Loss of Partner:
Second Stage of Grief

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist

As the emotional numbing and the sensory stupor diminish, the absence of the lost person continues to impress itself on the survivor with increasing intensity.  With the realization that the lost person is not there, the survivor begins to yearn for him.  The pain of yearning is accompanied with crying and sobbing.  The survivor is restless, sleeps little, and constantly thinks of the loved one and many times she acts and talks as if the person is still alive.  The numbness and stupor are replaced with a state of high alertness and vigilance.  This change is not without a purpose.  The intensely active state of body and mind is designed for searching for the loved one, who is not yet perceived as permanently lost, but, simply being away, out of sight.  Realization of death comes much later when the mind can grasp the reality of the permanent loss.  
 The foundations for yearning, searching, looking, and trying to recover the lost person are laid in the first two to three years, when a child becomes intensely attached to his mother and zealously guards her presence.  He makes sure that she is near him at all times and if she has to leave momentarily, that she gets back soon.  Loss in adulthood activates the early attachment behavior.  Separation from mother throws a child in to disbelief and protest against the loss and the child furiously searches for the lost parent.  An adult also reacts to the loss with disbelief and protests against the lost person for not being there.  
 Searching for the lost person is a normal part of grieving in adults.  However, the term "searching" needs an explanation.  Ordinarily, by searching we mean a person combing the area, going in and out, seeking from corner to corner, and looking where a particular object or person may possibly be.  The search in bereavement is subtle and often covert.  Constant expectation, restlessness, scanning of the surroundings, wandering of the attention, hearing sounds, and the like constitute the searching behavior of an adult who has lost a loved one.  The survivor, in a sense, expects the lost person to return any moment, therefore, certain sounds and sights may be easily misinterpreted as signs of the partner's return.  Griever will at times, sense their partner's actual presence in the room.  Survivors may wake up in the middle of the night and actually see their loved one sitting on the bed.  They may hear a sound downstairs and think that their partner is awake and getting something from the refrigerator.  They may hear the door opening around the time their partner came home from work.  Another person from the side or the back view may be mistaken for the bereaved for a flash of a second.  Some literally walk around searching for the deceased at the graveyard.  Some think of killing themselves so they can rejoin the lost person.  Vivid dreams of the person being alive are common.  These are all natural grief behaviors and should not be seen as abnormal.  
 The survivor oscillates between two states of mind.  This is one reason why the stages of grief overlap.  In one state of the mind, the survivor is aware that the loss has occurred, therefore, the mourning, the pining, and the pain of separation is felt acutely.  This is the state of hopelessness and despair.  But in the other state of the mind, the survivor disbelieves that such a loss has occurred, therefore, she searches to recover the lost person.  This is the state of hope and wishing.  Anger is the chief emotion in this state.  The anger is aroused by obsessing over one's own actions and what other people did or did not do for the lost person, and how everyone is responsible for the loss.  Thus, restless searching, hope, disappointment, crying, anger, accusation, and ingratitude are all expressions of the strong urge to find and recover the lost person.  
 The urge to search and recover the lost person remains intense for several months in the normal grief and diminishes only gradually over time.  Only some survivors are conscious of their urge to search and reunite with the lost person and they allow themselves to indulge in such a fantasy.  Some find it irrational and absurd and try to put a stop to it.  However, there should be some amount of searching behavior, at least for some of the time after the initial shock and numbing is over.  If searching goes on indefinitely without any signs of abatement, it may mean that grief is not progressing in a normal fashion.  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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