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Managing Grief After Your Spouse Dies

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Couple married 65 years

When my husband died after an eighteen-month battle with cancer, I thought my life was over. There was nothing I wanted to live for. I was full of tears and self-pity. I felt lost and frightened and lonely. I was angry, self-centered, and, in my preoccupation with my grief, I fear I was boring. The truth is that by and large, no matter how calm and controlled and accepting a face she may present to the world, a new widow is miserable and can be a very difficult creature.

From the book Widowed by Dr. Joyce Brothers

Losing a beloved spouse is devastating.

Managing griefWhether it’s through death or a rocky marriage it is one of the most painful experiences life can hold. While each widow or widower experiences grief differently, the journey is universally difficult and challenging. Sometimes it’s fatal. How often do you hear of a relatively healthy spouse following their beloved into death within a short period of time?

Life can, and does, continue in these difficult times.

My cousin, Rose Angela, had a marriage made in heaven. Both she and her husband, Loren, had glowing reputations far and wide. Their love was as deep as the ocean. Everyone knew it. During his last months, Rose Angela was beside Loren every moment possible. She researched his condition and was involved in every way. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we cannot hold death back. When Loren passed, I was worried about Rose Angela. She was healthy and vibrant, but her grief was palpable. Her family and community surrounded her and loved her, giving her support. She read books about grief and heaven. She cried and cried and cried. She still cries. And she should. Her loss was great; however, she didn’t give up. She lives a life of meaning without Loren.

When my father died, I was living in San Diego and had the good fortune to have access to a grieving group provided by the chaplain’s office at the hospital my physician was affiliated with. The group met eight weeks on and eight weeks off. For two years I went to this group. A woman who attended had lost her husband. One of her greatest difficulties was people telling her what to do. She knew what she wanted yet she struggled to find the words and courage to defend her wishes. Learning from her, I listened carefully to my mother’s wishes and helped her with other family members and well-wishers so that she could realize her needs and wants. After all, after 50 years of a passionate marriage, she had a right to get what she wanted, if it was possible, during her time of grief.

The greater the loss, the deeper the grief.

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). When studying religion and philosophy at college, I was confused by this verse in the Sermon on the Mount; however, a wise teacher explained that the greater the loss, the deeper the grief. Even as a young person, I understood that!

It helped me to understand that if you are capable of experiencing a profound relationship then you probably have other sound relationships; people that will provide comfort in times of loss.

Grief is a journey.

Managing grief after spouse diesWe cannot jump over it. Ignoring it can have negative physical and psychological effects. We must go through it. But we do not have to do it alone. While you may have others who support you, sometimes having an outside perspective can make a profound difference.

Many will offer unsolicited advice and some may pressure you to do what they think you should be doing. Although we can learn from others, only you know what you need. I can help you find the words to say to others what you need to say. I can help you clarify what you want and need. I can be there to support you on your journey to finding a new life.

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Author: Martha Childers

Martha Childers, EdS, LPC is a multicultural psychotherapist specializing in couples, grief and caregiver stress. Martha is a licensed professional counselor in Missouri and Kansas. She received her masters and education specialist degrees in counseling psychology from the University of Missouri – Kansas City. She practiced Zen through a variety of Japanese traditional arts for 3-1/2 years. Since that time, mindfulness has been an integral part of her life. Her interest in human nature, beliefs, and life styles led her to become a counselor.

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