Guest Post by Michael Longsdon firstname.lastname@example.org
The death of your beloved spouse can shatter your entire world. There will be undeniable grief and sorrow as you mourn the love of your life. You might even begin to wonder how you’ll go on without them. For seniors who have possibly shared so many decades of their life with their significant other, it can be particularly difficult to move forward.
It’s important to realize that you are not alone. An estimated 800,000 people are widowed each year in the United States alone. Regardless of what some well-meaning people might tell you, there is not a “right” or “wrong” way to deal with the death of your beloved spouse. There is no specific amount of time you “should” take to grieve. The process is different for everyone.
Luckily, there are some time-tested words of wisdom that can help you cope in the weeks, months and years that follow the loss of your loved one:
First and foremost, give yourself time to grieve. During this process, you will undoubtedly need some support. Even for those with a solid support system and strong resilience, there is an unbelievable amount of grief that occurs when we lose our lifelong partner.
There will be some immediate needs that you will need to take care of, such as funeral planning and managing your household’s finances. It is common to feel overwhelmed by these sudden tasks – especially if your spouse typically handled most of the finances. Again, give yourself permission to reach out for help if you need it. Chances are, there might be a loving family member or a trusted friend who is willing to take on a few extra responsibilities to support you in this process.
Many people decide to move after the death of a spouse. This should not be a decision that is taken lightly, but instead should be made only after you’ve taken some time to really consider what is best for you. If you do eventually decide to move, you will want to properly handle and preserve any family heirlooms as items are either packed away into storage or donated. Not only do you want to protect the item, you also don’t want anything to get damaged in the process.
Regardless of whether or not you decide to move, you might also want to consider turning one of your beloved heirlooms into a memento. Choose an item that has special meaning to both yourself and your spouse, possibly something that reminds you of a happy memory or a certain aspect of his or her personality. Consider keeping the item and turning it into a keepsake that you can cherish for years to come.
As you work through your grief, you may look for other significant ways to remember your spouse. One excellent way to memorialize your loved one while also helping others is to start a nonprofit. As doing so can be complicated for those who aren’t familiar with the process, ZenBusiness offers step-by-step guidance on how to form your nonprofit. Especially if your loved one passed as a result of a specific medical condition or if there was a cause they were particularly involved in during their lifetime, a nonprofit can be a great way to raise awareness and funds while helping others in the process.
You don’t ever really get over the death of a spouse. But with patience and time, you will eventually get through it. Although the person you loved might be gone from this world in a physical form, they will always live on in your heart – and in your memories of your good times together.
Grief. It makes some people uncomfortable. According to the In the June 23, 2021, Advocate for Mom and Dad article: How To Help Somebody You Love Through Grief by Kate Romeo, when people don’t know how to deal with an uncomfortable situation, they often just don’t. Instead, they may shy away from the opportunity and simply let the other grieve alone in silence. This is not heathy—not for the person who is grieving, nor for the person who is avoiding their own discomfort. To help someone you love through grief, Romeo recommends the following:
- Understand the Grieving Process. Acknowledge that everyone deserves to process their grief in a healthy way.
- Think About What To Say To a Grieving Loved One. Be prepared to acknowledge the individual by listening to the bereaved one talk about their loved one’s passing—or even sit in silence with them while they process their emotions. Don’t be afraid to express your concerns and emotions, as well.
- Offer Some Help and Support Them. Demonstrate your continued support by helping out during the difficult times when their functioning may be limited.
- Watch For Signs of Depression. Be on the alert for difficulty functioning with daily life, a proclivity to focus on death, and even evidence of hallucinations.
What to Do about Mama? Excerpts about grief.
Death and dying is one of the most difficult passages we travel with our loved ones. There may be a lot of “self-help” books out there, but no “instructions,” per se. When you discuss the topic with other people, it becomes apparent that the differences in how people perceive end-of-life issues are vast. Everyone has his or her own values and beliefs (based on their unique life experiences), and emotions can run quite high.
From Jenna’s Story:
However, toward the end it was my siblings and I who supported my mother’s physical health and my father’s emotional health, as his anticipatory grief was larger than I think even he realized.
In addition, I found that being able to talk about my mother was so very important. Oftentimes, when someone dies, no one wants to mention the person’s name to the close family members who are grieving. Even to this day—three years later—this still happens. But, I find that being able to share stories about her makes me feel better.
From Amelia’s Story:
People feel uncomfortable saying anything, so no one really expresses what they want or don’t want. Maybe they worry about hurting feelings; maybe it’s too emotionally painful to make difficult decisions. People think it won’t happen or want to pretend it won’t happen. They adopt the approach, “Since I don’t know what to say, I won’t say anything.”
From Ellen’s Story:
When my mother passed away, I felt lost. It was like losing a child. I felt unneeded—like I had lost a lot of my importance and purpose in life. Caregiving took up a large percent of my day, and suddenly having so much time on my hands was a difficult adjustment for me. I went through years of depression after losing my mother, who was also my best friend. Over the years, our mother-child roles had reversed so much.
