Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Visit From The "Grief Monster"

Yesterday, Hubs and I received news that one of his LW's dear friends (I'll call her "B") had passed away from brain cancer. She and LW had met at the hospital when both were newly diagnosed with cancer. They formed an immediate bond and had been friends until the end. After LW died, "B"was a wonderful support for Hubs - sympathetic to his grief, yet unwavering in her encouragement that his life must move on. "B" had "beat" cancer twice, but sadly, it had methesticized beyond hope. She bravely endured, from diagnosis to death, for more than 15 years. She was 39 years old.

I met "B" during the first year of my marriage to Hubs. Her cancer had returned for the second time, but instead of wallowing in self-pity, her survivor's spirit kicked into high gear. She showed up at our home obviously balding from chemo but wearing the most hilarious straw hat with a kooky bird on it. Such was her personality and indominable spirit. Ever the inspiration, she spoke excitedly about her upcoming wedding. Cancer had kicked her in the pants, but she was a fighter, and decided she was not going to let it stand in the way of loving life and living it to its fullest.

She talked about LW, making LW seem so real and loveable for me. She said she was thrilled that Hubs had found me, and wanted to meet me to see for herself "the wonderful women who turned Hubs' life around for the better". I felt such a bond that day with "B", and although Hubs and I didn't see much more of her after this visit, we continued to hear good things about her life and her recovery. That is, until yesterday.

Every time a W experiences a loss, his grief for his LW can be resurrected, regardless of how long the LW has been gone. The new loss becomes a "grief trigger" for the latent grief, easing it out of its cave and to the surface where it can be manifested as depression, anger, or unusal behaviours contrary to W's true personality. The W may not even be aware that he is experiencing latent grief, so the conflicting feelings may be confusing, not only to him, but to his new love.

As a grief specialist aware of how latent grief works, I recognized it brewing in Hubs after we received the news of "B"'s passing. He seemed withdrawn and a bit depressed. Being truly "one flesh" with my husband, I noticed the signs. Instead of ignoring them or allowing Hubs to endire alone and possibly confused, I grieved with him as I lead him into a discussion about our feelings regarding his recent loss - and his past loss - together.

Hubs was truly suprised that, after 13 years since LW had passed, his grief over her loss could still sting him. Since "B"'s loss was so close in circumstances to his LW's, latent grief resurfaced. Fortunately, it didn't last long. Facing the Grief Monster's visit together head-on, we resolved its potential ferociousness by direct communication of our feelings.

Be ready for the Grief Monster, my WOW and GOW sisters. It shows up unexpectedly and without invitation, dredging up past feelings and dragging the past into the present. But the Grief Monster doesn't have to be a rude guest that overstays its welcome. Inviting it in (accepting it) and facing it with courage and compassion with your W through honest communication cuts short its visit, allowing you to get back to the present, everyday business of Loving A Widower.

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