Saturday, April 10, 2010

How to Survive the Death of a Spouse?

Coming home to an empty house is not easy. There is no one to greet you, and the chair opposite yours at the dinner table is empty. The house seems to echo from the silence and you shed a tear as you remember that you are now alone. So many years together, so many memories you two created together are all you have left. Losing a loved one changes your entire life, especially when the loved one was also your best friend. You feel completely lost and totally uncomfortable making even minor decisions. The bed feels big and you hug the pillows for comfort. But something inside you tells you that you can survive!

Whether you're 28 or 82, or married for 5 years or 50, the death of a spouse is a traumatic event.

When your spouse dies, your world changes. You are in mourning—feeling grief and sorrow at the loss. You may feel numb, shocked, and fearful. You may feel guilty for being the one who is still alive. If your spouse died in a nursing home, you may wish that you had been able to care for him or her at home. At some point, you may even feel angry at your spouse for leaving you. All these feelings are normal. There are no rules about how you should feel. There is no right or wrong way to mourn.

When you grieve, you can feel both physical and emotional pain. People who are grieving often cry easily and can have:
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Little interest in food
  • Problems with concentration
  • A hard time making decisions
If you are grieving, in addition to dealing with feelings of loss, you may also need to put your own life back together. This can be hard work. During this time, you may be surprised by some of your feelings, but they are a part of mourning. Some people may feel better sooner than they expect. Others may take longer. As time passes, you may still miss your spouse, but for most people, the intense pain will lessen. There will be good and bad days. You will know that you are feeling better when the good days begin to outnumber the bad.

"The reality is you're never ready to say goodbye to someone," says Jack LoCicero, Ph.D., a certified grief counselor and president of the Illinois-based Association for Death Education and Counseling.
Your loss may leave you reeling under a barrage of emotions that range from anger and resentment to sadness, fear and even hopelessness. But while it may feel like you'll never recover, there is an end to grief, or at least a coming to terms with loss. To reach that point, you'll need to accomplish 5 distinct tasks, LoCicero says. Successfully moving through them will enable you to create a new life that, while different from the one you once had, is fulfilling and even joyful.

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These 5 tasks are:

Task 1: Acknowledge the loss.
"It's not unusual to see a spouse after the death of a loved one who is initially functioning very well," LoCicero says. "The body really goes into automatic pilot -- and while the woman may have intellectual knowledge that her husband is dead, she does not have the emotional knowledge. It's not real yet."

It can take days, weeks or even months for that reality to set in. Until you can acknowledge your loss, you may feel emotions such as shock, disbelief, confusion and anxiety. "It's not until you fall off this little cliff into the next task that you really see the depth of despair," he says.

Task 2: Experience the pain of loss.
Following the initial shock, the reality of loss sets in and people typically experience deep pain, LoCicero says. Unfortunately, by this time the initial outpouring of support has often waned. Friends who may have told the bereaved how strong she is might not be as close at hand at this point, he adds, "because they assume she's doing so well"

Brook Noel, co-author of I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One (Champion Press, 2000), calls it the 10-day syndrome. "Within the first 10 days of loss, everyone is there for you," she says. "You will have enough food to end world hunger. You will have flowers, cards, the phone ringing off the hook. And then somehow on day 11, it feels like everyone else's lives go back to normal. And you feel very, very alone."

At this point, you may feel anger, guilt, depression, lowered self-esteem, helplessness, resentment and a preoccupation with the loved one. "It can go on for months, and it's like being in a minefield -- everything reminds you of your husband and what was lost," LoCicero says. But while it's difficult to live through, experiencing the pain is critical to working through grief.

Task 3: Readjust to the loss.
"With older widows, the most difficult task is readjusting," LoCicero says. "You're struggling with new roles and responsibilities." Instead of being a wife, you suddenly find yourself in a new, undefined role.
And adjusting to life as a newly single person can be a challenge at any age, Noel says. "It's a completely different identity. So they have a long process of rebuilding their life as a widow."

Women may face a double whammy as their circle of friends is redefined. "We have to reformulate who we are, and then we often find that our friendships change," she says. Especially for an older woman, she may lose the social relationships that she had with other couples before her spouse died. "A lot of time, other couples have a difficult time relating to you. It's a reminder to them of what can happen."

The bereaved likely will also still feel a strong yearning for her loved one, LoCicero says. "You're looking for them where ever you are. You may be sure you see him at the mall or walking into the Sears store," he adds. "When you're yearning to have someone back in your life, you find them everywhere."

Task 4: Reinvest emotional energy
Although you'll likely still experience moments of pain and will always feel a loss, working through tasks two and three have allowed you to move on to reinvesting your emotional energy, a task that leads to "a sense of healing, developing new environments, relationships and activities," LoCicero says. "It is a huge turning point in their grief."

And it's a critical step. Without the ability to reinvest in new relationships and activities, "it's not unusual to find a woman who is just waiting to die," he says. "That's a woman who has not been able to master the fourth task."

Task 5: Reconcile the loss
With the most painful part of grieving behind you, you're finally ready to reconcile your loss, heading in a new direction in life and remembering your loved one with less pain, LoCicero says. "Life will be different, but it can be good again," he says.