From June’s Update:What to Do about Mama? pp. 224, 279, 280-281, 277, 282, 286
I sat vigil for most of the twenty-four hours. My husband, daughter, and son were with me for most of the time. I sent them home around eight p.m. All the clinical signs of impending death were there, but she didn’t want to let go. She was unresponsive, but at one point, when my family was with me, I attempted to do mouth care with a sponge/stick. From under the sheet, up came her fist, which she shook at me. We looked at one another and laughed. She was still mad at me. That was so Mom. Around five a.m., I had this strong feeling that she did not want me there. It was so clear. I packed up, alerted the nurses, and drove home. I had just fallen asleep when the nursing home called me to say that she passed. I did not feel any guilt. I knew that was what she wanted. Surprisingly, I have moved on with great peace.
Did you ever listen to a speaker or read an article and think: “I never thought about it like that before”?
Well, that’s what happened when I read the Barbara Karnes article about cleaning out the belongings of a deceased family member.
BK Books | Something to Think About
Cleaning Out Their Belongings After Death
Why? Because her advice is the anthesis of what I would do—and actually have done. It’s against my nature. I’m a minimalist—the kind of person who is always paring down, cleaning out, and organizing.
I used to teach in a prison and there was a video I would show to my class with the coolest down-to earth counselor who had a way of explaining things in a way that just “hit it on the head”. The video featured this little girl who was like a “little mother”—always cleaning up. The counselor explained the child’s behavior by pointing out this was her way of trying to exert some control in her life. It was a coping mechanism to counter the uncontrollable situations in her environment.
For me, this counselor’s explanation was an “AHA” moment. It brought some light to my own behaviors.
Barbara Karnes received a letter asking for “guidance to family members who have lost a loved one regarding how to manage the process of cleaning out the residence of the person who passed away.”
The approach I have personally taken—one which I have often recommended—is to do it ahead of time. I have addressed this issue in my book, What to Do about Mama? by saying “I will not leave my children the burden of my messes.” (p. 332).
As my mother-in-law would say: “There’s always mañana.” She left the daunting task of downsizing and distributing her belongings to her children—a process that happened several times as her circumstances changed.”
As with everything, I suppose, there are different ways to look at the chore of having to allocate and dispose of your parents’ belongings. Depending on how they confronted that task, you will most likely have to deal with it, at least to some degree. That process can be formidable to be sure, but it can also be meaningful and healing from a nostalgic point of view.What to Do about Mama? pp. 221, 303-304
In light of my own caregiving experience, I am determined not to leave my children the remnants of my life in a state of disarray. I have always appreciated that my mother did not do that to my brother and me, and I was never happy about the fact that my mother-in-law did exactly that.
So, downsizing became the first project on the top of my list. David and I went through all our storage areas and closets, paring our belongings down to whatever we truly needed or wanted.
Next, I made a detailed inventory of our belongings. An appraiser came over one evening and gave us a verbal appraisal of many items on the list. Then, I distributed the inventory to our children so they could express what they were interested in having someday. It was like pulling teeth to get them to do it. I found it impossible to make hard-and-fast decisions but did manage to come up with a system that I think will make it easier for our children to distribute, donate, and dispose of our belongings. “
I have also blogged about the topic, previously:
Barbara Karnes recommendations, are quite different:
- First, if you don’t have to clean out belongings, don’t for awhile, wait even months if necessary. There can be great comfort seeing and holding something they treasured or used. In the early days of grief, their belongings can bring comfort and will help you.
- Second, don’t make any major life decisions, like selling the house, moving in with family, spending large sums of money, or investments for at least a year. That year will give you time to think with your mind not your emotions.
- Now, some people can’t wait months, even weeks, let alone a year. Decisions have to be made right away. If that is the case think of what you can keep, even if the material items aren’t needed but have sentimental memories—-keep them for awhile, you will know when you can let go of them. Err on the side of keeping.
- Adult children often rush in and organize us elderly, thinking they know best. This is a reminder to you adult children to be gentle, try to put yourself in your loved one’s situation and ask how you would feel and what would you want if it was you living this life challenge of releasing a lifetime of memories and often independence.
- There are companies you can hire that will help you downsize, relocate, organize the “house item releasing.” These people are sensitive to the emotional needs and experience of having to part with possessions accumulated over a lifetime–or not.
- When moving in the time of grief, letting go of material items is like letting go of the memories those items hold. It is an added burden to an already emotional assault on our idea of living.
I live in a condominium community which—though not specifically a 55+ community—is largely a 55+ community. In the year of the pandemic, our neighborhood has found itself in a state of transition, with some of the residents leaving to progress up the ladder of senior living options, and others passing away. One gentleman sold his home, downsized, and moved to a nearby assisted living facility—a difficult relocation during the coronavirus. Though admittedly of advanced age, I was still surprised when I saw his obituary in the paper only a few weeks later.
