Stages of Grief
No two authorities agree
on exactly which
stages of grief widows must go through.
Most agree that the number, type and
severity of stages differ from widow to widow,
depending on many individual factors.
agree that grief
is a job that must be done
before healing can occur.
it's true that grief loosely follows a pattern,
progressive stages, erratic symptoms often appear
without respect for those stages. In addition there is no predictable
One doesn't get over grief in a specific amount of time, as
the chicken pox or mumps. With time--and work--grief
changes its nature
and its intensity, becoming more tolerable and less
Eventually one's new life begins to play a more important
Each widow's grief is
different, depending on her age, her
financial resources, her
personal independence, her spirituality,
her family's and friends'
support network, her emotional stability,
training, her cultural heritage. Another essential factor
is the way
her husband died and her presence or absence at the death.
An 82-year-old woman who nursed her husband for three years surely
will experience grief differently than a 30-year-old mother
whose husband died of a sudden heart attack in bed beside
Suicide, death by violence, auto accident, fire, terrorism or
all set a widow up for very different grief patterns than
most of us can possible know.
If I learned anything from my
widowhood for this book, it is that
none of us should judge
another widow. Only she knows her own
Having said all that,
let me present a brief synopsis
from my book,
For Widows Only!
of what I recall about each of
stages that most widows will experience.
I described my
feelings of shock to being
inside a protective bubble.
nightmare as an interested observer.
I participated in
decision-making, I acted as hostess, but I was safely
tucked away in
my bubble, where reality couldn't quite reach me.
I remember having heard of this phenomenon, but I felt such pain
those first days that I
thought I had no cushioning of shock.
Only weeks later did the full
impact of my loss hit me.
By then I guess I was more prepared to handle it.
heavens for the protection of "shock"
during those initial hours.
In spite of
thinking that I was "in control"
most of the time,
I recall (and my
journal entries remind me)
that I suffered a great deal of
and disorientation during
those first weeks/months of widowhood.
felt like an interested observer
during the after-service luncheon
at my house, at church on Sundays,
at those few social events I
even when walking four-miles-a-day
with neighbors. I
smiled. I answered questions. But I really drifted a
few feet above
observing and feeling quite superior
in the knowledge that
I knew a lot that they did not.
I cannot explain that, but I can
recall it clearly.
Denial is a
blessing--for awhile. The death of your love
and the reality of life alone are simply too much for the injured
of the newly widowed. Like shock, denial steps in to cushion us
we cannot yet quite handle. There comes a time, however,
when denial can
become a shackle, making us a prisoner of our grief.
At nine months I
was faced with my denial abruptly by my therapist,
very impressed with how well you
are doing." I swelled with pride,
but he paused and then added "...intellectually.
But you haven't begun
Bruce's death emotionally. You still expect him to come back."
He ordered me to write a letter to Bruce,
telling him all that I missed
about him...and then all that was better
since he was gone!
I couldn't believe it.
But doing this brought me
face to face
with reality and
greatly aided in my recovery.
"I'll never ask for
another thing, God, if you'll just let him live."
"If you let him live I promise I'll be a better wife (or quit
quit drinking or lose weight)." According to Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross,
one of the primary
stages in accepting one's own approaching
death, and is also common
among those awaiting the death of a spouse.
The only bargaining I
recall was during
those first frantic minutes,
while I was trying to revive my husband and waiting for the rescue
Because I was there when he died and the death was both sudden and
there was little
time for me to beg. Those whose mates
lingering illness or within hours or days after
often bargain passionately
for their love
to be spared death.
And, I'm sure I
would have done
fought anxiety with massage, meditation, exercise and big doses of
But often I lost the battle. I had an anxiety attack
the wee hours of a morning, believing that I was dying exactly as
had, of arrhythmia and heart failure. I felt faint and my
My dear neighbor saved me by coming over and
reassuring me, making me
realize that the anxiety was a natural
aspect of my grief. I recommend
all widows keep a few quick-acting
anxiety pills on hand, to take ONLY
when the anxiety gets out of control and reading a grief book
doesn't help and there is no neighbor to come
Just don't try to escape the pain of grief with pills
That will surely backfire on you.
