By Jay Sperling, MSEd, LPC
Grief is defined as deep sorrow, especially one that is caused by someone’s death. I really find this definition to be quite vague, actually almost insulting to people who are grieving. Grief is better defined as the inward and outward search for meaning in a person’s life after suffering a loss. Grief is more than sorrow. After being involved in grief counseling for 20 years, I find it is the search for meaning that is one of the most difficult tasks. Specifically, I will discuss losing a spouse.
For many people, a marriage that survives long term is based on incredible trust and respect for each other. Many couples willingly give up aspects of their lives to form a new one. A good marriage is one of give and take. It is that give and take that helps create the identity of the couple. Think about it. Couples communicate verbally, non-verbally, and many times can even complete each other’s thoughts.
When it comes to the death of a spouse we are just asked to immediately stop communication. You suddenly feel like you have been sliced in half. Half of who you are is now gone. This is not just your personal feeling. It is often the perception of the people you know and love. Your identity is often tied to each other; friends and family don’t know how to communicate with you anymore. Some people will pull away because they don’t know how to help someone struggling with that identity. It’s bad enough to have lost your spouse, but you have also lost who you are. The struggle to find yourself is real. I hear statements like “I just don’t know who I am anymore.”
As with any form of grief, there is no easy answer or magic pill to “cure” someone. Instead, it becomes a journey to explore who you are. Through my experience as a counselor, this search for meaning becomes more intense in the second year of grief. In the first year, you experience so many firsts and are just trying to keep your head above water. In year two after all the firsts are done, that search intensifies. It is at this time that I hear people say, “I just can’t get over this.” My typical response is why would you want to? After a marriage that formed two people and can last decades, how or why would you be expected to get over someone? One can also not expect to be through grief in a year. Grief is a lifelong endeavor that includes learning and personal growth.
Confirming these thoughts, feelings and actions are important. In grief work one of my fundamental actions is building hope. Grief can be a very dark and private place for people. In order to work through/with your grief, you need to have hope. Hope that you will be able to place those feelings and emotions into a different place in your heart. I often refer to grief as a gaping wound. In the beginning we need to take good care of the wound. We clean, wash and bandage it. Often the wound hurts. Sometimes we need help to heal the wound.
The same is true with grief. We need to know we are not alone. Talking to other people who are grieving can provide great insight and understanding. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that you are willing to grow, learn and not be alone. Eventually, wounds do heal but we always remember. This becomes the final goal of grief: remembering and memorializing. The loved one will not be forgotten, he or she is in a new place in your heart, mind, and being.
If you are grieving the loss of a spouse, help is available at Anchorpoint. Our Grief Support Group meets the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm at St. Sebastian’s Church. Private counseling with a compassionate therapist is also available. Call Anchorpoint at 412-366-1300 to learn more.