About Grief and Healing (7)

How do we get on with living assuming we remain single?

Most likely, your spouse filled many intimate and social roles in your life. After the death of your spouse, you have suddenly been thrust into the role of being single, an unwanted and unfamiliar position. It probably feels strange, confusing and frightening to be single again. The world looks and feels differently. Everyone seems to be in couples. Situations in daily living don’t seem to feel as safe and secure. There seems to be an overwhelming amount of things that you don’t know how to do. Most importantly, you probably feel that you have never felt this kind of loneliness before.

Allowing yourself to walk through the grieving process is important in order to resolve your grief and to again feel hope. The final stage of grieving is a sense of reconnecting to life and the living.

As human beings, we are social beings. It is very important to remain socially connected and active. No one said that it is easy. Take one day at a time. Most people feel much better and are able to maintain a positive outlook when they continue to resume social activities with friends, relatives and family. Take the risk to reach out and make new friends, participate in new activities, learn new skills and create opportunities to experience life as the changed person that you are becoming.

Set small practical goals for each day or even divide the day into parts with specific tasks to be accomplished by noon. The goal is not to avoid grief but rather to use your time in meaningful ways and to take pride in small accomplishments.

“The struggle to know, to understand, to extend his domain, is what keeps the spirit of man alive.” – Homer E. Nowell

I am feeling angry and guilty about my family’s reactions to my dating since my spouse died. How can I get them to understand?

Your feeling angry and guilty is an understandable and common reaction to family members who seem “cool/reluctant” to accept the changes that go with your moving on with your life. You may feel that you are being forced to choose between your old life and your new life. How to bring the old and new parts of your life together without choosing one or the other is quite a challenge that usually requires more time and patience than we anticipate.

Dialogues with each of your children may be helpful in learning where they are in the process of accepting the changes in your life. The focus would be on needs and feelings – both theirs and yours. It would be important not to try to change or persuade your children to behave differently. Two topics you might want to explore with them include: whether the presence of your “friend” reminds your children of the pain of their loss; and whether they also have fears about losing you because of your involvement with your friend. If you feel unable to create an opening for the talks, keep in mind that opportunities will present themselves and you can take advantage of them at that time. Having time with your children without your friend is an important way of reassuring them of their connection with you. It’s also important to directly talk with them about their special place in your life.

Why should I come to a grief group when I have plenty of friends and family to help support me with my loss?

When we first lose a loved one, our friends and family often provide love, time, attention and physical presence to help us through the intial days and weeks of mourning. However, not everyone has the kind of relationships or the proximity of close friends and family that can continue to be there for us as time passes. Friends and family, no matter how much they care, sometimes assume that we should be feeling better or differently than we do and may not understand what we are going through. Most people in the HOPE groups report that there is a different quality of support and connection that comes from being with other people who have also recently experienced a loss. They feel an identification and a depth of understanding that is meaningful, satisfying, and even joyful. Also, while any relationship can sometimes not be available for our needs, a group is a consistent and reliable place to come to process our grief.

It is vitally important to develop new friendships and a network of resources to help cope with the challanges of making a new life after a loss. In fact, being with new people brings a shift in perspective from the past into the present and future.

How do I deal with the loneliness of coming home to an empty house?

This is one of the most difficult and frequently discussed problem people face in the loss of their primary relationship and life partner. Almost everyone in the HOPE groups goes home and is alone. After years and often decades of living with other people, learning how to adjust to living alone takes time, practice, and coping skills. There is a big difference in how we experience being alone. It can feel very lonely and empty or the solitude can be quiet and peaceful. We need to learn how to be alone comfortably and how to balance this with our need for social and emotional connection. This is especially hard when we are grieving. People often in the beginning stages of loss keep very busy and active because being alone may trigger painful emotions. As time passes and grief work continues, it may become easier to face the space once shared. Some people find that leaving a light, TV, or music on makes a difference. Others find comfort in familiar rooms and objects and pictures of their spouse. Still others need to change the paint, furniture, decor or even move to a completely new environment. Fear and feelings of vulnerablity are common and there are ways to cope. Security alarms or buildings, neighbors with keys, friends who call to check on each other are examples. The important thing to remember is that living alone does get easier and better gradually and with effort and courage. We can learn to adjust and find happiness even though we thought it impossible.

Will this terrible pain ever go away? Will I ever feel good again?

Yes, the terrible pain of loss does diminish eventually and you will one day feel as you did before your spouse died. Although you will never replace your partner, there is life after death.

When you are grieving deeply, it does seem impossible that you could ever feel all right again. However, the sadness, longing, guilt and depression you are experiencing is normal and natural. In fact, the more you let yourself feel and express your emotions, the stronger and healthier you will become. Grieving is different for everyone, but usually it is a longer and more intense process than we had expected. That’s one of the reasons that group support for two years and beyond is so beneficial.

Besides the loss of our mate and often, best friend, one’s identity, social status, lifestyle and even self-esteem is affected during bereavement. Our culture offers little solace or support for these profound changes. But everyone alive must learn to live and even thrive after loss because it’s part of the human condition. HOPE groups are a safe place to share, listen, and grow together as new skills, relationships, and restructured lives develop.

I haven’t dated in thirty years. How do I start dating? How will I know what to do?

