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I went to work immediately following my partner’s suicide. