Handling Despair and Adaptation

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist

The survivor has come a long way in this journey of loss.  He or she has come to accept the new definition of herself.  Survivors, at this point, are bracing to encounter the new situation in which they know life has to go on without the loved one.  They realize that the children, other family members, and friends too are there who need their attention as well.  Some of them may have been a good support during this time.  Survivors recognize that they are grieving too.  Survivors now want to be there for others and feel now it's their turn to take responsibility for themselves, express their gratitude, and give others a little caring and attention in return.  Survivors can now be identified as entering the phase of reorganization and reattachment.  They now recognize the need to learn new skills and assume new responsibilities to fill the gap created by the loss.  A female survivor may have to become a wage earner for the first time, handle the finances, make business decisions, and be the father as well as the mother to her children.  A male survivor may have to learn to cook, do unaccustomed household chores, and be the mother as well as the father to them.

Learning of the new skills and assuming new responsibilities can be very helpful in the recovery process.  It reduces the apprehension and the anxiety about thoughts such as, "What is going to follow next?  How am I going to handle all these new situations?"  If survivors are lacking confidence at this point, they may start developing some.  If their self-image has been impaired by the loss, the growing competence may help to bolster it.  The more successful the survivors are in learning these new roles and skills, the more independent and confident they are likely to feel.  Needless to say that everyone doesn't face up to the demands of the new situation right away.  Some survivors, to begin with, may have poor coping skills or, they may have been extremely sequestered in their life.  Some feel so scared by the thought of new tasks and responsibilities, they unawaringly rush in to inappropriate relationships.  On the other hand, some, as they succeed and as their initiative and confidence returns with this newly gained success, may get impatient and hastily push away the people who are offering them valuable support.  

In this phase of reorganization, a constant state of stress and loneliness is the order of the day.  Stress results from the emotions related to the loss and from assuming new roles and responsibilities.  There is a sense of challenge as well as anxiety about learning new skills.  Grief researchers have observed acute loneliness which is worse at night.  Social and cultural factors contribute to the loneliness .  An example of a social-cultural factor is the tendency in the couples for socializing only with couples.  Like everyone else, the survivor and the lost person also socialized with other couples.  When the loss turns the survivor in to a singleton, other friendly couples don't know how to handle the new situation.  People find it awkward not knowing how to mix a single with couples unless the gathering has singles as well as couples. Survivors not only finds themselves out of place but also find the company of friendly couples too painful because it puts them right in to the throes of the loss.  Consequently, survivors usually feels compelled to form new relationships or they may seek refuge in the company of members of their own sex.

In my experience, those who lose a partner due to death (as opposed to the loss due to divorce), tend to be more reluctant to marry.  If they do remarry, they do it after a longer interval when compared to those who lose a partner due to divorce.  Women, compared to men, are less likely to remarry after the loss due to death.  The older the survivor, the lesser he or she is likely to remarry.  Fear of friction between the stepparent and children is often a deterrent for remarriage.  The thought of suffering the pain of a second loss scares some away from the thought of remarriage.  Some believe that they can never love another person in the same way as they have loved their partner.  Some fear that they would be constantly comparing the lost person partner with whoever they marry.  The loyalty to the deceased partner makes it difficult for some survivors to remarry.  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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