I called my friend this morning. This week marks the 1st anniversary of her husband’s death. Even though I am a grief counselor, I suffer grief just like everyone else, and I try to avoid it, just like everyone else. My friend and her husband are my and my husband’s best friends. We traveled to Florida last year to bury him.
My friend’s name is Carrie. Carrie and I suffered through the 1st Gulf war, as young mothers, while our husbands were off fighting for our nation. We became great friends as we served our husbands’ command as Ombudsman and Key Wife. Those were difficult times. Back then, I thought nothing would ever compare to the pain we endured during our husband’s absences as they fought in the war. I was wrong, Steve’s death far outweighs our sufferings back then.
My phone call to Carrie this morning was a happy one. She is doing so well. We spoke about her experience, and she gave me some great information.
She asked me if I remembered the cycles of adjustment that military wives experience when their husbands leave for their six-month tour overseas. I said that I did, and she told me that she had experienced the same cycles as a widow.
Cycle one, lasting approximately two months, is filled with missing your loved one. In losing her husband, she would first experience the realization that death had occurred, then loneliness, sadness, reclusiveness, yearning, longing, and grief. It is a time filled with avoidance and adjustment. Because your spouse has disappeared, your social activities disappear too. You are uncomfortable eating out by yourself, you no longer go out to the movies because you are alone, and your friends who are participating in couple’s activities no longer invite you to join because you make their teams uneven.
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People who have recently lost a loved one may tend to withdraw from family or friends in intimate and social situations.
This tendency is generally brief and usually corrects itself without intervention.
If one continues to withdraw from social interactions over an extended length of time, one might find it comforting to consult with a counselor. (Mourning Light I, 2016)
Cycle two, lasting approximately two months, ushers in extreme frustration, anger, and regret. The anger, due to extreme frustration, brings on even more profound loneliness followed by possible feelings of guilt. It is a time when the widow/widower realizes that she/he must now do all of the things her husband/his wife used to do. It is also about the time that everything begins to breakdown from a lack of maintenance. One may become frustrated or angry at his/her children, friends, appliances, plumbing, dandelions, employer, work associates, etc. Children, too, are suffering these same issues and may begin to become extremely unruly. They may begin participating in dangerous activities. This is the cycle where one realizes and accepts that they must step up, take on their spouse’s responsibilities, and take care of business.
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DEVELOPING NEW SKILLS
Many survivors resent having to develop new skills that were once performed by their deceased loved one.
This is a normal reaction to your loss.
The key to recovery is to either learn the skill yourself or find someone who will do it for you.
In both scenarios, your reward is growth, either personally or socially.
In both circumstances, your movement toward recovery is positive. (Mourning Light I, 2016)
Cycle three, lasting approximately two months, is the time where one sees their frustrations and anger subside. They have adjusted to being alone, and they have mastered the tasks necessary to keep life, family, home, and work functioning. They have learned to juggle their responsibilities along with those typically assigned to their spouse. They have become very independent. They are now planning their schedule without consideration of their spouse’s preferences or needs. They have probably met and made new friends who may be in the same boat as they are, and have possibly developed new interests, hobbies, skills, and attitudes.
At this juncture, the military wife is faced with the return of her husband. Many are pleased to see them return; some are not. A military wife must now readjust herself to partner with her husband, handing back his responsibilities, considering his preferences, and compromising on decisions. She may need to give us new friends who remain single with single interests and activities. She may find that her husband’s methods and habits are frustrating. She may feel just as angry at allowing her husband back into his role as she was when she was forced to take it on herself. This situation can be confusing and difficult to overcome in the relatively short time necessary to save one’s marriage.
On the other hand, at the end of six months, Carrie found that she was liberated. People would ask her how she was doing with worry and sadness in their countenance and were then surprised when she was just fine and back to her old jovial self. At six months (the average grief recovery time), Carrie was doing well.
Of course, anyone who knows Carrie would expect her to be fine within six months. She is a strong, capable, determined, intelligent, talented, kind, caring, and spiritual woman. She renders heartfelt service and involves herself in improving the world for those around her. She is selfless and shares her talents without reserve. In short, she is a woman who strives to live a righteous life and endeavors to help others along the same path. She is golden.
I asked Carrie what she would do to mark Steve’s death anniversary. She said that Steve really liked eating Japanese hibachi, so each of their children, and their families, will be eating dinner at a Japanese hibachi restaurant for dinner and then texting pictures to each other. I asked if Michael (my husband) and I could participate.
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Traditions are an excellent tool for grief recovery.
Observing traditions that were once enjoyed with the deceased helps us accept that they are gone from us physically, yet with us still, through the activities and love we shared.
Such activities, now traditions, will aid your family by anchoring them securely to their heritage.
Observing traditions stabilizes a family through loss, expansion, and changing environments. (Mourning Light I, 2016)
Eating dinner at their dad’s favorite type of restaurant, in the various cities that his children live in, is a wonderful way to continue a family tradition. It honors their dad and brings them all together even though they are far apart. It also passes his legacy on to his grandchildren. A bonus will be the pictures taken year after year and collected for family history. Carrie will cherish them, and after she is gone, so too will her children and grandchildren.
Tomorrow will be Steve’s first death anniversary. Carrie said that her week has been difficult. She feels like she has lost the ground she has gained over the past year. She is sad, lonely, and somewhat reclusive. This is a typical experience. The anniversary of the death, and especially the days leading up to it, are rough days to live through. They bring back into focus the magnitude of the survivor’s loss. After it passes, Carrie will find that she will spring right back into the swing of life, activities, and focus will return to her new normal, and she will be fine.
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Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and especially the yearly loss anniversary, are incredibly stressful for survivors of loss.
The anticipation of these critical dates may sometimes be worse than the day itself.
If you have a close friend or relative, it may be a good idea to let them know that you might need extra understanding and support on these days. (Mourning Light I, 2016)
I am honored and thankful that Carrie is allowing us to participate in her new family tradition. Steve’s death was shocking and painful for Michael and me, and we need this tradition to honor, remember, and recover from our friend’s death. Carrie and Steve remain my and Michael’s dearest friends.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a Certified Grief Counselor (GC-C), Funeral Director (FDIC), published author, syndicated columnist, and co-founder of the “Mikey Joe Children’s Memorial” and Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, and Grief BRIEFs related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award.
It is my life’s work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
For additional encouragement, read other articles or watch video “Grief Briefs,” please go to my website at www.MourningCoffee.com.
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