In the last few years, one of my close friends has dealt with the untimely loss of a spouse. I'd like to share this story and what we all have learned about dealing with grief and moving forward at the appropriate time.
My friend was the one who died suddenly of a massive car crash at age 32, leaving a wife and 2 children from 14 and 8. He could not go with them as he needed to finish things at work and he would come later that evening. While he had been feeling poorly that morning he had no easy answers on this feeling, he urged his wife and children to go on a family holiday out of town because they should not loose any of this precious time. Crazy how life can turn around so sudden. When his wife and family returned quickly when they learned of his death and dealt with the funeral, the estate and all the implications of losing their husband and father.
It would have been very different circumstances if he would have been seriously ill with a sickness, for example cancer then there is most of the time some time left to say goodbye. even though the loss of any wife and mother or husband and father is tragic. The death of a father and husband which was sudden, unexpected and laden with guilt for his dying alone.
Whatever the circumstances, dealing with the death of a spouse has to be one of the most difficult and traumatic experiences of life. Based on the experiences of others and lots of research, here are some ideas and perspectives that might help.
Try to understand the stages of grief.
- Denial: "This can’t be happening to me."
- Anger: "Why is this happening? Who is to blame?"
- Bargaining: "Make this not happen, and in return I will ____."
- Depression: "I’m too sad to do anything."
- Acceptance: "I’m at peace with what is going to happen/has happened."
Recognize that time tends to heal wounds. When we are in the midst of feelings of loss or grief, it can truly seem like the feelings will last forever. But time's passage has a way of healing these feelings. Keeping a sense of hope through the feelings of grief can help a mother or father who has lost his or her spouse make it through each day.
Lean on your support system. Fortunately for my friends, there were exceptional support systems. They both had large families on both sides on whom they could lean. They had friends also from work who were helpful through the transition. Big plus they had was the community of faith on whom they leaned emotionally and physically. The ones who find themselves alone after the death of a spouse need to allow others who are close to them into their inner circle of feelings. People who care about you want to help, and you are in a time when you need it perhaps the most.
Express your feelings. Don't bottle up emotions of grief and sorrow. Sometimes societal expectations make men particularly want to be strong and stoic. Especially if you have children that are grieving with you, you may feel a need to be their "rock." But you will need some time to express your feelings, insecurities and loneliness. Talk to friends, seek counseling, write, cry whatever the outlet will be, let the feelings be expressed. Repressing them only brings greater challenges later.
Take care of yourself physically. It will be important for you to eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise. Avoid self-defeating behaviors like turning to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. Just taking walks with a close friend or family member can make a world of difference in your mood.
Take your time. Grieving works differently for different people. I cannot write a basic transcript for everyone as everyone experiences these emotions in his or her own way. Do not let others make you feel rushed to get on with your life or move ahead. Move at your pace. Don't make any major decisions that will have life-changing implications through the grief process.
Today my friends are doing well and their life is moving forward. My friends wife is now back in the work force and busy raising her children. Not yet remarried and not really worried about it, she is again building a new life with new opportunities. All of them have worked through this important life transition, taking different approaches but main part is that it’s working. They gave me the permission on writing about their situation as others might learn something from it. I made the choice of not mentioning any names. I think that nobody gains anything here.
The most important thing for any grieving father or mother to remember is that through the grieving process, there is hope and that with time and effort, life can again be full of happiness and possibilities. All the roads you will take might look new, but most of them have been tried by someone.
The Old Sailor,