One Year After the Loss of a Partner (cont'd)

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist

 The relationship with the deceased is continued in more ways than one.  A London study of widows observes,  that a year after losing their husbands, twelve out of the twenty-two widows spent much time thinking of their husbands, and at times had a sense of his actual presence.  They were not disturbed or anxious about this.  They actually found the sense of presence rather comforting.  

A Boston study of survivors observes that a year after the loss, two out of every three widows continued to spend much time thinking of their deceased husbands.  Other studies observe that "sensory illusions" and "hallucinations" are far more common during the grieving than we realize.  Sensory illusions refer to survivor's mistaking an object or a person for the deceased partner.  Hallucinations refer to the experiences, such as "seeing," "hearing," or being "touched" by the deceased partner when no person or object is there for a possible misinterpretation.  That such experiences are part of a normal grieving is not very widely known even among the mental health professionals.  A survivor who is severely depressed and also reports these experiences, may be seen as suffering from psychotic depression.  If the survivor did not have a psychotic illness in the past, she needs to be assured that such experiences are not uncommon and she is "not going crazy."
 It takes a few weeks after the actual loss for the survivor to experience a sense of the continued presence of the lost person.  When that happens, it is intense and it persists for quite a while.  As per the Boston study, one out of four reported that there were still occasions when they "forgot" he was dead.  Some, on purpose, used the sense of presence of their dead husband "therapeutically."  They evoked it whenever they felt depressed or unsure of themselves.  The longer the survivor was married to the deceased, the greater the tendency to do so.  This tendency was also found greater in those who were over forty when widowed.  By and large, age and duration of marriage go together, the older the person, the greater the chances of marriage being of longer duration.

 The relationship with the deceased is maintained in many ways.  A Wales study of survivors observes that more than ten percent of survivors report having held conversations with the dead spouse.  Again, this tendency was higher in the older widows and widowers.  Two thirds of those who reported the sense of "presence" of their deceased spouse, describe their experiences as being comforting and helpful.  Some experience the deceased partner as a 'companion' who accompanies the survivor everywhere.  Some survivors, at one time, would feel as if the deceased partner is "inside" them, and other time, feel the lost person is, outside, and by their side like a "companion."  Some sense their loved one as occupying a particular chair, room, yard, or another specific location that was usually occupied by the lost person.  Some feel the presence of their loved one only in the graveyard.  These experiences start fading in the second year of bereavement and are not unusual or unfavorable for a healthy grief process.

In the beginning, the lost person is felt to be "present" outside oneself..  As time goes on, it begins to be replaced by the feeling of the presence of the lost person inside oneself rather than the outside.  Psychologists call it the "internalization" of the lost person.  This internalization is necessary if the process of searching is to end and person is to come to terms with the loss.  What is now inside oneself doesn't have to be searched outside anymore.  
 The Boston study observes that a female survivor's progress is facilitated by her inner conversation with the presence of the deceased spouse.  This continued sense of association and inner conversations do not interfere with her assuming independent actions and adapting to the outside world.  Since she lets her feelings of attachment to the lost person persist, she is able to "take in" what she has lost in the outside world.  Those who try to run away from all thoughts, memories, and feelings for the deceased and jump in to another relationship as a cure for their pain, may experience disturbing feelings and reactions later.  Grief has progressed well if the survivor can consciously hold the thoughts, the feelings, and the memories of the deceased for some time and is at peace with the image of the loved one inside one's own self.  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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