Holding a funeral or memorial service for your loved one is a positive first step in the grieving process. Family members and friends get a chance to say their goodbyes and, at the same time, they get to share strong feelings with one another.
In the days, weeks, and months following the service, people continue to need others to lean on for understanding, encouragement, and guidance. For that reason, many local and national support groups have formed. These groups provide a common place and a comforting environment for expressing emotions through each phase of the grieving process. To learn more, we encourage you to discuss grief counseling and support options with your funeral director.
Questions & Answers On Recovering From Grief
Recently widowed, I'm noticing some of my women friends act funny when I'm around them and their husbands. How could I be a threat? This really hurts my feelings.
There are women who feel adding a single person to their couples crowd presents a threat. There are many reasons for these feelings. Sometimes, it is because they are insecure in their own marriages, but often it's because they see you as a widow now and worry about how they will survive a loss like yours.
As much as they care for you, you represent something they'd rather not think about. Yes, it seems irrational and unfair but it's common. Not all of your friends will behave like this. Spend more time with those who welcome and support you and make new friends among those who also have been widowed. You have much to offer each other in empathetic support.
My wife loved to garden and planted beautiful flowers around our house. Ever since she died three years ago, I've tried to keep them up, but I don't have the green thumb she had. I'm thinking of moving but I'm overcome with guilt. How can I leave behind what was so precious to her?
We become trapped in a way of life that belongs to our past, but has no validity in our future. The things we enjoyed while our spouse was alive, such as beautiful gardens, no longer pertains to your life. Once our recovery from grief is complete, we begin to see that major changes may be necessary for a healthy, happy new life. At first, making these changes produces feelings of guilt. Feelings are not facts, and now that you are alone with the responsibility to make a new life for yourself, it is time to discover and pursue the things that you enjoy.
After three years you have discovered that you do not enjoy gardening. Give yourself permission to sell your home and move to an area that personally appeals to you. The guilt will subside soon. You are entitled to seek ways of peace and fulfillment even if they sharply contrast with your life before. Just because your life will never be the same doesn't mean it need be any less happy and productive. Good luck in your venture.
What are some of the normal signs and symptoms of grief?
Social withdrawal, physical discomfort, feelings of distress and intense emotional suffering are the most common problems that face those who grieve. Physical symptoms often include an empty feeling in the pit of the stomach, a choking sensation, muscle weakness, and the need to sigh repeatedly. There may also seem to be a heaviness in the chest, a lack of energy and a sensitivity to noise. The inability to concentrate is also often reported. Emotional reactions include depression, sadness, guilt and anger.
My seven year old nephew died suddenly as a result of an auto accident. I was rather shocked when my sister gave permission for his organs to be transplanted. Is this a common practice?
Yes. The family in its sorrow can often feel better knowing that another life may be saved as a result of the donation of the organs of the child. For some, this promotes a feeling that their tragedy has had some meaning; some potential for good.
I am several months past my loss now. Most days I do very well and I feel that I'm working through my grief and getting my life back on track. Then all of a sudden I become overwhelmed. It causes me to feel sad and depressed all over again. Is this normal?
Certainly. Grief can be analogous to waves hitting on the shore. At first, the waves are large and powerful and they knock us down. They can keep us down for awhile, too. As we work through our grief, the waves begin to subside to a degree. They batter us less often and they decrease in size and impact. When we haven't noticed any waves for a while, we know that we are succeeding in looking forward and rebuilding our lives. It often happens that near special days such as birthdays, anniversaries or holidays (or just a sentimental moment or remembrance) another wave will come. If we know this is normal and part of our grief process, we can recover from the waves sooner and learn to expect fewer of them in our future.
I read somewhere that men are apt to suffer more from a spouse's death than women. Is this true?
It is usually true if you ask a man. It is usually not true if you ask a woman. Everyone feels they suffer more than others when their loved ones die. Both sexes experience the same grief process and the same emotions. The differences lie in the kind of social support that is available. It is customary in our society for men to rely on their wives for social plans, celebrations and entertainment of friends. It is usually the wife who keeps in touch with grown children and plans events.
When a wife dies, the widower not only loses his primary relationship but his social relationships as well. He may be less able or willing to recreate these connections for himself, and therefore isolation may be a pattern that evolves for him. Women usually have strong ties from which to draw but often find themselves in severe financial stress, so both sexes are vulnerable to depression after the loss of a spouse. The key is often emotional support.
Our need for social closeness never stops. If you are trying to help a widowed person, give them the gift of your presence and stay in touch. They can usually work through a number of problems if they have the support of caring friends.
I'm very disappointed in my adult children. Since their dad died they haven't done much to ease my pain or loneliness.
When we are lonely, it is easy to wish that our children or other family members will fill the void left by the absence of our spouse. The reality of the situation hurts but we must realize that the lives of others are going on uninterrupted. Adult children are busy in the pursuit of their own lives. In such a complex and fast paced world, we are often too involved to give all that others need. Take on the responsibility of fulfilling your own needs and expect less from others. You'll soon find it a benefit.
My children tell me I must rid the house of my husband's things. I can't bear to part with them. Is this so unusual?
There are no rules about when to clear out closets and personal items. I advise people to do that chore when they feel ready for it and to postpone it until they feel the time is right. Our children may believe they are doing us a favor but until we are ready for the favor, politely decline. You'll know when the time is right to make this adjustment.
Questions asked during bereavement are answered here by the editor of Afterloss, the monthly grief-recovery publication. For your free copy of one of our new booklets, Grief is a Process, Not an Event: Questions & Answers on Grief Recovery or I Never Know What to Say!, just write, call, or stop by. For a formal copy of these Afterloss questions please call 781-665-1949.