Escaping our Bereavement Comfort Zones

This post encapsulates my further understanding and experience of bereavement, acquired since the third anniversary of Kate’s death.

Three Years Bereaved (July 2020) explored my downward spiral into poor mental health, provoked by my father’s death so soon after Kate’s, which somehow extended and amplified my grief beyond my capacity to endure it.

I described the slow recovery and eventual emergence from that dark place. I felt that I had finally come to terms with Kate’s loss and could resume my life with some semblance of normality.

I am now in a new long-term relationship with someone else bereaved whose recovery is ongoing, so I am also affected at one remove, reflecting always how we can best help each other back to happiness. This is proving a slow and testing journey!

Meanwhile, my mother’s declining physical and mental health also hangs like a spectre over the enticing-but-not-quite-within-my-grasp prospect of future happiness. When it comes, as it must, will I be able to cope with her death, or might it send me tumbling back into the abyss?

I set out here some of my recent thinking, drawing on my personal experience and wider interaction with my circle of bereaved friends. I have developed these arguments into broad principles, illustrating them with invented examples, and nothing here pertains to any one individual.

I have been striving to understand how:

  • Anxiety can delay recovery from bereavement, sometimes causing us to get stuck in limbo;
  • We might escape limbo, restore momentum and ultimately recover, by pushing marginally beyond our comfort zones, so exploiting our zones of proximal development.

Unless otherwise specified, ‘widows’ is used throughout to describe both men and women who have lost their life partners.

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Recapping briefly…

In Three Years Bereaved, I outlined the process of finding equilibrium in bereavement:

‘I have…come to understand that the restorative process of bereavement – the capacity ultimately to escape profound sorrow and resume the pursuit of happiness – somehow depends on finding a new, post-mortem equilibrium in this relationship with one’s former partner.’

I described how my relationship with Kate had developed after her death, not through religious belief in an afterlife or some form of spiritualism, but in my own aetheistic context, by coming to appreciate that her influence survives, embodied in me.

My equilibrium rests on the firm conviction:

‘…that she is comfortable with the way I’m living my life, and I am comfortable living it now without her.’

I reflected that some widows are slow to reach such equilibrium, whether deliberately or unwittingly, and a few may even postpone it indefinitely:

‘I also began to understand more clearly how not to find equilibrium, having observed several widows and widowers never quite managing to escape the limbo that descends on us all when our loved ones die. 

Too many are endlessly reliving how they were together as a couple when their partners were alive. Their ‘leftover life to live’ is left unlived. It is as if they are fixed in aspic, unable to turn a corner.

Often they build an elaborate shrine to their lost loves, taking upon themselves the role of guardian and celebrant, sustaining the sacred flame.

Some appoint themselves curator of a museum dedicated to their other half. The full personal possessions of their erstwhile partner linger on in cupboards, drawers and wardrobes; on pegs, shelves and desks. It becomes impossible for them to part with even one exhibit.

There is always some hope that they may be able to escape their fixation with the past, particularly if some profound shock or stimulus – perhaps something frightening, exciting or desirable – wakes them from their slumbers, jolts them back to the here and now. But the longer they leave it, the harder it may become.’

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Bereavement as a healing process

I conceptualise bereavement as a grieving and a healing process.

Most of us are dumped unceremoniously into a cold, dark, shadowy place by the profound shock of losing our life partners. It is a kind of exile. We often withdraw almost completely into ourselves and may lose much of our capacity to relate emotionally to others.

Caught in this state of limbo, we nurse our emotional wounds. We may feel cut off, marooned in a backwater, even alone – and we no longer participate in the flux of life around us.

The rawness of our pain – the sheer intensity of our grief – will typically diminish over time as we gradually recover from our loss, from this immense life-changing trauma that has completely ripped apart all our future plans and prospects.

Our healing process is typically non-linear, characterised by extended pauses and sudden leaps forward, the duration variable but finite. It is a process that will not be rushed but, equally, there are times when sustained momentum is helpful in propelling us forward.

We must lick our wounds, all the while reflecting carefully and thoroughly on our new condition. But we must also beware the temptation to overthink our grief, because that may spin us through an endlessly repetitive cycle of doubt, confusion and anxiety that will constantly baulk our progress.

