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Mary came to CancerCare after losing Frank, her husband of 35 years, to cancer. She found support through individual counseling and a bereavement support group. “Joining the group was beneficial because you do feel very much alone in your journey,” Mary said.

Losing a spouse can bring unique challenges, including the loss of identity. “This is the person who has been with you through good times and bad, so it’s the most difficult thing to have that person no longer by your side because now you’re on your own.”

Another unique challenge of losing a spouse is taking on new responsibilities that their spouse previously handled. Her husband took care of the physical labor and cooking in the household, so Mary had to adjust to taking on these responsibilities while coping with her grief. “We don’t really have a choice,” she said. “We have to embrace it because there’s no one there by our side to handle those affairs anymore.”

Mary experienced changes in her daily routines during her bereavement experience. She was an avid reader before she lost Frank, but she has only read books on grief after her loss. “I haven’t picked up a book since Frank has passed, although I’ve got quite a stack of them ready to be read so I’m hoping to get back to my love of reading.”

The emotional effects of grief came up for Mary at unexpected times. “I had to go to the ER one time after Frank passed and they asked me for my emergency contact,” she said. “I’m sitting there sobbing. I don’t know who my emergency contact is.”

Both unhelpful and helpful interactions with others happened while Mary was coping with the loss of her husband. Some people felt sorry for her or tried to show her the “positive” sides of grief when there were none. One person asked her when she planned to start dating again even though Mary didn’t know when or if she would pursue that.

Mary feels better when people simply speak with her about Frank and share memories. “It actually pleases me to hear people talk about my husband because then I know his legacy lives on. Share your memories. I’m not going to be sad. I’m going to smile.”

Holidays and personal milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries were also difficult, but Mary found comfort in her support network. “The anxiety that leads up to the holidays is actually worse than the holidays because you’re surrounded by loved ones, family and friends. They’re the ones who get you through it.” She also acknowledges personal milestones by visiting places that were important to Frank.

Thinking of memories from different phases of their life together helps Mary feel connected to her husband. “What I’m trying to spend my time concentrating on are the memories because it spans so many different facets of our life from when we were in our twenties.”

Learning from her experience with grief, Mary says that she would have sought counseling earlier since she was coping with Frank’s cancer and the pandemic. She also wants to pass on her knowledge to other people who have lost a spouse. She especially wants to help them with the practical facets of bereavement such as learning how to take care of finances when the spouse previously handled them.

Mary also emphasizes the importance of emotional support during bereavement and wants to help others who have lost their spouse. “Help them in their grief, help them open up and talk about it because this was so important to me through grief counseling,” she said. “My heart is full and I want to be able to extend that to people who are going down this path.”

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