Dating After the Loss of a Spouse

Dating After the Loss of a SpouseIf there is one issue that can create division, and even anger, in a room full of widows and widowers, it’s the topic of dating after the loss of a spouse. Of all the subjects in all the groups that I’ve ever facilitated, this may be the most controversial.

For some, just the mention of dating again can cause such a negative and visceral reaction -I’ve seen grievers walk out of presentations where this topic was only one small part of the conversation.

But why the strong reaction? Does it a feel like a sense of betrayal to the deceased? Or of being rushed into something we’re not ready for? Is just the thought of having to start over, to put ourselves out there just too overwhelming or too exhausting? Is it that the endeavor seems worthless as there will simply never EVER be someone as perfect for us as the partner we lost?

And is it fair that a griever has to cope with this tremendous grief while also answering questions from family and friends about whether they plan to date again? Or is it fair that a griever may face judgement from those who think that they aren’t ready to date or believe they shouldn’t?

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10 Things Only a Griever Understands

griever understandsI once met a woman who used the word “civilians” to describe those who had not experienced the significant loss of a loved one. The griever, she said, has been in the trenches, endured the battle up close…has seen and heard things that can’t be unseen or unheard and often suffers from the post trauma stress that can haunt long after a loss. For me the analogy worked, and it’s one I come back to often when explaining to a bereavement group that there’s certain things only a griever understands.

It’s also what I find brings so many people to seek help outside of their circle of family and friends. Perhaps in the past we would turn to the ones who know us best when struggling with the trials and challenges of life. But everything changes after a significant loss, and especially in the early days, there is no change more evident than in the griever themselves.

Maybe this is why the bereaved seek out others who have not only had a loss, but who have experienced a loss similar to their own. At a time when there is so much uncertainty and so few things that make sense, there is an opportunity for support, validation, and camaraderie when grievers make connections and feel understood.

Everything that connected us to our network before – our shared interests, hobbies, beliefs, or even the bonds of time and relationship – will not seem to matter as much in loss. The griever wants to talk with those who get it. Because while so much of this experience is foreign to the griever, it may seem even stranger still to the “civlian”.

With that in mind, here are 10 things only the griever understands:

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Grief Roadblocks & How to Let Go of Tough Emotions

shutterstock_222258445When we lose someone we love, we expect to feel sad. Even years before their passing if we took a moment to contemplate what life would be like without them, we could have correctly predicted the sadness and heartache their absence would bring. The reality of grief, however, is so much more complex, and filled with so many tough emotions and “grief roadblocks” that even the most astute could never foresee.

A “grief roadblock” refers to any of the tough and complicated emotions that stand in the way of our path to healthy grieving. These emotions- like anger, guilt and regret- are very often responsible for leaving a person in a grief limbo and halting their ability to move forward.

While anger, guilt and regret are very different emotions, what it takes to move through and push past them is actually quite similar.

Before discussing how to cope with grief roadblocks, it’s worth mentioning that all of this is very “normal”. Not normal for you maybe, and certainly not pleasant, or comfortable. But getting “stuck” at some point along the grief journey is very common and very much to be expected. These emotions will manifest themselves differently for everyone, but here are some examples of what blocks the griever:

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Disenfranchised Grief: Stop Judging, Start Accepting

Disenfranchised GriefThere is a term called “Disenfranchised Grief” and it can be used to describe any time a person’s loss is not being validated or substantiated by those closest to them.

This creates a real problem for the griever. Not only do they have to struggle with the loss, but if they feel they have to defend the depths and complexities of their sadness to those around them, they may feel even more isolated, confused and alone.

Though largely unspoken, there are rules in grieving, and judgments being made about how sad we should be and for how long based on a number of factors. They can include the relationship we had with the person who died, their age when they passed, and in what way (sudden vs. expected) they died.

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Allowing Grief to Run its Course

grief symptomsImagine you have the flu. A coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, fever and body aches kind of flu.

You go to the doctor hoping for a prescription to get you out of your misery. Instead, the doctor says there is nothing that can be given – the flu must simply run its course.

I hate when this happens. When I go to the doctor and I’ve paid my copay, I hate leaving there with nothing to show for it but the sickness I walked in with.

I feel this way sometimes in counseling those who are grieving. While I know how important it is for the bereaved to speak, tell their story and be heard, I have also wondered how many times they’ve left thinking that for all our talking, their loved one is still gone, and nothing is going to change that.

So that’s where this flu analogy comes in. Because like a flu that needs to run its course, grief brings with it its own signs and symptoms. Continue reading “Allowing Grief to Run its Course”