What To Do When A Spouse Dies Suddenly
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In the last few years, three husbands of my friends died suddenly in their 50s. These experiences have helped me learn how to support myself in the face of unexpected loss. I couldn’t imagine ever having that kind of support. But that was when I lost my son, Garrett, to suicide in September 2017.
What To Do When A Spouse Dies Suddenly
Since Garrett’s death, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of my community. A friend of mine paid me to clean the gutters and wash the windows. Our family vet refused to pay for her pet grooming services for a year. Another friend of mine gave us the keys to her lake house to use when we got there. Every spring we get a hanging plant in our front yard from the parents of one of Garrett’s friends. As difficult as it was to walk this new path without my son, these actions provided a glimmer of positivity in the midst of my despair.
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While people have stepped up to help us after our losses, such generosity isn’t always natural after a sudden death — an outcome many families are experiencing from the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 800,000 people in the United States. individuals and states.
“Many grieving people experience a secondary loss, when friends and family avoid the loss because of their discomfort,” says Sherry Cormier, a psychologist and grief specialist. In this situation, being present at a friend’s grief can cause death anxiety, he said. “They think, ‘This could happen to me.’
Unlike death, which occurs in old age after a long illness, a sudden loss, “your world is completely and utterly turned upside down; you’re a complete mess,” said Camille Wortman, a professor of social and health psychology at Stony Brook University and author of Trauma: A Practitioner’s Guide.
Dr. Cormier said, aside from the loss, one of the most painful experiences for the bereaved is when friends and loved ones are unwilling to help them through their grief. Instead of turning away, you can offer a connection. Here are some ways to help someone who has recently suffered a loss.
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As a result of a sudden loss, new and ever-increasing responsibilities are immediately imposed on the workers. lightening this burden can be priceless. Dr. Cormier suggested leading with language like, “I want to help. Can you think of anything that might be helpful? ” If they don’t give you advice, you can be specific: Ask if you can bring dinner, mow the lawn, or pick up groceries. You may be happy to distract them and offer to take the mourners out for a walk or out to dinner.
Jerry Vance, who lives in Princeton, W.Va. She lost her husband James, a 52-year-old police officer, to Covid-19 on New Year’s Day 2021. “Dec. He went to the hospital on the 7th and I never saw him again, he said.
Immediately after her husband’s death, people in her community started a fundraiser for medical and funeral expenses and raised $29,000. Friends and neighbors ate for a month and a half. Other friends helped her take down the Christmas decorations. The director of the school, where he teaches the third grade, even cleaned his kitchen.
Mrs. Vance said she appreciated all the prayers after her husband’s death, but was most touched by the people who offered her comfort.
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A study published in August by the American Psychiatric Association found that losing a loved one during a traumatic event can trigger complex reactions in those left behind, including grief. long According to Christine Alve Glad, people who experience a traumatic loss are more likely to experience severe, intense, and lasting psychological reactions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, than those whose loss was expected. clinical psychologist and A.P.A. lead author. to read In these situations, says Dr. Wortman, sufferers can struggle for years or decades.
“Time doesn’t heal all wounds,” Ms. Vance said. “Sometimes there are times when I am forgotten. Everyone will go back to normal and it will never be normal again for us. “
Dr. Wortman suggested checking in at regular intervals and visiting us at times when victims may be especially vulnerable, such as wedding anniversaries or major holidays. She has compiled a list of helpful websites and articles that focus on support in these situations.
Consider adding simple “I’m thinking about you” messages to your to-do list. Lisa Zaleski, who lives in White Lake, Michigan, faced the unimaginable: first, in June 2017, at the age of 23, she lost her daughter Sydney in a car accident, and then her son Robert committed suicide in December. 2019 when she was 31 years old. old After her daughter’s death, a friend who was not very close to her sent her a thank you message every day for a year. “It felt like a great support,” she said.
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Nneka Njideka, a licensed clinical social worker in Brooklyn, New York, who specializes in death, explained that those with more resources have a “privilege to grieve.” For example, they can take extended leave from work and provide a team of professionals to deal with the loss. But he said that’s not true for those with few resources, especially people of color, who, in addition to losing loved ones, may also face “losses of life” such as unemployment or food insecurity.
Calandrian Simpson Kemp, who is black and lives in Houston, was working at a homeless shelter in 2013 when he got the call that his only son, George Kemp Jr., had been shot and killed in his 20s. “Everything you imagined was stolen from you,” he said. It was too much for her husband. When she broke the news to him, “he threw away his keys and never came back to work,” she said. As a result, the family, which has a daughter and a stepdaughter, was left without insurance. She had no access to mental health care and at one point had to use a food pantry.
“I felt that the bullet would still kill me and my husband because we had lost everything,” she said.
Ms Njideka said it was important in such situations to help the bereaved network with the community and create a circle of support resources, possibly raising money for bills and treatment. Ms. Simpson Kemp started a program called Mother’s Village to help mothers who have lost babies find the services they need.
Grief Following Sudden Or Unexpected Death
Dr. Cormier said it’s only helpful to sit and cry with those who are grieving. Allow them to tell their story of loss and don’t try to solve the problem or offer advice. After Mrs. Simpson Kemp’s son was killed, a woman from her church offered to take him to the cemetery and sit with him alone.
Mrs Simpson Kemp said: “He would just wait in the back and let me be on that field with George in peace.” “It showed that it’s good to slow down and put the pieces together to figure out what happened.”
Roxanne Cohen Silver, a professor of psychology, public health and medicine at the University of California, Irvine, said be careful not to minimize the loss or encourage a quick recovery. Based on his research with hundreds of grieving people, he compiled a list of what not to do when dealing with a loss. Never suggest that you understand what the victim is feeling, even if you have experienced such a loss; You cannot understand the depth of their sorrow, he said.
Other phrases to avoid, Dr. Wortman says, are “You are so strong,” “You have so much to be thankful for,” and “It’s going to be okay,” along with religious slogans such as “Part of God’s plan.” . ” or “He’s in a better place.”
What To Do When Someone Dies
Ms. Vance said it’s best not to make empty promises. Some of her friends promised their children pedicures and ice cream, but no one followed through. His children were hurt. “When you make a promise, you have to keep it,” he said.
In the case of suicide, knowing what to say or how to help can be even more difficult because the scar can be a problem. According to Doreen Marshall, a psychologist at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, survivors of a loss often feel guilty and may take responsibility for what happened. Dr Marshall, who lost his fiancee to suicide, said it meant friends and loved ones were even more reluctant to offer support.
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