Being widowed is often a very detrimental and life changing time in a spouse’s life, that forces them to go through changes that they may not have anticipated to make for a significant amount of time. Responses of grief and bereavement due to the loss of a spouse increases vulnerability to psychological and physical illnesses.
Psychologically, losing a long-term spouse can cause symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and feelings of guilt. Physical illness may also occur as the body becomes more vulnerable to emotional and environmental stressors.
The end of a relationship often brings people into therapy. And when the end is due to a death, the emotions can be especially tender.
While not all marriages are healthy, many of the widows that I’ve been opportuned to talk to state they felt loved. They tried a plethora of things to cope with their grief. They tried therapy, support groups, taking anti-depressants, moving, starting a new hobby and even getting a job and yet, their sorrow remains. Certainly, their sorrow is a part of grief and bereavement, but I believe there is more to it. When their husband dies, clearly, the love dies as well. This is what creates what I refer to as the “crisis of the heart.”
This “crisis” is a separate entity of the loss, and is deeply rooted in the emotion of love. And for some widows their spouse is the only person who provided this deep love. So when their spouse’s love disappears the heart itself is in crisis mode. This is why you will hear a widow say, “My heart is broken in a million pieces” or “Every day my heart breaks more.”
This particular type of brokenness is a direct result of the heart being in crisis mode. The wound is so deep that the widow struggles to even understand her own pain. Death does damage, and in an attempt to assuage it, she will often enter into another relationship. Rather or not she is consciously aware of this is the reason behind her desire to be in a relationship is something for her to determine.
Sometimes within weeks of their husband’s funeral or even years later a widow reports finding herself in a new relationship. She may say to you that she misses the companionship that a relationship can offer and that might be true, but chances are she is also seeking love. After all, she knows that love tends to lessen pain.
Also, she intimately knows what it is like to be loved. There are situations when a widow is searching to replicate this experience once again.
And as obvious as it seems it is worth stating here death is the ultimate rejection. Unlike divorce or another type of break up, death doesn’t permit reconciliation. So in order to avoid rejection, some widows will prematurely end their new relationship. Sure, many are aware of what they are doing, while others are not in touch with their deeper fear of being rejected. And a breakup that the widow doesn’t initiate can be viewed as another type of loss.
Healing the heart crisis is something that needs to directly be addressed. It is difficult to tease apart this “heart crisis” from “grief” work, but I believe that it is an important distinction to make, especially for widows who struggle with relationships post loss.
Helping widows to understand that their heart crisis is a part of grief can aide a widow in their healing journey. Also, helping widows to gain insight into how their previous experiences with all love relationships (i.e., parent/child, friends) can provide widows with an opportunity to see how the crisis of the heart is attached to the emotion of love.
Many times the definition one has of love is not formed just by the marriage, but by another relationship that as a young child. After the death of the spouse, a widow longs to form a bond with someone in an attempt to heal the heart. However, forming an internal bond with oneself is important. Healing the heart as cliche as it sounds comes from within, and as long as she seeks healing in the form of another relationship, stress will persist. Assisting widows in learning to be present with the pain and not trying to dilute it with distractions (i.e., work, exercise, relationships) is also useful.
Self- esteem is another issue that widows and widowers openly discussed. For many, their self- esteem took a major hit. In some circumstances, widows felt they should have been able to “save” their husband. Being able to forgive themselves is an act of love, and this too is part of healing the heart.
Becoming transparent with oneself is difficult, especially post loss but it is an integral part of healing. When one is not connected to the truth they are not living in love. And denying the truth is when fear becomes the nucleus of one’s presence. Fear, anger, resentment are the emotions that keep the wounds of the heart alive. Healing the crisis of the heart requires deep reflective therapy work that is not for the faint of heart.
Adunke OlatunjiPresident Tabitha New Life Found