loss of a Loved One
Guide for the Newly Widowed
The Loss of a Soulmate
Your Loved One has left your life and changed it forever.
However much you may wish otherwise, you will never be the same.
What has happened to you may be the most heart-wrenching
experience you have ever known. Perhaps you have lost what you thought you
could not possibly live without. Perhaps something has been taken from you that
has given your life deep meaning and great joy. Perhaps you have been given
news that threatens to be your undoing.
You may find that each day has become an agony for you, that you
cannot escape your anguish. You may know what it's like to finally fall asleep,
only to discover that your torture does not leave you; it follows you in your
dreams. When you awaken, it stabs at you once more. You may wonder how long
you'll be able to go on living like this. You may wonder if it will ever get
better, or if there will be anything to hope for or live for again.
It's possible that what has happened to you may not be the
worst thing you've ever known. You may be able to recall times in your life
when your situation seemed more trying than it does now. And yet, you may still
find that the experience with which you're now confronted leaves you shaken and
unnerved. Your feelings may rush over you unpredictably, beyond your control.
You may hurt deep inside. You may wonder how long your life will go on this
However long this troubling time lasts, chances are it will seem
Almost always it goes on too long for people around you,
especially those who do not understand how much your life has been affected.
They may want you to return to normal more quickly than you're able. They may
not realize that your "old normal" may not be your "new normal." They may act
concerned if your sadness persists. They may resist your needing to talk about
what has happened to you, and what is happening within you. Worst of all, they
may not understand at all, telling you "Stop it Already!".
Your grieving may go on longer than you want it to. You
may tire of feeling always tired. You may grow weary of your weariness. You may
feel weakened by the continuing pain.
Your task, however, is to remain in your pain long enough
-- not a day longer than you need to, but not a day less than your loss
demands. For however uncomfortable this time is for you, it is serving a
purpose. It is helping you heal. And all wounds heal the same way -- from the
The words that follow were written for people like you and for
times like this. Their purpose is to lead you through these days with as much
comfort and as much security as is reasonably possible.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: you are not alone.
Others have made the journey before that you are making now, and they have
returned to lead lives that are both engaging and fulfilling. Others are making
a similar journey at this moment and they are learning as you are learning.
Others are around you who wish to support you and to do what they can for you.
There are companions for you along the way. You may not have experienced that
yet, but they're there.
Not all the thoughts written here will be equally appropriate for
you. Some will fit your situation better than others. Take the ideas and
suggestions that suit you the best and offer you the most. Then leave the rest
for other people, or for another time in your life.
May you find here a sense of hope and the assurance that all is
not lost. Yes, you have been hurt. Yes, your path is not easy. Yes, the way
seems long. But, no, you do not have to suffer forever. No, you do not have to
be completely overcome. No, you do not have to travel entirely alone.
You can do what you fear you cannot. You can find ways to help
yourself and ways to be helped. You can make this a time of growth, and you can
become the person you wish to become.
In other words, you can heal. You can be whole again. You can be
The best way to handle your feelings
is not to
"handle" them but to feel them.
You may receive unhelpful messages from others about how to deal
with your feelings as you go through this chaotic time of your life. You may
receive such messages even from yourself. Here are three examples:
- "You must be strong now." Sometimes you're expected to
be strong for your own sake, and sometimes it's for other people, usually those
in your own family. "Be strong," of course, has another translation: "Don't
show that you're weak by putting your emotions on open display."
- "You're handling this very well." The translation here
is, "You're not crying and acting upset in front of others." It's reported that
an entire generation took important cues about handling their loss from Jackie
Kennedy on national TV in the days following JFK's murder. Her private,
reserved way need not be yours.
- "Stop already." Many people know how to respond better
to happy faces than sad ones. They have special difficulty when those faces
stay sad for a long time. In a subtle way they're saying to people like you,
"Hurry up now. Let's get this part over with." They're saying this more for
their own comfort than for yours.
If you hear these or similar messages, you will do yourself a
favor to ignore them. The best way to go through this process of dealing with
loss is by following your own timetable and with your feelings firmly in place.
The healthiest way to deal with your emotions is to feel them as they happen,
whenever that is, wherever that occurs.
You may experience feelings you'd expect. You may be sad about
what has happened and what it means for your life. You may feel depressed, even
despairing. You may find that you're more afraid than normal. You may feel
lonely. You may be even more lonely when you're with other people, including
people you love. You may feel tired all the time. You may be easily distracted.
There are other feelings you may not expect to have. You may be
angry, if not enraged. You may be unusually anxious and not understand why. You
may feel a real sense of relief, as if a burden has been lifted from you.
Afterward you may feel embarrassed that you felt so relieved. You may feel
guilty, unexpectedly so.
Another sensation you may experience is this: almost no feeling
at all. You may feel empty and numb. That's a common reaction at first. It's a
sign that your body may be protecting you for awhile, until you are more ready
to process all that has occurred.
