Are you ready to stop thinking about your late husband or wife on a regular basis? Will you ever get enough of those old memories? Will next year's anniversary of the death pass by without psychological mayhem? Will you ever stop wanting to say his or her name aloud around those who knew your wife or husband best?
Even though my husband died 6 years ago, and even though I have a really loving, handsome, good man in my life, and even though I now feel pretty happy and well-adjusted to life after a major loss, I still think a lot about my husband who died. I think about how radically different my life feels without him and the life I had envisioned for us, and I still think it's really lousy that he kicked it at age 52 when our kids were young. I really like being with people who knew Ken; it's comforting when they are willing to talk about him or share memories.
I think about him, and about losing him, quite often.
Turns out, thoughts and feelings about losing a spouse can last a lot longer than you might imagine. For those of us who have had a wife or husband die, the idea that grief reactions endure will come as no big surprise.
An interesting study on this topic, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology a few years ago, confirms what many of us know through experience. You can find happiness again after being widowed, but the thoughts of your spouse and what you lost can last and last. The study is called: "The Time Course of Grief Reactions to Spousal Loss: Evidence from a National Probability Sample." Its major finding? "The widowed continued to talk, think, and feel emotions about their lost spouse decades later."
This isn't bad news. It's just the way it is. It's normal. If you lose your spouse here on earth, you can pretty much guarantee that he or she is going to stick around in your thoughts. Some of them will be sad. Some will be happy. Some might even promote some personal growth.
Here are just a few of the findings from this national study which included interviews with 768 widowed men and women whose spouse had died anywhere from less than one year to 64 years previously:
* Even 20 years after the loss, it was common for a typical survey respondent to think about his or her spouse at least every week or two, and to talk about him or her every month.
* The frequency of upsetting thoughts about one's loved one decreases over time, but happy thoughts don't decrease, and they may help to maintain connection with the spouse who died
* Intense anniversary reactions can occur for years after the loss; they are common, even decades after the death.
* Over time, personal growth often arises from surviving the loss of a spouse. Growth can come from positive memories or finding other positives stemming from the loss, from spirituality, and from taking on new tasks that one's spouse used to handle.
For those of you who have been widowed, whether you've remarried or not, whether it's been one year or 20 since your spouse died, know that the thoughts you have about your loved one are normal, and they aren't likely to go away completely during your lifetime. In fact, your memories are a very real bond that connects you to your love.
If you're a friend or family member of someone who has lost a wife or husband, know that the one who died is rarely far from the thoughts of those left behind. It's how we love them after they go.