Widower: Healthy vs. Unhealthy Grief

If you love someone and you lose them, you are going to grieve… there is no getting around it!

But, is there a way to grieve that is healthy for you? Or a way that is unhealthy? Based on my own experience and what I have heard from hundreds of widower, the answer is a YES!

To put it bluntly, we NEED to grieve to acknowledge our loss, to express our love for our lost companion, to honor them, and to process all the resulting emotions, physical effects, and psychological impacts.

Almost all of us will experience both the healthy and unhealthy aspects of grieving. The following explains what I mean “healthy grieving” and “unhealthy grieving:

Healthy Grieving can include:

  • Crying, sobbing, and even screaming at times
  • Physical pain such as feeling like someone punched you in the stomach
  • Sleeplessness, anxiety, anger, fear, doubts
  • A need to tell you and your wife’s story over and over again
  • Trying to fill every moment with activities to avoid your grief
  • Extreme loneliness, and a feeling of abandonment
  • A craving for companionship to fill this void
  • Impotence or constant arousal
  • A desperate need for answers, some explanation of why her and why now?

Unhealthy Grieving can include:

  • Guilt or Regret over things like:
    • I should have known she was ill sooner.
    • We should have gotten her better and earlier treatment.
    • I could have made her last days more comfortable.
    • Inconsiderate statements you made.
    • Why didn’t I spend more time with her before her passing?
    • Why didn’t I show her more love while she was with me?
    • Did I give her too much morphine during her last day(s)?
  • Condemning yourself for her illness or death.
  • Feeling bad about still being alive, wondering why she went first.
  • Always agonizing over mistakes made during your marriage.
  • If and when you start to think about having new relationships with other women, you may have second thoughts about yourself, how she would feel about it, etc.
  • Drinking too much or taking drugs to try and forget (this only makes the grieving worse)
  • Increasing your isolation from those who love and care about you
  • Making significant decisions (e.g., re-marrying, moving, major financial decisions, etc.) too soon before your psycho-emotional state is more balanced and able.

Most of us will experience some of both categories of grieving. The degree to which we experience each will in part determine how long we grieve, whether we drive everyone away from us, and how angry and unreceptive we are to accepting help from others.

The “healthy” grieving elements are absolutely needed for us to process our grief, while the “unhealthy” elements only make our grief more painful, more long-lasting, and less healing.

Unhealthy grief can lead to self-condemnation and a downward spiral of repeatedly revisiting all of the negative thoughts. Anger and depression can then dominate your thoughts and prevent you from healing and re-engaging with life again. This can lead to wallowing in your grief, to striking out at those who are trying to help you, and even to suicidal thoughts.

If you want to engage in life again if you’re going to heal… then it is up to you to identify the “healthy” aspects of grieving and embrace those elements, while also recognizing the “unhealthy” elements and weeding those out of your thoughts. Healthy grieving will help you to maintain your relationships, to build new relationships, to re-engage with life, and to find new purpose and meaning for our life.

However, if you continue to struggle, I strongly encourage you to do as I did… reach out to others, visit with a grief counselor, and attend Men’s Grief Groups if they are available.

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