how To deal with pervasive sadness after the death of your spouse?
September 27, 2018 5:28 PM   Subscribe

How do I find happiness after the death of my spouse after 50 years together?
posted by Bridgeman3 to Human Relations (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I think you have to frame it differently. You can't go back to being happy in the same way. Everything has changed.

But, don't become a hermit. Even if you don't feel like it some days, get outside if you can. Talk to other people. If you're in OK shape to do so, volunteer. Helping other people is a proven way to make oneself feel better.

My condolences. It's a rough thing.
posted by zadcat at 5:37 PM on September 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

Time, brother (or sister). Or so I'm told. I've been friends with a couple widowers in my less-than-fifty years on the planet. All have, to a one, needed years to recover.

Peace to you.
posted by notsnot at 5:38 PM on September 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

Where are you in process? How recent was your loss?
posted by metahawk at 5:39 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's OK to be sad. Like, if you're permanently depressed now, I think that would be totally understandable under the circumstances. However, life with depression is still worth living. Your outlook may change after such an enormous loss (can't imagine otherwise, really) but there's still more life to live. May as well make the best of it, you know? It's a new chapter now. You didn't ask for this, but here you are and what happens next is up to you.

I am very sorry for your loss. I am sure I cannot even conceive of what it would be like to lose a beloved partner of half a century's standing, but it must be just absolutely devastating. If you do nothing else, reach out to those around you for support of all kinds. You are in my thoughts.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:48 PM on September 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm just crossing the two year mark after losing my wife of 10 years. Things are slowly starting to suck somewhat less, but only somewhat. A lot of things still suck, though.

My mom is about to hit the four year mark of losing my dad, whom she was married to for 52 years. She's generally in better spirits lately, but she stays super busy with my siblings and grandkids who live close by so that keeps her mind off things, or at least that's what she tells me.

Honestly, I think the only answer to your question is time. I've tried to stay busy with work and a few other things, but it seems like it's only with the passage of time that things start to return back to something that one day might look like "normal." I still have some really rough days and sometimes weeks, and that's just the way it is and probably will be for some time.

You're going to be sad, and you're going to be depressed. It's OK to feel that way - how else could you feel? I spent just over a year seeing a therapist for grief counseling and that was mostly helpful, especially since I don't have any family or close friends nearby. That might be something to look in to if you haven't yet.
posted by ralan at 5:58 PM on September 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

I'm very sorry for your loss. I can't speak for your situation, but at least after the major death in my life it was more like happiness found me again, over time. The sorrow never went away, but I saw a new way through.

If you can manage a bit of mild Christianity, then I highly recommend A Grief Observed, by CS Lewis. It isn't a self help book, but maybe it can help map the landscape a little bit?

“Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”
posted by frumiousb at 6:09 PM on September 27, 2018 [21 favorites]

My friend's grandmother lost her husband, the love of her life, after ~50 years of marriage. She then went on to outlive him by another 25 years. She missed him tremendously, and one of the ways she coped with having to continue on without him was... pretty unique. She taught herself photoshop. Whenever there was a family gathering or significant event she'd take a bunch of pictures to remember the occasion. And then she'd photoshop her husband into some of the photos. So even though he was gone, he still got to be there for everything, with her. Those photos she created were physical artifacts reminding her (and the rest of their family) that he was always there in spirit.

Now, maybe photography and photoshop aren't your cup of tea. But perhaps there's something else, some other positive ritual, that you can adopt to honour his memory and feel close to him?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 6:24 PM on September 27, 2018 [13 favorites]

My father and his wife (not my mother) were married for about 15 years, but they were older when they married. He was the love of her life, and it has been much more difficult for her than for me, his daughter, to move on. I am cushioned by my happy family and husband, I think. I was just not looking for the "couple-ness" they had together. He was ill for many months and in home hospice, which consumed every moment of every day. After his death, the day was just endless, with no urgent responsibilities. It's been very, very hard for her.

She was consumed with grief for weeks, and gradually made herself available for the many people who wanted to get in touch, many of them widows. They lived in a large apartment/condo where they have known neighbors for years, and these women (largely) have helped, inviting her to events where she need not interact much, like book readings at the library. Not pushing seems to have been important.

I have kids and grandkids, and she has tried to maintain contact, so I invite her to visit when they are here, every couple of weeks.

The hospice has a bereavement group for spouses she has felt very helpful, even if she doesn't talk much. Just being with people she doesn't have to explain herself to seems to have helped.

Also time. For us, it's been only about 6 months, so it's recent. But it is better.

