To most people, this is unimaginable. The idea of losing a spouse. To live with the knowledge that the person who has become our other half, and that many colloquially describe as “completing” us, someday, will not be here any longer. There are so many feelings, thoughts, fears, and concerns attached to this potential reality.
The effects that the death of a spouse can have on a person are both short and long-term and can affect all facets of our lives. Although it may be tempting to focus solely on the social and emotional changes and reorganization of one’s life narrative, the reality exists that even our finances and medical care are affected by this type of loss as well. We must also realize that there is no “right” path to follow when losing the person who we have depended on, trusted, cared for, and loved for just a few years or for many.
Different Ways of Grieving
Many of us have heard of the five stages of grief, popularized in 1969 by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. This model describes grief as linear stages that begin in a place of denial and end with our eventual acceptance of the loss. This model was originally thought to provide a clear path of how grief should be handled and the hurdles that can hinder the grieving process.
However, for many this serves as an extra source of stress if they do not feel they are moving along with the “correct” pattern. Due to the vast differences discovered in grief from person to person, it is now believed that our grief actually fluctuates rapidly following the death of a spouse. This has been studied in groups of widows and widowers and proven that we can delve from denial to depression to acceptance and back to depression all within a few days. Grieving is not a yellow-brick road in which we can easily navigate, but a maze in which may take some longer than others to find their way out.
Did You Know?
Grief can manifest in emotional as well as physical ways. Many of us are aware that grief will take an emotional toll on us as well as those around us, but some may not be familiar with the physical signs to look for in ourselves and others when grieving the loss of a spouse.
Emotionally, grief can be represented through anger, loneliness, sadness, confusion, frustration, and others. However, physically, we can see signs such as difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, lack of wanting to participate in normal or daily activities or what may be referred to as “social isolation” when we shut ourselves off and refuse to seek the support or company of others in our lives.
For many couples, different roles exist within the relationship. Even if the household duties are evenly divided, that does not mean that each partner has an equal understanding of all that goes into their partner’s tasks. When one’s husband or wife passes, difficulties in taking care of the yard, cooking, or even paying bills might become a stressor for the remaining partner. It is important to have family or friends that can be called on for assistance if needing to sort through bills, help clean the home, cut the grass, or take the car in for repairs. One person may now need to adapt to the roles of both spouses, even after decades of dependence on the other partner.
Although it may be the last item on any widow or widower’s agenda in which they want to discuss or handle at an extremely delicate time in their life, it is important to ensure that the deceased spouse’s wishes and wills/trusts are honored. Family and friends may be of assistance in canceling bills or payments such as car and health insurance. It is important to take advantage of family members or friends who are offering to assist with these or any other tasks, as the to-do list following the death of a spouse can be lengthy. Do not be afraid to delegate to your other loved ones as it may help both you and your family to move forward.
One of the most important things to realize after losing a spouse is that everyone grieves differently and there are many appropriate ways. For some people, “keeping busy” and planning activities for distraction is a way to push through the pain. For others, sitting around and telling stories about their loved one who has passed is comforting.
Some may require individual counseling to discuss their feelings of loss, fear, anger and more in a nonjudgmental setting or to navigate the specific reality that they now face. Others may want to join a support group, where they can be surrounded by those who have been through the same feat, and others still may find support in reading books about how others have found a way to find meaning in their loss.
The most important thing to remember is that although everyone who has lost a spouse may be able to relate on a fundamental level, how we may move forward following the passing is variable for everyone. Don’t be ashamed to seek the support you need, or rely on others to help carry you through the pain. It will be difficult, but you will adjust to your new reality.