Losing one’s marriage partner can be a devastating experience. It is one of the most disruptive changes that many people go through, yet understanding and processing one’s grief can be an important part of building a new life.
In my previous article, I discussed two processes that the grieving spouse needs to navigate as they continue through life without their loved one. These tasks are accepting the loss of their deceased spouse, and working through some of the pain of their loss. In this article, I look at the work involved in adjusting to the world without their loved one, and also at the ways in which they can remain connected to their lost partner while continuing alone in a changed life.
“How Can I Ever Do It All?”Following the sudden death of Lindy, his wife of twelve years, Henry was at a loss. He now had to manage the home and to parent two children, and he realized that he had no idea how much Lindy had done each day! Despite a life insurance policy which eased the financial impact of her loss, and enabled him to hire cleaning and childcare help, he felt that he would never be able to keep up in all the areas that Lindy had managed so easily. She had handled the pediatrician visits, teacher interactions, meals, shopping and birthday parties, in such a way that their life just seemed to flow.
How had life changed beyond the obvious?
He and the kids had lost a cook, homemaker, decorator, driver and gardener – as well as the presence of a mom in the house. He had lost his lover, co-parent, dance partner and close friend. In addition, he found that his roles were changing as he learned to cook (although he would never be the cook Lindy was, and it would take months before he had all the dishes ready at the same time), became acquainted with the children’s teachers and their friends’ parents, and learned how to manage on less sleep when the kids were sick.
How can adjusting be healthy?
As Henry’s life continued without Lindy, he found himself adjusting to the changed situation. Taking on more responsibility became the norm, as did the nightly loneliness. His sense of himself also changed as he became more accustomed to Lindy’s absence, even in subtle ways. Having got through a week in which the household ran smoothly, and in which he and his son finished a science display that won the most creative award, Henry realized that he could do a good job of parenting. He even enjoyed it and he realized that he had fewer periods of hopelessness than he had once had. He found himself prefacing his thoughts with “When Lindy was here…” He and the kids even decided to plant different flowers in the garden. The previous season they had simply bought the same flowers that Lindy had planted the year before, without knowing how much care they needed. But now, for the first time, Henry found himself asking the children what flowers they liked, and considering which flowers required the least care. It was a sensible change to make and Henry felt good about it.
A New Life After Bereavement
Notice how Henry grew into his new roles, and gradually made changes that suited his family’s new situation. He adjusted to Lindy’s loss in numerous ways as he made his way though days that had been unexpectedly reconfigured. He realized that he could go on without Lindy, and that in doing so he was accomplishing important grief work. He was still living although she was gone, and he could care for the children and for himself. He also knew that Lindy would have been pleased with how the family was doing, and he found a bittersweet reassurance in that thought.
The process of Grieving Wisely as a Parent
Grieving involves different processes and tasks, but these are not sequential or completed in a linear way. Whether one is conscious of these processes or not, the survivor is often engaged in all four tasks at the same time. The fourth task of grief is to create a meaningful connection between the grieving person and their deceased partner that will allow them to move forward with their life, without feeling that they have discarded their spouse. This may feel as if they are withdrawing emotionally from the deceased person, and until the grieving person is ready for this change of focus the distancing and relocating involved may feel like a betrayal of their spouse.
“I Don’t Ever Want To Forget Them”
This process of relocating the deceased person within their own “place” in the emotional life of the loved one can take many forms. Many widows find themselves talking to their deceased husbands, whether during graveside visits, at the dinner table, or before sleep. They are often reluctant to let anyone overhear them, for fear of being labeled as disturbed. Yet these one-sided conversations are actually beneficial, for, while the widow is fully aware that her husband is gone, she is dealing with his departure in a very specific and healing way.
Paying attention to specific times, places or actions can help one to remember the deceased person in a beneficial and concrete way. My father used to send my grandmother flowers by wire on the monthly anniversary of my grandfather’s death. I would imagine her anticipation, and I’m sure that she received those flowers with tears as she admired their beauty. As she moved through the year that followed, those flowers represented to her a continual memorial of Grandpa’s passing.
Christian Counseling Can Help You Move Beyond Your Grief
The focus of this fourth task is to be able to continue with your life without feeling that you have forgotten or abandoned your loved one. If you have experienced the death of a partner, and find that you just cannot move forward at all, or if you find that you cannot make sense of the world without your loved one, you may find it helpful to consider Christian counseling. A trained Christian counselor can help you as you work to give your departed loved one a place in your current life that both honors their memory and enables you to live your life to the full.
Photos are from Morguefile.com; Picture of grave with “WE heart you” credits 25 01 temple Day 040 weluvu.jpg By Melodi2; Picture of darkhaired grieving woman DSCN7078.JPG By grietgrie