Dear Dr. Lani, From “Stuck”

Dear Dr. Lani,

I feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the death of my husband. I doubt that I will be able to face the future and don’t know how to wake up in the morning without him. There are no manuals to help me get over these feelings, and I am stuck. Please help me.


Dear “Stuck”:

There is a difference between FEELING overwhelmed and BEING overwhelmed. The reality and shock of your husband’s death leaves you with thoughts, questions, and concerns that shake your foundation. The past life of security that you trusted has changed and made you look at your world in new ways. It is normal that your sense of self, sense of belonging, and sense of safety would be disturbed. One of the tasks of your grief work is to find a way to be in this world in a new way without him. That requires feeling, thought, and action.

Distinguishing the feelings of being paralyzed from the experience of being paralyzed is key to being able to regain a sense of balance and control in your life. You can begin to feel more confident and less overwhelmed in the midst of your grief by acknowledging your feelings, but separating them from your experience.

You can feel afraid even while you step out and accept a challenge. You can feel hopeless even while you attend a support group. In fact, your letter to me demonstrates that in the face of feeling paralyzed you gathered the energy and focus required to ask for help. Somehow, despite feeling paralyzed, you imagined that there might be a way through this; you asked the question; and you acted upon it. That is personal power in the middle of tragedy.

Anger, guilt, or other negative feelings can exist at the same time as more positive feelings about the person who died. In the same way, you can at the same time feel overwhelmed while able to act in a powerful way. What needs to be done? What would you do if you were not feeling overwhelmed? If you can name what needs to be done, and break it down into steps then you can begin to move forward. You do not have to do it all, but if you can do one thing differently today you will begin to feel more powerful and less paralyzed. You can begin to write your own personal manual.

I am not suggesting that you not feel your sadness and emptiness. I am suggesting that you can hold your feelings and act in your best interest, even if you don’t feel like you want to. Ask for help; be with others who have also lost a loved one; find a companion to shepherd you.

You can move through this,


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