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Mourning Period & Dating After Death of Spouse

Dear Dr. Dave & Dr. Dee,

My mother passed away after a long illness three months ago, and my father started dating already. I thought a spouse was supposed to be in mourning for at least a year before dating again?


Hurt & Angry

Dear Hurt & Angry,

We are very sorry about your mother's death. Each person experiences grief in their own way and the length of the mourning period varies for different people, cultures, and religions. It's hard to accept your father dating another, especially when you are still grieving for your mother. His dating may be his way of coping with his own grief. It's important to remember that your father's dating does not diminish his love for your mother or for you.

In brief below are 10 suggestions for "Coping with Grief" by the Counseling Center at Western Washington University (2006):


1. Take Time to Accept Death. The only way to deal with death, no matter how painful that might be, is to accept it, not fight it. Yes, our loved one has died. But that doesn't mean that we have to die, too. We have to pick up the pieces and go on from there.

2. Take Time to Let Go. One of the most difficult human experiences is letting go. Letting go takes place when the "we" becomes "I," when we are able to substitute the memories of the deceased for their physical presence and when we are able to change patterns in our lives and in our environment. Letting go occurs when we are able to endure and accept the feelings - anger, guilt, fear, sadness, depression, etc. - that accompany death.

3. Take Time to Make Decisions. It is important that the bereaved be patient with himself or herself and gradually learn to make decisions as a way to sustain their sense of self-worth. Making decisions about our lives helps us gain some control over it and increases our self-confidence.

4. Take Time to Share. When you are grieving, you might need someone who looks backward, because the past, not the future, remains the source of comfort in the early stages of grief. Sharing our memories and feelings with people who are grieving themselves is especially helpful and therapeutic.

5. Take Time to Believe. For many people, religion - with its rituals, the promise of an afterlife and its community support - offers a comforting and strengthening base in the lonely encounter with helplessness and hopelessness. Our faith does not take away our grief but helps us live with it.

6. Take Time to Forgive. The feeling of guilt and the need for forgiveness accompanies many of our experiences, especially those that have remained unfinished. We might feel guilty about what we did or didn't do, about the clues we missed, about the things we said or failed to say. We need to accept our imperfections and make peace with ourselves.

7. Take Time to Feel Good About Yourself. We learn to be happy by the way we adjust to life-crises and use the opportunities life gives us. We need to be patient and give ourselves time to learn and time to make mistakes. The death of a loved one affects our life-style and changes our self-image. Grief can rapidly shape us and help us discover a new independence and outlook on things.

8. Take Time to Meet New Friends. Loneliness will be present in grief, and it might be nature's way of mending our broken hearts. In the grief process, healing occurs when we take the step to move out of our safe boundaries and interact with others. Old friends might be there to offer security and comfort; new friends will be there to offer opportunities.

9. Take Time to Laugh. In grief there is a time when our tears come with less frequency and intensity, and we learn to remember without crying. Laughter, on the other hand, helps us survive, and it helps us reenter life. Laughter defines our movement from helplessness to hopefulness.

10. Take Time to Give. A way to overcome our loneliness and pain is to be concerned about the loneliness and pain of others. Listening to someone, empathizing and sharing over the telephone, providing information or going out to lunch together are ways to give of yourself.

There is a tremendous wisdom that is accumulated in one's encounter with grief, and it needs to be shared. Healing takes place when we turn our pain into a positive experience, and we realize that helping others is the key to helping ourselves. The road to recovery from grief, therefore, is to take time to do things that will enable us to give a renewed meaning to our lives. In grief, no one can take away our pain because no one can take away our love. The call of life is to learn to love again.

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