How unexpected death of a loved one affects the remaining spouse
Losing a loved one is arguably one of the most detrimental events that can happen in a person’s life, this death can have a variety of psychological effects that can affect the loved one; following the death of a loved one support is essential for grieving the loss in a controlled manner. In 2004, Balasamy, Richardson, Price performed a study to determine the patterns of social support that a spouse or loved one seeks after the death of someone close to them (p. 1) The study observed 200 widowers, consisting of 83% Caucasian and 17% African-American older men (Balasamy et al., 2004, p. 4); the study was conducted through social integration to observe the social support, social contacts, social participation and social ties for the grieving widower (p. 1). The second study was conducted by Keyes, Pratt, Galea, McLaughlin, Koenen, & Shear, (2014) to study how an unexpected death of a loved one creates psychiatric disorders. The study examined 27,534 loved ones who were grieving a recent loss (p. 1) Data was gathered from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions from 2001-2001 and 2004-2005 (Keyes et al., 2015, p. 3). Balasamy et al., (2004) suggested that a high percentage of widowers said they did not have support when depressed (p. 1). These results concur with Keyes et al., (2015) who state that the unexpected death of a loved one can lead to major depressive episodes; therefore it is concluded that consistent social support is crucial for decreasing the risk of developing depressive symptoms and decrease the severity of the symptoms if they are already present (Balasamy et al., 2004, p. 1). During bereavement it is crucial to take care of yourself, as it is very easy to get run down (Azoury, 2016, p.2); it is important to understand that unexpected death can incite many emotions, as the family members did not see it coming and had no time to prepare (Keyes et al., 2004, p. 2). These deaths are often considered the most traumatic and devastating event a spouse has to endure during their life; people who experience the death of a loved one have a higher tendency and risk of developing manic episodes, phobias, alcohol disorders and generalized anxiety disorders (Keyes et al., 2015, p. 1-2). It is important to note that the grieving process may be more challenging for couples that have been married for long periods of time, this is because the couple has learned to depend on one another; when a spouse dies in a long-lasting marriage, the remaining spouse has to learn how to function in a new environment and pick up the tasks that the other spouse may have completed in the past (Balasamy et al., 2004, p1). Azoury (2016) suggests that in incidences where a spouse loses a husband unexpectedly after being married for a number of years, many of the remaining spouses feel like they have lost their best friend, lover, and co-parent; acknowledging that the remaining spouse is likely feeling numb, lost, emotionally drained, abandoned, paralyzed and lonely is crucial (p. 1). Furthermore, it has also been observed that the spouse has experienced feeling frightened and disconnected (Azoury, 2016, p.2). Often in such time periods it is not uncommon for the living spouses to forget to take care of themselves properly, which includes but is not limited to eating and sleeping properly (Rejnö et al., 2013 p20); rest and exercise is vital for the spouse when grieving in order to ensure they stay healthy (Azoury, 2016, p.2).
Secondly, another question that helped researchers better understand the effects of the unexpected death of a loved one on a remaining spouse, is the social support that is required during the grieving process. Keyes et al., (2015) mentions that a lack of social support can lead to depression, as social support plays a major role in mental health (p. 2). Emotional support is arguably the most important and vital support that can be provided to a spouse, as it is important that they talk about the death (Rejnö et al., 2013 p. 23). It has been reported that often the next of kin are the loved ones of the deceased, and are often the ones that had a close connection to the deceased (Rejnö et al., 2013 p. 9); they reported immense feelings of initial shock following the death and feeling very unprepared for the announcement of their loved one’s death (p. 26). A support network is essential to helping get the spouse back on track with their life (Azoury, 2016, p.1); it is critical for the grieving spouse to stay in touch with their family, friends, and consider joining a support group or talking to a counsellor (p. 2). Family members need to be able to express how the death affected them personally, and reflect on their experience in order to move past it (Rejnö et al., 2013 p. 23); many people will seek help on their own following the death of a spouse or close family member, but many will not (p. 5). Majority of grievers will not seek help and will need support from family members, friends and social support workers (Rejnö et al., 2013 p. 5). Azoury (2016) also declares that expanding social circles to people who will know them, and may not know their spouse, or know of their recent death can help with social reintegration (p. 3); this is an important step, as it has been noted that some spouses have developed social phobias from lack of socialization (Keyes et al., 2015, p. 4).