Should we overthink our lot then, like Hamlet, we are too often guilty of:

‘…thinking too precisely on th’event

A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom

And ever three parts coward…

We may never notice a marked, defined moment of escape from grief, but most of us emerge at some point from bereavement, and are sufficiently healed to launch ourselves back into the flow of human life.

I felt that it took me three years to reach that point.

Some are much faster, others far slower but, if after three years of bereavement we are still struggling to come to terms with our loss, the likelihood is that we are stuck in limbo.

We may have what is sometimes called ‘complex grief’. We may be finding it all just a little too perplexing – too onerous to escape our sadness and the pull of the past. Perhaps our limbo feels a safe, secure haven while the future is so much scarier, because unfamiliar and ultimately unknowable.

We may have shaped our limbo into an extension of our lost past: a cosy nest where we are cushioned and cocooned by our memories of happier days, all the while sustained by the busyness of constant doing or the steady routine of mindless existence.

The longer one is stuck in grief, the harder it may be to escape.

Whereas, in the early stages, it may be right to counsel a grieving person to ‘give it time’, to avoid putting pressure on themselves to achieve resolution too quickly, or to match the progress of their faster peers, a point may be reached where that advice becomes unhelpful, because it condones our being stuck, even though being stuck for so long is delaying our recovery.

For me, finding equilibrium with one’s dead partner is a critical waymark on the road to recovery, because it represents the point where one is ready to return wholeheartedly into the flow of human life.

We must be able to live once more in the here and now, experiencing life, not as regret for a lost past or fear of an uncertain future, but as mindful engagement with a vibrant and fulfilling present.

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A word or two more about limbo…

You might not be entirely familiar with the concept of limbo.

The Collins English Dictionary defines it five ways. We can discount the definition pertaining to limbo dancing, the derivation of which is most probably from ‘limber’, meaning ‘lithe or supple’.

That leaves:

  • The supposed abode of infants dying without baptism, and the just who died before Christ, according to the Roman Catholic Church.
  • An imaginary place for lost, forgotten or unwanted persons or things.
  • An unknown intermediate place or condition between two extremes (in limbo) and
  • A prison or confinement.

It suggests the derivation is from the Medieval Latin phrase ‘in limbo’ meaning ‘on the border (of hell)’.

The Cambridge Dictionary prefers:

‘An uncertain situation that you cannot control and in which there is no progress or improvement.’

Wikipedia explains the theological meaning, from which the others clearly derive.

According to Western European Medieval theologians, Hell was divided into four parts: Hell itself, for the damned; Purgatory, a place where the dead undergo purification prior to admission to Heaven; the Limbo of the Patriarchs for the just who died before Christ; and the Limbo of the Infants for unbaptised children who died too young to commit sin.

In Dante’s Inferno, Limbo is described as the First Circle of Hell. Here he encounters many famous classical figures, including Homer, Ovid, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Cicero and Seneca.

For the purpose of this exposition, I shall stitch together a couple of the more contemporary definitions above to construct my own:

‘An uncertain, intermediate condition of self-confinement – which may be midway between life and death – in which progress or improvement is impossible.’

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A word or two more about equilibrium, anxiety and scaffolding

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, equilibrium is ‘a state of balance’ which, in physics, is applied to the relationship between opposing forces. But equilibrium is also ‘a state of mental calm’.

When I use the term in the context of bereavement, I mean both of those things.

I mean a state of balance between the opposing forces of death and life; between the past and the future; between the deep sadness of grief and the potential to experience the profound joy of happiness rediscovered.

But I also mean a state of comparative mental stability and peace of mind – the capacity to sustain an inner sense of stillness; of rational thoughtfulness; of quiet calm.

As opposed to a state of mental instability in which one’s mind is ceaselessly churning through an endless stream of worries, doubts and fears; in which overthinking predominates; in which reasons to hold back always seem to trump reasons to move forward. In short, a state of anxiety

Such anxiety is intrinsic to the state of bereavement, initially brought about by the trauma of losing one’s life partner and then sustained by having to wrestle with the difficulties – both emotional and practical – of learning to live afresh, but henceforward without them.

We may tell ourselves that we have experienced a shocking, seismic, catastrophic change, that we simply can’t undergo any more change for the time being. Instead, we prefer to construct a safe, protective cocoon, sheltering there alone until we heal.

