Since I lost my husband over some five months ago, I have been to hospital twice with high blood pressure and doctors have advised me to stop worrying and that I will get on with life after a while. Indeed, I have started feeling better, but I still worry a bit. What should I do to calm down completely?
We must start off and try to stick to the good news. You tell us that five months after the death of your husband you are beginning to feel better, but that you still worry a bit.
This I can tell you confidently, “you are a normal widow and your reaction so far is within normal and chances are that you will soon make a full recovery.”
Following the death of a loved one, the human being goes through what is called a grief reaction, which has many different components. Let us start with a story.
As a child, our school playing fields were near the hospital mortuary. As with most children, we were scared of dead people and if a ball kicked by one of the boys went near the mortuary wall, nobody dared to go for the ball.
This, however, was the lesser of our problems. The real problem was the loud wailing of those who had been bereaved. It often sounded to us as though there was a competition as to which a man or woman would cry the loudest.
Some mourners threw theatrics and carefully rolled on the ground with tears down their cheeks. The wailing scared us a great deal. Many years later as a doctor, a friend died and at his funeral we were all very sad.
One particular classmate outdid all the others by the way he cried. His was loud, dramatic, out of proportion with the friendship he had with our dead colleague. It was a case of neighbours crying more than the bereaved.
In the last few years, I have understood the process a little better. Immediately death occurs, close family members meet to mourn as a family. The following day, extended family members and neighbours are called into the process.
A few days later, a large group meets for a mini harambee [fund raising], which prepares for a major harambee itself preparation for the final harambee just before the funeral.
These enlarging concentric circles of the community mourn in different ways.
All this said however, it is important to record that crying is part and parcel of the grieving process. Culture, however, determines if one cries loudly or softly, in private or in public. I would expect therefore that you may have cried and felt weak and stressed following the death of your husband.
Emotional feelings of sadness, yearning and frustration often come with feelings of grief following the death of one close to you.
Many people become extremely irritable and can shout in ways that are out of character.
There is the concept of survivor guilt in which the bereaved starts to wonder why they live while their loved one has died.
“He was too young to die”, many say of their loved one. There is also guilt about what one could have done differently or better to prevent death.
Bereaved people often withdraw from social contact. Some stop going to Church, feeling that God has abandoned them while others refuse to go to social gatherings such as weddings because they do not want to see married couples looking happy.
Some even feel that people are laughing at them. Still others neglect themselves and begin to feel unwanted and unloved. Many people describe a sense of estrangement from God, feeling that he has let this bad thing happen to them.
All these things are normal at different stages of the grief reaction.
Many people ask how long one should grieve for a loved one. The truth is that there is no set duration as it depends on many factors, including how the person died, for instance suddenly or following a prolonged illness.
It also depends on how close one was to the person but also on the type of relationship one had with the dead person.
Sometimes death brings a mixture of relief and guilt if one had an ambivalent relationship with say a husband, sometimes called a love/hate relationship.
From what you describe, your reaction seems to be following a healthy course and my advice to you is for you to continue doing whatever has brought you this far.