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Coping With the Loss of a Spouse – Chapter 1

April 22, 2014

The following article was written by Richard Sater, who cared for his wife, Dolores, for over a decade as she battled Parkinson's disease. While he was Dolores' main caregiver, she did use Concordia for a few short-term rehab stays, and attended Adult Day Services two or three half-days a week for a year. His hope is that by reading this story, spouses who have experienced the loss of a husband or wife can be more prepared for some of the challenges that may lie ahead.

Richard is not an employee of Concordia and he isn't a medical professional - and he would be the first to say that every situation is different. So like everything else you may read online, be sure to consult your physician or social service agency before taking any action.

This is part 1 of 3. Feel free to leave a comment below and share this article.
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For 12 years, my wife, Dolores, struggled with the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease. It took a toll on her mind as well as her body. During that time, I served as her primary caregiver. It was my job, 24 hours a day and seven days a week – a difficult but rewarding job.

But the time came when my services as a care giver were no longer required, when she passed away unexpectedly in June of 2012. All of a sudden, I was forced to take a new job – one I was neither prepared for nor equipped to handle: the job of being alone after nearly 54 years of marriage.

Just as I had to learn how to be a caregiver, I now needed to learn how to grieve and adjust to a life without my wife. The new job was even more difficult because I had so many conflicting emotions – shock, disbelief, anger, sadness, loneliness – and some loss of identity from the recognition that I was no longer the most important person in someone else’s life.

A special challenge was dealing with all these issues at once. Some have an immediate impact and some linger for extended periods of time. In addition to these struggles, I needed to recognize that while I had lost my spouse, my children had lost their mother. Even though they are adults, they needed support from me as they, too, grieved. I felt overwhelmed on more than one occasion. Hopefully, we will all be available to help support each other as we go through the grieving stages, recognizing that the process will be different for each one of us.

A year and a half after my wife’s death, I can report that I have made progress. In the past 18 months, I have learned a lot about my new position. Slowly, I’ve grown more adept at it, although it has never been easy. Dolores had been a part of my life for more than half a century.

The noted psychiatrist, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her 1969 book “Death and Dying” identified five stages of grief. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Looking back over the past year and a half, I can see that I went through all of these stages at one time or another. Grieving is a very personal experience and it is different for everyone who has lost a significant person in his or her life, but I found things that helped me and I want to share some of those.

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I learned very quickly that I could not grieve alone. I needed someone that I could talk with, whom I could trust – someone who was a good listener, non-judgmental, and available when I felt the need to talk. My goal was to understand the multiple conflicting feelings that I was experiencing and not try to deal with all of them at the same time. This person may be a close friend, family member, minister or counselor. In fact, it did take more than one person to fill all these roles.

One of the first emotions that I had to deal with was anger. Not because my wife had been taken from me so suddenly – I would not have wanted her to suffer – but because she had been stricken with Parkinson’s Disease in the first place. My anger got so intense that I could not sleep. Finally, I made an appointment with our clergyman to talk about it. In our first session, we talked about the anger that I was experiencing and other topics relating to how I was coping with losing her. The most important aspect of this meeting was that, after it was over, I wasn’t angry any more. We had a few more meetings that were also helpful for me.

In addition to having several confidants (some very good friends as well as the clergyman), I also relied on a network of other friends to help get on with the process of living. As the primary caregiver for my wife, I had become isolated from much of our former social group. It was up to me to initiate contact with others to let them know that I was interested in social activities. I rejoined a group of golfers that I had played with in the past. I started having breakfast with a group from church on Sunday mornings and I frequently walked in my neighborhood with a close friend. All of these activities were beneficial, even therapeutic for me.

Chapters 2 and 3 will cover many of the activities that I was involved in, that helped me cope with life without my wife, and some suggestions about resources that can assist with that effort.

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Good Samaritan Hospice (GSH), a mission of Concordia Lutheran Ministries, will hold two memorial services in memory of those who spent their final days under hospice care at its Wexford facility, Cabot inpatient unit, Heritage Valley Beaver inpatient unit or with Good Samaritan Hospice home care. The memorial services are open to all who are dealing with grief, even if they did not have a loved one in GSH care.

The first service will be held at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Freedom on Sunday, April 27 at 3 p.m. The second service will be at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Cabot on Sunday, May 4 at 3 p.m. Concordia Chaplain Rev. Paul Rist will conduct the liturgy.

A reception will follow both memorial tributes. Registration is helpful but not necessary. To register or receive more information, call Chaplain Paul Rist at 724-933-8888.

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