It is one of life’s most stressful events, but after a period it’s important to get back out and socialize.
The grass has turned green, flowers are up in all their glory, leaves are on the trees and we are enjoying endless days of sunshine. Spring and early summer is a time of renewal and revival, and along with that season comes feelings of hope and anticipation following a long, cold winter.
It is a familiar, ever-recurrent cycle. There is another cycle shaping our lives, our life cycle. Life, unfortunately, does end. And at least one member of a couple will experience the loss of a spouse in their lifetime.
That loss, the loss of a spouse, is considered one of life’s most stressful events. In the period after a spouse dies, you are thrown into a state of turmoil. You experience waves of emotion, including sadness, loneliness, anger, yearning and shock. Even the smallest task that needs to be accomplished can feel overwhelming. You are exhausted at times and restless at others.
Although I have not personally lost a spouse, I have friends who have experienced this loss and have watched them survive it and find reasons that in time nudged them back to a state of “happiness”. That’s not to say that you stop missing your spouse, as there will always be an empty space in your heart that cannot be filled. But, with time, just as spring follows winter, you will return to a full and wonderful life.
There are many different ways that people survive that loss. For some, it’s their family – children and grandchildren or siblings who serve as the reminder that they are still needed and loved. For others it’s their friends and social activities. Another resource that many use are “grief groups” or “bereavement groups”. Bereaved people feel most comfortable in groups with people who feel the same loss. There are many of these in Manitoba, and for some people it’s this opportunity to share their loss with others in the same situation that proves therapeutic. I know of groups where friendships are formed that last longer than the period of mourning, continuing for years.
While it may seem difficult at the time, it is important after a period of grieving to take the step of getting out and socializing. There are senior centres, walking clubs, card-playing groups, in fact a multitude of activities or hobbies that you can either continue with or, even better, start anew! Another great way to overcome the loneliness is to find a good cause that you are passionate about, and volunteer for that organization.
If you enjoy travelling but aren’t sure about going places alone, there are groups you can join. One such group is the Friendship Force: I’m aware of two of these in Manitoba. This group meets once a month for dinner and to lay their travel plans. They usually plan one major trip a year.
With membership in the Friendship Force you do not have to stay in hotels when you travel, as members of the Friendship Force in that other country host you. So all you have to do is pay your airfare and bring along a gift for your host family. This is an amazing way to see a country and also make new friends.
In return, the club here in Manitoba hosts clubs from other countries. If your house isn’t large enough to accommodate guests you can offer to be a “tour guide” for a day.
Whatever your passion is, reach out and indulge yourself. Perhaps this is the first time that you can actually relish being selfish and indulge in things that you enjoy but that held no attraction for other family members.
A separate cause of great difficulty when a spouse dies – and most frequently, of course, for the widow – is financial affairs, if the spouse has looked after these matters alone. If this is the case in your family, you will need someone you can trust who can help you settle all estate matters and show you how to take on future financial chores yourself. (The wiser course, clearly, is normally for spouses to acquaint themselves with household financial matters during their marriage, and I would strongly encourage those who can to do so.)
There is still the worry for the wife, about who will look after repairs in the house or to the car. There still exists in our culture a division of labour in household chores that sees men attending to both these matters – and on the flip side leaving the cooking and house cleaning for the women.
Yes, there will be difficult times; often at unexpected moments. But remember this important fact: you will be happy again. This is the single, most important thing to know. You will continue to miss your beloved spouse; there will be grief. But you will find over time that you will focus more on pleasant memories and happy times. You will have a full and happy life again. Life really does go on.
Myrna Driedger is MLA for Charleswood.