The choice to date is very individual and when (if ever) to start dating is also up to the individual. There is no right or wrong way to be begin. Our society offers us many avenues to meet new people to potentially date. These might include: personal ads in publications, online dating, asking friends to “fix up up,” getting involved in activities where you might meet someone with similar interests (i.e. bridge, volunteering, sports, etc.), dating services, singles events. Most everyone who decides to date is concerned that they won’t know what to do or say. They admit feeling like a “16 year old” on a first date; anxious, self-conscious and tongue-tied. Happily, most everyone who dates reports that it is like trying to bicycle after many years. The skills are still there.

How can I deal with the feeling of guilt after my spouse’s death?

Having feelings of guilt for what we did or did not do, whether real or imagined, is a common experience for many people going through bereavement. We may have guilt for all kinds of reasons, including not being available at a time when it was needed most. The amount and intensity of guilt varies with different people and within ourselves over time, and may range from little and mild to consuming and torturous. Being able to deal with feeling guilty is a very important step in moving through bereavement.

In asking this question you are taking an important first step: facing rather than trying to forget about feeling guilty. This step includes paying attention to the frequency and intensity of thoughts that begin with ”if I only had… or I should have…” Sometimes these kinds of thoughts, which usually make us feel bad and more depressed, can be addressed with reality statements such as, “I need to accept the reality of what has happened… yes, it would have been great if I had done that, and I did what I could.” Journaling or jotting down the thoughts may be useful in finding relief from the thoughts as well as gaining perspective.

Working with feelings of guilt usually includes going a little deeper and acknowledging our human limitations and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. As these other aspects of our experience are acknowledged, we then are more able to offer ourselves the forgiveness and compassion that is being asked of us. Using the group to talk about your experience give others a chance to let you know that you are not alone. You can also learn how they are proceeding with the process of accepting and letting go.

About HOPE Connection Groups (7)

What is HOPE Connection?

It is a community support group, not a therapy group, where you join with others who understand what you are going through because they are going through it too. The group members bring up what they need to in the group with the therapist serving to guide, support, educate and facilitate the group meetings. Members are encouraged to take responsibility for what they need to discuss and explore their emotional feelings in regard to bereavement. The therapists are licensed professionals, with professional training and group experience. 

Why does HOPE Connection maintain a two-year program rather than a shorter one?

We maintain a two year program because research and experience has shown that grief is a process, and the individual needs time to heal. In the first months of bereavement the individual goes thought the “shock and denial” stage, operating on “automatic pilot.” The second stage, “recoil and distress” occurs around the first year of mourning. This stage brings intense feelings, dealing with the reality and finality. The third stage, called “recovery” deals with “picking up the threads” of life, making transitions and tying to accent the reality of your loss. By the two-year mark, most individuals have progressed through the stages and have dealt with many important issues, and are ready to move on. We at HOPE Connection believe that it is important to provide a service that helps the individual at all stages of grief.

Why do we offer Alumni groups?

At first we believed that two years was a sufficient period of time, because we did not want to encourage people to become “professional mourners.” Over time and at the members request we began to see the value of offering more group support. The Alumni groups deal less with loss and more with “return to life” issues. They discuss dating, loneliness, socialization, “what to do with the rest of my life,” giving back to the community and volunteer work. They stay connected to each other and continue to network and socialize but they also enjoy sharing ideas and hearing the opinions of others in similar situations.

Why does HOPE Connection offer loss groups that only include widows and widowers?

Although we recognize that there are other kinds of loss that need to be grieved and mourned, we feel it is a mistake to place people with various losses in one group. There are clearly different issues. In divorce, people often feel rejected and angry. Widows and widowers are dealing with sadness, guilt, aloneness, abandonment, among other emotional issues. Although the divorced are dealing with many of the same issues, there are differences in responses, and feelings. We find that it benefits widows/and widowers to have groups for them exclusively which better meets their needs. Otherwise, there are often rivalry and competition issues that arise which does not lend itself to compatibility of needs.

How can I make an endowment to HOPE?

Gifts to our Endowment Fund are welcome. Please consider HOPE Connection as a part of your annual charitable giving and estate planning. Tribute envelopes are available and check with your own lawyer. We would be happy to help you arrange this. HOPE Connection is interested in always making this program available to people who need the service. We appreciate and accept gifts that go to the Endowment Fund. Call (818) 788-HOPE

Can I donate to HOPE Connection in the memory of someone who died?

We have tribute envelopes available for various occasions: birthday, wedding, anniversary, memorial, confirmation, get well, holiday and other. Donations go towards maintaining all programs. We rely on the community to help sustain our program. We have a tremendous investment in wanting to provide excellent service to the community and also welcome and need community support. When you contribute in someone else’s name your gift will be acknowledged with a gracious card sent to the person or family you designate. We sincerely appreciate your interest in the work of  HOPE Connection. With continued support like yours the Foundation can provide educational and support services. Call (818) 788-HOPE

Do you need volunteers and Board support?

We are particularly interested in people who want to support HOPE Connection through sponsorship, patron level or volunteer. The Board is always looking for additional support with experienced fundraisers and people who have backgrounds in publicity and marketing. Serving on the HOPE Connection Board is a rich and rewarding experience of meeting dedicated people who care about loss and grief support services and want to give back to the community. We welcome caring people who wish to serve and learn more about what HOPE Connectionoffers. As we have helped others heal, we sincerely invite the community to learn more about us and support us in order to continue this worthwhile work.