New York City, September 11, 2001—3,000
of the most widespread beliefs about mourning are largely myths, new scientific
findings are showing. And researchers warn that these myths can increase
the mourners' distress by holding them to false expectations of what is
As the saying goes, there are only two things unavoidable in life: taxes and dying. Along with dying there is, more often than not, a spouse or life-partner left to grieve. These bereft partners are our concern. Why are some able to heal and eventually experience a fulfilling new life, while others wither emotionally, spiritually, and even physically, never fully recovering from their loss? When losing a spouse is so common, why do we need a blueprint to overcome our suffering and eventually, achieve healing? Why is healthy mourning, as opposed to a prolonged state of emotional denial important in creating a rewarding new life?
Facing such a loss head on is difficult because loving is all-encompassing; love took most of our emotional energy as we embraced our spouse or partner. We cared that they were fulfilled and well. We wanted to protect them and make them happy. We were devoted, so much so, that losing this loved one, felt crippling. And so, when they are gone, we need to learn how to transform this energy into something positive. Not a “substitute,” but a conversion, from a “we” to an “I.” Not in a selfish manner, but as a way of refocusing, we ask “How do I live my life in a positive way without you … not losing the memory and loving feelings of you, but incorporating them and going on. What tools can I find? How do I learn to heal in a way that's positive and energizing instead of depleting?”
THE HEALING POWER OF GRIEF is Gloria Lintermans’ story, twenty-four months of mourning and healing following the death of her precious husband, Rick. It is also Dr. Marilyn Stolzman’s, a psychotherapist specializing in grief counseling, vision of healing as she offers tools, not psychobabble, a blueprint as it were, to help you to face your loss, mourn, and eventually, heal.
Together, we share our experiences as we take you gently by the hand to give you comfort and direction during this confusing and painful time. It has been shown that the only way to arrive at a healthy, healed integration, adjustment and transition is by going through the shock, denial, envy, anger, depression and guilt that the loss of a spouse predictably inspires. It is important to note that these stages on based loosely on the “stages of grief” first acknowledged by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross for those “living while dying.”
Unlike any other book, THE HEALING POWER OF GRIEF is based on the Time Sequences of Grief. Chapter-by-chapter, chapters one to five represents a time sequence divided by months is mourning. Each include a first-hand account of mourning; answers to commonly asked questions concerning your day-to-day life; questions you might be asking yourself; Dr. Stolzman's reassuring explanation of what you are feeling; one of the five stages of mourning in keeping with that time frame; and, a roadmap of helpful Do's and Don'ts to guide you and your support community on your path to recovery.
There is no way around grief. You can't hide from it (for long anyway) or run away from it – it follows wherever you go. Losing a spouse may very well be more tragic than any other loss because you are deprived not only of your day-to-day life, but also, your couple future. Contrary to the old adage, time alone, (unfortunately) does not heal anything. A 1983 Harvard study of widows and widowers found that 40 percent were still anxious and depressed as long as four years after the death of their spouse. Real healing is a combination of time and educated grieving that truly allows you to embrace not only the continuation of your life, but the joy that life offers.
We offer healing strategies, while also acknowledging your shifting, overlapping feelings, as you overcoming helplessness and immobility and move, at your own speed. Along with specifics on creating a more balanced life, including its many and varied aspects: growth, spirituality, recreation, health and exercise, community, career, family and financially security. We also recognize the need for social interaction and exchange, such as being part of a larger community, not grieving alone – but developing a partnership with the world.
We will help you to know appropriate things to say to take care of yourself, how to handle unintentionally hurtful comments that may come from friends and pointers on dealing with holidays, difficult days, and special occasions. We offer comfort while recognizing the importance of forgiveness and the return to a life that embraces loving. We include tools for embracing a giving heart, finding courage at the darkest times, being open to joy and trusting others. We offer coping strategies while also recognizing that everyone is different. How we grieve is affected by our personality, intellect, sense of humor, past experience with loss, and social, cultural, ethnic and religious background – and so we provide tools that are flexible and adaptable.
We recognize the presence of stresses in the mourners’ life, and on the positive side, we recognize the ways in which your beliefs, spiritual sense and support systems all contribute to the grieving and healing process. And, we will examine the meaning of individual loss, the role that the deceased filled in the family and the unfinished business between you and your loved one.
