Kent Allen, MS, LMFT who specializes in helping people through their grief, defines grief as the process we go through that helps us let go of old hopes and dreams and helps us obtain new hopes and dreams. While our hopes and dreams may involve money, possessions, experiences, relationships, careers, etc., they are born out of our emotional and spiritual state of mind. When we experience the death of a spouse, our emotional and spiritual well-being is severely fractured. After years of sharing a life with the same person with whom you laughed, cried, suffered, and rejoiced in life, and perhaps even created life together, to lose their presence and know they won’t be back is devastating. Kent Allen defines this loss as losing hopes and dreams that are core to your existence. Even the strongest mentally will be shaken emotionally when part of your core is taken from you. Preparing emotionally and spiritually for the death of a spouse is a challenge. It’s difficult to learn from others who have been through grief before because everyone grieves differently. What was hard for them may not be a challenge for you. And a big part of the grieving process is helping others deal with the death of your spouse, especially your children. How they react and respond to grief will play a major role in your own emotional and spiritual state of mind as you grieve. If you have more than one child, you’ll find that they grieve differently from each other and from you.
Another part of the challenge of preparing emotionally and spiritually for death is that it’s one of those taboo topics nobody likes to talk about, despite its inevitability. Often, there’s a mistaken belief that talking about death and dying could create or encourage suicidal ideation. You can’t make someone suddenly want to die by discussing end of life preparations. Additionally, many people feel that discussing the reality of death will somehow make it happen sooner. It’s tempting fate, as it were.
Corey’s experience was something like that. When his wife, Kris, was sick, he didn’t want to ask her anything that had anything to do with the possibility of her dying, because he didn’t want her to think that he was giving up on her living. He believes that she didn’t want to say anything to save him from fear and sadness. As a result, there were a lot of unanswered questions. Fortunately, their palliative care team understood that talking about death can be part of the healing process, and they did ask some of these tough questions. Kris opened up to them and Corey was comforted by her responses. He is grateful to this day for the chance to hear his late wife’s belief that she would be ok, that her family would be ok, and that she was happy with the life she had lived. Knowing that she was at peace with dying has played a huge role in his own healing.
Often, when we are in the same family, particularly if we practice the same religion or belief system, we assume that everyone is on the same page with thoughts of an afterlife. When one of us is actually dying however, and if we truly don’t know already, we often want to know how they really feel about it. It’s tricky, though, because outright asking can seem callous, rude, or as related earlier, faithless, or giving up. We might also, not like the answer. In our research, however, even when belief systems are different, just knowing WHAT your loved one thinks, believes, and feels about death and what happens afterward - even if it’s nothing - relieves some of the anxiety around their passing. I had a conversation recently with a close family member about their thoughts of death in general and their beliefs about their own eventual death. We have very different belief systems. I was grateful that they felt safe enough to share with me their ideas. I wondered if I would be sad or uncomfortable as I was hearing how different our beliefs were. Ultimately, though, the fact that THEY are comfortable with those ideas, I know I’m comfortable it.
Of course, the grief around your person’s death isn’t taken away with the knowledge of their beliefs. It is interesting, though, that some of that grief really is alleviated knowing that your loved one believes SOMETHING and you know what that is. Discussing the reality that our bodies are temporary on this planet doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate life. Actually, recognizing that fact, truly helps us appreciate life more. So, moral of the story -- figure out a way not to be terrified of death. Think about and decide what you want to believe. Talk about it. Write it down. Share it. Your survivors may not be relieved of their grief, but by knowing you believe that you’re ok, they can be comforted nonetheless.
Corey and Katie entered widowhood in 2016 after losing spouses to cancer. They met and connected in a widow/widower support group and later married. One of the principles they learned from their own experiences and those of other surviving spouses is that the more prepared a surviving spouse is on a financial, legal, emotional, and practical level, the better they will adjust to widowhood. They will maintain their independence and control of their assets and be freer to properly grieve and move forward in life. Conversely, those who are not prepared are more likely to have their lives flipped upside down. They may need to move and uproot kids because they can't afford the mortgage, rely on family or other charities to financially support them, and/or change jobs to allow them to better serve as a single parent. We hope to share what we've learned and help other families properly get their affairs in order and be prepared with confidence, peace of mind, and in control of their assets.