Talking today about loss of a spouse and grief counseling.
Sudden death of my Fasih came as a huge blow to all of us- Fatima, Ismail, myself and his sister and other siblings.To me personally it felt like huge blow of a fat iron rod on my head. I was stunned for first few days. I did not cry with tears, kept awake for 48 hours, wide awake without any sign of sleep, lightheaded yet alert. It was only on the 3rd day when I broke down, cried my heart out that I felt exhausted, tired and wanted to dose off into oblivion with clonazepam. Even then the mornings were another difficult ordeal, waking up dead-tired to a cruel reality.
Many people have consoled and very sincerely shared how they felt by the loss of their parent/sibling or other loved ones. No offense to anyone, but one doesnt know how does a loss of a loving spouse feels like unless one loses one. Its a very different experience. Its a loss of multiple persons at the same time, your spouse, your best friend, your companion, your confidant, your beloved, your strong pillar of support, your soft pillow to lean on, your go-to person for all your tantrums and even your punching bag.
Both my children, who were extremely shaken and grieving in their own ways, made sensible decision to go for grief counseling. I could notice that they were being helped amazingly. Although I had been recommending grief counseling to some other friends who had been in similar situation, but I realized I did not want to go for grief counseling myself. I did not want to let go my feeling of having lost Fasih.
A brief phone counseling session, that talked about new ‘independence’ put me off. WTH? It in fact destroyed me even more. I asked, “But why do you presume that my relationship with my husband was some form of bondage? He let me grow as I wanted to grow. I was an independent woman in his life too.” I begged sorry and put the phone down.
I braved my way again to go for a more culturally apporpriate, this time, and face to face instead of over the phone. It is a painfully slow process, but it teaches the techniques to phase through different stages of grief.
First major step of the counseling made me acknowledge that I have suffered a ‘major loss’ in losing a life partner. No matter how painful it felt, and how much I cried but I had to accept it.
Second was to deal with this harsh reality and begin grieving that ‘major loss’. Apparently when one does not ‘acknowledge’ the ‘major loss’ either due to denial or saying “he is in a better place” it does not help heal the partner left behind because they are not in a better situation themselves. .
Third, the counseling teaches to talk freely about your loved one. The counselor commended that I was already doing this. Though certainly not applicable to an expressive person like me, but those who grieve in a fishbowl of family and friends who are ready to judge their every move, word or expression, it can become overwhelming and the poor spouse, feeling a centre of attention, becomes guarded in their expression.
Fourth, it helps and encourages to express the emotions the grieiving spouse is currenlty experiencing due to loss, and not left out either numb or jumbled up with intense emotions. Be the way you feel without worrying what others may think of you and your expressions. Scream loudly if that helps. Sob under the pillow if that is what you want. I have gone from emotions of longing as in “Fasih, please come back”, to anger against Fasih for having ‘ditched me’ in the middle. I am relieved to learn that this is all okay.
Fifth is to overcome guilt. Guilt is a normal grief reaction. However, it doesn not mean that you are some way responsible for your spouse’s death. And I must say, the people around you leave no possibility to hold the spouse responsible somehow for the other spouse’s loss- by ommission or commission. I have heard, “If you hadn’t pushed Fasih to go to hospital, he may be alive now.” How could I being a doctor advice him NOT to go to hospital when it is indicated? Perhaps ignorance on non-medicos is bliss. And when I replied, “But I begged him to not go to Karachi at all, in this COVID spike, the answer is, “Oh but this is how his place and time of death was already written by Allah long in advance.” (Different phases of grief from shock to denial to anger to bargaining to acceptance are in different order in different individuals).
Sixth, is coping with life changes. I am currently at this stage. Ofcourse all the people around the person gone are hurt. But they ultimately go back to their daily routines. However it is the spouse left behind whose life is turned upside down, forever, and it DOES NEVER get back to the same routine. One has to learn the new routine.
Seventh: Building support system. A spouse lost is a primary support system lost forever. Its like losing your limbs. One has to get used to doing the tasks alone which you did together or divided among each other- be it child rearing, housekeeping, being a bread winner, taking major lifes decisions alone, or even just spending leisure time together. My counselor revealed that she stands in my shoes because she lost her husband suddenly almost like me 3 years ago. Her 3 kids are in school and she is the only housekeeper, only parent and only breadwinner for all of them. And I know she works from 9AM to 6PM non stop 6 days a week. Back home then she has to be both the mother and father to the 3 kids. She is backed by her parents.
Now a few tips on how to move on towards healing:
1. Set realistic goals.
2. Write a letter/journal to your spouse to tell them how you feel and what you are missing. (Well I have written about 36 so far).
3. Create a memory book
4. Art Therapy: (I am making amigurumi dolls and plan to start silk painting).
5. Read about grief- its a science and it helps you understand the process.
6. Carry on the legacy if any, your spouse has left behind. Eg. Did he support a charity or any meaningful actitivity? Ofcourse my Fasih did and I will follow on his footsteps to get solace.
7. Create remembrance rituals. InshaAllah Fasih’s birthday will be associated and celebrated with a cause close to him.
8. Pray, if that is your way to cope.
What does grief counseling not do?
Many people hesitate to go on grief counseling because they fear it will make them miss their beloved/partner lot less and they do not want to let go the feeling of loss.
1. It does not make you forget your spouse.
2. It wont allow you to bypass the pain of loss
3. It won’t change the core of who you are. ( eg. If you are a sensitive person, it wont turn you into an insensitive person).
4. It wont stop you from loving your spouse.
To some, it may feel as if after writing the long story, I have conquered my grief very boldly or bravely. It has not. It continues to be a roller coaster ride and some days are very bad, but some days are not too bad. Weekends feel like being trapped in a prison locked away from ones best friend. The compulsion of office duties are absent and the commitment to carry on household work has ceased. I clean my house, or wash the dishes only when I feel like, and leave them as they are when I do not feel like. There is no motivation to cook. I push myself to do the minimal cooking for my son. Rest he takes care of it quietly and patiently.
There is no inclination to stop coffee, despite being advised against for PATs. And coffee addiction is the only thing that makes me feel myself. So it goes on. And will go on. It makes my kids upset, but then I need some respite too.
No worries, this is a life long journey. There is no other way but to travel though it. Only time will tell how far will it take me. All I can say, family support can help in case of other losses of loved ones, but for the unique loss of a spouse, it is very helpful to take the lead of a counselor. Also, be mindful and sensitive to their grieivng spouse when you lose the first parent.
Solidarity with the grieving COVID spouses. Stay strong my dear sisters in grief: Maria Aleem JunejoRana TasneemHuma MahmoodAneela KamranShehla Shah