Finding New Close Friends

When you have lost your significant other, the inclination is to avoid starting a new relationship. It’s easier to just stay with group socialising. You may be afraid of upsetting your family and friends who might think you are disrespecting your deceased partner. You may even feel you are too ‘long-in-the tooth’ for another close relationship. However, you may find you have a natural affinity with a member of your social group which opens up the opportunity to spending time alone with them. This can initially lead to feelings of guilt and wondering if it’s right to enjoy this new relationship.

It really is allowed – of course it is! You are just trying to cope, and socialising is a way of coping. One client asked me if it was okay to go out for dinner with someone about 5 to 6 months after his partner’s death. And of course it was, as long as he felt comfortable.

However, please understand the timing is totally a personal choice – it might not happen for months, or years. It doesn’t matter because you are in control of the ‘when’. You may choose that there can’t be a ‘when time’ and you are happier in a group.

And that’s fine as well. It’s your choice.

Don’t forget though, as women and men we are generally a ‘social lot’ and some personal ‘one on one’ company, at some stage can be, well, just really nice.

To illustrate this point further…

One widower had moved on to describing himself as ‘single’, which was quite a big step in itself. It demonstrated how well he was coping with his new role in life. After about 7 to 8 months, when people asked, he felt calling himself a widower just seemed to bring him attention he didn’t want. It didn’t affect his grief, just how he was perceived. When he got home after going out to dinner with someone he felt guilty. “OMG what am I doing?” However, he needed to survive as a human being and keep strong as a Dad to three teenagers. His kids were pleased their Dad was getting out and trying to get on with his life. It helped them to see their Dad was trying to cope, and in turn it helped them to cope too.

One amazing lady lost her daughter and after a few years, her daughter’s husband started to go out with someone else. Both the mum-in-law and new partner met regularly over the next few years – Christmases, birthdays, general family get-togethers etc. After a while the couple moved in together and a few years later they got married. This amazing lady had already fully and totally welcomed his new partner/wife/daughter into her family. She attended their wedding and is still an essential part of their new life together. It helped her to cope with her own loss by seeing her son-in-law find happiness again, while obviously never forgetting his first wife.

Continuing Bonds

Although your loved one is no longer physically with you, they will ‘live on’ in your heart through all the various memories you have. Normally, these memories will be based on your time together and can often be triggered by something in the media.

For example, one man whose son had died, thought of him whenever the football results were on TV, or mentioned on the internet. His son had been a keen football fan and his father ‘felt closer to him’ at these times. Not necessarily sad thoughts, but reflective ones based on his son’s enjoyment of football.

When someone dies, it’s normal over time to find ways to adjust and redefine the relationship you had with that person. It allows for continuing bonds to endure in different ways throughout your life. When you think of your relationship with your loved one, you can be honest with yourself because it’s the actual relationship you want to remember. The difficult bits too will help form an accurate memory and, of course, all the lovely aspects of their personality. In other words, a memory of them!

So continuing ties to loved ones after their death is not only normal and healthy, but an important aspect of coping with your own grief.

Try some of the suggestions below to help remember your loved one as they really were, and maybe how they would react to various situations.

  • Remember their qualities and personality. Did they like to meet with groups of people, or were they more relaxed in smaller, more intimate gatherings. Would they be the one to stimulate the conversation, or be quite happy to just listen and add an occasional comment?
  • Remember them as a real person. How would you actually describe them? Make it as realistic as you can, because in future months and years, it will help you remember the actual person, rather than the ‘rose tinted glasses’ version. One client said his wife had a certain look which basically meant ‘he was in trouble’. His daughter has the same look for her husband, and this continuing tie helps the client to remember his late wife. He can look back and smile at the memory.
  • Remember those special times because these will live on with you for ever. It might be a first date, a goal scored by a son/daughter, or possibly a wonderful family holiday. These are the thoughts which will help you smile at their memory. It is a good way of measuring how you are coping with your loss, if you can recall something from your time together that was very enjoyable, and then smile at the recollection.
  • Remember the impact they had on your own personality and how you possibly changed from knowing them? Perhaps you learnt to be more patient with a spouse, or relaxed more when youngsters were being boisterous. What impact are they having on your life as you move forward after the bereavement?

Clients sometimes question whether they should ‘be moving on’ because it’s been six, nine or twelve months since their bereavement. However, there are no definitive time scales. You only have your own personal time scale. Anyway, what does ‘moving on’ actually mean? One thing is certain, it’ll mean something different to absolutely everyone. No two people are the same and no two people experience the same bereavement. Even in close families, two brothers will have a different relationship with another brother, or sister who has died.