Now I wonder:
What treasures were left?
Your tribute to your father is touching. Although I do not follow any particular rituals in the mourning of my father, something I have done for nearly 60 years, I find that every milestone crossed is accompanied by the thought: I wish he could have known ______, or experienced _______, or that we could have shared _____. His death, and the circumstances surrounding his death were formative to who I grew to be as a person. The pain of losing him never goes away completely, and I know by now that it never will.
Cherish your memories and be thankful you have them.
Today Papa did not turn 73
Today is Papa’s birthday.
In Jewish tradition, we tend to commemorate the dates (on the Hebrew calendar) of our loved ones’ deaths, rather than their birthdays. Same goes for historic figures like our Jewish sages of the many centuries.
Generally, as somebody who deeply appreciates and respects his people’s traditions, I tend to think of them as frameworks for expression of human experiences. I don’t believe that they were designed by or mandated by God, but I do believe that they reflect and are the culmination of many, many centuries of Jewish wisdom.
But the truth is that I often find our traditions to be… lacking? No, not quite lacking… insufficient? At least – insufficient for me. The practice of reciting the mourner’s kaddish on a daily basis during the first year of mourning for a parent was –…
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Grief in Children Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD- Guest Blogger
The above post struck me to my core–and this is why:
Nearly sixty years. It never goes away. It formed who I became. In the late 50’s and early 60’s my father’s lymphoma was a “secret” that only his wife and children knew. After informing her 11 and 15 year old children that their father had a fatal illness, our mother rarely spoke to us about it—except, for an example, in retort to my question, “Can we have another baby?” “You know your father is going to die!” Bottling up became so profoundly painful, that both my brother and I became outspoken adults. For me, that doesn’t always have good results, but it is better than the alternative. The writing of my book, “What to Do about Mama?” and my blog of the same name, have brought my formative years into even greater focus. This article has made me wonder how I made it through adulthood without more “pathological developmental distortion or arrest.” Also see my blog post for more on the topic of grief: Different Perspectives on Grief
Here are some excerpts that really hit home:
- It seems senseless to debate which types of grief are the worst. Which are the hardest to bear. Every form hurts so very far beyond normal limits, beyond ordinary words. Profound sadness. It takes our breath away. It aches that much. Every form requires extraordinary coping skills. Every form holds its hazards. However, this childhood form does appear to be among the very worst.
- Only in childhood can death deprive an individual of so much opportunity to love and be loved and face him with so difficult a task of adaptation….The death of a parent engenders a longing of incomparable amount, intensity, and longevity.”
- The child’s loss of a parent is one of the most difficult forms of bereavement.
- Recovery is arduous, exhausting, and hard to accomplish. The death of a parent is life-altering on a permanent basis. It is a severe emotional wound. It is traumatic.
- “Although we know that, after such a loss, acute mourning will subside, we also know that a part of us shall remain inconsolable and never find a substitute. No matter what we believe may fill the gap…we will nevertheless remain changed forever…”
- From their many experiences with children, child psychotherapists tend to agree that the child’s mourning process never does entirely end, nor should it. The mental representation of the lost loved one, the memories and an accompanying degree of longing, remain with the child through childhood and adulthood – throughout his lifetime.
- The child is indeed bereaved, but he himself is in need of a caregiver.
- This troublesome outlook for the child can be mitigated by the understanding and compassionate presence of the other parent or another adult. Even an older sibling can soften the hardship. Someone must be there to receive and relieve the child’s distress. The child cannot be left alone to cope with loss and still remain healthy – both in mind and in body. Sorrow must be shared. Every person needs to know he is not alone with grief. The child is especially vulnerable and needy in this respect.
- Children draw great strength from their caregivers. The child needs the love and gentle guidance of a perceptive, patient, and capable caregiver.
- We know from those studies that children were least traumatized when the primary caregiver – usually but not always the mother – remained close, loving, calming, and comforting. Children’s reactions to loss depend mainly on the reactions of the primary caregiver.
- The interaction between internal and external forces decides between the possibility of normal developmental progress and the incidence of pathological developmental distortion or arrest.”
- If the child’s caregiver is the other parent, we have come full circle, returning to the bereaved caregiver. Grief is not optional. The caregiver must attend to his own grief and to the grief of his child. Perhaps, in some important sense, parent and child comfort, soothe, and reassure each other. They support one another. The feeling of deep sorrow is shared. The process and progress of the caregiver’s bereavement is then highly significant not only for himself but also for his child. The child’s mastery of his situation depends substantially on the caregiver. It is a large responsibility. Honesty and openness are virtually always good policy with children. The subject of death will carefully follow this pathway – when the caregiver is strong enough and wise enough to pursue it. He will know intuitively how to listen well and respond to the child’s expressions of grief.
- No hurry to heal. No pressure to “snap out of it.” Honesty and openness. Love. Memory. A firm, soothing hand to hold. Talking. It takes only one human being who cares. That is the route to strength and growth.