Coping with Loss & Grief

Grief & Marriage

Module 3 page1

"Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows" — William Shakespear

In married life husbands and wives share many things. They share in activities, ideals, dreams, interests and family. Intimate and sacred moments such as conception are treasured and shared together. Events like birthdays and wedding anniversaries are celebrated, and all kinds of experiences which may be insignificant to others are shared between a married couple.

But death is different? With the loss of a family loved one there is the myth that the event will naturally bring the husband and wife closer together.

Death is a strain on every marriage
The belief that a death will naturally bring a husband and wife closer to gather is a myth. Sharing and support of each other during grief is often missing. The unwillingness to share openly is readily misunderstood and the resulting disappointment quickly turns to resentment which in turn develops into full-blown anger. The good ship takes a battering on a rising sea of distrust. Every level of a marriage is touched by grief.

Grief can affect the spiritual level of a marriage
The loss of a loved one is often accompanied by a loss of faith. Through the darkness of death it is easy to lose interest and awareness of God. In His agony as the shadows of death overtook Him, even Jesus Christ felt separation from God when He cried out "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

It is disturbing to hear your spouse say, "How can I pray anymore to a God who let me down when I needed Him most? From now on I'm not interested. I'm through with Him. I've got no faith left."

Deep feelings of abandonment can cause both husband and wife to experience a loss of faith at the same time. However this is not indicative of a deep spiritual regression.

Grief is a terrible human pressure and we all can buckle under such pressure
To 'preach' at, or remonstrate with, a person who is experiencing these feelings only causes the feelings of rejection to deepen.

What is needed at this time is loyalty, love and support
When a person feels cut off from God, that person can often have their faith and relationship with God renewed by someone who is not afraid to share the pain.

"Mr. Howell's doctor came into the room and announced that the diagnosis of cancer was clearly confirmed. The disease had metastasised to many parts of the body. The prognosis was very poor.

"Mr Howell was so angry inside that he could barely contain himself. He was angry at God. He felt abandoned by God and wanted nothing more to do with him. When his family left him that evening he switched off his light, turned his face toward the wall and wept out his anger.

"At that point a nurse came to the doorway of his room. 'Mr. Howell, are you alright?' She said.

"'Yes,' He answered sharply

"'Are you crying?' She asked

"'No,' He yelled angrily.

"Now, that nurse could have turned on her heels and left Mr. Howell to suffer alone, but she didn't. She came into his room and sat down at the head of his bed. She held Mr. Howell's hand and stroked his hair.

"'It's OK to cry, Mr.Howell, when you think you are going to die before you thought you would. We nurses cry, too, when our patients aren't doing well. It's OK to be angry. We nurses are angry too when our patients are dying. If you want me to, I'll stay right here. I'll listen as long as you need to talk.'

Mr. Howell later said, 'I knew that the lady in a white uniform was a nurse, but she really wasn't a nurse. God was sitting by my bed. He was assuring me that even though I felt forsaken and lonely, He was still with me.'" (Grief Recovery, Larry Yeagley p.46)

God cares for people through people
A struggling faith in God, or even a lost one, can be restored when a friend is willing to be present in a non-judgmental way.

A marriage where partners can work together, play together, plan together, laugh together but cannot cry together is not a complete marriage.

Friendship is a vital ingredient in marriage, and sharing grief develops and maintains that friendship
However when joy and laughter are gone through grief, the emotional tone of a relationship is flat and spontaneous friendship can come to a halt at this point. But as long as the couple can say to themselves and each other, "this won't last", then their marriage will not be damaged.

It is through deep friendship that the emotional needs of a spouse are realised. A marriage is fulfilling only when the emotional needs of each partner are completely met.

Because friendship suffers in grief, emotional needs are often not met. Most people in acute grief are dependent on others. Their emotions are in a state of chaos. In this condition having one's needs met is paramount and often a person will feel neglected because the marriage partner does not, or cannot, meet those needs

If it is unreasonable to expect your partner to meet all you emotional needs when grief is not a factor, is it fair to expect your partner to meet all your needs during grief? Close friends, pastors, counsellors, and support groups can be a great help during the early days of grieving. Help should be sought openly. Your spouse needs to know why you need to seek help and to whom you are going.

