After the Death of My Wife: 6 Months Into the Void

June, 2012 – Posted by L. John Mason –

It has been an interesting six months since my wife passed. Early on, besides the overwhelm, I thought I could get through this difficult transition fairly quickly due the knowledge that I had been preparing for this loss for 7 years. I am learning that this was an illusion. When my parents passed away, I handled this well and moved back into my life with relative ease, but losing my life partner of 28 years has proven to be more difficult than I had imagined. Life has a way of being surprising. And, expectations have a way of leading to disappointment.

I have no reason to whine. I have great friends and lots of healthy support. What has surprised me are the little things that then trigger the beautiful, bitter-sweet memories that float through my consciousness and cause the tears to flow down my cheek. These events are brief, and for the most part, cherished as friendly ghosts of a loving relationship. I have learned that a remembering which causes a smile and then a tear are beautiful and a celebration. Certain events that I would not have thought would trigger the flow of emotions surface like Mother’s Day. It was harder than I thought and I am not sure why. Preparing for the local Relay for Life and the beginning “Survivor’s Walk” was an event that Barbara and I participated in for 7 years and this year the anticipation was difficult.

We have all suffered loss and transitions, and we have our own unique way of getting through these times. Perhaps your loss was not the death of loved one but a relationship change, or a job change, or a move into a new environment. There are changes that are more difficult than others based on your individual life. There are times when you ruminate about your loss and seem to spiral down into despair. These are important lessons to learn from in your life, not easy or fun, but important to wade through. There are recommendations that can be made to allow you to move more gracefully through these possibly dark times. Consider the following: 1. Take Good Care of yourself… practice wellness, 2. Get the HEALTHY support from healthy friends or family, 3. Get Professional counseling support if needed, 4. Focus on positive potential plans or goals, 5. Do not be in hurry to control your expectations (easier said than done.)

Consider sharing your feelings and thoughts early and often. The more you share the story the more you can desensitize yourself to the trauma unless you are ruminating too deeply. Avoiding the healing, with its pain, by using substances like alcohol, drugs, and food can give some people momentary comfort but can slow down the process or even create more problems. For me, the best strategy has been to speak with my many healthy supportive friends. Though not everyone is as lucky as me in this way, you might be well warned that building these positive relationships can and should be done now for your future requirements. If all else fails, local hospice organizations have bereavement groups that can get you started. There are books on the subject. There are counselors, coaches, and clergy who are trained to help. Do not think that you are strong to hold these things in and to NOT BOTHER anyone else with your pain. In fact, by sharing your grief and challenges you are probably allowing others the great benefit of being able to give some support and nurturing to you (and this will allow your partner to feel good about their efforts in your support.) Listen to advice when given but move slowly and carefully on any additional transitions that may be suggested. In most cases you do NOT need to rush into anything.
We can not escape life without loss and transitions. The trick is to learn how get through these times as gracefully as possible and to learn the lessons as easily as possible (so you do not have these lessons have to be repeated…) Keep your eyes open and your heart prepared to give and to receive. No one knows how to do these things perfectly and most of the time these transitions will not be pretty. They will be tests and lessons to learn from.
When we lose a major source of love and support, you can not easily replace this relationship but you can find ways to be open to positive, healthy relationships, and new sources of love, to begin to fill the void. (Do not rush into this but allow yourself to consider the possibilities.)

Please take good care of yourself. Support your friends and family if they have had losses ’cause we can all learn from these times… Celebrate Peace…

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Anger and Death

At some point, most people who live past adolescence realize that they are not going to get out this life, alive. Death is a natural, and unavoidable, outcome of living. (As of 2014, this is a fact of life…) Some cultures and societies work at pretending that death is NOT inevitable and this denial is built into the structure of the culture. Americans seem to frown on death like it is weakness in life to give in to death. In this culture, youth is celebrated and old people should only participate in celebrations of holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. There would be more television programs about older people if the culture were not in such denial. Now, I am not saying that we should have another “reality TV” show about older people’s last days amongst the living but it has been a long time since programs like the “Golden Girls.”

But the point of this blog article is not about denial of death and dying. It is about the emotions people feel regarding the loss of family member or friend to the process of dying. In the past, people lived with or near their families and families cared for each other with process of “passing away” done at home surrounded by family. Families would embrace the transition and it was a “natural” process. It is often very different in present day families.

Image that you were a child of divorced, or unmarried parents. You have been estranged from your biological parent due to divorce, or substance abuse, or prison, or large geographical distances and you learn that your non-custodial biological parent is dying. You may already harbor anger and resentment toward this parent for not “being there” for you and now you cannot even “get even” emotionally for the neglect (real or imagined) because the object of you anger is now leaving you due to a terminal disease process. How do you deal with your anger and your ambivalence toward this parent? From professional experience, I know that people often turn this anger inward. Depression often manifests. Anxiety can surface. Adjustment disorders may become inflamed. It is natural to be depressed or anxious. Though this is a natural response it remains often elusive as to how to deal with these strong emotions in “positive” ways.

Some cultures and religions suggest that you experience the loss of a significant person to better learn “your” lessons of this life. The perspective of surviving this loss can make you stronger. Everyone deals with loss differently. Some people want to escape their pain and avoid this strong emotion by getting involved with substance abuse. Some people use other behaviors to avoid their pain like playing too many video games, engaging in unsafe sexual experiences, or possibly other dangerous, but distracting, behaviors. A healthier way of responding to this difficult experience might be to get professional support or support from “healthy” family or friends. This might involve discussing the anger or the sadness in appropriate ways. It might involve discussing the loss and the void left when the person passes. It might include discussing the unfinished business. It might include discussing life beyond and how to consider filling “the void.”

Children or poorly articulate adults have serious challenges communicating their pain, anger, frustration, upset, and loss. They require assistance in a safe, “non-judgemental” relationship. They need to be told that their feelings are not un-natural or bad. They need to be counseled on how to express this emotion in safe and appropriate ways. They often need to be supported with positive alternatives forms of expression and positive choices to move forward in their lives. Often they have been “cheated” from the experience of telling their estranged parent or significant person the anger or pain they feel about their disappointing relationship. Alternative forms of communicating their feelings should be explored such as painting, drawing, writing, photography, or forms of sculpture.

It is hard to deal with the loss of a loved one (or significant other.) It is difficult to communicate your pain and ambivalence. Some people, especially children, need more assistance and support, from healthy, non-judgemental adults. I am sorry for your trauma and your loss. I can feel your pain. I have experienced this pain, myself, and it is not easy. Please take good care of yourself.