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Life After Death? (Your Life; A Loved One’s Death)

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The Show Must Go On

We’ve previously written about the topics of death and dying. It’s not cheery, but it is important to tackle.

Sooner is better than later, in the case of:

Preparations For Managing Your Own Mortality

And for those who are left behind, of course it is hardest of all:

What Grief Does To Your Body (And How To Manage It)

But what about what comes next? For those who are left behind, that is.

Life goes on

In cases when the death is that of a close loved one, the early days after death can seem like a surreal blur. How can the world go ticking on as normal when [loved one] is dead?

But incontrovertibly, it does, so we can only ask again: how?

And, we get to choose that, to a degree. The above-linked article about grief gives a “101” rundown, but it’s (by necessity, for space) a scant preparation for one of the biggest challenges in life that most of us will ever face.

For many people, processing grief involves a kind of “saying goodbye”. For others, it doesn’t, as in the following cases of grieving the loss of one’s child—something no parent should ever have to face, but it happens:

Dr. Ken Druck | The Love That Never Dies

(with warning, the above article is a little heavy)

In short: for those who choose not to “say goodbye” in the case of the death of a loved one, it’s more often not a case of cold neglect, but rather the opposite—a holding on. Not in the “denial” sense of holding on, but rather in the sense of “I am not letting go of this feeling of love, no matter how much it might hurt to hold onto; it’s all I have”.

What about widows, and love after death?

Note: we’ll use the feminine “widow” here as a) it’s the most common and b) most scientific literature focuses on widows, but there is no reason why most of the same things won’t also apply to widowers.

We say “most”, as society does tend to treat widows and widowers differently, having different expectations about a respectful mourning period, one’s comportment during same, and so on.

As an aside: most scientific literature also assumes heterosexuality, which is again statistically reasonable, and for the mostpart the main difference is any extra challenges presented by non-recognition of marriages, and/or homophobic in-laws. But otherwise, grief is grief, and as the saying goes, love is love.

One last specificity before we get into the meat of this: we are generally assuming marriages to be monogamous here. Polyamorous arrangements will likely sidestep most of these issues completely, but again, they’re not the norm.

Firstly, there’s a big difference between remarrying (or similar) after being widowed, and remarrying (or similar) after a divorce, and that largely lies in the difference of how they begin. A divorce is (however stressful it may often be) more often seen as a transition into a new period of freedom, whereas bereavement is almost always felt as a terrible loss.

The science, by the way, shows the stats for this; people are less likely to remarry, and slower to remarry if they do, in instances of bereavement rather than divorce, for example:

Timing of Remarriage Among Divorced and Widowed Parents

Love after death: the options

For widows, then, there seem to be multiple options:

  • Hold on to the feelings for one’s deceased partner; never remarry
  • Grieve, move on, find new love, relegating the old to history
  • Try to balance the two (this is tricky but can be done*)

*Why is balancing the two tricky, and how can it be done?

It’s tricky because ultimately there are three people’s wishes at hand:

  • The deceased (“they would want me to be happy” vs “I feel I would be betraying them”—which two feelings can also absolutely come together, by the way)
  • Yourself (whether you actually want to get a new partner, or just remain single—this is your 100% your choice either way, and your decision should be made consciously)
  • The new love (how comfortable are they with your continued feelings for your late love, really?)

And obviously only two of the above can be polled for opinions, and the latter one might say what they think we want to hear, only to secretly and/or later resent it.

One piece of solid advice for the happily married: talk with your partner now about how you each would feel about the other potentially remarrying in the event of your death. Do they have your pre-emptive blessing to do whatever, do you ask a respectable mourning period first (how long?), would the thought just plain make you jealous? Be honest, and bid your partner be honest too.

One piece of solid advice for everyone: make sure you, and your partner(s), as applicable, have a good emotional safety net, if you can. Close friends or family members that you genuinely completely trust to be there through thick and thin, to hold your/their hand through the emotional wreck that will likely follow.

Because, while depression and social loneliness are expected and looked out for, it’s emotional loneliness that actually hits the hardest, for most people:

Longitudinal Examination of Emotional Functioning in Older Adults After Spousal Bereavement

…which means that having even just one close friend or family member with whom one can be at one’s absolute worst, express emotions without censure, not have to put on the socially expected appearance of emotional stability… Having that one person (ideally more, but having at least one is critical) can make a huge difference.

But what if a person has nobody?

That’s definitely a hard place to be, but here’s a good starting point:

How To Beat Loneliness & Isolation

Take care!

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