11/28/16

can't stop thinking about what happened


In the days following the death of your spouse/partner, you probably find yourself preoccupied with what has happened.

Whether it’s the details of those final days or months, or worries about arrangements/financial concerns, thoughts and images about your loss seem to occupy every waking moment.

In the aftermath of any shock (even when a death is anticipated), it’s normal to be preoccupied with these thoughts and images as your mind struggles to absorb the reality of the loss. Added to this are the other adjustments and tasks you’re forced to deal with as a consequence of the loss itself.

Keep in mind that with time, you’ll be able to focus on other aspects of your life. Many people feel guilty when this happens, fearful that pulling away emotionally means they will longer love or remember their partner.

What it actually means is that you’ve begun to find a new, different place inside yourself for your loved one. A place that is no less cherished because it doesn't demand constant attention.

If, after about a year, you're still constantly thinking about the death, you may have conflicts or unfinished business that is complicating your mourning process. Consider getting counseling from a mental health professional or trusted clergy person to help you sort through troublesome concerns.

11/24/16

widowhood way back when: how pilgrims progressed through loss





If you’re facing a Thanksgiving dinner that might be hindered by a bad case of heartburn or having to cope with troublesome relatives, consider what the original Pilgrims had to cope with. Especially the widowed survivors.

For a look back, we discovered the informative article, Pilgrim Burials on the site http://www.lovetoknow.com/.

According to this excerpt from authors J.C. Redmond and MaryBeth Adomaitis, “Pilgrim burials were relatively simple affairs. The occupants of the Mayflower were buried in unmarked graves because it is thought that they didn't want the Native Americans living in the area to know how small of a population they were.”

The authors go on to describe later Pilgrim burials, “When Pilgrims died, headstones were not erected at the burial site. No artisans skilled in carving stone had come over with the first group of settlers. In addition, there was no stone available in the area where the Pilgrims settled from which to fashion a monument to the dead. Their first priority was to concentrate on the tasks necessary for survival; even if the stone carvers had come on the trip, there wasn't any time to carve headstones.

A family wanting to erect a headstone in memory of a loved one would have to go to the expense of having one brought over from England.”

Redmond and Adomaitis describe burial rituals, “In the early years after the arrival of the Pilgrims in North America, funerals were a very simple matter. No funeral ceremony was conducted and no special sermon was given. The grieving family did not wear mourning clothes for a certain time after the death.

Embalming of the body of the deceased was not done. On occasion, graves were opened and reused. The bodies of a family or a small community may share the same grave.”

So enjoy the food and be grateful that as difficult as some relatives can be, at least you aren’t stuck with them for all eternity.

11/17/16

best ways to get through the holidays; part 2


In our last post, we suggested the best ways to cope with the upcoming holiday season.

Here are more proven strategies:

1) Contact the host or hostess before the get-together and let them know that you aren’t feeling like your usual self and may need to leave early.

2) Give yourself the first 30 minutes after you arrive to adjust to a gathering where your spouse is no longer with you.

3) Take your own car or alert a friend who is driving that you may want to leave early.

4) If you start to feel overwhelmed, you can retreat to the bathroom or take a short walk for some private time.

5) If you choose to avoid the usual gatherings, consider volunteering to serve meals at shelters, visiting shut-ins, or spending the day at a movie or health spa.

Remember: You will get through this time. We’ve found that the anticipation is usually much worse than the actual events. Be sure to plan ahead and do only what is most comfortable for you.

11/14/16

best ways to get through the holidays; part 1


Dreading the upcoming holidays?

If you’ve recently lost your spouse, the coming festivities can feel as unwelcome as Marley’s Ghost.

Here are some tried and true strategies for facing the holiday season:

1) Think ahead and try to anticipate how you’ll feel on each holiday.

2) Even if you don’t join in the festivities, don’t remain alone all day. Spend some time with a friend.

3) Considering your loss, don’t expect yourself to be as upbeat as usual. Expect some sadness as you take part in the festivities.

4) To lessen the chance of emotional sneak attacks, make some time to grieve, either on the holiday or just before it.

5) If you do choose to join in holiday activities, make some changes as to how much you do or become involved in.

Look for more tips in our next post.

11/10/16

widowhood way back when: revolutionary war veteran's benefits






If you were the widow of a revolutionary war veteran, you had better stick around a long, long time if you hoped to collect on your husband’s government pension.

According to the site lineages.com, we discovered the following about those early benefits:


July 24, 1836: Widows were authorized the pension that would have been available to their veteran husbands when they were living, so long as they had married before he left service.

July 7, 1838: Widows who had married Revolutionary War veterans prior to January 1, 1794 were authorized a five-year pension.

July 29, 1848: Widows were authorized a pension for life if they could prove they had married the veteran prior to January 2, 1800.

February 3, 1853: All widows of Revolutionary War veterans, regardless of their date of marriage, were made eligible for a pension.

March 9, 1878: The final Revolutionary War pension act authorized pensions for widows of veterans who had served at least fourteen days or had participated in any engagement.


Imagine being one of the widows who was finally able to collect benefits almost 100 years after the Revolutionary War!

Gives new meaning to the term "May-December Romance", doesn't it?

11/7/16

bereavement counseling for surviving families of veterans

With Veteran's Day being observed this week, you might want to check out the opportunities for bereavement counseling if your loved one was a veteran.

The Veterans Affairs website was updated last year and is loaded with information about survivor benefits of all kinds. 