But after a while that is unhelpful – because the best way to recover is to adjust, gently but steadily, accepting change in small doses initially, so rebuilding our capacity to embrace life, which is constant flux.

We all tend to construct around us a supporting frame – scaffolding that sustains us against the forces of change and so helps us to cope with the new challenges we face.

Various belongings, behaviours, beliefs, rituals and relationships may be pressed into service as scaffolding: our home perhaps; our (grand) children; our hobbies; our employment; the possessions of our dear departed.

Some pieces may be designed to sustain elements of our lost past; others to build some degree of continuity between the present and the past.

This scaffolding may help us towards equilibrium. The gaps in the structure allow some change to permeate, but not so much that it overwhelms us.

But those widows who continue to exist in a state of anxiety will typically create for themselves scaffolding so thick, dense and stifling that, instead of supporting them to move forward, it imprisons them where they are. No change can get in.

They can only move forward by confronting their anxieties, stripping away those parts of their scaffolding that constrain them and confidently embracing change.

But change in stages, undertaken at a steady pace, in such a way that they progressively expand their comfort zones, building their confidence and capacity to live life to the full once more.

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Entertaining the possibility

Some of my thinking rests upon a longstanding conviction that we are much more likely to escape if we can allow ourselves to entertain the possibility – no more, no less – that the best years of our lives lie ahead.

In other words, be open to the possibility that the future may be potentially even better than the past, while also recognising that this can be true only if we allow it to be so.

There are reasons why this may be rather easier for some widows than others.

Some are wedded inescapably to a deficit model of their widowhood – they had something before that they can never recapture, or never replace, and nothing will ever be as good again.

Their ‘leftover life to live’ may seem hardly worth living and, if religious, they might be focused exclusively on reuniting with their partner in some form of afterlife.

Those who believe themselves close to the end of their lives may feel that they have too little time remaining to sustain this belief, particularly if illness or frailty is beginning to impact significantly on the quality of their lives.

Some widows have negligible adult experience of living without their dead partners, and may consequently find it that much harder to envisage a positive future without them than those who have had more diverse experience, perhaps with different partners or else living alone.

Some will have had much closer relationships with their dead partners than others: we all know couples who seem inseparable, spending all their time together, perhaps without children; sometimes with few friends or relatives to leaven that experience.

Conversely, others will have had far looser relationships, shorter relationships, continuing to spend time with their own friendship groups as well as with each other. Children provide a different focal point which is not present in childless couples.

Some of us have a tendency to sanctify our dead partner and, should we compare others to them, will always find the others wanting. Others are more open to appreciating the faults and shortcomings of their erstwhile partners, and accepting the possibility that a new partner may have something more and/or different to offer.

Others still are adamant that they will never have another partner. Perhaps they believe that their love for their dear departed would inevitably be compromised if they transferred their affections elsewhere, or that they would inevitably short-change a new partner because they could not transfer all their affections.

Perhaps they feel guilt that they are succumbing to a desire for companionship, love, a sexual relationship, when all those possibilities are denied their dead partner. They may feel this even if the dead partner has strongly encouraged them to ‘move on’ after their death.

Perhaps they simply cannot endure the finality of closing down their previous relationship, despite their partner’s death: perhaps they don’t quite have the ‘closure’ that is necessary for them fully to transfer their affections. Perhaps they are the kind of people who need to avoid closure.

Entertaining the possibility is a ‘glass half full’ approach to bereavement that may, then, be beyond the capacity of some widows to sustain. But it materially improves one’s chances of escaping limbo and of finding fulfilment in one’s life after the death of one’s partner.

Entertaining the possibility that the best of one’s life may still lie ahead is a valuable exercise in the expression of a provisional, guarded optimism. But it also helps to establish a clear direction of travel built upon the rediscovery of purpose.

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A brief discourse on purpose…

Many widows find that their former sense of purpose died with their erstwhile partners, because that purpose was embodied in their shared future together.

After Kate’s death I did a lot of thinking about my future purpose. I saw that many of my peers found new purpose in their families, often finding fulfilment in extending their role as grandparent, as if to compensate for their missing partner. There may be a certain symmetry in our departures from and entrances to this life.

But my family is small, often geographically distant and, as yet, there are no grandchildren.

I also had before me the negative example, where the widow’s future purpose becomes that of keeper of the shrine, guardian of the sacred flame kept forever burning in memory of their dead partner. But that is a celebration of death in life and – to my way of thinking – it resigns us to a leftover life in limbo.

