1:11 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't say I know a thing about what you're going through, but I definitely know something about people asking prying questions and giving unwelcome advice. It's so common it's like a virus has infected society. Whatever good intention might be behind it, I find it rude at best and incredibly insensitive at worst. It's a huge boundary cross in my opinion and it happens because people make your grief about them. They forget that the whole world says stuff like this and it's exhausting to get the same stupid advice 1000 times unsolicited.

You're a grown up and your willingness to even ask this question here and consider this advice even begrudgingly tells me that you are monitoring your grief and, if the desire to talk to someone came up, you would seek it out without hesitation. You're fine - the problem is them, not you.

People forget that, for most people grieving, you are constantly aware your loved one is missing and it's a hard battle to not let the absence consume your mind every minute of the day. Sometimes the best medicine is being around someone who doesn't want to talk about it and makes you feel normal for a short while. Feel free to avoid people who don't make you feel like that whenever possible until you have energy to deal with them.

Agreeing with those who recommend just saying you are aware of the resources available to you and and ending it there. If they press more, you can also assure them that you promise to let them know if they can help in some way so they can feel off the hook...most of the time this stuff is the result of a misguided desire to fix something they can't fix.

Best of luck during this complicated time. I'm truly sorry for your loss.
posted by amycup at 1:59 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's up to you and what you need. You might not want to talk to anyone now, you might in 2 years, or in 10 years, or never. It's totally up to you.

But, see, many things are therapy - fishing, hiking, art, gardening, sports - these can all be therapeutic acts.

So, if there is some specific way you spend your time that helps you (like bike riding), you might want to say to people who say you should get therapy - 'I make sure I go bike riding every weekend - it's helping me immensely'.

It might then help people to understand that you are helping to look after yourself in your own way.
posted by heyjude at 2:02 PM on February 17, 2013

I came in here to say what a few others have said--everyone grieves differently and it is perfectly OK if you don't want to talk to anyone right now.

But you might want to choose a couple of trusted people (e.g. they know you very, very well; you trust them to be honest with you; they're not prone to overreaction) to check in with every once in a while and ask them if they think you are coping OK. I know that sometimes I think I'm coping fine but others can see I am not.

There is no set timeline you must adhere to. Just because you don't want to talk to anyone right now doesn't mean that option isn't open to you down the road.

I'm so sorry for your loss, Tyler. Best wishes to you and to your daughter.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:13 PM on February 17, 2013

Get a close friend or family member to put out on the grapevine that you Don't. Want. To. Talk. About. It. - and would prefer a casual "need a hand?", or discussion about life in general than wide-eyed looks and sympathetic murmurs.

Haven't been in your position exactly, but I'm cut from a similar cloth and those "how ARE you?"s drove me barmy. You might need a work person to do it for work, too. I found work people were actually the worst at it.
posted by smoke at 2:29 PM on February 17, 2013

Im think I would handle it, "how are you doing?" with:

So so but if you don't mind I would rather not talk about it right now.
posted by notreally at 2:41 PM on February 17, 2013

Try to keep in mind that the folks around you that care about you are probably all feeling a little bit helpless, and wishing that they could do something for you to ease your pain. They're probably doing the recommending thing because it feels like one small thing of substance that they can do to be helpful. To a lesser degree of course, they're going to be grieving as well. So long as you can accept that they really do mean well, then you don't have any other obligation but to say thanks, and go do whatever you need to do.

I wish you strength in that endeavor, whatever it is.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:04 PM on February 17, 2013

I can't favorite enough the idea above of having people to check in with. Two weeks is so early. But raising a child alone is just hard, period, and down the road you may find that stress, combined with grief, dragging you further down than you can handle. Depression is so insidious because it steals up bit by bit and is too nebulous to fight easily. And you have undergone a trauma that is unusual at your age and made harder by having a new baby. A baby who will need you as whole as you can be. It's ok not to want help and just to cope alone, but leave the door open for seeking help in the future, in the same way you go for checkups, for your sake and for hers.

My heart goes out to you and your daughter.
posted by emjaybee at 4:24 PM on February 17, 2013

"Thanks for asking. I don't want to talk about it. I'm sure you understand..." then move on.

My condolences.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:34 PM on February 17, 2013

I have dealt with a highly traumatic loss and did not go to therapy for about six months because I simply didnt need to. Not that I wasnt upset-- because I was-- but I felt like my emotional reactions were appropriate for the situation.

When people advised me to seek therapy, I would say, "thank you, yes. I've thought about it and I'm not pursuing that now but I'm so glad resources are available in difficult situations, and I may at some point down the road. I really appreciate being in your thoughts."
posted by samthemander at 7:33 PM on February 17, 2013

I'm married to a man who was a widower when we started dating. I knew him a bit when his first wife died. So, I know from him that people were just incredibly uncomfortable around him at that time. Yes, he was newly widowed and grieving. But that didn't mean he didn't want to talk about it all of the time. Some people just didn't get it, and it was like they wanted him to be a shrine to his first wife, talking about her all of the time, and to help them grieve. The friends he valued most were the ones he could hang out with without needing to talk about grief, therapy, etc. He loved it when people would talk to him about football or other normal things in life.

