Losing a spouse is a devastating event that more than 900,000 men and women experience each year. A vast majority1 of these are individuals age 55 and up. With these deaths comes grief, which plays out in five distinct and predictable stages…or does it? New research suggests that grief is an ever-changing emotion that may present itself with acceptance one day and backtrack to denial the next.
Oftentimes universally2 the first thing that most widows/widowers feel after the loss of a spouse is denial. Denial is a biological response that allows emotional survival after such a significant loss. You may feel confused and like life makes no sense. Denial results in a state of shock and numbness where you wonder if you can go on living. Logically, you understand that you’ve been left alone but are not ready to admit that you now have a gaping hole in your heart. Remember that this is a natural part of the grieving process and one that lays the foundation for healthy healing (Healing tip: keep a journal close at hand so you will always have an outlet for your emotions).
In the days and weeks following the death of a partner, it is common to feel angry3. You may be angry at your spouse, yourself, healthcare workers who were unable to prolong his or her life, or at God for allowing this to happen. It’s okay to feel mad, even at the dearly departed. Understand that your anger is simply an expression of your love and one that is expected (Healing tip: vent your frustrations in a healthy and productive way by taking a physical fitness or martial arts class).
Once the realization of loss sinks in, you may begin to ask questions that typically began with “what if” and “if only.” “What if I wake up and realize this was all a dream?” “If only I had recognized they were sick earlier.” These sentiments are part of the bargaining stage and are necessary to move beyond pain. This is a point where you will attempt to remain planted in the past so you don’t have to feel the emptiness inside. During the bargaining phase, you will likely flutter back and forth between anger, denial, and depression (Healing tip: allow yourself to temporarily indulge in fantasies of spousal survival, which will keep you connected to the one you love).
Depression4 occurs when you finally acknowledge grief and begin to truly feel the pain of being separated from your long-time partner. During this time, you may be more than willing to join your significant other or retreat within yourself to avoid the sympathetic eyes of friends and family. Depression is truly the most difficult stage of grief and one that feels as though it will last5 forever. It is important during this time to recognize deep inner turmoil and allow yourself the opportunity to feel sad. Without this deep-seeded depression, you can’t get to the final stage of grief (Healing tip: hire a housekeeper to handle daily chores while you are adjusting to your loss; this will help you upkeep your home and routine so you are not overwhelmed with a backlog of tasks later on).
You will likely never be “okay” after the loss of your spouse. Acceptance is simply allowing the reality of what happened to sink in and understand that life will never go back to normal. Instead, you will learn to accept a new way of living that doesn’t include the lost spouse. Accepting what happened will allow you to recognize your new role and the roles of those around you. It can take time, but you will grow to a point where the loss is not something that controls your daily actions and emotions (Healing tip: wait until you’re truly ready to start dating and socializing and don’t give in to the pressures of your friends and family).
About the Author
Jackie Waters is a mother of four boys, and lives on a farm in Oregon. She is passionate about providing a healthy and happy home for her family, and aims to provide advice for others on how to do the same with her site Hyper-Tidy.com.
1: Marital Events of Americans: 2009
2: The Five Stages of Grief
3: Anger Towards your Spouse
4: Depression Basics
5: When Am I Going to Be Able to Stop Grieving and Start Feeling Better?
6: How to Interview a Housekeeper
7: Love After Death: The Widows’ Romantic Predicaments