Philosophically speaking, I became convinced that my future purpose must be associated with recovery from bereavement and resuming the lifelong pursuit of happiness. Finding equilibrium in my relationship with Kate was an essential step in that process.

But, if I asked myself how to plot a route back to happiness, it was soon borne in on me that – in my case at least – happiness is not a solitary condition: true purpose and true happiness could be recovered only through the intensity of a loving human relationship.

I believe that, for many bereaved people, finding a new life partner is the optimal way forward. But finding, starting, growing and sustaining a new relationship may be fraught with difficulties, especially if their grief is stubborn, if they are plagued by guilt or perceived social stigma, or if they are unable properly to transfer their affections from their dear departed.

To my way of thinking, these are all sure fire markers that equilibrium with one’s former partner has not yet been properly established.

And of course, such equilibrium is essential to a new relationship. Especially if both partners are bereaved, when there is a complex four-handed dance between the two dead partners and the two still living.

If one or both of the former couples hasn’t secured equilibrium, the entire dance is thrown out of kilter. That may result in the erstwhile partners performing some of the steps that are properly the preserve of the new, living partners, which isn’t helpful to the stability or sustainability of the new relationship.

If equilibrium is lacking, it becomes imperative to undertake remedial work before the new love can settle into its natural rhythm. Put crudely, our former partners must be respectfully requested not to interfere in matters that are no longer their preserve.

I have a kind of ‘shorthand’ for this: I love both of my lovers – the living and the dead – but I am only actively in love with the living lover.  

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An aside about sexual hypocrisy…

In the world of bereavement, sexual reticence, dishonesty and hypocrisy are rife.

I have met a handful of widows – occasionally female as well as male – who are refreshingly open to the possibility of a new physical relationship.

But I have met many more – mostly women – who robustly maintain that they cannot contemplate a new partner. Yes, they may want to be held, comforted and cuddled, possibly even by an eligible man but, no, they simply couldn’t contemplate a new sexual liaison.

If in a mischievous mood, I might suggest a brother, an elderly uncle or perhaps a gay man of their acquaintance would serve their purpose. For very few heterosexually active men, bereaved or otherwise, would be prepared to enter a relationship on terms of abstinence. I certainly wouldn’t!

And, interestingly, I understand that gay men tend to be far less inhibited than their straight counterparts when it comes to forging fresh sexual relationships fairly soon after bereavement. There is a more supportive, less judgmental attitude from their peers.

I often wonder why bereaved women, in particular, seem so repressed.

My family history researches have oftentimes revealed how, in the past, it was typically an economic necessity for bereaved women to remarry speedily, not unusually within a year of their first husband’s death. This seemed quite acceptable to the apparently prudish Victorians, if only for the working classes.

Yet, more recently, social norms have become established whereby women in particular may be critical of those, particularly other women, who are thought to have started a new relationship too soon after the death of a previous partner. In my experience, men are let off more lightly, and most men are rather less judgmental.

Of course this is not entirely new, nor is it completely foreign to men: Hamlet experiences similar feelings at the speedy remarriage of his mother, Gertrude, but his disgust is compounded because she is his mother and her remarriage to his uncle is incestuous.

These days, however, new relationships that are perceived to be over-hasty seem largely to offend the female proprieties; an unwritten code of feminine modesty and decorum. There is of course no formal definition of an acceptable waiting time – one is judged subjectively in the court of feminine public opinion.

Does this have its roots in the myth that women (especially women of a certain age) are not prey to sexual desire or, if they are, must never admit the fact? Is it something to do with the completely irrational fear that widows will beguile away the husbands of married women?

Too many female widows of my generation are sexual hypocrites, pretending they are never bothered by unsated desire and hinting that, were they troubled by that familiar itch, they needs must scratch it by themselves.

Is there a genetic explanation? Are women perhaps more biologically attuned to the selection of a single life partner, even if the partners are successive rather than simultaneous?

Do they find it relatively harder than men to transfer their affections on bereavement, to give of themselves sexually a second time? Is that particularly true of women whose dear departed was their only previous sexual partner?

Why, in this day and age, are there bereaved women still running scared of their in-laws, particularly their male in-laws? Is it some primitive fear of ostracism, of being cast out because one has dared to forge a new relationship? Most in-laws are full of understanding; any in-law who would react so negatively is utterly base and worthless.

