If 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?
There is a pretty well-accepted theory on grieving that the first year is the hardest. The loss is so new, the first months can be spent in a blur of shock and disbelief.
This can be especially true for a sudden loss, but can surprise people when they are in “shock” even after a loved one has died following a long and drawn out illness.
I’ve said it many times: nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can prepare us for the finality of death.
Navigating that first year, through anniversaries, birthdays and holidays can feel endless. But the assumption for most is that as long as they can get through that, it should be smoother sailing in the days ahead.
Here’s what you don’t expect when suffering with the grief of losing someone you love; that suddenly the majority of the people you spend time with (family, friends, coworkers) are afraid of you.
“Afraid of me?”, you wonder, because really, what is more frail or feeble, than a person in the throes of grief?
It may not appear that they are afraid of you. In fact, it’s likely they don’t realize it themselves.
But consider this: prior to the loss of your loved one you may have felt that you had a mostly supportive group of friends and family. And I think for most, our hope is that when bad things happen in life, it’s going to be those closest friends and family who will be there to support us.
And then…surprise! We lose a loved one, and suddenly the network of people we can turn to shrinks.
How could that be? Don’t they know that their support is needed now more than ever? What could possibly make it so that the people we care about retreat at the time when we need them most?
When you gather a group of people who have lost a loved one, one topic that inevitably comes up is what to do with their “stuff”: clothes, medicine, eyeglasses…
You can split a room on this topic. One half who are holding on tight to their loved one’s belongings, keeping the toothbrush where it was left, shoes where they were taken off, and medications on the counter top.
The other half says they have a hard time looking at these belongings, as they feel they are a constant and sad reminder of the person who is no longer here. I remember a man telling me that he re-painted the entire inside of his house, simply to cover over and remove the pain he felt in looking at the colors and decorations his wife had chosen.
But what happens when it’s not so simple, and you’re finding it difficult to move forward. Let’s say you have cleaned out a bit by donating eyeglasses, throwing out those things that held little sentimental value, and giving away old clothes to family who wanted them.
If you shared a home with the person who has died- slept in the same bed, sat at a kitchen table with them each day, had “your” seats in the living room when you watched TV together- how do you handle being in those places without them?