A reader writes:     My mother died recently, and although she was older and it happened rather quickly, still it was the saddest thing I’ve ever experienced. Now, three months later, I’m finding it very difficult to become intimate again with my husband. Even being in close proximity to him is difficult for me. It almost scares me. Especially because I want so desperately to know that my mom is watching over me, but I don’t want her to see me having sex with my husband! Can you give me some direction on this? 

My response:     You say you want desperately to know that your mom is watching over you, but you don’t want her to see you having sex with your husband. I am not an expert in these things, but in your belief system, if your mother’s spirit is watching over you (just as she did when she was physically here with you), then now that your mother is part of the spirit world, I see no reason why she would not continue to respect your privacy here in the earthly realm, just as she did when she was physically here with you.

I’m sure there must be other things you do every day in private, and I would expect that your mother’s spirit would know which of them would require her vigilance and protection and which would not. At our current level of understanding, so much of what we believe about the spirit world is taken on faith and is based on what we choose to believe. In this case, it seems to me that whatever you choose to believe is what is real for you.

Grief and Sexuality     Without knowing anything about the state of your relationship with your husband before your mother died and how it may have changed since, I can only offer you some general information about grief and sexuality, in hopes that it will shed some light on what really may be going on with you.

For most married couples, being sexually intimate with each other feels good. Nevertheless, people in mourning often get the idea (whether it is rational or not) that when they do anything that makes them feel good, they are betraying the person who died. In addition, there are cultural prohibitions and some religious traditions against feeling good in the wake of death. In Judaism, for example, during the seven-day shiva period following a death in the family, sexual relations and other activities of daily living, such as shaving, bathing and the like are strictly forbidden.

Grief and Gender     In addition, men and women experience and respond to grief differently. As a woman in grief, you may long for your husband’s compassion, tenderness and affection. You may simply want to cuddle and be held. At the same time, even if your husband is mourning his own loss at the death of your mother, even if he is wanting desperately to comfort you in your grief, he may not know how to be intimate with you without involving sex. In our culture, men are socialized to be strong and virile, to hide or control their own grief, and to take care of their women when we are hurting.

As Harold Ivan Smith writes in his book, Grievers Ask:

Lovemaking, or sexmaking, sometimes offers men a chance to lay aside the armor and be human. If you, however, are not ready, you need to convey that to your partner. Leslie Schover, who works with cancer patients on sexuality issues, offers this advice: “Let your partner know that you will want to have sex as soon as you feel better. Give your partner some ideas on helping you feel more sexual again, such as, ‘Try being affectionate in a relaxed way,’ or ‘Let me know you still find me attractive.’” 
Sexual orgasm offers some relief from sadness because of the release of brain chemicals like endorphins and phynylethylamine, PEA, into the bloodstream during orgasm. The sexual intimacy is, for some, a welcome break from the all-encompassing reality of grief. Talk to your spouse about your sexual needs and about how you perceive your partner’s sexual needs. If you do not want intercourse yet, say so. Make certain your partner hears that you are rejecting intercourse and not your partner. Truth be told, your spouse may be equally unready. Find ways you can honor the needs of your spouse (p. 125).  
~ Harold Ivan Smith, in Grievers Ask: Answers to Questions about Death and Loss

 Grief and Loss     I hope this answers your question my friend. Like everything else in grief, you may not get back to the same place you were with your husband before this death happened. But with good communication, patience and understanding, together you can get to the point where it’s okay to feel good again, and you may create a new sexual normal that still feels good enough for both of you.

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Marty Tousley

As both a bereaved parent and a bereaved daughter herself, Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC has focused her practice on issues of grief, loss and transition for more than 40 years. She joined Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, AZ as a Bereavement Counselor in 1996, and for ten years served as moderator for its innovative online grief support forums. She obtained sole ownership of the Grief Healing Discussion Groups in October, 2013, where she continues to serve as moderator. A frequent contributor to health care journals, newsletters, books and magazines, she is the author of Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year: Second Edition, The Final Farewell: Preparing for and Mourning the Loss of Your Pet, and Children and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping. She has written a number of booklets for Hospice of the Valley including Explaining the Funeral /Memorial Service to Your Children and Helping Another in Grief, as well as monthly columns, e-books and online e-mail courses for Self-Healing Expressions, addressing various aspects of grief and loss. With her special interest in grief and the human-animal bond, Marty facilitated a pet loss support group for bereaved animal lovers in Phoenix for 15 years, and now serves as consultant to the Pet Loss Support Group at Hospice of the Valley and to the Ontario Pet Loss Support Group in Ontario, Canada. Her work in pet loss and bereavement has been featured in the pages of Phoenix Magazine, The Arizona Republic, The East Valley Tribune, Arizona Veterinary News, Hospice Horizons, The Forum (ADEC Newsletter), The AAB Newsletter, Dog Fancy Magazine, Cat Fancy Magazine, Woof Magazine and Pet Life Magazine. Marty’s Grief Healing website and blog offer information, comfort and support to anyone who is anticipating or mourning the loss of a loved one, whether a person or a cherished companion animal. She is certified as a Fellow in Thanatology (Death, Dying and Bereavement) by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, as a Distance Credentialed Counselor by the Center for Credentialing and Education, and as a Clinical Specialist in Adult Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing Practice by the American Nurses Association. Marty and her husband Michael have two grown sons and four grandchildren. They spend their winters in Scottsdale, AZ and Sarasota, FL, and enjoy their summers in Traverse City, MI. Marty welcomes reader questions and comments, and can be contacted at tousleym@aol.com or through her Web sites, at GriefHealing.com, GriefHealingBlog.com, and GriefHealingDiscussionGroups.com.

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