(This is the second in a series of three blogs about the widowhood journey.)
The first realistic goal for a recently widowed person is survival (see previous blog). There is no need to think of coping if we do not choose to survive the loss of our spouse. Make no mistake, it is a choice. A friend’s Facebook post recently observed: “I had rather die while I am living than live while I’m dead.” Not everyone feels that way. Some choose the latter philosophy. They die before they are dead. They die when their mate dies. Life no longer seems worth living. Consequently, they bury the living with the dead. They choose to merely exist.
If we string together several days or weeks of surviving, we build self- confidence. We begin thinking we might be able to try to do more than just breathe. Maybe we can do more than baby steps in our grief journey.
Visiting at a hospital one day, I remember seeing a flyer taped to a wall in the elevator. It had three words on it that caught my attention: “I Can Cope.” It was a flyer promoting a cancer patient support group ministry at that hospital. Love that affirmation: “I Can Cope.” Yes, we can. We are wired to be resilient. And when we add to that natural resilience, reliance upon God(Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 25:4-5; Philippians 4:11-13), we can cope with anything.
What is coping? How is it different than surviving? Survival is just keeping our head above water. We are just doing what we have to do to get through each day. Coping is when we intentionally are changing our thinking and behaviors to successfully manage our circumstances. We have heard about people telling other people to “get a grip!” Well, when we are coping, we are “getting a grip” on things (most of the time). We are changing our minds and actions to meet the challenges we are facing. We are re-establishing a meaningful purpose and direction for our life.
Think of the difference this way. You are in a small boat in rough waters. All you can do is keep yourself in that boat as it tosses aimlessly in the turbulence. That is survival. Coping is when you discover there actually are oars and an anchor in the boat and you choose to use them. Now you have some control over the boat. You start rowing in an intended direction. When you are exhausted from rowing in your desired direction, you can let down your anchor and rest without becoming dislocated. All along you had oars and an anchor available. Your inability to see them and think straight were due to your high stress level. You have been so consumed with surviving this frightening experience that you did not realize there were oars and an anchor available. Now you are beyond merely surviving. Now you are coping! Now you are making progress.