If I said it once I
said it a hundred times:
"How could I possibly be
angry with poor
None of this is his fault." It might be the least
grief's stages, but it also
is one of the most prevalent.
escape feelings of anger toward their deceased husbands.
In my case
it was usually when I was overwhelmed with my new
responsibilities and my helplessness to change things.
I was angry
at him for leaving me alone to deal with too much stuff;
being honest with me and with his doctor; for choosing
a few dollars
a month more in retirement instead of choosing
the survivor's option
on his pension;
for not having opted to
enjoy life more when he was
alive, etc., etc. Once I learned
that anger was acceptable, I found
all kinds of reasons
to lash out at him.
It was reassuring to read
that my hostilities were normal,
dissipated as the months
Nearly all widows
suffer some guilt, most without real cause.
I beat myself over the
head for not seeing signs of heart trouble months
before he died,
for not dragging him off to the doctor the day before,
and for not
seeing that he exercised more regularly.
Even women who feel they
have good reason to feel guilty must
work through these feelings on
their own, or with a therapist's help,
so that they can move forward
in their grief.
Guilt is not helpful in itself, as most other stages of grief
It is only destructive if not resolved. If you feel guilty and
afford professional help, write your late mate a letter expressing
your reasons for feeling guilty. Talk with other widows about them.
Dig them out and get rid of them,
or they may retard your progress.
I had had several
experiences of nursing others through depression,
so I was alert to
symptoms and very aware that I could expect
at some time to become
depressed. I watched myself like a hawk.
When I felt myself slipping
slimy pit, I calmly asked my doctor
for a few anti-depressant pills to
keep on hand, but I was able to
go through the stage for four months
without having to take them.
I knew danger signals, and would have
taken the pills and called for help
at the first sign of losing
control. I think, in retrospect, that this is one
of the hardest stages, but the one which provides the most opportunity
for growth and self knowledge,
as long as it doesn't get out of hand.
My depression was obviously
not serious. If you worry that yours is serious,
get help! Counseling is preferable to drugs, and usually more
No one should tolerate
thoughts of suicide or of abuse of others.
If you reach that point,
you must reach out to anyone and everyone
for help! Just keep
saying, over and over, "I need help. I need help,"
until someone finally realizes
that you aren't kidding.
Although not included in most lists of grief's
stages, I found
cockiness to be a
definite stage that I went
through several times.
You may recognize it.
I believed, on those occasions, that grief was
much easier than
most authors thought. I knew I was alert, capable and in
and I knew I wouldn't let grief get me down. I felt, also,
that I was
particularly immune to grief's hazards because I knew so
grief from earlier research. Wrong!
Like denial, cockiness serves to cushion
reality for a time. I think it also gives us "practice sessions" of
normality and successful living, so that we won't forget what it is
like to be
alert, capable and in control. But if you spot cockiness
have a little talk with yourself and try to keep
yourself attuned to
the reality of your life alone. Continued
cockiness, while enjoyable,
can prevent you from
proceeding properly through
Acceptance is the "carrot" that leads us toward the end of this race
with reality. Most grief experts agree that to recover from the
of grief we must get to the point where we not only accept
husband's death as real and final, but that we accept our life
as real and ripe with opportunity. Acceptance
seems an impossible dream
in early grief, and we must survive many
painful struggles to achieve it.
But it is what makes all that
grieving worthwhile. It is that light at the end
of a long, gray
tunnel. We all wish we could skip right to this stage,
but it's the
lessons learned in all the other stages that makes
We can't rush the system.
We can just learn about it and patiently
toward this elusive goal of Acceptance.
are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full."
by Marcel Proust
book can help!
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