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When you lose a spouse, it’s like you are forced onto a train of grief processing. That train is going to carry you on a long journey from devastation to healing and peace. Along the way it’s going to stop at many stations: guilt, denial, anger, depression. Whenever the train stops at one of those stations, you will feel temporarily stalled. But if you stay on the train, it will start moving again. No stop is permanent until the train reaches its final destination, which is internal healing and peace.
Now the key for you is to stay on the train. Whenever it stops at a station, you have the option of getting off and permanently wallowing in those feelings. The train won’t continue on its journey without you, so if you decide to set up permanent residence at one of those grim stations, you’ll never reach the destination that God wants you to reach: that of complete internal healing and peace.
In this post, we’re going to talk about some practical steps you can take to keep yourself on that train, continuously moving forward through the grief process. Station stops are inevitable, and you will have to do some pausing and feel some uncomfortable emotions. But if you stay on the train, those stops will only be temporary.
1. UNDERSTAND WHERE YOU’RE GOING.
When you lose a spouse, a lot of well-meaning people come out of the woodwork to speak some very grim prophecies over your future.
“The pain will lessen, but it will always be there.”
“Your heart will never be whole again.”
“You’ll always be missing them.”
“Don’t expect to get totally over it—you can’t.”
Take it from some folks who have been there, done that, with having their guts ripped out and their hearts smashed into a thousand pieces: this advice is PURE ROT. You can COMPLETELY recover from this loss. Not just recover, but SOAR. Anyone who tries to say you can’t is only telling you where they are personally stuck. Most people get permanently lodged in grief because they get off that train and refuse to get back on. They set up shop at one of those soul draining stations and start waving their trauma around like a badge of honor which now completely defines who they are. From then on, they work a mention of their loss into every conversation that they can. They celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. They keep track of how old the dead would be if they hadn’t died. They visit graves and talk to the dirt as if someone’s listening. They get tattoos to represent the fact that their dead loved one is flitting around them like some guardian angel. They talk to photographs. All of this is extremely detrimental for your soul and you want NOTHING to do with it. If you want good grief counseling, you need to talk to people who can see the bright light of hope blazing in your future and point you towards it. That’s what we see because we know who is with you in all this: God Almighty. NO ONE can set limits on God’s redemptive power. God is the One who ripped your loved one away from you and He did it to make you STRONGER, not to permanently cripple you. So you must reject all advice that sets limits on your recovery. With God, there are NO LIMITS.
2. HAVE AN ACCURATE UNDERSTANDING OF DEATH.
The second big pitfall you want to steer clear of is wrong theology about the dead. We humans are spiritual beings who are temporarily trapped in physical earthsuits which we need to function in a physical dimension. This world is not our home, it is just a brief introduction to life. We were designed by God to live forever in a non-physical, spiritual dimension that was created for spiritual beings. He starts us off on earth to give us the chance to choose how we will submit to Him. Everyone gets a different amount of time to make their choice, and as soon as their time is up, God kills them by releasing their souls from their bodies and transferring them on to the eternal destination they chose by their level of submission to Him. The only two choices are Heaven or Hell. As a Christian, you need to embrace the TRUTH about where souls land in eternity. NO ONE gets into Heaven without sincere, reverential, sufficient submission to all three of their Creators: Jesus, Yahweh, and the Holy Spirit. Unbelievers love to promote this idiocy that your eternal destination is determined by how well you were liked or loved on earth. If you were hated, you go to Hell. If you were loved and if you’re now sorely missed, then you must be in Heaven. Baloney. If your spouse’s soul wasn’t on its face before our Creators at some point in the earthly journey, then he or she is now in Hell. This is reality, and trying to pretend otherwise is just insulting to God.
Reality is defined by GOD, not by us. When He takes a loved one away, it becomes extremely tempting to start reverting back to relativism and pretend that we get to alter reality to suit our own selfish agendas. Angels and humans are two entirely different kinds of creatures. Humans do NOT morph into angels when they die. Humans are ALWAYS humans.
Now God teaches us that angelic creatures (angels & demons) can move back and forth between eternal and earthly dimensions. They can travel from Heaven to earth and interact with us here. But that is a privilege God has given them, and we are not them. When humans die, they do NOT have access to the earthly dimension any longer. Once God transfers them to Heaven or Hell, that dimension is where they are permanently stuck. This means that your dead spouse is NOT interacting with you in any way, shape or form. They are not watching you. They cannot hear your prayers. Their presence is not with you. They are GONE. The connection between you and them is entirely severed and unless they took care of business with God while they were alive, you may never interact with them again for all of eternity. As painful as these truths are, they must be faced if you’re going to stay on that train. When we start wallowing in delusions about the dead in order to lessen our own grief, we end up permanently stalled.
