Losing Love: A Guide to Grief
Grief is a very personal experience, and when you lose a spouse there are many different ways to experience the pain.
Whether the loss was expected or sudden, there are stages you will go through—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—though, you may not go through them in that particular order. It’s possible to skip one, and then visit it at a later date. Everyone is different and stages vary from person to person.
Your mind isn’t the only thing trying to cope either; grief also affects other parts of your body. You may have a loss of appetite, increased blood pressure, or become sick with grief, also known as heartsick or heartbroken. You may have trouble sleeping or have aches and pains that weren’t present before. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and no exact timeline for each stage.
What are some tips to help cope with the passing of a Spouse?
If you or someone you know has recently lost a spouse, there are ways to help you navigate through this time—people who will help you and places you can go. Don’t try to deal with it alone; find the best support system for you, whether it’s group counseling, individual help, or surrounding yourself with loved ones.
“The act of self-care is important. It’s difficult to do when your life has been turned upside down, but it’s essential. Drink water, take naps, eat a meal, say no. Sometimes we have difficulty in grief doing simple things, but having emotionally safe people you trust who can help you through are key. Grief is a process, and it’s okay to be where you are in the process; you’re allowed to change where you are depending on the moment or day.”
—Ashlee Janzen, LMFT, Roseville, ashleejanzenlmft.com
“It’s important to understand that there’s not one way to grieve when losing a spouse. Every person is different. It’s common to have strong, confusing feelings during this time. Grieving the loss of a spouse shouldn’t be an individual experience. It’s important to take time for oneself, but it’s also important to connect with others during this time by sharing your feelings with people who knew your spouse and family members, such as children, who are also grieving. On the other hand, many people find it helpful to have a trusted person who didn’t know their spouse that they can share their feelings with. Professional help is often beneficial, regardless if one’s grief is complicated or not, and regardless of whether clinical symptoms are present. If grief interferes with one’s daily life for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to seek out professional support. It’s also imperative to take care of one’s body: sleep, eat, and exercise. Physical and emotional health support each other, so both are critically important.”—Robert Oldham, Chief Medical Executive, Sutter Center for Psychiatry
“It’s important to recognize your loss: not only the emotional part, but also the practical part (i.e., possible loss of income and loss of co-parenting). Expect a multitude of feelings (disbelief, anger, sadness, numbness). Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and feelings with a trusted source, whether it’s a family member or a professional. Take care of your physical health as well. Keep to a routine schedule as much as possible. Be kind to yourself.”—Patricia Hanson, LCSW, Mercy Medical Group Behavioral Health
How can you support friends and/or family dealing with a loss?
“Listen and validate their feelings. It’s common to have strong but complicated relationships with a spouse. The feelings that come up during the grieving process can be very painful or confusing, so a trusted support system that can validate those feelings and encourage the individual to take care of one’s mind and body is critical. If you’re supporting someone who is grieving but also grieving yourself, it’s important to set limits and boundaries to give yourself the space you need. Other resources, both professional and social, such as support groups, can be very helpful. For those who may be uncomfortable supporting an individual through grief, it’s important to know that taking someone to the movies, to lunch, or anything they enjoy doing with friends can be just as important as conversation and validation around feelings. It’s often a good idea to simply ask: ‘How can I support you?’”—Robert Oldham, Chief Medical Executive, Sutter Center for Psychiatry
“Everyone grieves differently, so don’t make assumptions about what they may need. First and foremost, be there—whatever that may look like and knowing it could change at any given time. Maybe you’re not comfortable with the emotional piece, but you’re more of the practical type. Making a meal and stopping by (with advanced notice) can go a long way. Remember that they want to feel some normalcy in a time that feels anything but normal; leave room for the moments where maybe you’re laughing and reminiscing then maybe crying together; send an encouraging text, email, or handwritten note; and be sure to not ask the broad question of ‘how are you doing?’ Instead, ask ‘how are you doing today?’”—Ashlee Janzen, LMFT, Roseville, ashleejanzenlmft.com
“Remember that death belongs to the griever, so follow their lead. Stay present, listen, and don’t try to ‘fix’ the situation. Be willing to witness and sit with the griever’s pain. Ask the griever how you can help. Many times they won’t know. Anticipating tasks that need to be done can be helpful. Don’t promise to do what you cannot do. There may be cultural/religious/spiritual considerations around how a griever processes death, too. Be mindful of this; most of all, show and share your love.”—Patricia Hanson, LCSW, Mercy Medical Group Behavioral Health
Local Bereavement Groups
Widowed Persons Association of Sacramento
This non-denominational nonprofit is dedicated to helping widowed people overcome grief and learn to live and laugh again. All the people who work for them are widows and widowers, so they know what it means firsthand to lose a spouse. sacwidowed.org
Hope, Healing & Help
This group provides an extensive library of audio and printed resources designed to give you HOPE for your future, HEALING for your grief, and HELP on your journey. Their programs are available in MP3 on their “Archived Programs” page. They also provide a number of resources and support groups in the Greater Sacramento area. hopehealinghelp.com
UC Davis Health System
Resources, including support groups, are available for families and loved ones, courtesy of the UC Davis Hospice Program. Free but registration is required. health.ucdavis.edu/homecare/pdfs/bereavementsupportgroups_0115.pdf
Both Mercy San Juan Medical Center and Mercy General Hospital have various bereavement support groups, including drop-in options and closed six-week groups with progressive and structured agendas. 916-453-4552
Marshall Medical Center
Marshall offers grief support groups for families who have experienced the death of a loved one in the last 18 months. 530-621-7820
Kaiser offers support for people who have lost a loved one at several locations throughout the Sacramento area. 916-486-5300
System-wide services include support groups and bereavement programs such as individual grief counseling, special remembrance events, and specific workshops related to navigating grief during the holidays or other life events. 916-388-6255
Bereavement Network Resources of Sacramento
This nonprofit has been providing services in the Greater Sacramento area since 1984 and was formed by volunteers who experienced grief and saw the need to help others in similar situations. griefhelpsacramento.com
Best Books About Grief