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


Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist

 The relationship with the lost person is now continued by identifying with him or her.  This is achieved, spontaneously of course, by acquiring the qualities and characteristics of the lost person.  Survivors report that in some ways they have become like their spouses or that deceased spouses are somehow within them.  Survivors may find themselves doing things in the same way as their loved one did them.  Identification is the next step in grief recovery that follows or accompanies the internalization.  The love and attachment for the lost person facilitates identification with him or her which serves one purpose and that is the "extension of the life" of the loved one.  Now the loved one can go on in an abstract form, such as, in the form of words, deeds, thoughts, values, memoirs, etc.  Survivors may initiate activities typical of the lost person despite their never having done them before.  Some start using the phrases and little sayings for the first time that were habitually used by the lost person.  Some would "identify" with the cause or the values upheld by the deceased and pursue them as major activities of their lives.  They go on doing these activities filling their hours and days until other demands of assuming new roles force them to shift gears.  
 As stated earlier, the sense of presence, internalization, and identification with the lost person are the tools for working with the grief and coming to terms with the loss.  If I lose something in the concrete form, I have to have it in the abstract form.  That is the way we cope with the loss.  We see a part of the lost person in the world around us and a part of him or her in ourselves.  So we mourn, we keep a part of the deceased in ourselves, we spread the person around, and in doing so we can separate ourselves mentally and emotionally from the lost person.  The love and the attachment, the internalization and identification with the deceased does not necessarily interfere with grieving, separating, and adapting to the new realities.


These maladaptive behaviors and grief complications are not a product of a conscious or purposeful behavior on part of the survivor; these are often actions that happen automatically and without the conscious choice or decision of the person.
1  Compulsive imitation:  compulsion to imitate the lost person without the competence or even the strong desire to do so.  For example, compelled to imitate the high-profile political and/or social career of the deceased when the survivor is neither qualified and competent, nor has ever enjoyed such commitments.  
2  Inappropriate joy and elation:  the feeling that, "I haven't lost him, he is still there inside me (or by my side)" can be taken literally which can send a person in to a state of elation.
3.  Unhealthy imitation:  The positive characteristics or behaviors of the deceased are not identified and pursued as a conscious choice.  The deceased develops an illness similar to that of the lost person.  This is a distorted form of identification with the deceased.  
4.  "Mislocation" of the deceased:  instead of experiencing the deceased as present by her side, or locating him in his familiar chair, or room, or in the graveyard, the survivor locates him within another person, or a pet, or a physical object.  As if that person or pet or an object has gotten the spirit of that person and is loved and revered with the same sentiment.  Bowlby calls it "mislocation" of the deceased.  A tragic example of such mislocation is seeing one's child as a reincarnation of the deceased which can be harmful to the growth of the child.
5.  Loss of one's own identity:  Internalizing and identifying with the deceased to such great extent, that the survivor loses her own identity and virtually becomes and acts like the lost person.  


 Most of the studies available on the health consequences of grief, are on women.  However, effect on health of men should not be drastically different.  Death of a spouse almost always affects health.  Sleep disturbance, anxiety, tension, and fatigue are extremely common.  A host of other symptoms develop depending, among other things, on the stress level, emotional support, previous physical and mental health status of the survivor.  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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