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Facing Loss of a Mate

Last updated 06/16/2023

Facing Loss of a Mate
Helen Dennis

As published in the Daily Breeze, May 2004


Hello dear readers. I would like to share with you some collective wisdom of a group of women and men who participated in an eight-week bereavement group. All group members lost a spouse. I was part of that group. David A. Crenshaw, author of Bereavement: Counseling the Grieving Throughout the Life Cycle writes, “The death of a spouse at any age or stage in life is one of the most emotionally difficult and taxing experiences of anyone’s lifetime.” I think the members of our group would agree. Each person goes through the grieving process differently. There also are documented differences between how men and women go through this process. Therese A. Rando, author of How to go on Living When Someone You Love Dies, finds that men have a faster social recovery and slower emotional recovery compared to women. As one man in our group stated, “My wife was my confident.” With the sole confident gone, who does a man talk to? On the positive side, research has documented that older persons are resilient and adaptable in dealing with loss. In some cases, a tragic loss can be turned into an opportunity for growth. One woman in our group, currently a business owner, enrolled in
a program to fulfill a life-long dream – to become a veterinarian assistant. In general, people don’t know what to say to the survivor for at least two reasons. First, there is a ritual around funerals. We know what do. Attend the funeral, extend your condolences, send flowers, make a charitable donation and send a card. There are no rituals after the funeral.

Second, it is impossible for others to fix the problem. We are a society of fixers, creators and problem solvers. What do say when we feel powerless? Given these frustrating circumstances, group members provided some suggestions to those who want to express their caring and love.
 Stay in touch: send e-mails, make telephone calls and send greeting cards for different holidays. “Just thinking of you” goes a long way.
 Be the planner. Instead of asking “What do you want to do, say “I’ll pick you up at 5:00 and we’ll go to dinner at Joe’s café.”
 Be honest. Say, “I don’t really know how your feel. I just want you to know that I will always be here for you.” And then make sure you are of “there” for the person.
 Share dinners. Suggest a potluck so the bereaved has company for dinner. Days can become very long.
 Give a hug. A warm and caring embrace provides a wonderful “feel good” moment.
 Give permission. Tell your friends it is OK to talk about your husband or wife. In fact, it is good as long as they don’t mind a tear or two.
 Suggest overnight company. Ask your friend if he or she would like a house guest for the night. This helps fill a void…at least for an evening. And then there are the few well-intended phrases that should be avoided:
 “I really know how you feel.”
 “He (or she) is better off.”
 “Are you dating yet?”

 “You’ll get over it.”
 “You just need to keep busy.”
 “With such a big house, you really should move.”
 “You’re young” (implying you always can remarry).
Our group concluded that friends and family have been sensitive and caring. Each is
on the journey to recover, reposition, re-invent and continue living. This column is dedicated to these men and women who have the courage to pursue life and to the loving spouses who are gone. May their memories be a blessing.