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The death of a spouse: Rebuilding your life after the first year

The first year after a spouse dies is extremely difficult. It is a year filled with firsts - the first Christmas, birthday and anniversary - alone. Facing these events on your own can be quite overwhelming. However, although fraught with difficulties, grieving in the first year is cushioned by caring family and friends, as well as numerous support groups.

It is the second year after loss that brings new concerns. Support groups are less available, and family and friends return to their own lives. The second year becomes a time to reclaim your life and work toward the future. While you never forget your loss, it is vital to begin life again with a new twist - as a single person. This brings many new challenges and questions, such as, “How do I start again?” and “What do I want to start?”


Do

Do look forward to the future

Decide who you want to be. At different junctures in our lives, we are given the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. This is one of those times. Do you want to be more social? Travel more? Learn a new skill? Remember that you no longer have to accommodate to another person. Ask yourself, who do I want to be?

Do associate with people who embrace the “new” you

Whether they are old friends or new acquaintances, spend time with people who see you as you really are - as an interesting, active person with a new focus on life.

Do seek out people with similar interests

Be sure to keep old friends, but seek out new friends who encourage you and participate with you in your new adventures. Spend time with people who see the world as you do, and who offer you encouragement and new ideas.

Do reclaim your life as a total person

Take charge of your finances. Learn to take on the responsibilities that your husband or wife once did. Learn to rely on yourself. Trust your judgment. Ask for advice when necessary, but use the information to make your own decisions.

Do consider dating

If you feel lonely and would like to find a new relationship, do so. Don’t worry about what other people think. Remember that this is your life. Attend church or synagogue events, parties or political talks. Go to places you are interested in. Be accessible and friendly. Be open to meeting new people.


Don't

Do not allow people to make you feel guilty

As you move into your new life, well-meaning friends may try to keep you in the grieving widow/widower role, always reminding you of your loss and how difficult it must be. This is not helpful for you because it can make you feel as if you haven’t grieved enough. Remember it is not someone else’s place to suggest how much you should grieve or how you should feel.

Do not hold onto things

Do not hold onto ideas or keep clothing and furniture because your spouse would have wanted you to. Instead, make decisions based on what is right for you at the present time. Keep in mind that this is your life now. You get to decide what is important, how you want your home to look, how you want to dress and who you want to associate with.

Do not be afraid to remove your wedding ring

Taking off your wedding ring is a final acceptance of your loss and your new status. Do not feel the need to put another ring on that finger. Be single and proud. Have an answer ready for nosey friends who notice and comment on your missing ring. Be proud that you are ready to move to another stage in your life.

Do not think of yourself as missing your “other half”

You are a complete person, taking full responsibility for your life. If you want to enter into another relationship, then do so. If you enjoy being free and unencumbered for the first time in decades, embrace it. You are not missing any “half” of you. Think of yourself as a total person.

Do not rule out the help of a psychologist or support group

You are embarking on a great adventure. It is normal to feel excited, as well as scared, anxious and sad. If these emotions feel overwhelming, do not hesitate to seek the help of a psychologist or join a support group. These difficult feelings may come and go until you readjust your way of seeing the world and being seen in the world.


Summary
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The second year after the loss of a spouse is a time of change. Grieving takes second place to refiguring and rebuilding your life. This is a time to not only reclaim your life and refocus on a new, single, way of life - but a time to reinvent yourself and grow in new directions. It can be an exciting and scary time, but one which can lead to a richer and more fulfilling life.


More expert advice about Death of a Spouse

Photo Credits: © Sylvie Bouchard - Fotolia.com; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Phyllis S. Zilkha, Ph.D.Psychologist

Ph.D. in psychology from New York University, MA from Columbia University. Head psychologist in a major corporation. Private psychotherapy practice for 20 years. Member of the New York State Psychological Association and the American Psychologic...

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