Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why Grieving Takes So Long

Take pity on the poor DGI. Since they've never experienced the loss of their spouse, perhaps the only way they can relate is to remember some high school crush of theirs that bombed out. Or maybe a beloved pet that died. They cried for a few days or weeks, then shrugged it off, grew up a bit, and got on with their life. Yet here you are, months or years later, still grieving. They are truly perplexed — why is it taking you so long to "get over" your dearly departed?

They see the obvious loss. You were married, but now your spouse is dead and gone. What they do not see are all the secondary losses. You, on the other hand, have to deal with not only the primary loss, but all the secondary losses simultaneously, and somehow keep your sanity.

While reading WidowNet last week, I found this great list of all the losses we have to contend with. I found it was helpful to be reminded of just how much I have had to deal with, as well as reassuring to acknowledge how far I have come:

[Taken from Levels Of Loss Experienced By A Person
Who Is Bereaved And/Or Divorced
by Dorothy Levesque]

It is often difficult for the family and friends of an individual who has recently experienced the loss of a loved one (whether through death or through divorce) to understand why the grieving process lasts so long. Family and friends want to see their loved one be happy and 'get on with life.' It is, therefore, important to be aware of the many levels of loss. This awareness may help the grieving person, as well as others who care about this individual, be more patient and more gentle during the time (often at least two to five years) of grief.

  1. LOSS OF A LOVED ONE: this level of loss is very obvious; consequently, many think it is the only level of loss.

  2. LOSS OF A LARGE CHUNK OF SELF: the part of self that was given to the other person in love; at death or divorce, this part of self seems to be violently wrenched from one's being.

  3. LOSS OF IDENTITY: often at times an individual identifies self by the 'roles of service' used in a relationship; when the other person is no longer present and the role no longer played, the individual often loses the feeling of wholeness.

  4. LOSS OF SELF CONFIDENCE: because a grieving person doesn't recognize his/her personal wholeness, the feeling of inadequacy – of not being able to do anything right – is often very strong.

  5. LOSS OF CHOSEN LIFE STYLE: divorce/death FORCE a person to begin a new way of life; in marrying, a person CHOOSES to be married. Even when, for very good reasons, a person must leave a spouse, the person does NOT willingly choose to be single again.

  6. LOSS OF SECURITY: because of the new life style, the grieving person doesn't know what will happen next or how he/she will emotionally react or respond to what will happen.

  7. LOSS OF FEELING SAFE: the grieving person feels exposed to the cold winds of life and feels very vulnerable.

  8. LOSS OF A KNOWN FAMILY STRUCTURE: death/divorce instantly changes the composition of a person's family thus creating another level of adjustment that must be faced.

  9. LOSS OF KNOWN PARENTING SYSTEM: no matter what age one's children are, the pressures of parenting shift and new stress is added.

  10. LOSS OF THE FAMILIAR MANNER OF RELATING TO/WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS: the interests of the grieving person change and, of course, sadness and anger are often evident. Because of this, family and friends frequently do not know how to respond and, therefore, avoid the individual.

  11. LOSS OF THE PAST: new acquaintances and new friends can be very supportive and accepting but they do not have a sense of the individual's past journey – of his/her history.

  12. LOSS OF THE FUTURE: it is frightening for a person in grief to think ahead – to think of next year or next week; there is a fear that whatever future there is will be as painful as the present moment.

  13. LOSS OF DIRECTION: the individual doesn't seem to have a purpose in life any more: nothing seems to matter.

  14. LOSS OF DREAMS: all plans for 'spending the rest of my life with the person I love' violently disappear.

  15. LOSS OF TRUST: because of the intense levels of loss and deep insecurities, it becomes very difficult for the individual to trust self; trusting anyone else is impossible for a long period of time.

  16. LOSS OF SHARING WITH A LOVED ONE: to many, the spouse was also the best friend – a confidante. Consequently, there is no one to listen to the little nothings (and the big events) of day to day living.

  17. LOSS OF THE ABILITY TO FOCUS: the grieving person's entire being is so affected by the loss that it becomes difficult to focus on what seem to be the 'non-essentials' of the rest of life.

  18. LOSS OF ABILITY TO SEE CHOICES: since the new life style was not a choice, there is a sub-conscious feeling that the individual has no control over his/her life.

  19. LOSS OF ABILITY TO MAKE DECISIONS: because of the existing insecurity and lack of self-trust, the individual asks everyone 'what should I do?' and then becomes more confused – because everyone gives a different answer.

  20. LOSS OF SENSE OF HUMOUR: when the most important person in one's life is no longer around, nothing seems to be funny.

  21. LOSS OF HEALTH: the strain of the emotional and psychological work often causes physical problems such as nausea, migraine, headaches, forming muscle knots, back problems, etc.

  22. LOSS OF INNER HAPPINESS/JOY: because so many individuals look outside themselves for a source of inner happiness, it takes a long time before an individual is able to recognize God in self as the real source of true joy.

  23. LOSS OF PATIENCE WITH SELF: the grieving person wants to feel better NOW and therefore feels inadequate when the feelings of grief last for the normal grieving period of two to five years.

It is important to note that some individuals may experience some levels of loss that are not mentioned in this list. Some of the levels mentioned may be levels not experienced by an individual. This list is presented as a means of helping the grieving person (as well as the grieving person's friends and relatives) understand why nothing can replace the grieving process — the period of time it takes for the wound of loss to become a scar — for the darkness of grief to become the light of life!

I hope that you found this list to be as helpful as I did. And maybe it wouldn't hurt to show it to someone who has been giving you the gears. After all, we're not the only ones who need new perspectives.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. My husband died on Nov 8, one year exactly from his first of four surgeries to remove glioblastoma multiforme 4 brain cancer. I am going to have my teenage sons read both of these articles, the bucket and the list. According to them I'm supposed to just get over it and not talk about their dad anymore because it just depresses everyone. But yet they don't want me to be at home alone all the time either. I'm 46, my husband was only 47. This is not the life we were supposed to be living. I cant' just 'get over it' He died two months ago today. They don't want to come home to visit me because it's too depressing. Gotta love em.

Vic said...

Hi Shelly, I'm very sorry for your loss.

Of course you can't just get over it. 2 months might as well be yesterday -- this is still early on yet.

At the last Support and Share night I attended, we took a quick poll among the loss-of-spouse facilitators, and on average it took us about 2 full years in order to integrate our losses.

In my case, those were dark, lonely, painful, and agonizing years. They were also incredibly rewarding, insightful, and healing years.

Please find a grief support group in your area. That's where you can talk about your husband with people who understand because they have also lost their spouse. It helped me a great deal.

May you find peace,


Anonymous said...

You left out the most important change: money. Money=Peace of mind. and if you no longer have money to pay the bills when your husband bites the dust from ALS, and you have to finger out if you will be out on the street, then money is in the forefront. Money is of monumental importance. Not health, family, friends, or children, or pets. It always, ALWAYS, comes down to money. Never forget this. Money=happiness=peace of mind. I have never known a truer more disillusioning truth. Think about it.