Sunday, January 31, 2010

For GOWs Who Date An "Early Grief" Widower

The 5 stages of grief are necessary to complete before a survivor learns how to manage it and can thus be considered recovered. That is why the first year or two of grief is the most crucial. When a W begins dating while he is still walking the stages of grief (referred to as an "early grief" widower), the temporary feeling of euphoria that comes with new love takes his mind off the hard work grief entails and delays the necessary work required for healing. But grief is like an insolent child - it WILL have its way, bar nothing. Thus, the giddy emotions of new love eventually collide with the insolence of grief when grief plays "catch up" and forces the survivor to get back on the road to recovery. This is when a W takes two steps forward, one step back, limping along his grief journey and confusing the new love of his life as he attempts to complete his grief work while also trying to balance that with new love....a verrrrry difficult and confusing thing for any survivor, and equally as confusing to his new love (you).

When unresolved/delayed grief collides with new love, the W can suddenly turn into someone you don't recognize. His moods change, and he often breaks off the relationship without warning and without explanation. During this time, Ws often battle guilt, depression, and anger all at once. He feels guilty for being alive while his LW is dead. That guilt also includes feeling as if he is betraying his LW by loving again. Oddly enough, though he wants his family/friends to accept the GOW, he wonders why they have "forgotten" LW by doing so! He wonders if he will ever "get over" his depression, which makes him sink deeper into it. He no longer feels worthy of the wonderful love the GOW brings, so he begins to withdraw from her. He is looking for someone to blame for his overwhelming feelings of grief...and sadly, it is the GOW who takes the brunt of it.

The good news is that these episodes of "fits and starts" in early grief widowers are usually temporary...but can vary in length. Every W handles grief in his own way and in his own time, and certain W behaviours are normal and common to each stage of grief. Thus, there IS a light at the end of this tunnel, but it could be a looong time before you see it. It should reassure you that the emotions W is experiencing are very common...and quite normal....for most early grief Ws.

If you believe your W did not properly grieve before he met you, and is only recently attempting to get back on track with his grief, try to be patient. Though these episodes apepar to come out of nowhere, there are usually signs: Holidays and death anniversaries are common grief triggers. The magnitude of what he is feeling is just as confounding to him as it is to you.

The best thing you and W can do from this point forward is to really learn how to communicate effectively...and often. Although I caution GOWs NOT to play the grief counsellor, there are things you CAN do to bring grief to the surface. It is healthy for a W to walk every grief stage completely, so the last thing you want to do is to stand between he and his grief work. It is beneficial and cathartic for W to be able to talk about his feelings. If this is not something you think you can handle - and it would be OK if you didn't - then I recommend urging W to attend Bereavement Recovery classes, or seek counselling wit a qualified grief therapist. These are wonderful people who recognize what W is experiencing and can give him the tools for recovery.

Meantime, try not to take his behaviour personally. I know this sounds odd since you probably feel like the target of his angst, but please understand that a lot of his feelings are subconscious in nature (he can't help it) and perfectly normal for every W. There are many books on grief that you may want to read, as recognizing the stages will put your mind at ease quite a bit. Just remember that this is part & parcel of Loving A Widower….

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The GOW Sacrifice

Many GOWs wonder if, by tending to his own grief needs, W is ignoring or being insensitive to her GOW needs. As a former GOW myself, I can validate how loving a W sometimes feels like an either/or proposition: either his needs are being met while the GOW's are being put on the back burner, or the GOW's issues are getting the attention they deserve while the W temporarily halts his grief process. There just doesn't seem to be much "wiggle room" for compromise when it comes to such demanding and complicated emotional needs on both sides.

Thus, it might seem like you, as a GOW, are usually the one in your relationship making all the sacrifices in the name of being compassionate to W's grief, but there is a good reason for this: you cannot control a W's grief process. It is much stronger than you are. This is why I caution all GOWs against insisting on having things go their way. Communication and compromise are key to accomodating W's grief while, at the same time, getting your needs met, too. It IS possible, but it takes a LOT of strength, trust, and belief in each other. Unfortunately, grief needs are very selfish needs. But tending to grief needs, selfish or not, is necessary in order for the survivor to properly heal.

Grief is a HUGE job. Think of W as grief's employee: the boss (grief) gives W a HUGE pile of work to do, but no deadline. W feels overwhelmed, but knows he must do the work or lose his job and thus, his suvival. He begins the immense task when suddenly, he is tempted away from the job by a sexy new co-worker (you!) who offers him respite from the tiring work. He still plugs away slowly at the work, but by spending more of his work time with the co-worker, he becomes a slacker who starts pissing off the boss.

The boss finally has a chat with him, telling him he must get his head back in the game and go back to where he left off with more enthusiasm if he is to get it done properly. The boss reminds him that he cannot serve two masters, and that he (the boss/grief) is the only master who holds the key to W's survival.

Meantime, the co-worker is making more and more demands of him that are opposite than those of the boss's. She wants him to please HER, and to him, what she offers feels sooo much better than the work. So, he is torn and confused: he wants to do what feels good, but he knows he must get the job done and done well if he is to keep his job/survive. At this point, he believes what the boss said about serving two masters, and realizes that a choice has to be made. He has no idea how to please the boss and the co-worker at the same time. Thus, making a choice means someone will get hurt, and since his job/survival is more important than his co-worker (the selfishness of grief), he goes back to the part of his work where he left off, and hopes the co-worker will understand and be patient until he finishes.

But the co-worker does not like being put off, even temporarily, so she starts making even more demands of him in order to take control away from the boss. This irks the employee to the point where he starts rebelling against the co-worker. He stops going to lunch with her, calling her and sending e-mails to her on company time, and simply puts his nose the grindstone whether she likes it or not. He can't help it...the workload is enormous and it takes everything he's got to concentrate in order to get through it all.

The co-worker then has two choices: she can either kep things friendly and encourage him to do the work while she patiently awaits her pay-off...or...she can keep insisting on her agenda, driving him further away, and making him even more resentful, perhaps to the point where he tells her that he cannot possibly juggle the work and her at the same time, and she loses him altogether.

Life is about choices, and GOWs who act wisely and out of compassion know that their patience will indeed pay off in the end when her W's grief journey becomes more manageable. The rainbow at the end of the storm is a reward for persevering through the dark times, and this is especially true when you are Loving A Widower....