Looking to the Future

Life will never be the same again after bereavement, but the grief and pain should lessen. There will come a time when you are able to adapt, adjust and cope with life without the person who has died.

Many people worry that they will forget the person who has died – how they looked, their voice, the good times they had together. There are so many ways you can keep their memory alive. These are just a few suggestions that may help you through your time of grief.

There is no time limit on the grieving process
It may help to remind yourself that your loved one would want you to do what it takes to get through your grief. If you don’t think about them for a while, it doesn’t mean you have forgotten them, aren’t grieving, or didn’t love them. Remember, the process of grieving is also a process of healing.

Talk about them
Try to recall the happy moments you experienced with your loved one. It is important to try focusing on the good times and not dwell on things you can’t change. If friends are telling a story, and feel awkward when your loved one is mentioned, just laugh and add a snippet to the story. It gives those around us permission to include them in the normal day-to-day discussions.

Cherish the memories
Learning to cherish a memory, without letting it control you, is a very important step. Finding a safe ‘place’ for that person can help you heal, and move forward in your life. You may begin to find joy in new experiences. Take comfort in the knowledge that you keep your cherished memories with you, wherever you go. Some people find it comforting to write down their special memories, or put together an album of their favourite photographs.

Do something commemorative
The ‘place’ where you decide to keep your special memories is up to you.  Perhaps you can plant a tree, or find a special nature setting to revisit. Some like to make a donation to a charity (e.g. Cruse), or purchase a park bench in memory of their loved one. If you decide to part with his/her clothes, you could donate them to a charity shop e.g. St. David’s. This will benefit others in their time of need.

Forming new friendships and relationships
Many people tell us they feel guilty they are still alive when the other person is dead. They often feel disloyal, or unfaithful, if they withdraw emotionally from their deceased loved one and form new attachments.  Moving forward does not mean that you will forget them, or that you didn’t love them. The pain of grief may eventually leave behind warm and lasting memories of a loved one which can give you strength in the years ahead. If you find someone (or someone finds you) who would like to spend time with you and make you happy – it’s allowed! Forming new relationships will give you encouragement and permission to rebuild your life.

Stay engaged in Life
You need time to process your emotions, but you don’t have to cut yourself off from the rest of the world. Spend time with your friends and family, keep working, and do things you enjoy doing. It doesn’t mean you are ignoring your feelings, or forgetting your loved one, but reaching a point where you can remember them without feeling disabling grief. Visit the Cruse web site at www.cruse.org.uk – the site is packed with useful information and can offer support when you need it.

Dealing with Emotions

The grief process really is all about emotions.

The Oxford dictionary describes emotion as: any feelings of joy, sorrow, fear, love, affection, despair – the list of words is almost endless. What matters to you is the emotional link you had with your loved one.

Emotions are closely linked to thoughts and feelings. We all know that there are a lot of negative emotions when we are grieving, such as depression, anger, anxiety and guilt. However, there are also positive emotions as well – for example gratitude, pride, hope and love.

Positive emotions need not be intense, or prolonged to produce beneficial effects. In fact, if you can experience even a small amount of positive emotions (there may not be as many as the negative ones) you will still do better than not having any positive emotions at all.

These positive emotions play an important role in regulating depression and other negative ones that are associated with grief. If you are able to experience positive emotions in the first few months following your loss, you are likely to experience less grief and distress in the future months and years.

However, it’s more likely and natural that negative feelings and emotions will come from the recent past when someone was taken ill, or was involved in an accident. Try and think of the times you had together before that happened. One widower told us that it helped him to think of the 27 years he shared with his wife before the final months of her illness. A bit like comparing 27 years to 27 months – there was a great deal more time of happiness and family memories than the period when she was ill.

Please be aware that positive emotions can help and improve the way in which you cope with your loss. A result of gaining some distance from the negative emotions and being replenished by positive ones, means you will be able focus your attention on tasks that are now important to you.

There are some things which you can do to help enhance your positive emotions. Two of these are ‘Engagement’ and ‘Focusing on What Matters’.

Engagement
Becoming involved in activities which engage your interests can be very helpful in enhancing positive emotions – it just helps to feel good about something you are doing. Just enjoying yourself and having fun. It helps to break the grip of negative thoughts. Some examples of engaging activities could include a shopping expedition with a friend, or attending a sporting event with a group of friends. Some people have joined walking clubs where there is often the likelihood of meeting other members who have experienced similar life changing events. You also get the added benefit of good exercise and enjoying being out in the fresh air.