3. MAKE A CLEAN BREAK.
One of the biggest pitfalls people make in grief processing is refusing to make a clean break with the past. Instead of fully embracing what God teaches us about death, people try to cling to the memory of their loved one and they take steps to preserve a sense of their presence still with them on earth. This is the worst thing you can do. To heal, we must embrace truth, not lies. Your spouse is gone, and your connection with them has been completely severed by God. He is the One who is still with you, and He is the One you need to focus on bonding with during this time, not a pack of lies.
Okay, so how do you make a clean break? There are many practical steps you can take to help yourself get there.
Get rid of their stuff.
Many people frown on a quick disposal of a loved one’s things. But you need to remember that most people refuse to stay on the train. The majority is not who you want to listen to when it comes to grief processing because you want to actually reach your final destination, not get stuck. Why on earth would you hang onto some dead person’s stuff? All that will do is make it ten times harder to accept the truth about the fact that that chapter of your life is OVER. God has closed the book, so you want to close it with Him and not try to keep your finger lodged between the pages.
It’s fine to keep some mementos, but these things should be LIMITED in number. They should also be things that you can put away in a box for now and get entirely out of your face. Hanging on to useless things like clothes, perfume, jewelry, and crafts is only going to get you stalled. Did she collect dolls? Give them away. Did he love sports? Give away all of the equipment. If you have young kids, let them pick some things they want to remember your spouse by. A daughter might want some of mom’s jewelry. A son might want dad’s watch. But as their remaining parent, it is your job to help them stay on their trains as well, and that means you need to also help them make a clean break with the past. If you have adult kids who start freaking out when they hear you’re cleaning out, then tell them they need to take the stuff they want RIGHT NOW—not ten years from now. And let’s remember that it is YOUR STUFF, not theirs, so don’t accommodate a bunch of entitlement. You don’t owe it to your kids to turn your house into a shrine to the dead. You don’t owe it to them to hang onto a bunch of junk until they’re in the mood to come over and peruse. If your kids make a request for certain items, fine, get those items out of your house ASAP, then get rid of the rest. Be ready for your kids to accuse you of dishonoring your spouse’s memory and trying to act like they were never part of your life and a bunch of other snarky remarks that are inspired by Satan. Remember that demons want you to get off that train, and they’ll try to use those close to you to discourage you from aligning with God’s truth. But we honor God when we embrace His will for us, and He has chosen to completely sever your connection with your spouse.
Change the home environment.
Keeping reminders of your spouse in your face is very problematic in the early stages of grief processing. Early on is when it is most difficult to accept the finality of the change that God has made to your life. Early on is when you want to give yourself as much help as possible in accepting what has actually happened: that this person is GONE from your life and they aren’t coming back. Put the pictures away—they can come back out later on when you’ve got your feet under you. But right now is the time for new patterns. When you walk into your home, you need to see different things—things that will remind you that you are now in a new chapter of your life. Buy new towels that are a totally different color. Change your bedspread so that when you walk into the bedroom, it feels different. Move the furniture around in the living room and the bedroom. Get rid of your spouse’s dresser. Fill up his or her half of the closet with other things. You want to avoid finding yourself sitting in the same positions you always sat in, minus your spouse, because this just amplifies the feeling that something isn’t right. Your life is not a broken vase, it is a complete picture which is undergoing a transformation. You are not alone in this transition. You are with God.
Bring in symbols of God’s Presence.
You have three Creators and They are all right there with you. Anything you can do to increase your awareness of Their Presence with you is a very good thing. Here is where physical objects come in handy. Put a chair at the dinner table for God and when you’re eating alone, imagine Him sitting in that chair and talk to Him. If you have a habit of watching television in the evening, put a chair for God in the living room as well, or else get an extra couch cushion that can symbolize His Presence with you. Don’t try to do this alone because you are NOT alone. You have Company with you 24/7 and They are the Ones who are going to get you through this.