According to the website: The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) offers bereavement counseling to parents, spouses and children of Armed Forces personnel who died in the service of their country. Also eligible are family members of reservists and National Guardsmen who die while on duty. VA's bereavement counseling is provided at community-based Vet Centers located near the families. There is no cost for VA bereavement counseling. S

Services are obtained by contacting Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS) at 202-273-9116 or via electronic mail at vet.center@hq.med.va.gov both of which are specific to this specialized service.

RCS staff will assist families in contacting the nearest Vet Center. For further information, please visit http://www.vba.va.gov/EFIF/dependents.htm#deceased and/or http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/Bereavement_Counseling.asp

Even if you yourself aren't a surviving family member, you may discover some important resources that can help a friend or relative who has lost a serviceman/woman.

Our thanks and best wishes go out to all veterans and their families!

11/3/16

coping with the loss of closeness when your spouse/partner dies



We came across this post on the Open to Hope Foundation Network’s site for the death of a spouse. This personal account by thegriefblog.com contributing author Beverly McManus has good suggestions about being kind to yourself at a time when you’re feeling deprived.


“I Need a Hug” – Coping with Loss of Intimacy After the Death of Your Spouse


Yes, I missed Steve’s voice, his laugh, his footsteps on the stairs, and even his snoring. But after he died, I was unprepared for the depth of how much I missed his physical intimacy — the simple human touches we shared almost unconsciously through 20 years of marriage:

…casually brushing against each other as we passed each other in our home.

…the little pats that said, “I hear you.”

…friendly nudges and teasing light pinches.

…ongoing hugs.

…running my fingers through his hair, and vice versa.

…dancing around the kitchen as we cooked together.

…the short good morning kisses, and the longer kisses we shared when we greeted each other after an absence.

…and, oh, yes, the more private intimacy between husband and wife.

These were all now a thing of the past. With one daughter away at college and the other totally involved in her final years of high school, it seemed like sometimes many weeks would pass between me touching someone or having them touch me.

In my pain and initial numbness, I didn’t even know how much I missed this very human need until I was at my hairdresser’s. As Ilya gently shampooed my hair, and tenderly rinsed out the suds, tears came to my eyes as I realized it was the first time anyone had really touched me since Steve died. I realized how shattered I’d been feeling, and how good and human it felt to be touched in a personal way.

New in bereavement, I was of course no where close to developing a new relationship in which the physical touch I’d once shared with Steve would be shared with another. At that point, six years ago, I couldn’t even imagine ever being with anyone else, let along wanting the physical closeness and intimacy that is part of a healthy relationship.

But my experience at the hairdresser’s told me that I not only wanted, but actually needed, to build in some opportunities for sharing human touch. I began to consider some options, and discussed this topic with friends, one of whom jokingly suggested getting a paid escort! Of course, for me that was out of the question, but it did make me realize that there is an entire profession devoted to therapeutic human touch: professional massage therapists.

One of my friends actually treated me to my first session with a lovely massage therapist who seemed to have magic hands, and along with them, a tender, compassionate heart. After the first session, I realized that this was incredibly beneficial and should not be viewed as a luxury, but rather, as a really good way to take care of myself, just as I viewed my regular visits to the hairdresser or dentist.

As she massaged my tense and overworked body, Laura really seemed to help me free up some of the energy I’d been holding, that had been causing knee pain and neck aches. She also very gently encouraged me to open up some of the feelings I’d been holding so tightly, and each week I felt myself getting stronger and more hopeful. I continued my weekly appointments for more than three years, and treated our time together as a sacred “Sorry, this is an important appointment I can’t reschedule” occasion, because otherwise work pressures would have made me miss many of the sessions.

As she worked with my muscles and physical body, Laura also tended to my broken heart and soul, listening with care as over the weeks I explored who I was in my new life without Steve. She helped me process the empty nest I was facing with the high school graduation and departure for college of my youngest daughter. She held me as I grieved the illness and death of my dear aunt, and then shortly thereafter, the loss of my sweet mother. The massages and intense physical touch each week gave me energy and made me feel like a human being again.

What I’ve discovered:
I realized that I didn’t need to limit myself to weekly massages in order to meet my needs for human touch. I consciously began to become a “hugger,” you know, those friends who hug you every time you see them. I found that as I gave a hug, more often than not, I’d receive one too. Ahhhhhh… Heaven. To be held and hugged!

I’m now famous for my hugs - and as often as I can, I encourage others to reach out and hug someone nearby. I was thrilled to see an international hugging movement, in which volunteers stood on street corners holding signs offering “Free Hugs”. What a marvelous gift to give others, one that doesn’t require gift wrap, or to be dusted or stored!

And after my three-plus years under Laura’s tender ministrations ended, I discovered that I could visit local organic grocery stores for impromptu chair massages, where for a very reasonable fee, a massage therapist would iron out the kinks in my back and neck for 20 or so minutes, leaving me feeling refreshed, and yes, touched.

At this point, six years since Steve’s death, I’m gradually yet surely transitioning from the label as “widow” into one as “strong woman who is looking forward to being in a relationship again, at some point in the future.” Yes, for the first time in 26 years, I’m beginning to feel “single” again.

What the future holds is uncertain, yet I am enthusiastically embracing the possibility that once again, I will at some point share my life — and my physical touch — with someone I love, and who loves me.
How have you coped with the loss of physical touch and intimacy after the death of your spouse? What challenges have you faced? What solutions can you share with others? We’d love to hear about your experiences.


Beverly Chantalle McManus lives in Northern California with her two daughters, who have each now graduated from college. She is a bereavement facilitator and core team member of the Stepping Stones on your Grief Journey Workshops, and a frequent speaker and writer on the topic of loss and grief. In addition to grief support, she is also a marketing executive for professional services firms.