Getting involved in any activity is beneficial, but when you are engaging with other people it just helps you to get on with your life. Following the death of her husband, one woman said, “One of my co-workers invited me to go line dancing with her after work. I have never tried line dancing and hate dancing, so my expectations were low. Imagine my surprise, it was a lot of fun, and we are going again next week”.

Focusing on What Matters
To help you move forward, you could consider the following question:  given everything that has happened, what matters to me at this point in my life?  One woman, who had lost her older son, decided that what mattered now was to be the best possible mother to her surviving son.  “I arranged a sleep-over for my son, and cooked him his favourite dinner.  It made me feel happy,” she said.  A woman whose husband had died decided what mattered now was staying healthy so she could raise her children.  “I had cancelled my two previously scheduled mammograms, but this time I kept my appointment.  It felt good to do something for my family”.

For some people, what matters now is trying to help others who have experienced similar life changing events. After a suitable time period, and only you will know when the time is right, you may find yourself drawn to very worthwhile organisations e.g. Cruse, SOBS, Alzheimer Society  and Samaritans.  Within these organisations you can become involved in fund raising, organising, or becoming a support volunteer in connection with your loved one’s illness, or condition.

In fact many of the Cruse Bereavement Care in Gwent volunteers became involved following the death of a friend, or family member. One such volunteer said, “After the death of my wife, I had a group of amazing friends around me and of course my family. I had so much support. But then I thought about people who had no one to help them in their hours of need. So I joined Cruse as a support volunteer”.

It’s also important to note that for a bereaved person, what matters now may not be the same as what mattered then (i.e. before your loss).  As one woman explained, “Before my daughter’s death I was obsessed with decorating the house.  This has no importance to me now.”

So, to try and summarise; your emotions are what make you who you are. Everyone experiences lots of different emotions, but how you deal with them can affect how you view the future. Trying to remain focussed on the positive side of your personality will help you as you move forward.

Resolving and Working with your Grief

Be Patient
Grief takes as long as it takes – it’s different for everybody. Try not to make comparisons about your situation because they just don’t work. No one else could have had the relationship you had with your loved one. And that’s why it’s not worth trying to make comparisons with other people’s situations.

Allow yourself to grieve
Grieving is not a sign of weakness, it’s the result of losing someone very precious. The more you loved someone, the more you will grieve for them after they have died. There is no time limit, and everybody grieves at a different pace.

Learn about grief
Your grief journey is unique to you and you have to work through your feelings and respond in your own way. Helpful information is often found on specialist web sites e.g. cruse.org.uk, or silverline.org.uk. Alternatively, visit your local library where you may find books which explore grief. Doctor’s surgeries may also have helpful information.

Don’t run away from the pain
Remember, “to feel is to heal”.  As you feel the pain of your loss, you are beginning the process of healing.

Be aware of your limitations
Your concentration may be affected for quite some time, so take extra care e.g. when driving or taking important decisions.

It’s OK to ask for and accept help
Describe what you need and how you are feeling. Good friends will respond, but be aware some may find it too difficult to discuss your loss. Don’t feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness – it’s actually a sign of strength. You are thinking about how you can move forward.

Be kind to yourself
Occasionally take time out for yourself – you’re worth it! You are not being disloyal if you are having fun – your loved one would have probably recommended it. You are ‘allowed’ to laugh and join social activities with other people, perhaps new friends. Many people report keeping busy actually helps them to cope.

Keep your memories alive
Memories can be painful, but they also bring healing. As time passes they will bring more happiness than pain e.g. remembering happy holidays. You will never forget your loved one and these cherished memories will help support you in future years.

Feel free to ask questions
There may not be any complete answers, but it’s OK to ask. To arrive at a place of some form of acceptance is a good place to be. If someone becomes ill and then dies you may never understand why they became ill. However, it can help if you can accept it happened, even with no apparent reason.

Accept life is now different
Life will never be quite the same again, but it can still good. You can’t change what has happened to you, but you can adapt to your new circumstances. Welcome new experiences e.g. a specialist singles holiday for widows/widowers, or maybe a walking group vacation, or perhaps a cruise.

Take responsibility for your own happiness
You are the only person who can decide the pace of adjustment to your new situation. It won’t be easy, but you need to decide you will work through it, and survive your bereavement.

