Dealing with the Loss of a Spouse

By M. Kotch

Grief: (n) deep, profound sorrow. See also: Anguish, Heartache, Sadness.

We’re told that death is a part of life, but that can be difficult to remember or reconcile when we’re in the throes of intense sadness. The word “sad” cannot begin to encompass all the feelings—the sheer weight of emotions that descend upon us after losing someone. So we use a different word: Grief.

Losing a spouse or life partner can feel like losing yourself. Unlike with the death of a friend, parent or family member, the intensity of losing your lifemate is quite different. After all, who shares your dinners? Who pays the bills when you forget? And who tucks the children in or walks the dog but your partner? It is a different kind of loss and those going through it will experience a unique, acute kind of grief.

It is important to realize that you are not alone in your grief. Believe it or not others have felt what you’re feeling (all the ugly ups and downs included), and have come out on the other side strong and hopeful. No one will ever replace the person you have lost, and no one is asking you to leave behind the beautiful memories you’ve created over the years. And while these words may seem impossible to believe now, they’re a result of years of research and literature that is available to help you through this difficult time.

According to Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the noted psychiatrist and author of “On Grief and Grieving,” there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. If you are grieving you’ve probably heard of these terms, or someone may have even given you a copy of her book. Being aware of these stages may help you through the grieving process, but then again it may not. Just as some recovering addicts don’t need or respond to a 12-step program, some of us may not fit into the “five-stages” paradigm.

You may not experience all—or any—of the following after losing a spouse, but if you do, you’re not the only one.

•    Utter isolation and feeling alone. Even if you know that you are neither the first nor the last person to lose a spouse or life partner, you are unique in your experience. No one knows what it’s like to be you living without him or her.

•    Anger toward others for saying the “wrong” thing. Your friends, family and co-workers probably mean well when they say: “you have to get out more,” “the last thing you need is to be left alone” or “when are you going to start dating again?” Chances are they are at a loss for the right words and cannot begin to understand your life right now. Grief involves anger and it’s normal to get mad at those close to you for just not understanding.

•    The world is moving at a much faster pace than you are. Moving forward, picking up the pieces and going about normal activities (or even just going through the motions) takes some much longer than others. Don’t let anyone else’s opinion, expert or otherwise, pressure you into “getting on with it.” You’ll grieve for as long as you need to.

•    Feeling emotionally drained and unable to handle situations that you could before. Just when you thought you could deal with work pressures or other responsibilities again, you may find yourself back at square one; feeling as raw as you did when you first lost him or her. For example, while getting back to the office is a great distraction for some, it may prove too much for others.

•    Things are different; you’ll feel and act differently, too. Friends and family members will no doubt notice this. After all, you have just gone through a life-changing event and most changes you’ll experience are not out of the ordinary for someone who’s grieving. However, if you feel overwhelmed, like things are too hard to handle, reach out to a trusted friend or speak to your family doctor.

•    Trying to control the uncontrollable. Losing someone you love and being unable to stop it or change it is the ultimate loss of control. As a result you may find yourself trying to control everything around you—even trying to manage every single aspect of your employees’, friends’ or children’s lives as a result.

•    Loss or change of faith. The grief you experienced (or are still experiencing) has made you reevaluate your whole belief system, or to doubt it altogether. As an agnostic you may now find yourself reaching out for spiritual guidance. As a religious person you may turn away from your faith. Don’t be surprised if your beliefs are changing.

•    Feeling punished. Asking yourself what you did wrong, what you could have done better or what you missed are common questions; answering them will change nothing. Focus on positive memories and leave the what-ifs in the past.

The points above may cover some or none of what you’re feeling. Know that your experience is unique; your grieving process will be too.

“There is a wonder in the power of grief.
Grief alone has the power to heal.”
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

For more about dealing with grief and where to start read this article.

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