Of all the things we hope to avoid, the death of one’s life partner is high on that list. So dreaded is this loss that few couples can even discuss the possibility, much less plan for it. For no other traumatic circumstance are we so ill prepared.
Perhaps we are so afraid to broach the subject for fear of somehow bringing it upon ourselves. Many of us still hold fast to the unspoken dream of growing old together, remaining in perfect health to the very end and then on a balmy evening, when we are both very old, just peacefully sleeping away in the blissful comfort and privacy of our marital bed.
The death of a beloved partner is a harsh reality and one that is full of challenge and change. You may be experiencing the most intensely emotional period of your life right now.
For the widowed, two major processes are simultaneously at work during the grief journey. The first is separation from your spouse – both physically and emotionally. The second is your adjustment to living alone. As difficult as it is, the separation tasks are usually accomplished before the adjustment tasks are completed.
It is important to understand the complexities of grieving and to realize that we can mark our progress step by step, but true recovery takes place over a period of time. Unfortunately, the only way to get through grief is by grieving.
Embracing pain in any form is difficult for us – and grief and loss are certainly painful. But if we can understand that eventually positive, shaping forces of growth can come from this painful experience, we can begin to look at the grief journey as a necessary and valuable part of our lives.
Loneliness is probably the most prevalent feeling and concern expressed by those dealing with the loss of a loved one. Many people find various ways to overcome most of the hardships of early widowhood, but a large percentage of individuals thrown into singleness by the loss of a mate find that the loneliness is often overwhelming.
Not everyone experiences loneliness in the same way, of course, just as not everyone feels love in the same way. Love means one thing to one person and is perceived differently by another. So it is with loneliness. The degree to which we feel lonely is likely to be the motivating force behind doing something about it.
Like every other difficulty that comes our way, there are definite things we can do to combat loneliness. Taking control of your life by creating new situations, activities and friends are suggestions for eliminating the negative aspects of aloneness.
With the loss of a spouse, it isn’t just being alone that hurts. After all, each of you were alone at times during your married life. Sometimes you were even lonely during your marriage, but at least you had a feeling of belonging. You had a place, a position, an identity and your life had a plan. You had a partner, someone to eat with, to share ideas with, someone to fuss over, to help you make decisions. You felt accepted in social activities because you had a companion. You were part of a couple, you were protected.
Much of what we experience in a state of loneliness is the loss of our identity. When our identity is so abruptly changed by the death of a partner, we feel disoriented, unreal, less than whole, often useless and without a purpose or hope for the future.
It can be helpful, if you are feeling lonely, to talk about what that feels like to another person. It is important to recognize:
- why you feel lonely;
- the difference between loneliness and aloneness;
- the sense of identity loss; and
- the inner resources each of us possess.
By verbalizing and acknowledging our feelings of loneliness, we begin to see them as a normal and natural part of the grief journey. This does not mean loneliness disappears, but it leaves us free to pursue ways of reorganizing our lives.
Although life is different now, you still have a life. You can make choices about how this loss will affect your life. Choose to be thankful for the past. Choose to be resourceful in the present. Choose to be hopeful for the future.
Excerpted from “AfterLoss and When Someone You Care About Dies
by Bill Webster