Be proud of little steps
Remember the ‘hare and the tortoise’ story – slow and steady progress. Little by little gets you there in the end. When you are feeling low, just take a look at where you have come from and what you have achieved since the death of your loved one. Have the confidence to keep going, but be realistic about what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes you experience setbacks – just accept these as part of your grief journey. But then, continue moving forward again – little by little.

And finally, look for signs of hope
Someday the pain will have subsided enough for life to take on a new meaning. You will find a new purpose in life with the ability to look to the future with hope and positive anticipation.

The Grief Journey

“Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.”
Earl Grollman

A close bereavement is one of the most distressing life events that can happen to a person, with the potential to have a considerable impact upon their physical and mental health.

Once the initial shock of the death has passed, many people feel abandoned to their grief as life moves on without them. If we didn’t love and care so much we wouldn’t hurt so much when a special person dies. Grief is the price we pay for loving. Death happens to us all, it part of the cycle of life. Though your grief is unique to you there are common stages which everyone goes through when they are bereaved, as shown here.

The 5 Aspects of Grief

Denial
This aspect of grieving helps us to survive the loss of a loved one. When experiencing denial, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. We try to find a way to simply get through each day.

Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle. As you accept the reality of the loss and start to ask yourself questions, you are unknowingly beginning the healing process. You are becoming stronger, and the denial is beginning to fade. But as you proceed, all the feelings you were denying begin to surface.

Anger
This is a necessary part of the healing process. Often this aspect is difficult to cope with, producing strong emotions. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.

There are many other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time, but anger is the emotion we are most used to managing. The truth is that anger has no limits. It can extend not only to your friends, the doctors, your family, yourself and your loved one who died, but also to God. You may ask, “Where is God in this?” Underneath anger is pain, your pain. It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger.

Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss. At first, grief can feel like being lost at sea with no connection to anything. Then you get angry at someone, maybe a person who didn’t attend the funeral, maybe a person who isn’t around, maybe a person who is different now your loved one has died. Suddenly, you have a structure – your anger toward them. The anger becomes a bridge over the open sea, a connection from you to them. It is something to hold onto; and a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing. We usually know more about suppressing anger than feeling it. The anger is just another indication of the intensity of your love.

Bargaining
Bargaining encompasses the hope that an individual can somehow undo, or avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. In essence, the person cannot totally move into acceptance, but acknowledges the fact that what has happened cannot be undone.

After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce. “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others? Perhaps then I can wake up and realise this has all been a bad dream?” We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. We want life returned to what is was; we want our loved one restored. We want to go back in time: find the tumour sooner, recognize the illness more quickly, stop the accident from happening… if only, if only, if only.

Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. We may even bargain with the pain. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt.

People often think of these aspects of grief will lasting weeks or months. They forget these aspects of grief are responses to feelings which can last for minutes, or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual aspect in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.

Depression
“I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?” During this aspect of grief, the grieving person begins to understand the certainty of death. Things begin to lose meaning to the griever. This can cause the individual to become silent, refuse visitors, spending much of the time crying and sullen. This process allows the grieving person to disconnect from things of love and affection, possibly in an attempt to avoid further trauma.

Depression can be referred to as the dress rehearsal for the aftermath. It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. It is natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through depression. Feeling those emotions shows the person has begun to accept the situation. Oftentimes, this is the ideal path to take, to find closure and make their ways to the fifth aspect of grief: acceptance.

After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present. Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level; deeper than we ever imagined. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever. It is important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a great loss. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, perhaps wondering if there is any point in going on alone. Why go on at all?

Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural. A state to be fixed, or something to snap out of. The first question to ask yourself is whether, or not, the situation you’re in is actually depressing. The loss of a loved one is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response. To not experience depression after a loved one dies would be unusual. When a loss fully settles in your soul – the realization your loved one didn’t get better this time, and is not coming back – is understandably depressing. If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way.

Acceptance
This is often confused with the notion of being ‘alright’, or ‘okay’, with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel okay, or alright about the loss of a loved one. Acceptance is coming to terms with the reality our loved one is physically gone; and recognizing this new reality is permanent. We will never like this reality or make it okay, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live. We must now try to live in a world where our loved one is missing. In resisting this new norm, at first many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved one died.

However, in time – through bits and pieces of acceptance – we will realise we cannot maintain the past intact. It has been forever changed and we must readjust. We must learn to reorganize roles, re-assign them to others, or take them on ourselves. Finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones.

As we begin to live and enjoy our life again, we can often feel we are betraying our loved one. We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections, new meaningful relationships, and new inter-dependencies. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we move, we change, we grow, we evolve. We may start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives. We invest in our friendships and in our relationship with ourselves. We begin to live again, but we cannot do so until we have given grief its time.

