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People often talk about moving through grief as being a process of healing, the analogy with physical injuries is that bereavement causes an emotional injury and that grieving is the healing of that injury.  I don’t think that analogy works.  When Sharon died it felt like a huge chunk had been ripped out of my heart, but looking back now it wasn’t me who changed that night it was the world I was living in that changed.  Suddenly being alive hurt, not because I was wounded but because I no longer fitted into my world.  What I needed wasn’t healing; healing just takes you back to what you were before you were injured, but I needed to become someone else, someone who fitted into this new reality.  Healing restores your former self, I needed the opposite, I needed to abandon it.

In healing there is a template to guide you, that earlier healthy you to aspire to.  In grieving there is no template, you have to choose who you will become.  The choice you have to make again and again is between the pain of the loss, of living in a world in which you don’t fit anymore, and the pain of the self-destruction needed to become someone who does fit.  Live with this part of your loss or lose part of yourself.   This type of self-destruction is always part of our lives, we are constantly changing who we are as we learn and gain new experiences.  Generally our sense of self keeps up, normally it’s the person in an old photo of ourself who is the stranger, but sometimes we look in the mirror and don’t recognise the person behind the glass. 

Grief isn’t healing, it isn’t a process of restoration, it’s a process of destruction and building anew.  There are no right or wrong options when it comes to choosing what parts of ourselves to keep and what to let go, just the choices that we happen to make; and there’s no return to our old self, just a hope that we can become someone who is content with who they are and how they fit in the world. 

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Comment by Patrick on February 25, 2014 at 5:13am

Thank you for your replies, they’ve given me plenty to think about. 

I feel like I am basically the same person that I was before Sharon died, but I’m not sure that that past Patrick would have felt that this current Patrick was the same person as him.

The most obvious change has been from being “Patrick who is in love with Sharon” to becoming “Patrick who isn’t in love with Sharon”.  Before Sharon died I thought of that love as being part of the essence of who I was.  For me part of the grieving processes was accepting that Sharon didn’t love me anymore, not because she stopped loving me, but because she ceased to exist so there was no Sharon to love me.  (I held on to the fact that we had loved each other, that was enough for me.)  With that thought I was able to let go of my love for Sharon, and along the way I must have redefined what the essence of Patrick is so that I could accept that being in love with Sharon was no longer part of me.

It makes sense to think of regaining your sense of self before you can change yourself to fit into the world, and that part of that involves recovering from the initial trauma of the loss to the point that you feel yourself again.  Much to my complete amazement my sense of self survived Sharon’s death, maybe the reason that I see grief as working in the opposite direction as healing is that the part of grief that feels like healing was never a dominant part of my own journey.

Thanks again for sharing.

Patrick

Comment by missmyhunny on February 20, 2014 at 7:38am

laurajay,  I am sorry you have to face those difficulties on top of your loss, and it certainly compounds the grief.

I can understand your concerns, because it certainly is a concern as we get older. I am in Australia so i don't know how this might be applicable to you, but here we have what are called Retirement Villages, and i have had elderly family members that have sold their family homes to go into a Retirement Village. They said it was the best thing they have ever done, and just love it there. They make lots of new friends, and have assistance on site too should they need it. There are social activities to be enjoyed also if you feel like it, and the people that live in the Village look out for one another. I had my Sister-in-laws parents sell up their farm a couple of years ago, and moved into a lovely Retirement Village a couple of years ago, and they are enjoying it very much. An Aunt of mine did the same thing after she was widowed and elderly and loved her new home also. So it could be an option.

Comment by laurajay on February 20, 2014 at 7:18am

missyhunny   amazes me to have this understanding of what grief can do to you and for the first year I truly think I did  but being 100% alone after 40 some years  I am finding nothing but dread facing life day to day at almost two years with no one here to share the burden.  Younger folks might have the money and the stamina take on activity that can help them  but getting old is a huge challenge on abilities and not having someone here means just everyday things take more time and great amounts of energy.  To hire help is expensive.  To become a burden on friends and or family is a knock to independence and a loss of dignity and a reminder that abilities dim and constant adjustment is fact.  Even faith that once was strong  mocks you teases you with pain and bids you to stop hoping...Statistics  don't even begin to tell all...