Nights are often the worst, especially if you and your spouse were used to cuddling in bed. Get yourself a body pillow which can represent God’s Presence with you and when you go to bed, imagine yourself either resting your head on His chest or imagine Him lying right there with you with His arms around you. Our Gods are deeply empathetic and They love you more than you can fathom. They understand how devastating this loss is for you and they are WITH YOU in it. They will never leave you alone. Talk to Them, cry with Them, and let Them be with you. Realize that Their goal for you is to use this loss to strengthen your personal bond with Them. They are putting you through a shift in priorities—one in which you will learn how to become more centered on Them than you were before. It is NOT about punishment, it is about positive growth. It is not a natural thing for us to bond with Beings who we cannot detect with our physical senses. But we are not physical beings, we are spiritual beings, and you will discover that spiritual bonds are far stronger than physical ones when they are cultivated properly.
At first it is very easy for demons (and unhelpful people) to convince you that God can’t possibly be enough for you. Well, this is a lie. You have been designed by God to find your relationship with Him MORE THAN SATISFYING. You need to put your faith in His agenda for you and not let your logic dictate what you will believe is possible. God does not want you to go through life totally dependent on human beings for your basic core needs. HE wants to be your most Significant Other—the only One who you truly can’t live without. As He rides along with you on this train, He is going to be working to reduce the importance of every other person and thing to you. A godly love of human beings was never supposed to be an obsessive, co-dependent love. Godly love is a love which is able to fully embrace and fully release other souls that God brings in and out of our lives. When we are willing to be changed by God, He teaches us how to fully embrace Him on a core level and find complete soul satisfaction in Him alone. The closer He brings us to that end goal, the freer we become in our relationships with others. Other humans go from being critical life support to very pleasant blessings which we can enjoy without becoming completely dependent on them. God is the only One we truly NEED. This doesn’t feel true at first, but He can get you there.
ANYTHING that makes you think of God is your friend during this period. Consider buying a new watch or some other piece of jewelry that you can wear to remind you of God’s Presence with you throughout the day. Take off the wedding ring because you are no longer married to a human being. But consider buying a new ring that will symbolize your eternal bond with God. Your relationship with Him is the most important relationship of your life. It is HIS love that defines you, so why shouldn’t you be memorializing it? If your original wedding ring was engraved, get your God ring engraved with something that inspires your soul. You are going through a massive change of focus. You want to get rid of or put away everything that causes you to focus on the dead and replace those items with things that turn your focus onto God instead. The past needs to get out of your face and God needs to be moved front and center. You are not denying what has happened to you, but you are guarding your primary focus because you want to keep that train moving forward towards God’s final destination for you.
4. BALANCE FEELING WITH DISTRACTION.
Productive grief processing requires a balance of focusing on feelings and distracting yourself from them. Trying to totally distract yourself is a form of denial, and this causes you to get stuck. But wallowing in every emotion that comes along only ends up causing you to drown. Balance is what is needed here, so get a journal in which you can write to God about memories that surface and emotions you’re feeling. Set a limit to your journaling time and afterwards go on to do something that is mentally distracting, like watching television. Grief processing is like an intense workout—your mind needs rest breaks or it becomes crippled with exhaustion. When thoughts well up, you want to either journal or talk out loud to God about them, but then move on to something else.
The death of a spouse is an extremely traumatic loss, and emotional outbursts aren’t things that we can schedule. Expect that there will be moments when you’re suddenly slammed with a tidal wave of emotion that seems to come out of nowhere. One minute you’re fine, the next minute you see something that brings up memories and you just need to cry. Give yourself permission to feel through these bursts. Whenever possible, cry when you first feel the need to. If you’re at work, go to the bathroom or dash out to your car for a short break. When you cry tears the moment they first surface, there’s a lot less of them. When you shove them down and try to sit on your grief, it intensifies and starts manifesting itself in health problems, like bad digestion and headaches. Grief is extremely stressful to your physical body and your body needs to be able to vent off the pressure. There is NO SHAME in spontaneous weeping—this is a reality of grief processing. When the waves come, remember that they are only temporary. Let them wash over you and then continue on. When you’re getting slammed with emotion, try to visualize God right there holding you as you cry because that is what He’s doing. God is ALWAYS with you and He cares immensely about the pain you’re going through. It is His strength that is going to get you through this. He did NOT bring you here just to leave you here. Remember that you are moving towards a destination of TOTAL HEALING AND PEACE. If you stay on that train, joy WILL return to your life, and it will be abundant.
