Spouse, Losing the Present
How can one possibly absorb the shock of the death of a mate? No
matter how many years you have shared, memories of courtship,
lifelong plans, and your marriage are most difficult to bear. Not
to mention what has been left behind: children and grandchildren;
dreams yet to be fulfilled. These memories are part of your past
and the death of your spouse is something you must deal with today.
The thought of which is painful at the very least.
Reactions to Death
If your spouse has died, you will probably experience some of
the common symptoms of grief. You will very likely go into shock
and denial. You may experience feelings similar to what an amputee
goes through, where they actually "feel" pain in the missing limb.
In the case of a lost loved one, you'll "see" them sitting in their
favorite chair or coming through the front door. This "phantom"
pain may manifest itself in hearing their voice calling from
another room. Their cologne or perfume lingers in closets and
throughout the home you shared, evoking powerful feelings.
You may feel "numb," like a spectator watching events unfold.
This is nature's way of protecting you from what is happening while
your life is in transition.
You may also find yourself filled with anger. You may feel angry
at the doctors or nurses who couldn't save your spouse, or maybe
even with God. You may feel anger toward your spouse for leaving
you, and then feel guilty for this anger.
In fact, guilt can be one of the toughest feelings to overcome
in your grief recovery. It is common, in transition, to feel guilty
simply for being alive when someone else has died. You may believe
you somehow could have prevented the death, or should have been
present to say good-bye.
Because relationships are never perfect, you undoubtedly had
unresolved issues at the time of death. These can be very difficult
to overcome, and many choose to seek counseling to help bring about
Powerful reactions to grief are most often unexpected by the
bereaved. The effects are physical as well as mental. The feeling
of being alone causes your mind to race. You cannot sleep. You
cannot think clearly. Your muscles are tense and your body
It is not unusual to experience nausea, dizziness, rashes,
weight loss, in addition to difficulty in sleeping. You may become
irritable or listless, feel fatigued, or short of breath. Grief has
even been known to cause hair loss.
As the Shock Wears Off
The acceptance of your spouse's death will slowly become a
reality. You may think "My life will never be the same again." "I
cannot change what has happened to me." "Oh God, what am I going to
do now?" A course of grief recovery depends partly on your age and
mostly on your individual situation.
A surviving spouse from a younger, two-income family may end up
in a tight financial situation; not to mention any children to
consider, as the transition to a single-parent household is
Profound loneliness occurs when future plans include having
children and the opportunity is lost by the death of a spouse. This
is especially true if the bereaved feels a child would have been a
living part of the mate who died.
"Empty-nesters" feel the effects of a spouse's death in other
ways. The fact that the house is completely empty now, precipitates
an entirely different level of loneliness. This is especially true
in marriages that have lasted many years, where plans for a long
and enjoyable retirement were disrupted by a spouse's death.
Losing your life companion can leave you feeling confused and
panicky at any age. For this reason, you should delay making any
major decisions. Try to postpone them until you can think more
clearly and have a better idea of how your life is going to change.
Antoine de Saint-Exup'ery wrote, "... you cannot plant an acorn in
the morning and expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the
You have grown accustomed to living a certain life-style and
engaging in favorite activities with your spouse. You are used to
being the object of your spouse's love. For example, a woman who
becomes a widow didn't just lose her husband. She lost her best
friend, her confidant, her "knight in shining armor."
The death of your spouse can also change the relationship you
had with mutual friends. Those same friends you socialized with as
a couple, may have a difficult time interacting with you as an
individual. You may begin to feel like the "fifth wheel." Life
without your spouse may steer you in the direction of a new circle
of friends. Many times, lasting friendships develop between people
who met in grief support groups. Your loss is a common bond.
How can you overcome the problems you face after your spouse has
died? First, you must recognize that grief is necessary; it is
something you must work through. There are no shortcuts.
It is important to express your feelings. Take time to cry.
Don't be afraid to share your tears with others. Express your anger
when you feel the need. Talk openly with family members and
friends; this is a time to lean on them. Some of your friends may
feel awkward for awhile because they don't know how to talk to you
about your loss. You can help them by simply telling them what your
needs are. Don't try to protect your children or other family
members by hiding your sadness.
If you normally have a pressing schedule, try to lighten it.
Remember, grief is mentally taxing; you do not need the added
strain of too much to do. Set aside some quiet time for yourself,
time when you can think about your spouse's death and put things
If you are worried that you are not coping well with your grief,
consider talking to a counselor. You may be relieved to discover
that you are reacting normally. If you believe you need help, ask
your clergy, doctor, or funeral director to suggest a counselor who
will help you through your transition.
Many bereaved spouses find adjusting to life without a partner
becomes easier if they talk to others in the same situation. You
might want to consider joining a local support group. Ask us for
information regarding local groups specifically for those who have
lost a spouse.
After some time and effort, you will adjust to your new life and
your grief will diminish. This does not mean you must forget your
loved one; it means you have accepted the death and can begin to
live each day in the present, savoring the memories as part of your
new life. In fact, many agree the best way to honor a loved one who
died, is to live a life full of friendship and even new love.
Dealing properly with your grief can make it all possible.