Facing Life as a Young Widow

Compiled By: Staff writer

Losing a partner is one of the most painful things a person can ever experience, especially at an early age. It’s like life is closing the book on your fairy tale while you’re still marvelling at the fireworks. Not only do you have to grieve and find the strength to rewrite the book but you have to face the sorry looks from people who can only imagine what you are feeling.

Simphiwe Ngema found herself being this person when her husband of two months, Dumi Masilela (29) was killed last month, during an attempted hijacking in Thembisa.

There is no correct or incorrect way to grieve.  This is a subjective process which is different for everyone.

The 27 year-old distraught widow had everyone  in tears when she braved it all and paid tribute to her husband at the funeral, decked out in white.

“I know it is not a norm for a wife to stand up and speak at her husband’s funeral, but hey guess what, neither is losing your husband two months after your marriage,” she said. 

According to clinical psychologist, Clementine Dlamini, “There is no correct or incorrect way to grieve.  This is a subjective process which is different for everyone.  

“What is important after having gone through a mourning process is for the individual to get back to work (If they have a job), resume old roles, acquire new roles – if necessary, re-experience pleasure and seek companionship.”

Dlamini unpacks the process of grieving for Blacklight.

The stages of grief

The first stage one goes through is Denial. This stage often helps us to survive the loss.  During this time the world becomes overwhelming and the person is in a state of shock. Denial is necessary as it allows you to take in only what you can handle at that time.  

The next stage is Anger. The person may be angry at friends, doctors, family, themselves or the loved one who died. It is important to understand that underneath that anger is pain, pain which comes from feeling deserted or abandoned.  

The next stage is Bargaining. During this time one starts to wish that this is all a bad dream. They become preoccupied with “If only…” or “What if…” statements.  They want their loved one to be restored and for life to return to what it was.  

The fourth stage is Depression. Empty feelings come to the fore and the person will experience intense feelings of sadness.  Some people will isolate themselves and withdraw from previously enjoyed activities.  It is important to note that the depression described here is not a sign of mental illness.  It is an appropriate response to a great loss.  

The last stage is Acceptance. This stage involves accepting the reality that your loved one is no longer there. It is common for people to want to maintain life as it was before their loved one died. However during acceptance people start to realise that the past cannot remain intact, it has been changed forever and they need to adjust. During this time people learn to re-organise roles, re-assign them to others or take them on themselves.  

It is important to understand that we do not enter and leave these stages in a linear fashion.

Physical symptoms
Physical symptoms will present differently in different people. Some of these include; weakness, fatigue, throat tightness, insomnia, poor appetite and abdominal emptiness.

Negative emotions
Negative emotions that family and friends will find difficult to understand may include anger, frustration and guilt. Anger is a normal emotional reaction to loss even though our society struggles to deal with it. More often than not, people do feel a sense of guilt after losing a loved one especially if they feel there was something they could have done to prevent the loss.

Support system
In the initial stages it is important to just be there for the mourning person.  Sometimes it is difficult to find words of comfort; in this case your presence is sufficient.  It is advisable to help with practical activities such as cleaning, preparing meals, fetching kids from school etc. so that the person can focus on recovering from this abrupt loss.

It is important to not withdraw from your family and friends. Although it is common for some people to want to be alone during this time, it is not advisable to shut people out. Isolation can prolong one’s grieving process and make it difficult for loved ones to support you.

The lonely hour
The most lasting manifestation of grief, especially after spousal bereavement, is loneliness. It is important to not avoid triggers which serve as constant reminders of your lost partner. These may include photos, personal belongings, their favourite hangout spots or even hearing their name.  Loneliness is often present for years after the death of a spouse. Bereavement does not end over a certain period of time; certain aspects such as loneliness persist indefinitely for many people.

Finding love again
Finding love again is dependent on a successful grieving process which enables the individual to get back into their normal lives and to start initiating relationships with others. The possibility of finding love is there but the individual needs to do considerable work preferably in psychotherapy before they are open to the idea of love again.

Letting go
It is important to acknowledge that you can never replace what has been lost.  Memories of your loved one will still be with you. A part of letting go involves the ability to experience memories of your loved one that are tinged with positive and pleasant reactions.  

As one begins to live again and enjoy life they may feel that they are betraying their loved one, this is expected. It is important to start reaching out to others, forming new meaningful relationships and investing in already existing friendships.  Bittersweet memories of your loved one may last a lifetime. Grief does not fully resolve or permanently disappear; rather it becomes submerged only to re-emerge in response to certain triggers.

Clementine Dlamini is a clinical psychologist based in Pretoria East.  She holds a BSc (Wits) BA Hons (Wits) and MA in Clinical Psychology (University of Pretoria).  Clementine is also a published author and lecturer at University of Pretoria. You can contact her on: clemzadlamini@yahoo.com

To seek professional help contact SADAG (The South African Group and Anxiety) on: 0800 567 567

24hr Helpline: 0800 12 13 14
SMS 31393 (and they will call you back)

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Liziwe
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This is beautiful and pain at the same time.

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