However, we should be mindful that grief is not a process with a beginning, a middle and an end. In our grief we can move back and forwards between these aspects. We can encounter these aspects at different times. If we understand these feelings are normal, perhaps it will help us know that what is happening to us is normal. We aren’t going mad, or not dealing well with our grief. What we need is time to adjust to our new world without that special person.

“Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love”
Author unknown

“The only people who think there’s a time limit for grief have never lost a piece of their heart. Take all the time you need.”
Author unknown

Anniversaries and reminders when you are bereaved

When you are bereaved

There are many events that will evoke memories of the death of someone close. Some are personal and obvious such as a wedding anniversary or a birthday or the anniversary of the death itself. Other, more unpredictable, reminders may be a piece of music playing on the radio, a smell or a particular TV programme. Some reminders may not even be fully conscious. A place or even the type of weather may evoke feelings of anger, sadness or loneliness before it is realised that it has associations with the loss of a loved one.

Other people can be strong reminders of the person who has died. It is not unusual for a child to remind a parent of another dead child or of a lost partner.

Public events may trigger memories for a large number of people. The death of someone famous or publicity about disasters and traumatic deaths such as in a road accident, fire or a capsized boat can bring back painful images.

What happens?

Anniversaries and reminders can evoke powerful memories and feelings which are distinctly personal. These days or events which mean so much to one person may be ordinary to others who may not understand what is happening.

Each relationship and each bereavement is unique and special. The reminders can evoke fond and happy memories, or a mood of solitary but comforting reflection. But they can also evoke sadness, grief, fear, regret and anger. It is not unusual at moments of connection with memory to become angry with others. ‘How dare they be alive when the loved person is not?’

Some people find themselves distracted, unable to concentrate and agitated and others have conflicting feelings of sadness and relief. There is no ‘right’ way to feel and no time limit on experiencing the feelings. For many, reminders evoke strong feelings throughout their own lives.

Another disturbing feeling that can be evoked by a reminder is guilt; guilt at what was said or done, guilt concerning what was left unsaid and even guilt at having forgotten or not thought about the dead person for a long time.

What helps?

It probably helps to accept that, when grieving, there are some occasions which will be very difficult and then to work out how best to manage them.

Spend some time trying to work out well in advance which arrangements will best suit your needs and the needs of those others who share your loss.

Some people try to avoid the pain of certain events by making sure they are away from the people and places which bring sad thoughts and memories. If you feel like this you may decide, for example, to go on a course, go on holiday, go anywhere which has no special connections, and immerse yourself in fresh surroundings.

But you may feel it is important to mark the day in a way that is special for you, and for the person who has died and whose loss you mourn.

Perhaps you feel that you want to make them a gift in the way that you used to, to tell them that you still love them and they are still part of your life.

You may decide to spend the time quietly with your thoughts and memories; you may perhaps go to the crematorium gardens or grave with a close friend or family, to give yourself a time and a place to be sad and talk about the person who has died.

Maybe afterwards you will feel like doing something else that holds memories which are dear to you; to go for a particular walk, sit in a certain corner of a pub, read a special book, listen to a particular piece of music, even have a party.

What is important is that what you do will have some special private meaning for you, and for those close to you.

Some people find solace in religious and cultural practices which help individuals and groups remember the dead and celebrate their lives and work.

Others find they prefer something more personal and others do nothing at all.

The uncertainty and anxiety surrounding death may lead to fixed ideas and thinking, but Cruse has learnt that people remember and forget the dead in their own ways and what bereaved people need is acceptance from others.

As time passes, anniversaries and reminders can help us to begin to focus on happy memories of good times in the past, but if the painful images persist and they are disrupting your life or your sleep you should seek expert help.

Ways to remember
  • Creating a memory box containing mementos of the person who has died, such as photographs, letters, poems or records of achievement
  • Compiling a book about the person, including photographs, press cuttings and personal memories. This need not be formal, it can be a scrapbook or photo album with personal notes
  • A memory box or book can be made by one person for their own use, or some families may like to create one jointly. Each member can be invited to make their own contribution. This can be kept in the family to show future generations
  • Keeping a memento which brings back memories, perhaps something that is in regular use
  • Having a memorial bench overlooking a favourite view, a sundial or piece of stained glass
  • Planting a tree or shrub
  • Making a donation to charity or some cause that played a part in the person’s life, or becoming a volunteer or helper
  • Funding a prize or award at a club, school or college