Despair Follows 
Loss of Partner

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph. D. Clinical Psychologist

Despair seems such a dreadful state, doesn't it?  Normally, we would be inclined to do anything in our power to escape the state of the despair.  Despair seems like the end of the rope, as if there would be nothing to help one climb back up.  These are all normal reactions of people when they are told that the stage of "despair" is the beginning of grief recovery.  "Is this something to look forward to?  Do you know how much it hurts?," a survivor angrily retorts.  "Why does healing have to hurt so much," she says, acknowledging the rationale that if one is to accept the finality of the loss, one can't escape the despair.  

Adaptation begins with the acceptance that survivors nor anyone else can bring the loved one back, they are gone for ever.  As I have said earlier "searching keeps the hope alive."  This is why the search is so much more prolonged and painful in cases of kidnapping or sudden disappearance.  The survivors don't know the circumstances or what really happened to their loved one.  They keep on searching day and night, combing the area, listening to any possible cues, looking with expectation, keeping the hope alive, and never knowing when to end the futile search.  All other stages of grief-recovery remain suspended until the search efforts are surrendered to fate.  

Normal grieving, after the loss that occurs from natural causes, diseases or accidents, involves hope and anger followed by despair.  Despair comes from putting an end to the questioning and arguing about what should have happened and who should have done such and such.  When the survivor tolerates the yearning, the searching, "...the seemingly endless examination of how and why the loss occurred, and anger at anyone who might have been responsible, not sparing even the dead person, can he (or she) come gradually to recognize and accept that the loss is in fact permanent and that his life (or her)must be shaped anew." (Bowlby p. 93).  A formidable task this is indeed for a relationship that had been such a vital part of one's own self and one's life.  Let's look at the difficulties involved in putting the past behind and bracing up to the new .  The survivor has a mass of associations which involve the lost person; "He (the loved one) said the same thing," "He approved of it" or, "It made him happy," and similar other reactions which point to the connection with the lost person.  Reminiscing is a form of continued mental connection when physical connection is not possible or missing.  As the saying goes, "All roads lead to Rome," and so do the innumerable thoughts, feelings, and memories, leading to the lost person person by the sheer weight of habit and associations.  Pain is always on the heels of such associations in this phase.  The survivor begins to feel there is no way to escape from this painful cycle, and as a result falls in to a state of despair and apathy.  The positive news is that these are momentary states and don't last for ever.  If grieving is proceeding in a normal fashion, the despair alternates with the examination of the new situation.  Survivors, in some ways begin to accept that it will never be the same again.  They now begin to ponder over the ways of adapting to the situation that has changed with the departure of the loved one.  

Adaptation to the new realities begins with redefinition of oneself and of the new situation.  No longer is the survivor a "husband" or a "wife" but a "widow," a "widower," a "divorcee," or as the term has been used by the empowering movement of our days, a "survivor."  No longer, it is "we" as the couple, but "I" (and I alone) who needs to make the required changes in life.  The lost person partner is not "is" but "was."  The survivor is now the only parent for surviving children and for the first time may be becoming the "head of the household."  The first time, a survivor fills a personal information form for reasons such as,  for financial assistance, job or loan eligibility, one of the very first items that they fill out has to do with personal identification data.  Endorsing the new status as a "widow," a "widower," or a "divorcees" causes a painful emotional turmoil and an identity crisis of a sort.  The acceptance of this new definition is very painful but crucial.  It means relinquishing finally all hope that the lost person can be recovered and the old situation reestablished.  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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