The only thing  I cling to is love...giving it  and having gratitude every time it is received regardless of the frequency or amount.  But then  that is another subject altogether.  It is helpful to study a lot of the material regarding grief because it does offer practical suggestions.  Self care  really is vital!  Just don't expect too much too soon  because grief takes time and refuses to be hurried.  laurajay

Comment by missmyhunny on February 20, 2014 at 5:36am

Here are some of the ways Grief can affect us physically and mentally:

How Does Grief Affect the Body?

Physically

Grief affects us in many ways: loss of appetite, fatigue, heart palpitations, tightness in chest, weakness, lack of energy, gastrointestinal disturbances, and weight gain or loss. Many of these symptoms are not harmful and usually subside over time. However, grief can compromise our immune system, putting us at risk for colds and serious illness.

 Grief is also associated with more severe outcomes, including premature death. Research has found a significant increase in excess mortality (above what we’d normally expect) from accidental, violent, and alcohol-related deaths following loss. Individuals are more likely to commit, or attempt, suicide during times of grief.

Furthermore, emotional triggers such as grief may increase your risk for heart attack, especially if you are already at high risk. A study in Circulation reported that at-risk individuals are 20 percent more likely to suffer heart-related deaths during spousal bereavement. Those who are newly widowed are 21 times more likely to have a heart attack in the first 24 hours after learning their spouse has died. This elevated risk persists for at least a month, although it gradually declines over time.

Emotionally

It’s common for people who are grieving to feel myriad emotions-sadness, anxiety, anger, relief, fear, loneliness, guilt, abandonment, ambivalence, and despair. Unresolved grief may lead to depression or even post traumatic stress disorder.

Everyone experiences grief in his or her own way. Over time, most people adjust to the loss and put their energy back into other activities and relationships.

If you are grieving, it’s important to take care of yourself and protect your health. Find time to engage in pleasurable, relaxing activities and get adequate rest. Pay attention to your nutritional and emotional needs. Some people find that setting new goals, recording their feelings in a journal, or participating in a support group helps them adjust to their loss.

http://www.get-right.org/?p=1095

Comment by missmyhunny on February 20, 2014 at 5:23am

Patrick, Very interesting thoughts on Grieving. Grieving for me is the pain we experience when we have just gone through the huge shock of experiencing death first hand up close and personal, when we lose someone close to us. For me it is trying to come to terms with and process what has just happened. An unanticipated ,in other words a sudden and unexpected death does have the shock factor in it, which does affect us psychologically and physically. That is a medical fact, it is also a medical fact that we can and sometimes do die of a broken heart. So as far as that goes we do have to heal somehow from how the death does affect us physically and spiritually. We have to find the will to go on without our loved one.

And there is that factor of reinventing ourselves, because we are not given any other choice. I have been through multiple losses, but i don't feel that much different a person to whom i was before, just that now i am living without my loved ones that have died. If i have changed at all it is in the fact that it has been  added to my experiences of life and over time the experience of death, that i now know what it feels like to have that happen in my life. But i am basically still the same person within, just separated from those that have died.

But it is all a very personal journey, and affects everyone differently as to how they process the events that have transpired in their lives.

Comment by laurajay on February 19, 2014 at 8:08pm

Maybe the healing truly is a return to the essence of who we were when our spouse was alive. Once we find that essence through healing we can then begin to make changes that allow us to fit in again. I know I am the same woman I was with the same qualities and shortcomings.  How I relate in a world void of the one I loved so long who loved me requires change on my part.  A new role.  Who I am, my beliefs and values and morality and integrity and wisdom remains in tact.  I have healed a great deal in the almost 2 years that have past.  But  the sorrow will never leave.  I look for a new way to relate to find purpose and to give and receive love. I guess I see this journey differently  but I understand where you are coming from , Patrick.

We do progress individually in our grief  and each is entitled to his or her own understanding of this process.  Thank you for your post. It gave me food for thought at a low time and helped cement my own understandings.

Comment by oceangirl on February 19, 2014 at 2:34pm

I needed to hear this today, Patrick. Thank you. It's not that I didn't know this, but to see it in black and white clarified it to my restless mind today - Marsha

Comment by eliana on February 19, 2014 at 2:05pm

I agree with you.  There is no returning to who we were before our loss -- how could we?  The saying "time heals" just doesn't make any sense to me.  One of the most valuable things I ever read about grief is this (and I've repeated this over and over again):  Grief doesn't end; it changes shape.  And hopefully over time we develop what we need to handle it better.

Take care of yourself.

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