What can I do to overcome the sadness that has overtaken me since the death of my husband? How do I step forward into the next phase of my life? He battled a number of challenging health problems during the last two years of his life. As a result, my entire identity became wrapped up in caring for him and meeting his needs. Now that the struggle is over, I feel empty and lost as well as grieved. I honestly don't know where to turn or what to do next. Can you help me?
Before saying anything else, we want you to know how sorry we were to hear of your loss. The death of a spouse—the death of any loved one—can be traumatic, especially when the survivor has spent a great deal of time serving as the primary caregiver. Our hearts go out to you during this period of grief and readjustment.
Is there anything you can do to take a proactive approach to mourning? The answer is yes—but be gentle and patient with yourself and the process. It's generally agreed that while grief is never "fully done" there are some essential aspects of growing and becoming well again after difficult losses. You'll need to slowly pace yourself and reach out for safe and helpful relationships. It's a time to be near your most trusted personal supports and perhaps even meet regularly with a pastor or counselor. The non-judgmental presence of another caring human being can help tremendously as you face the following four essentials in your journey.
- Accept the reality of the loss.
This involves overcoming the natural denial response and realizing that your loved one is physically dead. Activities such as viewing the body after death, attending the funeral and burial services, and visiting the place where the body is laid to rest can all aid in this process. It's also helpful to spend time openly talking about the deceased person or the circumstances surrounding the death. As you grapple with this reality, you are also freer to embrace the consolation of knowing that the spiritual life goes on and that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
- Experience the pain of grief.
When a loved one dies many people try to bypass the pain by bottling up their emotions or rejecting their feelings. Unfortunately, the only way to overcome grief is to move with and through it daily as the feelings ebb and flow. The person who avoids grieving may even suffer from some form of depression or physical problems. Fully experiencing the pain—most often through tears or some form of expression—provides genuine relief.
- Adjust to an environment in which your loved one is missing.
Among other things, this may entail assuming some of the responsibilities and social roles formerly fulfilled by your deceased loved one. Likewise, if you dread coming home to an empty house, you may want to consider the possibility of enjoying a pet or including new routines that give you comfort. Experiencing nature and the use of music, worship, and regularly scheduled phones calls to close friends can be practical helps.
- Invest the emotional energy you have in healthy and life-giving relationships.
While rushing into newfound intense or romantic relationships isn't generally advisable, having openness to connections with people who share your values and interests is important. Many people feel disloyal or unfaithful if they find enjoyment in social life or form new attachments. Remember that the goal is not to forget your loved one; it is to reach the point where you can remember and honor without being halted in your own living. New friendships often allow you to progress as a person with a hope and future even though pain of loss still hurts at times.
The important thing is to allow yourself time and space to grieve and grow. You might consider seeking out a recovery program offered by a local church or perhaps setting aside a few hours weekly to pray, journal, or reflect on your grief personally. And if it would be helpful to talk about your loss with someone who cares, we invite you to call and speak with a member of Focus on the Family's Counseling department. They'll be happy to come alongside you in any way they can.
Coping With Death and Grief