The 'suffer-it-Alone' syndrome

The 'suffer-it-alone' syndrome is not healthy for a marriage. It is common to practise this often over extended perios of time. Getting help early will be a factor in maintaining stability in a marriage.

Grief can erode communication
Good communication is vital for a healthy marriage. In grief, withdrawal is common and dangerous. Partners often keep things to themselves to prevent furthering the hurt. Silence seems the better part of wisdom. Sometimes the expression of feelings is met with a judgmental attitude and even a lecture or 'sermon'. At this time the one who is suffering is convinced that it is much safer to 'shut up shop' and say nothing. (See the Direct Action Plan at the end of this page)

Every home is a part of society. Communities that are warm and friendly are so because the families in that community interact with one another in a warm and friendly way.

Marriage and home security
Reaching out to others protects a marriage and a home from becoming self-centred.

When a death occurs it is not unusual for people to withdraw from those who are grieving. Sorrowing people often complain that those who once socialised with them now stay away. Divorced or widowed women often find this to be a common occurrence.

People odten stay away because they: don't know what to say, feel that they are intruding, or they may not have dealt with their own losses

Grieving couples don't feel like socialising because they don't have the energy - they are physically and emotionally exhausted. What is more, in the early stages of grief one can be subjected to embarrassment in a social gathering because of unannounced waves of sorrow and tears which can suddenly come like a flood.

Marriages in grief are vulnerable
Reductions in social life means that a husband and wife will spend more time together, and given the circumstances, are more likely to get on one another's nerves. Irritability and arguments can become common.

Social life during early grief should be uncomplicated, and engagements short and few. It is best to visit with people who know you well and with whom you feel most comfortable. Decide between yourselves before you go that either spouse can shorten the visit if necessary. It is important to feel good about a social engage-ment from the beginning.

Every marriage has a physical environment
The physical environment is the level where shelter, clothes, food, personal appearance and hygiene count. Grief affects the physical level. Often a wife may no longer feel like caring for herself in the way taht she did in the past. It is not uncommen for a husband to begin to neglect things in a way that he would never have dreamt of prior to the death.

When energy levels are low — motivation is depleted
With loss of energy and motivation comes the withering of self esteem and the onset of apathy and or depression.

What every grieving couple needs to do at this stage is to practice relaxation. Take a check on expectations of one another to see if they are reasonable in view of the prevailing circumstances.

If things don't get done right away - don't worry
Your healthy recovery is more important than housework or yards and lawns. Practice positive self-talk and tell yourself that "things won't always be like this." The sharing of feelings and and getting extra physical rest is far more important than regular chores. Becoming upset over these things only serves to drive wedges between grieving couples. Get outside help if it is absolutely necessary.

Sexual levels are affected by grief
The sexual level is of prime importance to a good marriage relationship. A marriage is a composite structure like a building. When one part of the building is affected by the tremors set off by a shattering loss, all of the building will be affected.

Sexual reactions vary during the grieving period. For some sexual intercourse brings them comfort and warmth; to others it is an escape from the reality of the pain of the loss; it help some couples to feel that they are still real and alive. On the other hand it is common for sex drive to die for some people during acute grief while others feel that they have no right to any pleasure in the midst of sorrow and when a loved one has been deprived of life.

Sexuality during grief however is more than intercourse
Frequent use of the words "I love you", and unexpected passionate kindness can arouse strong feelings of appreciation and help to restore a sense of wholeness and oneness. Spontaneous hugs and kisses during the course of daily activities can lighten the load of grief. Above all, be kind and patient with one another.

There will always be a heart vacancy after the loss of a child ('gaping hole'), but continuing sensitivity and gentleness toward each other will have an ongoing healing effect. Guard with your lives the memories you hold in your hearts and determine to create new ones.

Life adjustments
Remember that adjustments take time, but if they are made within the framework of affection and understanding, your marriage will become an even greater blessing to you and others

Discovery . . . Relief . . . Recovery . . . Hope

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