Losing a Spouse

Grief Support

We empathize with how the death of a loved one can be a difficult experience.

They may be gone, but they are far from forgotten. It’s an experience nobody expects yet leaves scars in our hearts that last a lifetime.

In our own way, Algordanza wishes to help you cope with grief and loss. A local certified Psychotherapist stands with us in this endeavor and brings you the following articles to help you in times of grieving:

Losing a Spouse
Losing a Spouse
Written by:Sasha Javadpour - Founder|Director|Psychotherapist-Hirsch Therapy Pte. Ltd.

Losing a Spouse
“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship”
~ Robert Anderson ~

The loss of a spouse has been noted to be one of the most difficult life transitions that one can go through. This difficulty is further exacerbated by the duration and quality of the relationship. The more time two people have spent together and the better the quality of the relationship, the greater the feeling of loss one would experience. Spousal loss has one of the greatest impacts on physical health, psychological wellbeing, and productivity in daily life. The more difficulty the surviving spouse has with the transition into widowhood, the greater the impact will be. For this reason, it is important to know how spousal loss impacts us and what we can do to better manage the transition.

Grief, in general, is characterised by feelings of deep sadness, emptiness, depression, loneliness, disbelief, and yearnings for the deceased. Naturally, the more the deceased meant to us, the stronger these feelings will be. Marriages, especially those that have lasted for a long time, are more likely to be met with stronger emotional reactions when one spouse dies. The loss of a spouse is most devastating because of the external stressors it is associated with. These stressors include reminders such as anniversaries, and practical stressors that come from all the added taking-over of responsibilities and tasks. It is especially important to learn to manage these external stressors as they can drastically influence the emotional resources we have left to manage the actual feelings associated with the loss of a spouse.

The bereaved hold many emotionally charged memories of their lost spouse, especially with regard to their interactions. Such memories become more easily accessible in bereavement by a wide variety of triggers that can range in frequency – from daily to annually. The recently widowed may have to face the reality of their partner’s death every morning when they are reminded that their partner is no longer around. This can make starting the day particularly dreadful. In the evenings, when all the chores are done, most people have more time to themselves and their thoughts. For the recently bereaved this can be a distressing time as they are flooded with memories of their lost spouse. After a draining and exhausting day, the bereaved may have fewer resources to escape such inner turmoil. This means that they may be caught spending more time ruminating about their loved one. This, in turn, can make them feel lonelier and emptier than before. The bereaved may also be faced with unavoidable annual reminders such as their wedding anniversary or birthdays. These can act as powerful triggers for memories which can make the recipient miss the deceased even more.

At this point it can be helpful to note that although memories can cause significant distress, they can also bring tremendous comfort. Recalling warm memories of precious moments can be soothing and comforting as they maintain positive connections with the deceased. This can be beneficial, regardless of how much time has passed, and should not be discouraged. Verbalising these memories with others can further increase and spread this soothing and comforting effect. Sharing such memories can also aid in bringing other loved ones together and providing mutual relief from the pain.

Family units tend to allocate roles and responsibilities to its members. Over the course of a marriage, it is natural that each partner takes on specific tasks for which they alone are responsible for. Some examples may include repair work, cooking, doing the taxes, managing of the insurance, accounting for family spending, paying bills, or earning income. In a relationship this division of labour allows the weight of the duties to be shared by the partners. However, such specialisation may cause crippling standstills in widowhood as all the roles and responsibilities of the deceased partner fall upon the surviving partner. Having to suddenly learn so many new things can be overwhelming. This is made worse if the surviving partner does not have a lot of social support or is facing financial difficulties. These problems also get harder to manage, mentally and physically, with age.

Here, perspective plays the primary role. Whether one sees these overwhelming odds as crippling obstacles or opportunities for personal growth can make a tremendous difference. Putting yourself on a new journey to learn and experience new tasks and responsibilities can provide insight into new strengths, and a sense of independence, control, and resilience that may have been unfamiliar before. This, in turn, can have a profound effect on your sense of self-efficacy, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

Working on these external stressors also offers some benefits to the grieving process. According to the Dual Process Model of Bereavement, the grieving process is best facilitated by regular toggling between feeling the loss (aka loss-orientation) and taking a break from grieving (aka restoration-orientation) to focus on other things. Both of these orientations carry pros and cons. The toggling between orientations helps to create a healthy balance that recognises the emotions felt as well as the need to move forward. This method provides you with the pros of both and reduces the cons of each orientation.

Loss-orientation involves focusing on grief-related feelings and behaviours that allow the individual to experience and process the loss. In this orientation people cry, mourn, reflect, get angry, feel the despair, or recall memories. This orientation is often utilised during grief counselling where clients get to fully and deeply explore the feelings associated with the loss.

The drawback of focusing solely on this orientation is that it is also characterised by the avoidance of change. People who focus too much on this orientation may face difficulties moving forward and pass the loss. They may become stuck in a self-destructive spiral of grief.

Restoration-orientation focuses on coping strategies directed toward coping and moving forward. These often include overcoming some of the challenges associated with their new roles, making important life decisions, taking time to focus on their own health, trying new things, mastering new skills, and taking greater care of oneself. These, specifically, contribute to a greater sense of confidence, independence, and personal growth.

The drawback of focusing solely on this orientation is that it is also characterised by the avoidance of grief. People who focus too much on this orientation may take longer to work through their grief as they tend to ignore their emotions and deny themselves the natural process of bereavement. This may result in people holding on to the pain and sorrow for a longer duration than is necessary.

Toggling between the two orientations allows the individual time to process their grief in the loss-orientation while occasionally taking breaks from their bereavement to take care of themselves and their responsibilities. Many get stuck in either orientation out of differing concerns or fears. For example, some may feel that they may forget the deceased and lose the connection they have if they took a minute to focus on other things. Some may fear getting stuck in grief and being unable to function. Some may be unable to get in touch with their emotions at all. In such instances, it can help to speak with a mental health professional. In therapy, you can explore some of these concerns so that you can go through the grieving process in the healthiest and safest way possible.