What you are going through is an ordeal. It takes courage to face
all you must face. It takes a huge amount of energy, and at a time when your
energy reserves are in short supply. It takes determination to keep doing day
after day what is yours to do these days: to feel all that you feel.
You cannot escape your emotions. Your choice is simply this: you
can experience your feelings and move through them as they surface, or you can
put them off until another time. But you do not have the choice of putting them
off forever. Somehow, sometime, your feelings will demand your attention. By
then they may be even stronger and deeper than now.
Remember: the best way out is always through. The best way to get
beyond your feelings is to experience them as fully as you can and as often as
you need to.
Only by giving your loss expression
will you begin to
It's one thing to feel what you feel. It's another to make your
feelings known. Yet the more you can do that, the faster you'll be able to
heal, and the more completely.
Everyone approaches this matter of expression in their own unique
way, so you'll have to figure out what's right for you. Some people find that
talking with just one other person works best. That might be a friend, a family
member, or a professional of some sort. Others prefer to talk one-on-one with
various people. They have enough to say, and enough different ways to say it,
that it feels appropriate to communicate with several.
Do what suits you. You might talk with a person you've long
known, or with someone you've recently met. You might chat informally over
lunch, or at home, or someplace quiet. Or you might talk more formally by
meeting at a certain place for a series of conversations, focused entirely on
your particular issues. You might have the option of joining a support group
composed of people going through what you're going through. These groups can be
Make sure you can trust whomever it is you're opening up to. What
you have to say is personal enough that it needs to stay between the two of you
or within the group of you. Find someone who is a good listener, someone who
will give you the space to say what you need to say.
Of course, you don't need to limit your expression to only
speaking your feelings. Many people report that writing about what's
going on inside them is a helpful release. Taking the time to construct your
thoughts on paper, or on a computer screen, forces a deliberateness that
talking may not provide. If you haven't been a journal writer, consider
becoming one now. Write as often as you want, but try to write regularly and
always write honestly.
You might write long letters to someone you know who wants to
hear from you. Or you might compose letters that you'll never send -- letters
to someone who is no longer in your life, or letters to yourself, or letters to
God. You might try your hand at poetry or with a fictional story. You might
write the true story of what has transpired in your own life.
Sometimes your feelings cannot be contained by words. Who can
improve upon crying as a means of expressing sadness or frustration? Did you
know that the chemical makeup of your tears of sorrow or grief is quite
different from your tears of happiness or relief? There's growing evidence that
crying is as healthy for you physically as it is emotionally.
There are other wordless ways for expressing what you feel:
drawing and painting, weaving and sewing, photographing and sculpting. Some
people find dancing expressive, others prefer singing. Some turn naturally to
playing a musical instrument.
However you choose to express yourself, know that you are
encouraging your own healing in doing what you do. You are finding ways to make
sense of what has happened, and to accept, bit by bit, more and more, the
reality of what it all means. So do what's natural for you: express yourself in
the ways that are uniquely you. Do it often, and do it the best way: with
Sometimes it makes perfect sense to act a little
Yes, these can be nutty times. Your sense of security may be
shaken. Old ways of thinking may no longer be valid. Former ways of doing
things may no longer be possible. You may feel you have lost your center.
In such circumstances it's normal for you to act differently. You
may have a hard time concentrating, and you may be more forgetful than you've
ever been. You may find it difficult to make decisions. Or you may make
decisions quite quickly, only to change your mind just as fast and just as
often. You may not weigh carefully the consequences of what you decide.
Close friends may tell you that you're acting a little strange.
They may not tell you that with their words, but you can see it in their eyes.
You may see it in your own eyes when you look in the mirror.
German dramatist Gotthold Lessing once wrote, "There are things
which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose." If your
loss has been severe, and if your pain is intense, you may have cause to lose
your reason. You may feel and act not quite normal. That happens naturally when
everything around you feels abnormal.
If there are signs this is happening to you, keep the following
ideas in mind:
- First of all, try not to panic. You're actually in good
company. Lots of people pass through "the crazies," emerging with all their
faculties fully intact. Remember that you sometimes need to fall apart before
you can come back together in a healthier way.
- Select one person whom you trust for their honesty and their
maturity, and ask them to be your gauge. If you want feedback about how you're
responding, or if you want assistance with your decision-making, turn to that
person. Don't attempt to follow everyone's advice -- it won't work.
- Talk things out. Speak whatever is on your mind. You may find
that some of your thoughts are irrational, but you won't know that until
you've heard yourself saying them out loud. Sometimes it's only after you've
spoken opposing ideas that you know both thoughts cannot be true at the same
- Keep a journal about what's going on inside. Then go back in a
few weeks or a few months and see how your thinking is changing. Notice the
ways you're growing.
- Take yourself lightly at times. While your life may feel
justifiably heavy these days, it's still possible you may begin to see the
humor in some of the things you've said and done. Smile at yourself, and be
forgiving. Remember your stories so you can retell them one day as a way of