One of the greatest traumas which life brings our way is that inevitable moment when one partner is
taken in death, and the other is left to go on alone. In the face of such grief, it seems impossible that life can continue
and have any meaning. Yet the grieving partner must find the courage and strength to begin living in the unfamiliar and unwelcome
environment of widowhood.
In moving toward that reality, it can be helpful to be aware of the stages of grief. These stages are not necessarily sequential; they may occur--and reoccur--in any order, at varying degrees
of intensity and frequency.
First there is shock and disbelief. A kind of numbness dominates your mental and physical reactions.
This is God's gift to you, his spiritual sedative which allows you to walk through this time of anguish.
The next phase is often anger--anger with the circumstances which brought about the death, anger with
the loved one for leaving you, anger with yourself for things you did or failed to do, anger with God for letting it happen.
In tragic death, there is anger against the person responsible.
Guilt is usually a component of grief. You may feel guilty for failures in the relationship in the
past, or for the feelings you are experiencing in the present.
Depression occurs at many stages of the process, sometimes just a feeling of sadness or loneliness,
but sometimes moving into a full-scale clinical depression. If these feelings persist, it is always wise to get the help of a mental health professional or pastor
trained in counseling.
Finally, the grief process begins to end, and you come to the point of acceptance. You are able to
view the past with gratitude rather than pain, and you can begin to think of the future. The pain may never go away completely,
but you do get control.
These stages of grief are experienced by nearly everyone who has lost a loved one. But for widows,
there are some special needs and experiences which require awareness and attention.
As you adjust to the loss of your spouse, keep these principles in mind:
- Grief is perfectly normal when someone you love dies. Don't stifle your grief or believe that not
grieving will make everything all right.
- Realize that family and friends are probably made uncomfortable by expressions of grief. In addition,
they are struggling with their own feelings. This doesn't mean you shouldn't express your grief, but realize they may not
handle it well. Actually they want to hear that you are doing "fine"--which, of course, you aren't.
- Because of distance and our hectic pace of society, don't expect your children to be your comfort
and security. Your needs have changed. Theirs haven't. They are not treating you with malice if they're not there for you.
- Find at least one person with whom you can share your grief, your deepest feelings. It could be a
member of the family, a friend, a clergyman. Beware of those who are overly jolly or those who scold you--neither is helping
you. If you have no one to talk with, you may want to turn to a professional counselor, who can be a source of clarification
- Within the first year, try not to relocate, take in boarders, or make any major change in your life.
You are going through a time of great loneliness. Changes which seem to offer solace may only make your life more complicated and difficult.
- Be careful of engaging in any intense relationships. You could be trying to replace what you have
just lost. But do go out and have warm relationships. You deserve to be as happy as you can be.
- Get expert, unbiased financial and legal advice, so you can assess the reality of your situation.
Many widows and widowers never had more money, but some of them feel a need to disburse it. They feel as if it were tainted
because it is the product of a loved one's death. Others feel destitute when they actually are not.
- Be careful of unscrupulous people who will seem sympathetic, but only want to "help" you with your
money or property. Remember that you are vulnerable.
- If you are employed, stay so. If not working, you might want to look for a job, either paying or volunteer.
A job gives structure to your life when everything else seems so desperate and meaningless.
- Rarely do the relationships survive which you had with other couples. Actually, your new needs are
not necessarily best served by other couples. You are a single person again, and you are making a new life for yourself.
- Bereavement is a highly vulnerable and self-involved time. But, as shock and pain diminish, the emphasis
should be on reaching outside yourself and a greater involvement with others.
- No one seeks death in order to grow, but it is a time for growth. You can do things you never did
before. You can return to school (perhaps your late spouse thought it was frivolous) or take up a new interest which formerly
was too time-consuming, or become involved in church or community volunteer work which not only fills your time but gives
your life new meaning and satisfaction.