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Reflections

'Losing a spouse is one of life's hardest lessons.'

April 15, 1986|by PERRY C. RIDDLE

Myrna Bennett, widowed six years ago, took three years to accept completely the reality of her loss. During that time, she founded the Widowed Program at Granada Hills Hospital and is still active in the program.

My husband died at Granada Hills Hospital. They were so wonderful to him and to me during the time of his death that I went to work for the hospital as a volunteer in the live-in hospice. From there I was asked to start this widow program. Some of the widows needed to get together and talk. It started with about four or five women and myself. I started the group two months after my husband died.

I remember one night, very early on in my grief, I went to dinner at a cousin's house, and I had a lovely evening. They made just a beautiful dinner, and they were as sweet as could be. On the way home in the car, I got overwhelming feelings. I just felt absolutely terrible, and I could not understand it. I remembered that one therapist had said that if you have a feeling, try to put a name on that feeling. In the car I felt so terrible, I said, "I'm going to put a name on it. How do I feel? Do I feel abandoned? Yeah, I do feel abandoned, but worse. Do I feel lonely? Yeah, but that isn't doing it." I went through about six words until I got to the word devastated. I said to myself, "I feel devastated!" When I said that, it was like it lifted. We use that technique quite a bit with the widows' group.

We do a lot of hugging. We do a lot of hand holding, and we have a circle at the end of the meeting. It's very important even for two women to hug or two men to hug. Just the mere physical touching is a great help.

Men look for another woman faster than a woman will look for another man. A man thinks that he can escape pain easier than a woman. The thing about grief is there is going to be a certain amount of pain, and we need to go through it. The positive-thinking books will tell you, you take a lemon and you put some sugar with it and you make lemonade. We need to say how rotten those lemons taste to get well. We have to acknowledge the pain. The pain hurts. Men are more afraid to face the pain than women, and they try to smooth it away by taking out women. In many cases it doesn't work because they haven't given it enough time. When a new relationship doesn't work and they have to go back to the grieving, it's harder for them.

The holidays are hard. The first year is tremendously traumatic. If I ever had any advice to give young people, it would be don't get married on a holiday. That's your anniversary, and, if your spouse dies, it is tough. We have people who were married on Valentine's Day or Christmas Eve, and they can't stand Valentine's Day or Christmas Eve.

Losing a spouse is one of life's hardest lessons. But, if you can come through it, if you can learn and grow, there are wonderful advantages because you start depending on yourself for your own happiness. When my husband was here and I had a bad day, I'd call him up and say, "Honey, come take me out for dinner. I feel miserable today." Now, if I feel miserable, I'd better find a way to make myself feel good.

Volunteering is good because it raises a person's self-esteem. If you give to somebody else, you're really always giving to yourself, because you're making yourself feel better. One of the things that happens when your spouse dies is that you don't have that space to give the love you've given to another. You can't touch very much until you meet someone else. You can't hug very much. Basically, I think you have an excess of love energy that has been given out to the spouse, and, when the spouse dies, you don't know what to do with it. So it really helps when you can give it out to the community or children or other widows. Because you are giving out love, and you feel very proud of yourself.

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