Losing your mate
When someone loses his or her spouse, it can be a huge loss; moving forward may seem difficult. Here are some tips on how to come to terms with the loss, cope with the present and hope for the future.
BY: Joan Swee
When someone loses a spouse, it can be a painful experience and hard to move on.
• Begin where you are; learn to ask for and receive help – There is no need to try to be “alright” for everybody. Don’t be afraid to be needy of others in this time of weakness. It is safe to be vulnerable to those who love us.
• Talk about your thoughts and feelings – Don’t be afraid to share your grief with others as healing can occur. Talk about the sort of person your spouse was, the types of activities you enjoyed together and the memories.
• Don’t be afraid to cry – Tears help in the healing process. Keeping the anguish trapped within will merely increase the pain. Encourage your children to cry, even the boys. Tell them it is not a “sissy” thing to do so. Anticipate the multitude of emotions including fear, guilt, disorientation, confusion, relief and anger all in the same time, as these emotions are healthy and normal.
• If you know a God, tell him about it – I remember the many times I drove to a quiet spot along Old Holland Road and just poured my heart and soul to God, even physically letting out steam. God understands our pain, and will not judge us for our feelings.
• Pen down your feelings – One helpful thing to do is to write letters to your God or to your late spouse. They could be about things left unspoken, dreams unfulfilled, promises neglected, regrets or apologies not made, feelings of love and good-byes not said.
• Give yourself time to grieve – Suppressing your grief under a cloud of busyness is dangerous. It will show up in other areas, which may be worse for yourself, your children or others around you. I took three days after the funeral of my husband to let it all out and to be alone. What followed was months of more tears and dealing with issues of grief. It took me a year before I felt “normal” again. But watch out for depression and seek professional help for it. Don’t feel you need to be brave as you are only human.
• Don’t make major decisions including dealing with personal belongings within the first year of grief, as we are not very rational during that time – Take time to ponder and consult trusted family members or friends. Never sign contracts under pressure. And it is really no harm if you don’t deal with certain things for the time being.
And for those around the bereaved, you can also play your part:
• Allow the bereaved to grieve – Don’t rush them to get out of the mourning process. Allow expressions of anger, sadness and doubt.
• Be present with them and for them – Extend practical help such as cooking meals, doing the laundry, grocery shopping, childcare, etc. Give help when they can’t do anything in their state of confusion. Offer them support such as by saying: “Tell me what I can do for you”.
• Listen with empathy and withhold advice – Keep theology out. Expressions like “God knows best”, “He works all things for good”, or “Let me explain why this happened” are inappropriate during the initial grief period.
• Acknowledge the situation – For example: “I heard that your <husband’s name> died.” It is ok to use the word “died” as that will show that you are more open to talk about how the person really feels.
• Do express your concern – You can do so by saying: “I’m sorry to hear that this happened to you”.
• Be honest and caring – Don’t say, “I know how you feel” unless you have also lost a loved one. It’s okay to admit you don’t know what to do or say. Crying with them and identifying with their pain will go a long way.
• Be sensitive to their need for solitude – At times, they need to withdraw to sort things out in their minds. You can keep in touch with them through cards or letters. You could even write a prayer. Allow an interval of time, perhaps two weeks before visiting again.
• Look out for signs of depression – Arrange for medical care if needed. Some, especially those who suffer a traumatic loss, may need sedatives or anti-depressants.
• Don’t try to rush their healing process – There is no fixed time or formula for them to heal. You can consider praying for them when they do not have the strength to do so.
• Invite the widow and children to join your family weekend activities – Offer the widow a “day-off” while you take her children out for a day.
• Adopt the widow and her children into your family – The men can consider becoming male mentors for the fatherless boys and girls. Consider being “Godpa” or “Godma” to the children.
Joan Swee is a committee member of the organisation, WiCare, which helps widows by identifying their grief and loss, providing encouragement and friendship, and as a community, help them come to terms with their loss, cope with the present and hope for the future. Its ultimate goal is for the widow to move on, care for her children, integrate back into society, and be an inspiration to others.