So patient family and friends seems important. A bereavement group might be helpful. The passage of time alone is probably not the answer, but it is an important aspect of recovery. I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by citygirl at 6:50 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

My condolences, this is rough. It is ok, even normal, to consider antidepressant medication to be a possible tool you can use to get through pervasive sadness. Yes, it takes time, but this doesn’t mean that long term you can’t feel ok enough to cope with day-to-day life. Talk to your doctor, they can prescribe something low dose and you can see if it helps.
posted by Secretariat at 7:01 PM on September 27, 2018

I lost my wife after 62+ years nearly 4 years ago. It just took me time and more time. I could barely speak of her to my 4 children for many months without breaking down.

Now I have learned that it is possible to live and even have joy in my life. Not the same joy of course. But I do live my life. And think of all the things she did to make my family a happy one.

I admit it took over 2 years before I became used to being alone. Friends help, going out helps, going to church helps if you have been into that, cooking dinner for one and thinking how much better the dinner was when she was with us.

I completed her family history project, mainly for our children and that helped. I have several hand stitched quilts that she made and I rotate them on my bed. It gives me a good feeling.

You will renew your life in time. You just do not know when that will happen. But it will.

I wish you god speed in your new life. It will be different. But it can be good. It was for me.
posted by JayRwv at 7:06 PM on September 27, 2018 [47 favorites]

At the very least, if you find your sleep and appetite disrupted to the point that it is a hindrance to just taking basic care of yourself, talk to your doctor (and a friend, if you're able). Being sorta well-rested and hydrated and fed aren't going to make anything better on their own, but sleep deprivation and dehydration and poor diet will make it worse.

My condolences on your loss.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:09 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would suggest Joan Didion’s book about her husband’s death, The Year of Magical Thinking. I remember thinking I wished it had been around for my mother when my father died. It won’t make you happy, but it will give you a look at someone else experiencing this loss, and I think that will make you feel less alone with it.

The thing is, finding happiness again is just going to take a lot of time. And when you find it, it will be in small moments. I remember my mom visiting me and babysitting my little daughter months after my dad died. She said it was the first time she’d had her mind off her grief since he died. (For a different kind of grief, when I was diagnosed with cancer, it was two solid months before I had a single waking moment when I wasn’t thinking about it.)

This is a very recent loss. You will feel better, but it will take time.
posted by FencingGal at 7:36 PM on September 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'd suggest finding a group of widows and widowers. It'll be refreshing to talk to people who've shared your experience.

My mom met her husband in a "grief group." They married 8 years after my dad died.
posted by bendy at 9:50 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think as a society we have forgotten how to grieve. We act like it's a failing or a mental illness and it's not. It's a process that takes your whole set of priorities and emotions and re-aligns them by force. A loving marriage of 50 years is a rare and wonderful thing that most people cannot even begin to understand. It's fine to acknowledge that and to feel tremendous, wrenching sadness that it has ended. It's normal to be unable to do things or to sleep too much or cry at inappropriate times. People used to dress all in black and retire from society formally for half a year, grieving really is a process. Unfortunately a lot of it is simply feeling the sadness and loss to the point you become less affected by it. But to be truly happy again you must also let yourself feel the love too.

I don't think you get over loss, I think you come to terms with it. You learn to counteract bad memories with good memories: the feeling of loss and having something taken from you by recalling the good luck you had in meeting your spouse and the smart decision you made to get married. When you feel lonely you recall the friends and fun and joy you had,and you think "I did not do so badly". One day you will see something or hear something and it will make you happy or interested for a while and you will begin to find your way back. Eventually you will see things that remind you of your spouse and it will remind you of the happy time you had together and not this time. That is your goal, if you have a goal.

Be kind to yourself, your brain is literally not working properly at the moment. Rest and spend time outdoors and with your pets. Just drift if you can. It will get better.
posted by fshgrl at 11:08 PM on September 27, 2018 [11 favorites]

My wife of thirteen years died five years ago. The sadness is still real & present, but no longer all-pervasive. Even so, I've acknowledged her death as a major injury whose after-effects will be long-lasting.

Having an external scaffolding of responsibilities has benefitted me. I have a dog and have to walk him three or four times a day: it gave me no choice but to keep getting up and going out. I had to keep going to work so I could keep paying the rent & keep buying more dog-food. While that didn't necessarily make me feel much better, it did help distract me from looking inward, and held me up for long enough for time's passing to take the edge off the worst of the pain. In the absence of that kind of framework to grab hold of and cling on to, and of the help and company my family provided, I may well have felt the need to try therapeutic or pharmaceutical assistance. If you're retired I imagine it will be more of a challenge to keep busy like that: volunteering, or joining support groups could certainly help there.

