Spousal Loss: What Legacy of Loss Are You Passing on to Others?

©Dave Roberts 2015

The loss of your life partner is especially complex to manage because the two of you functioned as a couple for so long. As a result, you are not only dealing with the loss of your partner, but also the loss of your sense of self that was constructed through your interactions. The question becomes: if you are no longer someone’s spouse or partner, then who are you?

Psychotherapist Michael Miller refers to the process of relocating your single identity as intimate terrorism. Your relationship has been blown apart, and you are left to sift through the debris and extract the “I” from your vanishing “we.” Understandably, this takes some doing—as it should.

Maintaining a continuing bond

It was once thought that people should strive to put their relationship with the deceased behind them. Traditionally this was referred to as “closure.” Research has since dispelled the concept as unrealistic and not even desirable. In fact, studies show that the most successful transitions take place when a surviving partner maintains a bond with the deceased. It has also been determined that maintaining a continuing bond with the deceased does not detract from the success of a relationship with a new partner.

A Worthy Task: To develop and foster a continuing bond, occasionally set aside private time for looking at photographs, letters, cards, and small gifts the two of you exchanged. This quiet time will not only give you an opportunity to remember your loved one but—equally important—you can remember yourself as well.

What legacy of loss will you pass on?

Grief can seem like such a solitary and overwhelming experience that you may forget your children, extended family and close friends are learning how to cope with a similar loss in their lives. What we can and can’t do–will or won’t do—determines the legacy of loss that you pass onto them.

In order to understand the legacy you are creating, it is wise to examine the one that was passed on to you.

No child escapes inheriting positive and negative family legacies. Some stories are openly shared from adult to child, one generation to another. Some are never told because the emotional pain is intolerable and the story becomes taboo. Even though the unmentionable event may remain undefined, later generations nonetheless live the “fallout” of the hidden legacy. In effect, they “remember” what they didn’t experience—directly or indirectly.

Psychoanalyst and author Prophecy Coles talks in her book, Uninvited Guests from Our Unremembered Past, about how we must explore the uninvited guests we know so little about and in doing so, we can begin to “understand the history of our families’ ideas.”

I was not told of my family’s repeated experiences with untimely death and unresolved grief over spousal and child loss until I was in my late 40s. Subsequently, I came to understand how the unresolved grief had negatively affected the attitudes and life strategies of three generations of women in my family.

Worthy Task: I invite you to examine the ideas of loss that you inherited, especially if you are having difficulty resolving your grief. By investigating what took place ancestrally, you may see a family pattern. If so, is it a pattern you wish to adopt? Further, is it a pattern you wish to pass on to your loved ones?

To understand the legacy of loss you will ultimately transmit, ask yourself:

●       How am I teaching others to view death and cope with emotional injury?

●       Am I actively working to resolve my grief, or am I allowing it to manifest as callousness and self-protection?

●       What legacy of loss do I want to leave behind? Can I show that despite the anguish, I found the strength to live a rich and fulfilling life?

The above exploration might cause you to actively rebuild your life rather than settle on less than what you deserve.

 

Vicki Panagotacos, PhD FT

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Vicki Panagotacos, PhD. FT is a Grief & Loss Counselor and Life Transition Coach in private practice in Los Gatos and La Selva Beach, CA. She also facilitates grief groups and conducts local workshops. Ms. Panagotacos holds various professional certifications and is an ADEC Fellow. In addition to founding www.bestgriefbooks.com, she writes for her blog, TalkingGrief.com, and has authored the following: Effect of Multigenerational Family and Social Systems on Meaning-Making (2010); chapter Defining and Envisioning Self in Techniques of Grief Therapy: Creative Practices for Counseling the Bereaved (edited by Robert Niemeyer, 2012, and Gaining Traction: Starting Over after the Death of a Life Partner, 2014.

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