Conclusion: In support of bereavement groups
Widows remain connected to the spouse who has died. History is not pre-empted by time. This is difficult to justify in a society that worships “closure,” “getting through,” and “moving on.” How does one account for what is deemed “extended mourning” to those who have not experienced this loss?
In our culture, it is believed that mourning is a linear, sequential process that ends up freeing the bereaved. Mourning is not linear. Mourning is circular and changes its rhythm daily—often from moment to moment. Mourning itself is forever as we own the memories and the connection forever. If we were ever attached, we remain attached.
There is the loss of physical presence—a loss of mundane conversational and physical connection. “Hi, I’m home” has vanished. The bed is empty. Flashbacks, memories repeat. Scenes of suffering enter consciousness without warning. Panic arrives. No intellectual understanding of death can soften the fact that it happened to your spouse.
Intellect and emotion do not often coalesce.
We are discouraged from speaking of this amputation. That inability to speak the emotional truth adds a second burden, one of emotional isolation. Others can be impatient with what they see as a lack of “moving on” and the griever may be accused of wallowing. We are offered silencing phrases, like “He is at peace,” “He would want you to be happy.” Are such clichés/placebos for the bereaved or for the comfort of the speaker?
I have seen many widows who self-pathologize when they feel they are “doing poorly” and cannot “get over” the loss. This self incrimination adds despair to an already painful situation. Therapists have used a model of mourning, setting a health goal at about three years. After that time, without marked improvement, the widowed person is deemed clinically depressed. Has it occurred to professionals that the fact that the widowed are blocked from telling the truth has contributed to this so-called pathology? Are they aware that the scientific/mathematical/linear model should not be imposed on emotions?
For the widowed who have not found this elusive thing called “closure,” it is imperative to link with others who allow the truth. With them, the energy used to repress emotional authenticity is not needed. An effective support group enables a process of “un-feigning.” A genuine trust that you will not be judged allows and even encourages pure, non-socialized responses to “How are you doing?”
As a widow you do not need—and hardly deserve— the added pain of secrecy and shame. In a support group, you can relax and speak the truth; when the stress of self-censure is replaced by honesty, safety, and acceptance, an enormous burden is lifted.