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Faces of Grief

By Elaine Marze

Perhaps we who have been taught it is better to be strong and silent than weak and whiney should open up about our times of depression occassionaly so that those struggling emotionally don’t feel so alone in their struggles. A widow friend told me that she felt so much guilt and condemnation because she couldn’t be “strong” like me (not everybody would agree with her description).  She said it would make her feel better to see me have a breakdown cry. I really am an accommodating friend so I tried to work up a good cry for her, but just couldn’t get it done. I’ve never been much of a crier so she asked me to do the next best thing and write about loneliness and the need for support. I’ll try.

 When a person has been left alone through the death of a spouse emotions, troubles, and loneliness can build up to explosive levels if that person doesn’t have an appropriate outlet – namely a sympathetic ear to hear and a willing shoulder to cry on. Our DNA cries out for a human touch, but after a few weeks or months society has deemed it whiny, pitiful, and emotionally unstable to openly grieve. That person becomes afraid to say anything aloud because there are always those who will criticize, “It’s been years.  Get over it.  Move on. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” But your heart and spirit are tired of getting over it, moving on and putting on a false show that everything is just fine.

  Instead that hurting heart grieves for the lack of a special person to share and discuss issues, disappointments, problems and feelings with, but when a life partner has been taken never to return there is no permanent solace, no repository for those unwanted needy emotions.  Yes, there is prayer which helps and serves as an unequalled  emotional crutch most of the time, but there are periods when a flesh and blood encouraging hug would be a god-blessed miracle of epic proportions, but for many that is only a wish, a hope and a dream … the reality is that you are on your own day after day after day plus all the nights, oh those nights that can be REALLY hard.

 Thankfully some people are blessed by friends and family who don’t condemn them for having weak moments, pity-parties or periods of depression, but unfortunately not all are so blessed. There’s a reason God said Adam needed a help-mate. A heavy burden is best lightened when carried by two. Joy and celebrations are multiplied when shared with a loved one. Because of my books and articles, I hear from a lot of widows and widowers, and no matter how different their former and present lifestyles are, times of depression and loneliness come and go, especially during periods of family turmoil, financial crisis, sickness and even celebratory events like a wedding or birth.

 We all know people who jumped into a marriage not long after the death of a spouse, and while those relationships don’t usually last too long, it is easy to understand the “why” of it.  The man or woman is desperate to replace that significant sustaining person in his or her life. They are desperate to fill that void of someone having your back, a travel partner, friend and lover. Those of us who married young were not so set in our ways, but 40 years later we may not be as flexible and may find it difficult to accept a new someone getting in our space, a disruptive presence with irritating habits that compete with the comforting hugs and conversation. However, if a new love comes along, it would be a great blessing and loneliness solved as much as humanly possible.

 In the absence of a second chance at love, some of us have home-grown help for heart-break and loneliness. Grandchildren! When I have a bad day, I tell my daughter who tries to arrange her busy schedule so she can spend time with me, but whether she can or not, she makes sure I have one or more grandkids to spend time with. It’s like when we used to have capuchin monkeys, I’d tell my single friends who were looking for a man, “You need to get a monkey.  You can’t be sad around monks.” Well, grandchildren are as good as monkeys for lifting the spirits and bringing laughter and joy to the heart. That’s my favorite solution.

 A newly widowed friend has a wonderful support system because she is surrounded by her numerous and extended family.  Supportive family and friends are invaluable, but unfortunately there are a lot of dysfunctional families who can’t get over their squabbles long enough to be a blessing to anybody so a depressed person is going to have to look further for comfort, such as attending a church or Bible study group, or joining an exercise, painting or line-dancing class. I play cards with one group, dominoes with my church ladies in addition to taking exercise and Tai Chi classes, all of which keeps my mind occupied with something other than my problems. Bible study helps keep me spiritually well which also affects the emotional and lessons the tendency toward depression.

 It is amazing how many people, when they are widowed say that they just had no idea the impact of losing a husband or wife, and that if they’d only known they would have done better ministering to their loved ones who had suffered the death of a spouse. I said the same thing after my husband died even though when my mother and mother-in-law were widowed my husband and I took them on trips, called often if not daily, made them welcome in our home, were at their hospital bedside and tried to reach out in other ways, but until you’ve walked in those shoes, as in most critical events, you just can’t imagine the emotional, spiritual and physical loss.

 So if you have the love that comes from above in you, try to be aware of the needs of those around you and know that if you can share a burden, introduce them to the Savior or offer comfort to a sad, depressed person it will probably be counted unto you as righteousness and will make today easier for a grieving, lonely heart.  At least let them borrow a grandkid. Or buy them a monkey. Or introduce them to an available man or woman.