I'm keenly aware that everyone's grief is different, and what's helped me or the other respondents here might not be what will work for you. Many (perhaps most) people, for example, take solace and sustenance from the wealth of memories they have of their late loved ones, and to that end surround themselves with mementos of them. In my case, the memories often seem to hurt more than they help, and thus I try not to dwell much on the past, and have held on to a bare minimum of keepsakes: sometimes I feel bad not thinking of her more often, but it's how I've kept myself afloat.
posted by misteraitch at 6:56 AM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Grief Works by Julia Samuel has much to recommend it. I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by tooloudinhere at 8:28 AM on September 28, 2018

We lost my 80-year-old stepfather to cancer about 3.5 years ago; he and my mother were married for "only" about 20 years, but it was the defining relationship of their lives. Both had first marriages (the child-producing ones) that failed in the late 70s/early 80s, and so they were super cautious, and ended up dating for about 10 years before marrying.

They were absurdly, ludicrously happy. They deserved more time, which is a funny thing to say about a death at 80, but there it is.

My mother (6 years his junior; now 78) has coped well. A year after, she sold their house and left the small city she'd lived in for 50 years in favor of the state capital 85 miles away; her new home is one of those higher-end retirement communities that have multiple levels of housing, from independent apartments and garden homes all the way up to full-time nursing care. It's also about 10 minutes from my brother and his daughter, and 20 from her youngest stepdaughter and her 4 kids (the "strategic grandchild reserves").

This sounds a lot like the often-maligned "geographic cure," but she was ready. Ready to move on, ready to establish the next phase of life, and ready for change. We figured she'd sell the house -- I mean, how could you NOT expect to see John around every corner? -- but leaving the city was a (welcome) surprise to my brother and I. I think we both expected we'd have to have a Conversation about where she'd ultimately live once she was no longer completely independent (which she absolutely still is).

Her mantras have been "it's just the next phase of life" and "this is the new normal." She would love to have had more time with John, but that's not an option. The options she does have are how to make the most of the time she has, and the people she can spend it with. Grieve, but it can't all be about the absent person.

That saiid, another thing she has shared that I guess is common for surviving spouses is to embrace some of the things you moderated or avoided or didn't do because of your partnership. For example, my mother has always liked spicy food -- south Mississippi is close to south Louisiana -- but John had Crohn's and couldn't really partake. Now she takes a small pleasure in eating as she pleases.

Embrace your friends. Better, let them embrace YOU.
posted by uberchet at 9:35 AM on September 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think the answer is as personal and unique and complex as your relationship was. Remember that this loss does not invalidate or erase anything of your life together, nothing can take the past away.

One thing that is taboo, but came up for me and other widows I know: anger. You built something together, made promises and commitments that your spouse can no longer fulfil. It's perfectly natural to be angry and hurt about this, to feel abandoned.

Find someone to talk to that did not know you or your spouse well (or at all) before - a therapist, a support group, a new friend, an Internet forum etc. You need to have at least one person you can talk to who is not thinking of you as half a couple. Someone who can listen, understand, and support you where you are now, but without comparing your before and after because they don't know the before.

Notice the places you made space for your spouse, the compromises you made on what to eat, how to socialise, where to put which furniture. Notice which things bring you comfort, which things hurt to look at, which things bring up anger or resentment. Make changes as you feel safe to do so, I got rid of his nightstand within a couple of days because it made me cry, got rid of some dishes and art I hated that had belonged to his mother, and never went to Taco Bell again. But keep the things that bring you comfort or feel scary to get rid of. It took me about a year to get rid of all his clothes (other then some shirts I still wear), and six years later I still have a dish with his keys (including new spares from everywhere I've moved since), dice, and other tokens by the front door.

Don't do this on anyone else's timeline. There will be external logistics pushing at you, and you'll have to deal with those, but do not let let anyone else tell you that you are making changes too soon, or not fast enough. Your grief is yours, just as your love was between you and your spouse and not scheduled by others.

Write letters, or emails, or in a journal. In the first several months I sent almost daily emails to his account, long ranty things or just little funny things I wanted to tell him about my day, or things people said about him. I also deleted my sent copies because it felt wrong to look at those after they were sent.
posted by buildmyworld at 11:59 AM on September 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

My husband died almost two years ago. He was young, and we had a new baby at the time, so it’s a bit of a different situation. But the Facebook widow groups were helpful. I met a few people who, like me, were trying to make the best of it and have the best life we could given the situation. And I met some very dysfunctional people who were immobilized by their grief and couldn’t come out of it. My dominant thought whenever I read their posts was ‘one thing I do know, Dave would not want his kid growing up in those people’s houses!’ And he wouldn’t have. He wouldn’t have wanted that for me, either. He loved us. He wouldn’t want us to be living this sad, hopeless life on his account. It’s really helped me put things in perspective.
posted by ficbot at 5:34 PM on September 29, 2018

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