Liv­ing with­out love: a widow’s guide

The Sunday Independent - - NEWS - VUYO MKIZE

HOW does a young widow or wid­ower cope with the un­ex­pected loss of a loved one when they thought they would have decades left to live to­gether?

“Wid­ows are seen as bad luck… we are the for­got­ten women made to sit at the back, left out of cel­e­bra­tions, treated like out­casts and ac­cused of be­ing bad wives or in some cases, even killing our hus­bands,” said Tash Reddy, a widow and au­thor of the book Widow With­out and cre­ator of the Face­book sup­port page, Wid­owed South Africa.

Reddy’s first hus­band Denver Reddy, died 10 years ago, leav­ing her a widow in her early thir­ties.

Now in a lov­ing new marriage, the colum­nist and for­mer ra­dio per­son­al­ity has since made it her mis­sion to break down the so­cial bar­ri­ers around wid­ows and pro­vide sup­port to them.

Af­ter her hus­band’s death, Reddy went through deep de­pres­sion and be­came iso­lated. Ac­cord­ing to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale (a com­mon mea­sure­ment in­stru­ment used by doc­tors), 75% of the sup­port base is lost af­ter the death of a spouse.

“So­ci­ety doesn’t deal well with grief, nor de­pres­sion. No one wants to deal with the re­al­ity of any­thing sad; that’s why men­tal ill­ness isn’t taken se­ri­ously”.

Dr Joel Shapiro, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at Akeso Cres­cent Clinic in Rand­burg, said peo­ple who had sud­denly lost a spouse went through five stages of grief, which in­cluded de­nial, anger, bar­gain­ing, de­pres­sion and ac­cep­tance. How­ever, some stages could be pro­longed or morph into clin­i­cal ill­ness if not dealt with.

“If the per­son is an ex­tro­vert, they may get into a state of anger at the in­jus­tice, while peo­ple of faith tend to ques­tion if God does truly ex­ist,” he said. That is a state that Reddy knew well. “You have to re-learn how to do ev­ery­thing alone as a mother and a woman… You lose a part of your soul,” she added.

Shapiro said the real dan­ger is when grief be­comes long-last­ing, lead­ing to clin­i­cal de­pres­sion or post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

“In these cases, you see the per­son can­not go in a par­tic­u­lar room be­cause it re­minds them of their part­ner. Or, the per­son doesn’t want to let go of old cloth­ing and with­draws from their usual ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Psy­chi­a­trists say it takes six months to get through griev­ing and get back into life, but Shapiro says in most cases this can take up to a year.

Reddy ad­vises the newly wid­owed to un­der­stand that a day is made up of 24 hours and that it is okay to still play the var­i­ous roles you did be­fore.

She said: “We are moth­ers, wives, daugh­ters, sis­ters, friends, em­ploy­ees, cousins… ask your­self how much time in a day you spent as a wife and the re­al­ity is that it wasn’t that much.

“Only one role in your life has changed. The rest are still there, so im­merse your­self in them.”

Shapiro has given tips on cop­ing with loss and mov­ing on:

Com­mu­ni­cate:

With your fam­ily, com­mu­nity or friends.You need to speak about it… you need to con­nect, hu­man con­nec­tion is a healer.

Nur­ture your­self and move on:

Nur­tur­ing your­self is im­por­tant be­cause through that you gain a fresh per­spec­tive that your spouse would have wanted the best for you, and for you to move on. So­ci­ety has a lot of judg­ments that will be cast on you once you move on. This means hav­ing a mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ship and it doesn’t make that re­la­tion­ship a re­bound.

But when will you know you have ac­cepted your loss and are mov­ing on? Shapiro calls that space “lib­er­ated re­mem­brance”. “It’s a space where you’ve been able to make your story of what’s hap­pened, and re­alise your story is still in the mid­dle and not at the end of your life,” he says.

PIC­TURE: NEIL BAYNES

GRIEF: Man­doza’s wife Mpho ar­rives at the He­len Joseph Hos­pi­tal in Johannesburg in sup­port of her hus­band, one of South Africa’s big­gest kwaito stars, af­ter he was in­volved in a car ac­ci­dent in 2010. Man­doza (Mduduzi Tsha­bal­ala) died of nat­u­ral causes in Septem­ber 2016, aged 38.

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