That night in late , Stuart was hit and killed by a car on a pedestrian crossing. Though she was in shock, Deb had to focus on the immediate tasks. I thought all I needed to do was to survive until the funeral then I'd start rebuilding my own life, but I was so wrong. For months after her husband's funeral, Deb says she simply existed. People had expectations of my meeting someone else, but that just seemed abhorrent, like adultery. Deb had to learn how to take over chores Stuart used to do that she "absolutely hated", like cooking, fixing leaky taps and doing tax returns.
I couldn't see how my grief would ever end, and I didn't want it to — it was the final connection I had to Stuart. Connecting with other young widows was the turning point. She wrote Stuart letters, went back to university and penned a book about dealing with grief. Twelve years later, she now knows how to turn grief into gratitude. My husband recognises that my past with Stu made me who I am today. There was nothing out of the ordinary when Jo Langford left her husband David at home while she collected their three children from school.
When they arrived home an hour later, David was dead. Jo administered CPR until the paramedics arrived, but she knew it was too late. I didn't sleep for more than two hours a night and ate nothing for weeks after, losing more than 20 kilograms in that first month. Having young children helped her navigate through the initial shock.
I think if I didn't have them I would have done nothing," she says. Channelling her grief into something positive enabled Jo to move on with her life, and spending time with others who had experienced similar grief helped. I didn't know what that was going to look like but I knew I had to make something good come out of something so tragic.
She met up with a group of other young women and men from the Young Widows and Widowers support group in Brisbane, and drew so much strength from her first meeting that she knew she would be able to survive. She describes her life now as chaotic but full of joy. At the time I thought I could never find a gift in something so tragic, but now I see many. Jo, now 49, says it's important that widows grieve at their own pace.
Maria Carr was 12 weeks pregnant when her husband Dan died suddenly at the aged of Dan was driving to work when he suffered a seizure. He was put into an induced coma. Tests showed that he had a blocked artery in his neck, which had caused a stroke. Two days later, he was pronounced clinically brain dead. I was booked in for my week baby scan, which showed that the baby was OK. After about six weeks, exhaustion took hold.
I would control my grief, allow myself to feel the emotions but not allow myself to go into a dark place. This baby was all I had left of Dan. In the early days I would put on a brave mask, keeping my grief and emotions to myself and releasing them when I was alone.
After about 12 months, Maria decided she needed to put more effort into self-care, both for herself and her son. She joined the support group, Ever After Widowed, run by Aisling Pont, who had lost her husband Nick at about the same time. Feelings of guilt, anger, despair, and fear are common. A grieving person may yell to the heavens, obsess about the death, lash out at loved ones, or cry for hours on end. Your loved one needs reassurance that what they feel is normal. There is no set timetable for grieving. For many people, recovery after bereavement takes 18 to 24 months, but for others, the grieving process may be longer or shorter.
This can actually slow the healing process. Oftentimes, well-meaning people avoid talking about the death or change the subject when the deceased person is mentioned. One day they may want to cry on your shoulder, on another day they may want to vent, or sit in silence, or share memories. By being present and listening compassionately, you can take your cues from the grieving person. Simply being there and listening to them can be a huge source of comfort and healing.
And when it seems appropriate, ask sensitive questions—without being nosy—that invite the grieving person to openly express their feelings. Acknowledge the situation. Express your concern. Let the bereaved talk about how their loved one died. People who are grieving may need to tell the story over and over again, sometimes in minute detail. Be patient. Repeating the story is a way of processing and accepting the death. With each retelling, the pain lessens.
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Ask how your loved one feels. Remember, though, that grief is an intensely individual experience. Grief is a highly emotional experience, so the bereaved need to feel free to express their feelings—no matter how irrational—without fear of judgment, argument, or criticism. Be genuine in your communication. Be willing to sit in silence. Often, comfort for them comes from simply being in your company. Offer your support.
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Ask what you can do for the grieving person. Offer to help with a specific task, such as helping with funeral arrangements, or just be there to hang out with or as a shoulder to cry on.
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Nobody told me about any plan. Keep your beliefs to yourself unless asked. Besides, moving on is much easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace. It is difficult for many grieving people to ask for help. They might feel guilty about receiving so much attention, fear being a burden to others, or simply be too depressed to reach out. What can I bring you from there? When can I come by and bring you some? Your loved one will continue grieving long after the funeral is over and the cards and flowers have stopped.
The length of the grieving process varies from person to person, but often lasts much longer than most people expect. Your bereaved friend or family member may need your support for months or even years. Continue your support over the long haul. Stay in touch with the grieving person, periodically checking in, dropping by, or sending letters or cards. Once the funeral is over and the other mourners are gone, and the initial shock of the loss has worn off, your support is more valuable than ever.
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The pain of bereavement may never fully heal. Be sensitive to the fact that life may never feel the same. The bereaved person may learn to accept the loss. The pain may lessen in intensity over time, but the sadness may never completely go away. Offer extra support on special days.
Certain times and days of the year will be particularly hard for your grieving friend or family member.
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