Monday, January 6, 2020

In Grief: New Mom Missing Deceased Spouse

Image by tung256 from Pixabay 
A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.  ~ Carl Sandburg

A reader writes: I was 32 weeks pregnant with our first child when I lost my husband to cancer three months ago. I am 24 years old and Brad was 36. He was undergoing a bone marrow transplant and his outlook was very good, but something went horribly wrong and he died so quickly. 

I was so happy to be expecting this child but now I am so sad and scared. I see all the baby shows with a mother and father and I know that I can't have that. I also feel like I didn't get any closure because it happened so quickly I couldn't be with him. All these thoughts run through my head, like was he scared? Was he longing for me to be there? I regret not being there and telling him how much I love him and not to worry about me and the baby. I have so many things to say I could go on and on. I have never felt so alone in this world. Before I met Brad I was very independent but now I feel like I can't do anything on my own. And even though I have family and friends (thank God) I still feel so very alone.

I was waiting so long for the baby and am thrilled that he is here. I thought that once he came I wouldn't feel this emptiness and lonliness, but the last few days I have been longing for Brad so badly. I started sleeping in our bed again and it is so cold. I picture him there with me and it hurts so much that I can't have him here. The baby brings me so much joy and I am so happy to have a piece of him here with me, but he can't fill the void that was made when Brad died. I have been longing to just be held or kissed and while I want that from Brad I know eventually I will want that from someone again. I don't want to feel like I am settling for something less though. Brad said to me before he went for the transplant that he didn't want me lonely for long if he died. He also said I don't want you to settle for someone because you deserve someone wonderful. I don't know if I can ever again have with someone else what I had with Brad. I know it is only three months but I feel like it has been an eternity.

I was flying high on the excitment of having the baby and I love him so much. The past few days have been very hard for me though. Oh God I have never wanted something so badly in my life and I can't have it. I don't want to dwell too much on my feelings and lose such wonderful precious moments with the baby. This is supposed to be such a happy time. I keep busy with the baby but I can't stop feeling the emptiness that I feel. For some reason it seems a little worse now.

I wish Brad was here to see the baby, give his input, and take turns with me in those late night feedings. When Brad died I think I kind of developed a little of what I call obsessive compulsiveness. I couldn't get the house clean enough and it took its toll on me. When the baby came I tried to keep up with my obsessive cleaning but now have come to realize that even if my house was a disaster there will always be time to clean it and the baby will only be this little for a little while and I need to enjoy my time with him. I did clean today but it was just picking up -- it wasn't the obsessive cleaning I was doing. In my mind I wanted everything "perfect". I have to realize that there is no perfect and if Brad's death didn't teach me that I don't know what will. I have to tell myself just to enjoy life and cherish everything I have.

My response: My dear, you said, “I thought that I wouldn’t feel this emptiness and loneliness once [the baby] came, but the last few days I have been longing for Brad so badly . . . The baby brings me so much joy and I am so happy to have a piece of him here with me but he can’t fill the void that was made when Brad died.”

When Brad died, you still had ahead of you the enormous and frightening task of delivering your baby without your husband by your side, as well as the overwhelming responsibility of bringing home and caring for a brand new infant all by yourself. You had to muster all the strength and courage you had within you to accomplish these enormous tasks, which I suspect left very little room for you to ponder and experience the full force of your grief.

As horrible as you must have felt right after Brad died, you also may have deluded yourself into thinking that you’d feel better once the baby was born, when you’d have your baby upon whom to focus your attention. Now that the baby is here and you’re home all alone with him, you’re gradually discovering the enormous responsibilities of being a single mom, the reality of which can be overwhelming. At the same time that you’re adjusting to being a brand new mother, there is grief work to be done. The enormous reality of your loss, the reality of Brad’s physical absence in your life, is now only just beginning to push itself into your conscious awareness.

The first task in grief work is to acknowledge the reality of your loss, and that is what you’re doing now, whenever you have those moments when you’re acutely aware of Brad’s absence and you find yourself longing for him. It’s at those times that you need to acknowledge your feelings, give in to them, and find some way to express them ~ whether that’s by writing (as you've done here) as a way to vent, or by crying your eyes out in the shower, or by raging at the heavens.

Nevertheless, because you’re all alone adjusting to your role as a brand new mom, there is precious little energy left over for you to do your grief work, and that’s okay. This is Mother Nature’s way of cushioning you against the full force of your loss, and I want to encourage you to give yourself permission to take your grief in smaller doses, letting it in just a little bit at a time, as you have time enough and energy enough to give it the attention it demands. This is a normal and healthy thing to do, dear one, and in your particular circumstances, I think it is a matter of survival for both you and your baby.         

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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