Widow and Widower dating - how long to wait before you resume? Overcoming possible guilt.

Losing a spouse must surely be one of the toughest things to cope with. Your marriage may not have been perfect, and like all relationships, had its fair share of ups and downs. But unlike those heading for the divorce courts, you were reasonably happy together. You may have been married a few years, or been together for twenty, with kids and maybe even retired. Or making plans for your life now that the kids have theirs and you can get on with yours.

And suddenly, when you least expect it, your spouse passes away. It may happen unexpectedly or after a prolonged illness. But in most cases, especially the former, it leaves you shell-shocked. And wondering how to find the strength to carry on.

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The initial details of how you went through the motions of accepting condolences, organizing funeral arrangements etc. may pass in a blur. Only when your life assumes its routine once again, may the grief really hit you. And little things trigger it off. An outfit that still carries her favorite perfume; the strain of a song that you enjoyed dancing to together. And once the memories come back to haunt you, there seems no escaping from it. And people commiserating and offering their seemingly meaningless "You'll get over it" or "The grief will pass" comments don't seem to understand the immense sense of loss, or so the bereaved feel.

For many, the death of a spouse leaves one confused about the present and apprehensive about the future. It seems to disrupt so many plans, hopes and dreams the couple had made together. In some cases, where the man dies, and especially if he was the breadwinner and decision maker, his widow often feels shattered by the overwhelming responsibilities that she will have to assume.

But eventually, each one can find a way out of his/her grief and resume a life of normalcy again. But the motivation to get better has to come from you. You have to pull yourself together and resolve that you will get better.

There are many avenues for help that may aid the healing process.

1. Family and friends

Family and friends are often wonderful support systems and can soothe the bereaved just by virtue of their presence. By just providing a listening ear, they may be able to help the widow to cope with her grief. They can also be catalysts in triggering changes, by urging the grief-stricken to get out more and not mope around the house.

2. Self-help books

There are many powerful books written on the subject of coping with the death of a spouse that have drawn rave reviews and have actually spoken to widows and widowers straight from the heart. They are based on personal experiences of people who have actually 'been there and done that' and would like to help others, faced with similar situations, to cope.

3. Therapy

There may be those who were so happy in their marriage that they cannot envisage a life without their spouse and get depressed and even suicidal. In such cases, therapy might be a good option. Counseling, combined with medication, will help in alleviating symptoms and help the healing process.

4. Support groups

This is a wonderful way to come to terms with the loss of a loved one. It makes you feel you're not alone and reveals coping mechanisms you might not have figured out on your own. You might even form friendships and develop a perspective that will give you a new lease on life.

Don't try to hasten the healing process, remember it will take time. You cannot expect to get over the death of a beloved in a flash, unless he was giving you a really hard time and your relationship had died long before he had. So give yourself time to grieve and then work out constructive steps to recovery.

Give thought to the fact that you might have always been consumed with your husband's needs or children's welfare. Make time for yourself, something you may never have had the chance to do before. Don't make assumptions about what you used to like (they may have been your spouse's tastes that you converted into your own). Rediscover yourself. Take up a new hobby or go on a holiday. Do volunteer work or even get a job, if you always wanted to pursue a career, but couldn't before. Use this opportunity to focus on yourself and what you would like to shape your new life into.

And then there are those like Stacey, 45, a devoted mother of two, whose husband Joe died in a truck accident. She felt she would never date or marry again. "Joe was the man for me, a loving husband and wonderful father. I don't think I can ever find anyone to match up to the high standards he set, or love anybody like I loved him," says Stacey.

But that's precisely it. You don't have to replace your loved one, you have to just open up yourself to the possibility of loving and being loved again. You will probably never find someone with the same qualities or love somebody with the same intensity. For how can you expect to instantly connect with somebody, or compare the depth of feelings you had, with someone you had built a lifetime with?

But it will come gradually. Don't push it or get pushed into it by well-meaning friends and family. Just get out there and feel whole again. You cannot put a time frame of a few months, or even a year(s) on the recovery process. You will know when you're ready to go out and risk your heart again. And when you spontaneously feel an interest in that lovely receptionist or cute widower, you will know that you are ready to date again.

Jenny, recently widowed and in her late forties, found herself shattered when her husband Lou died from cancer. She'd dedicated herself to being a homemaker and after the kids had left home and Lou was ailing, she'd built her life around taking care of him. Now that he was gone, she didn't know what to do with herself. After several counseling sessions, she got a grip on herself and decided she had to let herself go.

She joined a fitness center and found she received a boost to her self-image when she lost 15 pounds and started looking younger. She had been a history major and decided to train as a tour guide. Today, not only is she a popular and sought-after tourist guide in the bureau where she works, but has also found love again. "Looking back, if anyone had told me how my life would take a turnafter Lou died, I would have told them they were crazy. But it seems like there is life post-death after all - I rediscovered mine!"