Our Amazing Limbic System

During this past week, I’ve listened to part of Dr. Daniel Amen’s book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. The book has helped me to more fully understand the grief process that we, as widows, go through and why we have recurring memory flashes. The chapter I’m now on describes the limbic system in our brains. This set or collection of structures contributes to our emotional life and is significant in the formation of our memories.

I now realize that we miss our mates’ touch, smell, sight, sound, and presence because all of this was recorded in the limbic systems of our brains. For instance, although I was in another part of the house, I knew when my husband opened the back door and stepped into the kitchen even before he hollered, “I’m home.” The way he opened the door and that first step was recorded in the limbic system of my brain during those first weeks of marriage. Several years after my husband’s death, I looked at the man walking in front of me and almost gasped. His walk was the same as my husbands’. Those strides had been recorded in my memory decades before.

Our limbic system is an emotional center. As widows, we do not have the same emotional support we once had, making it more probable that we experience increased stress during difficult times such as those in which we are living. In the past during times of danger, sorrow, and pain, our husbands’ touch and words were recorded in the limbic system of our brains as an emotional sense of comfort, strength, and well being. We now have a sense of loss when facing a challenging situation.

As we face these desperate days of economic uncertainty and national insecurity, we want that hand to hold and comforting words. Since our husbands are no longer with us, we need alternatives. As strange as it might seem to you, the first step is to make God your new husband. Consult Him about everything: employment, friendships, children, purchases, problems, health needs, and finances. He is quite capable of giving expert direction and wisdom.

I usually sense something is right or wrong through the peace I have or don’t have in a given situation. Last summer my refrigerator broke. I found just what I wanted at a great price in one store and purchased it. The refrigerator would be delivered in a couple days. Overnight I began to have second thoughts and sensed the bargain was not right. When I checked the reviews, I learned that those refrigerators rusted within a couple of months. It was God who gave me that sense that something was wrong.

As widows we can take great comfort in Psalm 68:5 where God is described as a “father of the fatherless and protector of widows,” and in Isaiah 54:5 where He promises, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord Almighty is his name.” He promised everyone, which includes widows, to be a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

We also can establish friendships with other women with whom we can discuss our concerns and pray. Dr. Amen wrote in the same chapter about ending the “ANTs” in our lives – Automatic Negative Thoughts – that cause stress, rob us of sleep, and give us a sour disposition. He also spoke of practicing the discipline of gratefulness, which actually helps to heal the limbic system. He suggests that every morning we make a list of five things for which we are grateful.

These are difficult days to be alone, but with God’s help and the help of dear friends and family, we will make it through.