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Men and women share many of the same feelings when their spouse dies. Both may deal with the pain of loss, and both may worry about the future. But, there can also be differences. While married, one person may have paid bills, cleaned house, and handled car repairs. The other person may have cooked meals, filed income taxes, and mowed the lawn. Splitting up jobs works well until there is only one person, who has to do it all.
Some men are at a loss when it comes to doing household chores. But these jobs can be learned over time.

Men are sometimes surprised when they're widowed. Some men who are both widowed and retired may feel very lonely and depressed. If you or any family member is having this problem, see your doctor. Treatment can help.

Facing the future without a husband can be scary for some women. Many have never lived alone. Some women will worry about money. Women who have never paid bills or balanced a checkbook will need to learn how to take care of their money.

Women may also worry about feeling safe. It's a good idea to make sure there are working locks on the doors and windows. If you need help, ask your family or friends. Also, you'll need to get in the habit of taking care of your house and car. It takes time, but it can be done.

Here are some other tips on healing :
  • Know that it will take time before you can begin to feel normal again, but that time will come.
  • Expect to feel a flood of emotions. "One of the things I hear again and again is they feel like they are going crazy," Noel says about the bereaved. "They are disorganized, their emotions are intense and they think that they are literally losing their mind — but it's all part of the initial grieving process." Of course, if you feel that you need professional help or if you feel an inclination to harm yourself or others, you should seek help immediately.
  • Do not pay attention to those who try to tell you that you are not grieving properly. Grief is as individual as you are, as your partner was, and as your relationship was. Specifically you will likely deal with some who think you are healing 'too fast' and those who think you have become 'stuck in your grief.' If you have concerns in those areas, talk to a grief counselor. He or she is far better prepared to help you navigate your new life than someone who has never dealt with the death of their significant other.
  • Get practical help. To help you through the early days when you may still be in shock, Noel says: "Find someone that you trust. You need to have somebody who knows you well to act as your brains because you are not thinking as you normally would."
  • Get support. "I recommend strongly that widowed women join groups with other widowed women and just talk and share," says LoCicero, who adds that this may be harder for older women who need help to get to group meetings.
  • Don't allow yourself to be isolated. The mourning process typically involves a wake, funeral, and phone calls and letters, and maybe even visits to offer condolences. After that initial outpouring, many women are on their own, which means they'll need to find other ways to get support. "Make sure that you're getting out and establishing relationships that are healthy," says Noel, who points out that older women may need help in doing so. "You need to have interaction."
  • Give yourself time. It typically takes 1 to 5 years to go through all 5 tasks — and even longer if the spouse's death was unexpected or traumatic, LoCicero says.
  • Honor your feelings, mentally and physically. Especially early on in your bereavement, "a lot of people think they should grieve this way or they should resume a particular activity at a certain time," Noel says. "It's unique to each individual. Put aside your expectations of what you think grief should look like and follow your feelings."
  • Realize that you have choices. There is a time when you need to cry and there will come a time when you are ready to have a new life. When the tears come less often then you know it is time for your new life to begin.
  • Allow yourself to feel happy. "A lot of times women have a hard time experiencing joy," Noel says. "So, they go a month and then go out with a girlfriend. And the girlfriend says something that makes them laugh, and there can be a sudden sense of guilt." Instead of feeling guilty, "realize that your happiness is good; your loved one would have wanted you to feel happy."
  • Have personal grief sessions. Noel says to set aside 20 to 60 minutes a day "to make sure you really feel and honor your grief -- so you don't fall into the habit of hiding it." Your grief session may involve writing in a journal, talking to a friend or just taking a walk alone to think about your spouse.
  • Store all your memories in a safe place in your heart and continue life's journey alone. Understand that your life as you knew it will never be the same, but this does not mean it will not perhaps be better. Maybe you will begin a new career or move to a new location and, if it is what you want, you might one day love again. It is still possible to find another.
  • Honor your spouse's memory. "With many people, there is a fear that they are going to somehow forget the person they've lost," Noel says. "What can happen is they stop the grieving process and live in the past. They become scared to move on and start a new life." Instead, "learn how to incorporate the memory of the person into your life," she says. Do not worry that you will forget your spouse. You will not since in time the pain of the loss will lessen. Continue living your life with the realization of knowing that your spouse would have wanted you to be happy and productive, with or without them.
  • Adopt a pet. If you don't have the energy to give a great amount of attention to a pet, consider a cat. They make great companions. They are clean and do not have to be walked. They give you love and affection. They give you someone to care for and care about. They will greet you when you come home, and lie on your lap while you watch TV. If you are not a cat person get a dog, or whatever pet makes you happier. Understand that the pet will not replace your love, nor is it meant to, but animals can make you smile, listen to you when you feel like talking and fill a lonely day.
  • Know the Truth about life. Try to understand the eternal truth of life "Every thing keeps on Changing every moment". Try to get yourself convinced how death is beneficial to the departed soul. Know that the soul never dies; Only body dies. Body is like a vehicle or cloths for the spirit. Thus when the body, by any reason doesn't remain suitable; the spirit is blessed with a new body, a new vehicle or a new dress.
Keep in mind that grieving varies greatly by person and that you'll likely face ups and downs in the process. "It's never neat and tidy, and it shouldn't be," Noel says. "It's one of the most challenging things a person will ever face in their lives."

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