While the reasons for waiting are valid and well documented -- in the early stages of grieving it can be overwhelming to be surrounded by others beset by their own pain -- the urgency to find someone to listen empathically and unconditionally is equally compelling.
Support in those early weeks and months can be your bedrock when everything else in your midst feels so unstable. Often a good friend or family member can be just who you need to help you make it through those inconsolable moments. But sometimes your closest allies (because they are so close) find it difficult to allow you the time and space you need to bear your sorrow, and even though they so desperately want to be “there” for you, they may not be able to be “with” you in the way you need them to be. You may begin to feel as if you’re not grieving fast enough, that you should be “moving on” when you’re barely able to move, period. And even though you may know intellectually that everyone grieves in their own way in their own time, you may be left with the sense that you’re not living up to some ideal of how to grieve.
It’s when you find yourself at this kind of an impasse that you might want to consider some short-term supportive grief work with a therapist skilled at working with the recently bereaved. In my experience, just a few sessions can be extremely useful in helping newly widowed women and men find ways of living with the early feelings of shock and pain that accompany the profound loss of a spouse. By offering emotionally attuned understanding in a confidential setting, a bereavement therapist can provide a safe haven where the depth of your grief can be expressed at your own pace and in your own way. Support of this type in the first few months of your mourning can provide a meaningful bridge toward sharing your loss with others in a bereavement group.
The specific needs of the young widowed have been a focus of my bereavement work in recent years. While spousal bereavement services are widely available in most metropolitan areas, I have found that there are few services that address the particular experience of losing a spouse when you’re in your 20’s, 30’s or 40’s. The loss of a loved one (especially your spouse) at any age can be devastating, but the challenges you face if you’ve been widowed young are unique and distinct from someone who has shared a lifetime of marriage. The economic impact of your loss alone can be stunning, especially if you have young children. But there are other, more intangible obstacles, like watching your peers expand their families while yours has been cut short, or having your parents step in and suddenly feel they should take charge of your life now that you’re alone. Young widowed people often have the sense that their friends, particularly those made while their spouse was still alive, seem to avoid contact, as if being widowed were contagious. Or, worse still, your friends want to embrace you and your grieving family, but being with them only heightens your sense of loss. All of this can create a sense of alienation that adds to your experience of grief and isolation. Finding someone who has the expertise to help you make sense of these very complex feelings can be an important starting point for future healing.