The Stress That Comes With Losing A Spouse
Stress is a constant in most of our busy lives. We are stressed about work, family, money, Donald Trump … Everything in our lives comes with a degree of stress. In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe studied the medical records of 5,000 patients as a way to figure out how stressful events impact our health. The results were published as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale http://www.stress.org/holmes-rahe-stress-inventory/. The psychiatrist assigned a value in so-called “life change units” to stressful events in a person’s life. Surprise, surprise! Guess what is the most stressful life event? Death of a spouse wins hands down with 100 life change units. Divorce trails by a lot at 73. There are about 13.6 + millions widows in the US and growing. If we all have this much stress, how do we keep our health intact?
Widows are stressed just learning how to cope with finances. Widows are stressed with making decisions alone. Widows are stressed by the angst of loneliness. Widows are stressed out just coping with social demotion. Widows are stressed with the fear of feeling unprotected. Widows are stressed with how loathsome the word widow is!
Life-changing events like deciding to marry, becoming a parent, and finding a career are all by choice. Becoming a widow is not by choice. It is thrust upon you. The word widow brings to mind an old crone, dressed in a long black shapeless dress, shrouded in a black veil, wearing clodhopper sensible shoes. When someone called after Peter died and asked if I was his widow, I looked over my shoulder to see if some old battle-ax was standing behind me. But no, my name is Laurie, and I am a widow. I am now inducted into a club I never asked to join.
It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for widow, almanah comes from the root word alem, meaning “unable to speak.” I am not silent about my widowhood. The way I am dealing with stress is writing. I am standing on both feet, not in high Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos, but in solid low-heeled shoes (my back won’t take the stilettos), telling the world about grief. I am telling my story honestly with emotion and raw sincerity. Talking about grief is the best way for me to unburden myself of stress and hopefully keep me in good health.
I have learned to be assertive in all aspects of my life. I have discovered how to give myself the freedom to say a resounding no, when I don’t want to do something. I am trying to be self-assured dealing with bankers and financial people. I am attempting to be forceful and independent much of the time.
But then, I face my front door. As I put the key in the lock and know that I won’t see my sweet Peter greet me, the loss is palpable again. But, baby steps in the right direction are good.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
— William James