Specifically, we have strived to offer answers and coping strategies for your greatest and lesser concerns, such as: What am I going to do with the rest of my life? Does this feeling of numbness get better? Will I be able to travel alone and take care of myself? Will I be afraid forever? When I get sick, how will I manage? When should I discard my spouse's clothing? When should I stop wearing my wedding ring?
And more: Why haven’t I been able to cry yet? Why am I afraid to leave my house when I used to be active? Or, why am I “running” all the time? How can I stop myself from breaking down in tears in very embarrassing places? How should I talk about this to my young/grown kids? I hate feeling so dependent on others, and wonder…Will I ever feel capable again? How can I deal with the first birthday, anniversary and holiday after losing my spouse?
And still more: Why do I feel guilty about being happy again? Why do I feel disloyal to my deceased spouse about wanting to date again? I've been told that the one-year mark ends the mourning time, but I don't feel that way. In fact, I feel worse than at the beginning. Why? What future is there for me beyond the feeling of unending, unchanging desolation? How will I know when I'm ready to date? When is it too soon? Am I forgetting my spouse if I begin dating? What will my children say? Why am I hesitating and troubled by uncertainty? Am I going to spend the rest of my life lonely, feeling like a “fifth wheel” with our old couple-friends? How can I have any kind of social life? Will I ever be able to remember the joys, hopes, memories … smiles … without feeling sadness? Or, my husband was abusive to me and we had a horrible marriage. Why am I mourning?
We offer direction and support information for those mourning from non-traditional relationships, such as the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, as well as heterosexual life-partners.
While grieving is similar to all, we liken the experience to many people in the same boat, however, each with a different oar. To that end, you will find many stories from widows and widowers throughout this book, many of which you will relate, including Gloria’s, shared in italics.
You will also note that various "Do’s and Don’ts" for yourself and your support community are sometimes repeated in several chapters. This is not in error but a deliberate reminder that mourning is a back-and-forth experience and many feelings will repeat during this two-year time period.
Why do we need a workbook?
Putting your thoughts on paper gives you a private place to express your feelings, a place to grieve, and to heal, whether you write poetry, memories, stories, or whether you write letters to your deceased spouse, or simply keep a journal or use this workbook. The writing doesn’t have to be perfect and it never needs to be shared. It helps because it gives you a place to store your grief outside of yourself so that painful feelings can be expressed and eventually released. Writing your thoughts down also provides you with a record as you mourn your late spouse so that you can look back over your journey and take comfort in your progress. As time passes, it is hard to remember how we felt immediately following the death of a spouse, just as it’s impossible to re-create in our minds the actual feeling of physical pain. But looking back at what we wrote months before allows us to see our growth in a positive and reassuring way.
It will be useful to have this companion workbook to expand your understanding of your own feelings. Our feelings, if misunderstood or unexpressed, stay bottled up inside ourselves without ever becoming clear. At a time when thoughts and feelings are muddy, putting thoughts down on paper provide a clearer path to understanding. Also, recording frequently helps alleviate some stress and anxiety.
Writing is a way of talking to ourselves and magnifying our own thinking. It’s a way of making conscious choices about being more positive in our thoughts, of moving away from depressed feelings and into the sunlight of other directions we can take. During the earliest time sequences of grief, when concentration is most difficult, this workbook provides only simple prompts to help you explore your thoughts.. As healing progresses, the workbook prompts become more complex and in-depth, as your ability to explore and respond grows. Some questions and prompts may repeat in various chapters to encourage you to revisit aspects of your mourning in a positive way.
During the process of grieving, others often grow weary of our sadness and tears. They want you to stop grieving, to “get over it” and get on with life. They no longer want to listen to you talk about your loss and pain. But it’s just not that easy. Grieving is an individual journey and has no “correct” time schedule. Some days you will feel better than you do on others. Along with writing your thoughts down, consider joining a bereavement support group, which is often helpful because you are with others who truly understand what you are going through. Together you learn to be patient with the grief process, the sadness and the tears.
Lastly, the RESOURCES section lists organizations, publications, support groups and Internet sites for finding a bereavement support group in locations around the U.S. The advantage of joining such a group lies in its feedback loop and continual sharing. David Spiegel author of Living Beyond the Limits: New Hope and Help for Facing Life-Threatening Illness, (Crown) states that members of support groups do 50 percent better in their grief recovery.
Additionally, we will touch briefly on how young children grieve as caring for children may be necessary to your own recovery.
The hard reality is that the only way OVER this
loss, is to be willing to go THROUGH the pain of mourning. We want to
help. And so, let’s begin …