I am certainly not an expert on grief, but after losing my own husband ten years ago and observing the actions of other widows and widowers, I have noticed some similarities. Many of us desperately try to replace our grief with someone or something else.
I guess we feel that if we can fill that void, the loss of our spouse won’t be so painful. I remember how I tried to stay busy every single minute thinking that would erase my pain. Of course it didn’t really work. Busy or not–I was sad and depressed for a long time after my husband died.
A friend of mine told me that she tried to fill the emptiness with her quilting hobby. She said she was consumed with quilting for several years after her husband passed away. She made the comment that looking back, she felt she wasted too much time being totally immersed in her pastime.
I know several widows who tried to immediately fill that emptiness by finding another person to spend time with. In one case, a widow I know became completely obsessed with her granddaughter. All the love and affection she had shared with her husband she tried to replace through her relationship with her granddaughter. This obsession was so overwhelming that it negatively affected her relationship with the child and her parents.
Another woman I became acquainted with began looking for another man within weeks after losing her husband of almost forty years. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be in another loving relationship. But first we need to work through our grief rather than trying to fill the emptiness with a substitute. No one can replace the person we lost so trying to do that–whether intentionally or not–usually turns out to be a very disappointing and hurtful experience.
The reaction of trying to fill the emptiness after losing a spouse is pretty normal from what I understand. My grief counselor gave me good advice: Be aware of this tendency and approach it with moderation.
Most of us need something more to do after the loss of a spouse. There is nothing wrong with that. Or–maybe some of us need other people to spend more time with. The danger is to not overdo it.
The end result is that a need to fill the emptiness won’t go away with substitutes. Working through our grief in time is the best way to find a new life. The emptiness will always be there, although it does lessen with time.
Perhaps the answer is to understand that life will be different after the loss of a spouse. We can’t replicate what we had before. We can find other ways to spend our time and other people to spend time with. And that’s okay as long as we understand they will be new experiences and relationships but not substitutes.
Updated: October 13, 2015