One of the hardest things about losing a loved one, especially a spouse, is the love and validation we receive from them. Every day my wife Ali would let me know I was loved, and that she supported and believed in me; I felt like I could do anything as long as she loved me. Since my wife passed, it has been so hard not having that validation anymore, and over time that feeling of love and validation grew very small; it was still there, but it didn’t empower me like it used to. I let my regrets of not being a perfect husband consume me, and I began to question if my wife was proud of me on my journey through grief.
I recently had a great spiritual experience, where a friend told me that Ali was proud of me. This really lifted my spirits and brought me joy, I wanted to hold onto this feeling forever, so I had an idea. About a couple months prior to this experience, I had been using a random reminder app on my phone to help me remember things, and I decided that maybe I could use it to remind myself of this moment. The app works by creating a message that you would like to see on your phone at random times during the day, and you can set different alarm tones so you can differentiate the reminders. I entered the message “Ali is proud of you!!!” and set an alarm tone that reminded me of Ali. Immediately the effects of using this made my day so much better. When I hear that alarm tone and see that message, it reminds me of that special experience and gives me a moment of joy, even when I’m having a hard day missing her. After using it for a while, it’s helped me really believe that my wife is proud of me, and it has done wonders for my self-confidence. Hearing that alarm tone almost has a Pavlov’s dog effect on me, except instead of salivating when I hear it, it puts a smile on my face.
I have suggested using this app to my widow and widower friends, and many have said that this has helped them as well. In a way, it’s like receiving a love note or text message from the other side, and since the message is triggered at random, I like to believe sometimes my wife is really triggering that message; I’ve had a lot of moments where she was on my mind, or that I was having a really hard time, and it triggered at just the right moment. If you are interested in trying this approach, do a search on your phone’s app store for “random reminder app” and you should be able to find a bunch of apps to choose from. I use “Mind Jogger” and it works really well for me, it’s on the iPhone but I’m not sure if it’s on Android. Find a message from your loved one who has gone on, the type of message that helps you feel validated and loved, and then enter it in the app; it really does help a lot. Depending where you are at with your grief, this approach may make you sad and miss them more, so you might want to consider if this will trigger emotions during the day where you might not want to feel that way. We all grieve differently, so please use strategies that work best for you.
There is also some science behind to why this approach works so well. From a neurological perspective, the parts of the brain that store these messages of love and validation, or neurons, stop receiving impulses of electricity because we stop getting receiving these messages from our loved ones. The neural pathways connected to these neurons begin to do some reconstruction, and over time these parts of the brain get accessed less and less as we adjust to not having our loved ones in our lives. This is done so the mind can spend energy on neurons that get used more often. Using the random reminder app keeps those impulses going and gives those neurons a strong connection. Because of that, the belief in those love messages become stronger over time, and become a strong part of our core beliefs, just like they did when our loved ones were alive. In way, it’s kind of like keeping their love alive.
Using random reminders are also good for other things to remember too, like if you heard a quote or principle about dealing with grief and you want to apply it to your life; seeing the reminder will help forge new neural pathways so it becomes a part of you over time and eventually it becomes part of your thinking. The more you see the message, the more your mind adapts to it. It’s also great for changing behaviors that you don’t like, but have a hard time changing because usually you are on auto pilot and you don’t realize you did the behavior until after the fact. Seeing reminders over time helps you to eventually become aware of when you are about to do the behavior, and then can choose to stop it from being automatic and make the choice to not do that behavior. It’s easier said than done, but it’s a really a great tool for self-mastery.