A new life with new roles and responsibilities
At the time of the loss of a spouse the surviving spouse realizes that, in their marriage, there were certain roles each of them played, yet, now all of the responsibility has fallen on the surviving spouse. For example, the husband might have taken care of the yard, garbage, automobile, paying bills, and house maintenance, etc. The wife might have washed clothes, cooked, taken the children to baseball practice, and hosted meals for visitors, etc. Now that one’s spouse is deceased, the responsibilities of the deceased spouse are suddenly shifted onto the shoulders of the surviving spouse. Suddenly being faced with all of this new responsibility can be very frightening and unsettling. In reality, the surviving spouse has lost someone who played a variety of roles in his/her life. The most difficult loss of all is that of losing the one whom we love, the one who has been at the heart and center of our life, the one with whom we have shared our life and life’s most important experiences.
Building a new life.
Recognize that the death of your spouse is a fact and that grief will follow. Realize that coping with the trauma of losing your spouse takes time and understanding. Although it takes time, when we understand and accept grief, we see that it is a natural process in which healing takes place. Although each person handles grief differently, it is a process that requires our work, effort, and cooperation. Accept the fact that your spouse has died and determine that you will now build a new life for yourself. As you accept the reality of your spouse’s death, you will begin to “rejoin the world.” For example, many surviving spouses enroll in college, start new businesses, and enter new endeavors. As with any significant loss, when we lose a spouse, it is important to genuinely grieve the loss of our life’s partner. It is, therefore, essential that we express our feelings and thoughts in regard to the death of our spouse. Do not “bottle up” these strong emotions within yourself. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. Do not be “your own worst enemy.” Do not expect too much from yourself. The loss of a spouse precipitates strong emotional reactions. It drains us physically. It creates mental confusion. Because this is one of the most traumatic and upsetting experiences you will undergo in life, this is a time to be kind to yourself and patient with yourself. In other words, be good to yourself! Read and study materials that explain the grief process. This will enable you to understand the kinds of things that are happening in your life as a result of losing your spouse, and it will aid you in accepting this loss and processing it into the larger framework of your life. Do not make excuses or apologies to other persons for how you feel and how grief is affecting you. You do not have to explain yourself because what is happening to you is a natural reaction to your loss. Enter into new activities such as church, school, community clubs, civic organizations, and hospital visitation, etc. Little by little, you will gain confidence. Let go of the idea that the world is “set up for couples.” The reality is that there are many single persons in any community—single, divorced, widowed, etc. See yourself as beginning a new chapter in your life. Cultivate new friendships and interests. Many will gladly join you for a night out, picnic, concert, movie, ballgame or shopping trip. Invite new friends to your home for a cookout or party. Get outside yourself by doing helpful and loving things for other people. This helps fill the emptiness your loss has created.Remember, the passage of time helps to heal the wounds and trauma that are created by the loss of a loved one. Remember also, countless human beings have survived the loss of a spouse, and, in time, they have rediscovered joy, purpose, and fulfillment in their lives. In time, this will also happen for you.Be open to new insights you gain as a single person. As you keep yourself open, you will discover that you will learn new things every day. You will adjust and adapt, and, thus, you will begin the process of making a new life for yourself. With every step you take in a new direction, you will gain added self-confidence.Your first steps into this new single world will be slow and painful. At first, you will be unsure of yourself; however, with the passing of each new day and experience, you will feel more at ease. You will also discover that you are not alone. Your life will gradually open up before you.Recognize that the death of your spouse is a fact and that grief will follow. Express your thoughts and feelings to someone whom you can trust. Cry when you feel a need. Do not be ashamed to cry. Tears are a source of healing and cleansing. Crying is one of nature’s pressure-valves that release stress. Be honest with your surviving children. Share your feelings and thoughts freely with them. Ventilate your anger. Let friends and loved ones help you during this time. Use common sense.Set a reasonable pace for yourself, and travel at your own pace. Take things slow and easy. Take life one step at a time, one day at a time, one experience at a time. Do not rush your recovery. Give yourself time to heal. In response to the question as to how long it takes to recover from grief, one of my colleagues says, “It takes as long as it takes.” The time required for healing is different with each person because each of us is a unique individual. The traumatic effects of grief require time for healing and rebuilding. Thus, let the natural process of healing take place in its own time—on its own time schedule. Do not push yourself beyond a reasonable limit. Do only what you can. Grieve and heal at your own pace. Give yourself time to grieve. Do not expect too much from yourself. Learn all you can about grief and how it affects us when we lose a loved one. Determine that you will build a new life for yourself. Set new and reasonable goals for yourself. Focus on new interests. Cultivate dormant abilities and talents. Again, be good to yourself. Exercise. Get proper rest. Eat nutritious food. Love and nurture yourself. Give yourself permission to grieve. Accept the help and love of other persons. . Reflect and pray. Seek the assistance of a grief counselor. Attend a grief support group. Share your feelings with those whom you can trust, those who accept and love you, and those who let you be yourself and express how you really feel.In time you will be able to face the problems that result from being a widow or widower. You will be able to handle the strong emotions such as depression, loneliness, and confusion that result from losing a spouse. You will form new friendships and discover a new meaning and purpose in life. You will find yourself moving into the future with a new sense of self-confidence and independence.
Support groups for those who have lost a spouse
A support group for widowed persons is a place where you can learn about grief, cope with grief, accept the loss of a loved one, adjust to the circumstances, be with other bereaved persons, meet new friends, express your true feelings, rediscover hope, experience healing, make informed and wise decisions, find new directions, re-integrate yourself back into the community, re-establish your personal identity, and begin the process of rebuilding your life.