The Caregiver's Soapbox

Volume 17    www. thedead-beat.com    Issue 4

Ken Doka     Ken Doka

“Re-learning” to Live Without a Soul Mate. 

There is a strange paradox to grief.  Often grief is complicated when relationships are strained and full of conflict _ the kind of relationships my aunt used to describe as “can’t live with him; can’t live without him.”  Yet conversely, grief can be complicated when relationships are extremely close and very dependent—when you feel you just cannot live without the person.

LuAnn had that sort of relationship with her husband, James. James was a minister and LuAnn liked to say that it was shared ministry.  They did everything together—much of it revolving around the church or around their young sons.  Even their social life focused on church dinners and events, or get-togethers with clergy couples.  When James had a heart attack and passed away in his fifties, LuAnn was at a loss.  She had to move from the parsonage, and a new clergy wife assumed many of the roles she had called her own.  Her sons now lived away—in clergy and one in a faraway mission field.  Her whole identity as a paster’s wife died with her husband.

Patty had a similar reaction to the death of her mother.  She and her mother were very close.  As a child, Patty suffered from rheumatic fever.  Her mother watched over her and Patty became very dependent on her.  Even as she got older and married, her mom was a regular companion and a constant source of advice, they spoke at lease once a day.  Her mother died as Patty neared 60; yet Patty, even as a wife and a mother of now adult children, felt very alone.

You can become close to many people—parents, spouses, children, special relatives    , even friends.   When these relationships are so close, and you are so dependent on the person for so long, death can hit very hard.  Such deaths leave a tremendous hole in our hearts; even time seems so hard to fill without the person.

Thomas Attig, a philosopher who studied grief, likes to say that when such deaths occur, you have to “re-learn” life.  What he means by that is that now you have to learn how to do the very basic aspects of life without the presence of that now-lost companion.  For LuAnn, even going to church, a part of her life since childhood, seemed difficult.  Patty would often find herself thinking of calling her mom to ask if she wanted to go shopping with her or to check on a recipe.

It is difficult—yet you can do it.  Think of the legacies that person left you, the strengths that you learned from your loved one.

Review the ways that you have faced crises in the past; they can help as you face this crisis.  Think of the advice your loved one would give you if she were here.  LuAnn always remembered that when she was struggling, her husband would remind her of her strong faith.  For Patty, she kept hearing her mother remind her how strong she was as a child to deal with her illness, operations, and hospitalizations.

Since these situations are difficult, reach out for help.

The author and playwright Thornton Wilde provides solid counsel, especially in these close relationships. “The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.”

This article was originally printed in Journeys:  A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement, published by Hospice Foundation of America.  More information about Journeys can be found at  www.hospicefoundation.org or by calling 800-854-3402 and is published monthly by the Hospice Foundation of America, 1710 Rhode Island Ave, NW Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036. Annual subscription-$25.00.

Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., is a Professor of Gerontology at the College of New Rochelle.  Dr. Doka’s books include:  Disenfranchised Grief; Living with Life Threatening Illness; Living with Grief: After Sudden Loss; Death and Spirituality; Living With Grief:  When Illness is Prolonged; Living with Grief: Who We Are, How We Grieve; AIDS,Fear & Society;  Aging and Developmental Disabilities; and Children Mourning, Mourning Children.  In addition to these books, he has published over 60 articles and chapters.  Dr. Doka is the associate editor of the journal Omega and editor of Journeys, a newsletter of the bereaved.  Dr. Doka has served as a consultant to medical, nursing, hospice organizations, as well as businesses, educational and social service agencies.  As Senior Consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America, he assists in planning, and participates in their annual Teleconference.  In 1998, the Association for Death Education and Counseling honored him by presenting him an Award for Outstanding Contributions to the field of death education.  In March 1993, he was elected President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling.  Dr. Doka was elected in 1995 to the Board of the International Work Group on Dying, Death and Bereavement and elected Chair in 1997.  Dr. Doka is an ordained Lutheran Clergyman. (And a heck of a nice guy– Editor & Publisher)


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