Many health professionals gauge the death of a spouse as one of the most traumatic events a person will face in their lifetime. The impact of grief is not something for which one can prepare, even when the death is anticipated. Only someone who has lost a spouse can understand. “Always on my mind–Forever in my heart.”
Yet, death is inevitable for everyone and nearly 200,000 Oklahomans are widowed.
The average age to become a widow is 59.4, according to census.gov (See table 7)
In shock, one doesn’t know what is needed when first asked, yet, support from friends and family drops off significantly, as weeks pass. Short term memory, concentration, and rational thought are often affected by grief, making simple tasks difficult. Important decisions can be flawed and impossible to undo later.
Those who have never experienced the loss of a spouse often expect grief to be over by the end of a year. However, no matter how long it takes, grieving is essential to the healing process. You don’t just let go of someone who was important to you. The loss will never go away. Attempting to present a brave facade, by suppressing emotion, can have long-term destructive consequences that can manifest as physical symptoms. Be sure you read: How long does one grieve
Grief is often compounded by financial decline when Social Security was the couples main or only source of income. One benefit goes away at the death of a spouse making a funeral financially devastating, when there is no life insurance or other income. Many times the husband’s pension stops with his passing.
(Sidebar: There is no minimum Social Security check. After the loss of their spouse several widowed are attempting to survive on a total income of less than $600 a month!)
A death notice in the paper may be an expense a widow can’t afford, leaving countless friends unaware of her loss. Gasoline to go to the doctor or church, a book of postage stamps to pay bills or a small gift for a grandchild’s birthday is a hardship when struggling to make ends meet. An invitation to a potluck may be declined, when there isn’t extra money to buy a cake mix.
Financial stress affects folks health, the way they see the world and the way they treat others. It can be a scary, cruel world and unfortunately money is a big part of it.
Embarrassed, believing they are the only one in that situation, a widowed person may not answer the phone when friends call. Assuming that they don’t want to be bothered the calls eventually stop.
Studies show that a widow loses 75% of those she believed were friends. She is no longer included in couples activities and avoided by those who don’t know what to say or do. While grieving the loss of her loved one, widows grieve the unexpected loss of long time friends. These losses, compounded by the loss of her identity as someone’s wife and a lack of finances, has a profound effect on her sense of self-esteem.
Many widows simply withdraw from life, moving from heading up volunteer committees at church and singing in the choir to sitting on a back pew and eventually slipping out the door.
Experiencing intense loneliness, with no community to rely on and the stigma of being labeled a “widow”, many feel like a misfit.
Stress and depression, caused by deep grief and loneliness, may be misinterpreted by those who have not been affected by the loss of a spouse. Grief, which can affect memory, making simple tasks difficult, is often misunderstood by those who have not suffered the loss of a spouse. A widow does not share the pain of being forgotten and feeling isolated and wondering if there is any point of going on.
But with awareness comes understanding and compassion.
Most widowed people won’t ask for help when they need it as they do not want to be a burden on others. Being remembered on the anniversary of the death is a reminder that they, nor their loved one has been forgotten.
The couples wedding anniversary and holidays are extremely hard, for the one left behind, with Valentine’s Day one of the most painful. Loved you yesterday, love you still, always have, always will.
Scroll down to see what is in the comments.
- How long does one grieve
- When someone loses a loved one they may seem to act strange
- More about widows and widowers.