Is there perhaps also a strand of latent feminism at work, inviting bereaved women to buy into the conviction that they must prove – to themselves as well as to others – that they don’t need a man to help them through widowhood, but may be entirely self-sufficient?

And not just sexually: Must they show themselves adept at handling every single household task, especially those once undertaken by their former partner? No matter that some of these may cause sharp anxiety or sleepless nights.

It is essential to stretch one’s comfort zones, to challenge oneself consistently to acquire and hone new skills. But is it not also perfectly fine to accept one’s limitations and seek solace, advice or assistance where necessary? Men often seem possessed of slightly more humility.

In my experience, male widows also seem readier to accept the possibility that a new relationship may be equally as fulfilling as the old one, possibly even more so. Men also seem readier to accept that renewed sexual pleasure can contribute to the restoration of equilibrium and their future happiness. For, when once we give ourselves fully to a new partner, we are embracing life rather than death.

I have tried to explore this issue without taint of sexism or misogyny, but some will accuse me of it nevertheless.

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About Comfort Zones

The psychology of comfort zones has mixed origins.

Two pioneering psychologists – Robert Mearns Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson – derived the Yerkes-Dodson Law from a study of Japanese Dancing Mice they conducted in 1907.

Their Law says:

‘Anxiety improves performance until a certain optimal level of arousal has been reached. Beyond that point, performance deteriorates as higher levels of anxiety are attained.’

Later work on the psychology of motivation, dating from the 1950s, considered the relationship between motivation and performance. The hypothesis was formed that both motivation and effort will tend to increase up to the point where the individual has a 50% expectation of success. Beyond that point, motivation declines.

Both motivation and anxiety have their origins in stress – essentially how people respond to the demands placed upon them. Individuals respond differently to different levels of stress but each will reach a point where the level of stress they experience is anxiety-provoking rather than motivational.  

The notion of the ‘comfort zone’ was first applied in relation to human physical comfort and, perhaps more specifically, the temperature range within which the naked human body is neither sweating nor shivering.

But, by the early 1990s, it was beginning to be applied to human performance. A working definition coined by White (2008) is:

‘a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.’

So, given the earlier hypotheses about anxiety and motivation, it follows that people who are pushed somewhat beyond their comfort zones will improve their performance, but only up to a point: there is a zone in which greater stress will tend to enhance performance but, should that stress continue to increase beyond a certain level, heightened anxiety will eventually begin to undermine performance.

The expectation is that, following a period of enhanced performance, the individual’s comfort zone will have shifted so that, over a period of time, they are capable of moving further and further beyond their initial level of performance without succumbing to an anxiety-provoking level of stress.

This can be applied to personal development and lifestyle, not least following bereavement.

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About the Zone of Proximal Development

The term Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) was coined by the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky in the early 1930s and has become hugely influential in educational settings.

Vygotsky initially defined the ZPD as:

‘the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers’.

The fundamental concept is that a learner can make more progress with support from someone possessing greater knowledge or skill than they can if left entirely to their own devices.

A learner who is not encouraged and supported beyond their existing boundaries of achievement remains unchallenged, essentially operating in his comfort zone. Their work is too easy.

The teacher helps the learner to acquire the knowledge or skills necessary to complete a more challenging task, so that the learner can eventually do this without the teacher’s assistance. Then the learner’s ZPD adjusts accordingly.

But the level of challenge inherent in a supported task must not exceed the capacity of the learner to achieve it, with appropriate support from the teacher, otherwise the ZPD will be exceeded. Then the work will be too difficult.

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Applying Comfort Zones to Bereavement

Sometimes widows get stuck at some point in their recovery from bereavement.

The point at which this happens may vary, and it may happen more than once, for recovery is not a linear process: there will be extended pauses but, also perhaps, sudden leaps forward too. Sometimes loss of momentum will act like a brake on progress; sometimes momentum will drive progress forward.

That is all fine, provided that the pauses are understood as temporary resting places, providing refuge until the journey towards recovery can be resumed. But if a pause is misunderstood – misinterpreted as a stable, long-term, ‘new normal’ – then problems will arise.

Often the stuck widow will have struggled mightily to reach their present point on the journey. Looking down, they can see the huge distance they have travelled from their darkest days, immediately after their partner’s death.