My husband was in his later 30s when his wife died, and I don't think any of his friends had experienced the death of a peer. That must be doubly true for you, and I'm sure people around you are overwhelmed with their grief and concern for you. And, likely it's their first experience with death of a friend/young person.

I say all this not because I think it's your job to understand, but to say that, yeah, people have a really hard time with death. By talking to you about all of this, they think they are helping you. They're saying, "I can't do this for you, but a professional can." But they might not get that you just don't need either right now.

Your job right now is to take care of you and your daughter, and it sounds like you are doing just that. It's totally fine if you don't want to go to therapy. At some point, if you want, great. But you aren't required to get grief counseling. Don't feel like you need to feel guilty if you aren't spending every minute of your day sobbing.

And, yeah, if my husband's experience is any indication, people around you mean well but they have no idea at all what you are dealing with, and they really don't know how to support you. It's okay to say, "Hey, can we just set up a play date and not talk about my wife?" or "I'm hanging in there. It'd be great if you could watch daughter for a few hours so I could clean the house and get some groceries." For the people who you trust, tell them what you want and need and see if they can rise to the occasion.

Best of luck to you.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:34 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry, it happened so fast.

I think you're totally entitled to grieve and process and feel what you need to feel whenever you want. I'm not a person who needs to talk a lot to process grief, and I'm happiest having a quiet cry on my own in the shower.

The people around you want to make sure you're okay, and feel a bit helpless. Give them concrete tasks if anything needs doing and tell them you've got someone to talk to, or you don't need to talk right now.

Virtual hug.
posted by tatiana131 at 7:36 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey everyone, I've spent the day taking care of my daughter (although I did sneak out and go surfing for a bit while grandma visited), and just put her to bed a little while ago. I have read every response here, and I want to clarify that because I don't want to go to therapy now doesn't imply anything about what I might want in three months or five years. Things may change and if I want to go to therapy later, then I do. But right now, I don't, and it seems like this is probably fine.

The grieving process is strange, and I do occasionally want to talk about some aspect of it to a close friend or family member, but I want to be able to do it on my own schedule, and most of the time, I'm handling it non-verbally. Playing with my daughter, fixing things around the house, getting rid of her things. These things help me cope and move forward. I have an attitude towards this that a hospice chaplain called "radical acceptance", but basically I am accepting that my situation is what it is and I have no control over anything but what I do next. This is working ok for me so far.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:24 PM on February 17, 2013 [16 favorites]

You don't have to have grief therapy. You're likely to be going through the stages of grief, and you can deal with it whatever way works. You didn't ask, but when people don't believe you're coping well, you can say "It's deeply personal, and I really don't want to discuss it" or "I'm not comfortable discussing it" maybe adding "It's quite raw." Your feelings, your grief are yours, not a public commodity.

I'm so sorry for your loss, and I hope you continue to manage well.
posted by theora55 at 8:40 PM on February 17, 2013

My condolences to you and your daughter.

Nthing what everyone has said here about being open to therapy if you start to have some problems, however:

I feel like I'd be better off taking the time to go for a bike ride or go to the beach or something I enjoy

you do realize that some of the advice you would be paying $100/hr for would be to "take care of your self, physically and mentally by taking time to go for a bike ride/to the beach/meditate, etc.." As long as you can find some relief, renewal, and peace, there is nothing at all wrong with this. Constant talking doesn't necessarily allow you mental space to process. Tell people gently to back off and give you some room to deal.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:08 AM on February 18, 2013

You have a lot of great answers here so I just hope you make it all the way down and feel the love as you go.

Sorry to hear this sad news, you're doing great.

My husband took his own life last year so I kind of know what you're going through in regards to the helpful advice. I'm 30 and have a daughter.

Most of the reasons have been covered here about why people say you should 'talk to someone'. They don't know what else to say, it's the standard thing to do these days, they are trying to help, whatever.

I think you need to just accept it and have a standard response.

Mine was this...
"Thanks, I just don't have the mental time to deal with that right now. But sure, in the future if I think I need counseling, I'll definitely talk to my doctor'.

I think this gives a reason that you don't want to/need to go and also gives them the feeling like you are grateful and have taken their advice on board.

I didn't get therapy, I had too much shit to deal with to be honest, all the admin crap, legal bullshit... etc. I talked non stop to my family and friends and after 6 months I got on with my life.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to grief my friend. It's REALLY hard for people to accept that I have found out, but stuff them.

Tell them to bring around a casserole instead, I didn't get one casserole!
posted by Youremyworld at 1:43 AM on February 18, 2013

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