5. BE HONEST.
God is your grief counselor in all this and there is nothing you can’t say to Him. No relationship is perfect on this earth, and if there were unresolved issues between you and your spouse, their death is going to bring those things roaring to the surface. There is NO RULE that says you can’t speak ill of the dead. Now is the time to be totally honest with God about ALL of the emotions and memories the end of this relationship brings up for you. If you’re angry, then be honest about it. If you find yourself feeling hateful towards your spouse for things they did and didn’t do, be honest about it. Ask God to help you process all of your feelings in a productive way, and that often involves God showing you some deeper wounds, disappointments, and insecurities that you’d rather not deal with. Remember that all healing comes from God, and there is nothing He can’t get you through if you are willing to rely on Him for help.
Sometimes it helps to talk to other people who are going through the same thing we are. If you feel prompted to see a counselor or psychiatrist or join a grieving group, then go for it. But remember that most people do not believe that it is possible to fully recover from a loss this huge. You don’t want to find yourself in a widow’s group where everyone just wants to wallow and encourage you to get off at their station. You need to stay on the train. If you see a counselor, you need a Christian who will encourage you to focus on God. Don’t accept anyone’s negative assessment of your future. Remember that God is riding on that train with you, holding your hand, and He has glorious plans for your future.
6. STAY CONNECTED WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD.
Regardless of how it feels, your life has NOT come to a complete standstill. You are still moving forward, and you WILL get through this winter season. Don’t just sit in the house 24/7. Go out to eat. Go to the movies. Take walks. This a very good time to consider getting a pet—not so you can start treating the thing like a human being, but because having to take care of another living creature is very therapeutic. Dogs require more work and they are more interactive, which can make them the better choice. If you hate dogs, consider a cat. You want to go for an animal with a calm temperament who wants interaction, not some loner who will spend its life on the other side of the house. A dog will give you a good reason to take walks and they can also be a good means of meeting other people.
The point of getting a pet is to help you keep an outward focus in your life. We humans are already self-focused, and when we’re hurting we become even more so. In the wake of a great loss, it is very helpful for us to have a living creature to take care of. But remember that your primary relationship is with God. You do not want your pet to become more than a pet in your mind. It can’t understand you, nor does it care about your personal grief issues. Don’t talk to your pet about your feelings—this is totally inappropriate behavior for an adult and it insults God, who is sitting right there with you. Talk to God. Always talk to God.
Keeping you isolated is Satan’s number one strategy for dragging you down. This is why nights are often the hardest. This is also why he’ll try to talk you into a life in which you stay in bed as much as possible and decide that it’s pointless to leave the house or even get dressed. To make it harder for him to secure your full attention, consider going to church and getting involved in weekly groups. The goal here is not to learn about theology (because much of what is taught in churches today is wrong) but to be able to be around your brothers and sisters in Christ and avoid being totally alone. Get up every day and get fully dressed. Leave the house at least once a day, even if it’s to go to the store. Spread out your errands so you’ll have more reasons to leave the house each day. When we’re emotionally drained, we tire quickly, so don’t try to do a bunch of errands at once but work in a lot of short hops just to keep yourself connected with the outside world. Talk to your friends and let them take you out to coffee. Answer your emails. Don’t hide out in a cave, because that just makes it easier for your enemies to drag you down.
Maintaining scheduled events is a very powerful way to combat depression. It is very helpful to have things to look forward to on your weekly calendar, and a sense of routine keeps you connected to the sense that your life is moving forward, not staying stuck in one place. Exercise is also a helpful way to ease the physical tension that builds up when we’re under intense emotional strain. Don’t get psychotic with the exercising. Some people try to run instead of feel—this is very unhealthy. Remember that grief processing is like a physical workout, you need to balance feeling with mental breaks. You can’t engage in long sessions of focusing on the past or you’ll end up totally exhausted.
You have choices in life. You are not controlled by your circumstances. You can choose to move through this difficult transition by staying on that train and applying the principles we’ve talked about in this post. This is also a good time to learn more about who God is and the kind of relationship He wants to have with you. Our site has a ton of information that can educate you on both of these topics.
God is the One who controls life and death on this planet. He is the One who brought your spouse into your life and He is the One who has taken him or her away. EVERYTHING God puts you through in this world is about drawing you closer to HIM. HE is your end goal, and introducing you to rich, joyful soul communion with Him is the reason He created you in the first place. Ask Him to have His total way in your life and He WILL get you to His final destination for you which is a truly glorious place of soul peace, freedom, and joy. Remember that He is on the train with you, and He is the One controlling the train. You don’t have to do the whole journey right now. You just have to take the ride, and let Him move you through one moment at a time. With God, there is ALWAYS hope, there is ALWAYS the promise of greater joy, greater peace, and greater freedom than you have ever experienced before now. With Him, you can come out of this transition stronger than ever.