But, if they look up, they can also see the full extent of the climb ahead, before they reach the true end of their journey. This prompts anxiety and uncertainty about their capacity to complete the journey, and so often they will delude themselves that their journey is already finished.

They may convince themselves that their life at this point is bearable, even marginally rewarding. They can function adequately at work, at home, in society; perhaps they have grown comfortable with their own company, enjoying a new-found freedom of responsibility for any significant other.

Never mind that her clothes still fill the wardrobe; that his books still line the shelves; her photograph adorns every room; she keeps a candle burning in his memory. The shrine is attended constantly by the guardian of the shrine.

But this superficial contentedness is illusory. Deep down the widow will know that they haven’t yet completed the journey of recovery, so they haven’t fully recovered. They may acknowledge to themselves that it is fear and anxiety that is holding them back, but they will try to bury those negative feelings rather than confronting them and ultimately resolving them.

They are in limbo – and also in their comfort zone. There is zero stress and zero risk, but they are under-challenged and underperforming. No longer will they be ‘entertaining the possibility’; they have given up the pursuit of happiness, quite probably convinced that they can never be as happy again as they once were.

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The benefits of entering the Zone of Proximal Development

A holding pattern of this kind is not a sustainable platform for either present or future happiness, and to live the remainder of one’s days in a controlled environment, bereft of any challenge, is at best a half-life.

One is far from ‘entertaining the possibility’; indeed one is ‘entertaining the impossibility’, for there is not the slightest prospect that the best years of one’s life will materialise under these conditions.

Bereavement is a sequence of challenges, like the fences in a steeplechase. We must keep on rising to the challenges, keep jumping each fence, until we complete the race. It is far better to sustain momentum over the fences than to lose it mid-race.

There is satisfaction in each challenge overcome. Each time we build self-confidence in our capacity to forge a meaningful new life for ourselves. Each time we defeat our own anxiety.

As soon as we feel strong enough, we should be driving forward into our zone of proximal development, striving to achieve just a little more than we did the time before.

Each challenge should be preceded by careful consideration of the support needed to overcome it, and careful planning of the gradual withdrawal of that support so we can ultimately prove to ourselves that it was fully within our compass, achieved by us alone.

By treating our leftover lives as a learning journey, in which we constantly stretch and challenge ourselves to recover, grow and improve, those lives will eventually become still richer and more meaningful than they were before our bereavements.

But we have to stay open to possibilities – to forge new purpose and, in many cases, the new relationships that embody it.

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Summary

In this post I have set out a series of related propositions which may be summarised as follows:

  • Bereavement is a healing process enabling us to escape deep sorrow and resume the pursuit of happiness.
  • Our recovery from bereavement depends on us reaching and sustaining equilibrium – a state of balance and of mental calm – in relation to our lost partners.
  • The healing process is non-linear; momentum is helpful to the process but overthinking is unhelpful.
  • Initially bereavement casts all of us into limbo – a self-confinement, midway between life and death – but some widows can get stuck there.
  • Anxiety is endemic to the initial phase of bereavement, but its perpetuation will tend to extend unnecessarily our imprisonment in limbo.
  • We need a supportive frame – scaffolding to help keep us steady – but there must be enough space to let change in; if our scaffolding is too dense or rigid, change will be inhibited.
  • It will help us considerably if we can entertain the possibility – no more; no less – that the best years of our lives may still be ahead of us.
  • But, in order to recover, we must also discover a new sense of purpose.
  • For many of us, such a sense of purpose is most readily embodied in a relationship with a new ‘significant other’.
  • If both partners are bereaved, they must both find and sustain equilibrium with their former partners for the new relationship to be successful.
  • Unfortunately, sexual hypocrisy is rife amongst the bereaved; for complex reasons, many female widows especially seem conflicted about forming new relationships.
  • Too often, heightened anxiety keeps us locked in our comfort zones, but repeatedly exposing ourselves to a limited, manageable degree of additional anxiety will aid our recovery from bereavement.
  • We should strive to inhabit our ‘zones of proximal development’, so sustaining momentum towards recovery and defeating our anxiety in a series of small battles that steadily build our confidence.
  • Our ‘leftover lives’ may then become a positive learning journey leading ultimately to the rediscovery of happiness.

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TD

April 2021

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