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Words Fail

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One of the most striking aspects of grieving in the early months after your spouse has died is that words truly seem inadequate. Even the word “grieving” does not begin to capture the range and intensity of emotions that can erupt in an instant, and it takes days, weeks, months to begin to understand the complexity of the process.

Catherine Tidd, in an article on the website, Open To Hope, focuses on a single aspect of grieving, loneliness, and her realization that definitions she once took for granted cannot capture the kaleidoscope of thoughts, feelings, experiences, even physical responses, that constitute the grieving process.

In her article, ‘Lonely’ Not Powerful Enough Word To Describe Widowhood, Tidd says, “Frankly, I think that lonely is not a strong enough word. There is a deep silence that comes with losing your spouse. And it doesn’t matter if you’re standing in the middle of a crowded room, you will still notice it. It’s the quiet that comes when you don’t have that familiar voice whispering in your ear at a wedding, ‘Can you believe she wore that? I mean, what was she thinking?’ It’s the missing sound of two glasses clinking together on your anniversary. It’s the absence of someone breathing soundly next to you as you go to sleep at night.”

Beyond the sheer inability of words to capture the essence of grieving, there is an additional air of unreality that permeates the entire process. It’s bad enough that “lonely” hardly describes what we’re feeling, we can’t believe this feeling will be here tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Tidd brings this realization to life when she says, “Most of us have lost the person we would have leaned on when the worst thing we could have possibly imagine happening… happened. It’s almost like we need to roll over in bed and say in utter disbelief to our spouses, ‘Did you hear that you died? And you were so young!’ This would be followed by a hug from them, a pat on the back, and the murmuring of some comforting words while we cried on their shoulders. But when we roll over, well, our spouses already know that they died. It spoils it a little.”

As the months go by, though, the reality of it all does sink in. In HOPE Connection groups, members discuss the element of unreality early, as early as Group One. Reconciling yourself to that reality, though, is rarely a Group One achievement. It happens slowly, and Group Two members, maybe even Group Three members, often say, “I still can’t believe it.”

Tidd confirms that coming to grips with the reality is a common denominator for widows and widowers. She asks, “Do you remember the moment that you truly felt the change? I mean, the time when you realized that this was it? When you catapulted from married to involuntarily single?

“For you,” she continues, “it may not have been a moment. But it was for me. I was leaving Wal-Mart (where so many of my breakdown moments occur) when I noticed that ‘Wild Hogs’ was about to come out on DVD. Now, my husband and I had had many failed attempts to go see that movie in the theater, so when I saw that big billboard up at the store, I automatically got excited. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t wait to get home and tell him it’s finally out!’

“I think there was an audible thud as reality came crashing down on me standing next to the stale cookies that were on sale.”

There is a final thought that Tidd shares as she finishes her thoughts on loneliness. Again, it’s another observation often made in Group, and you may identify with it: “ Does it make sense,” Tidd asks, “when I say when I’m feeling this way sometimes I just want to be left alone?”

To read Catherine Tidd’s full article, visit Open To Hope.

By Don Phillipson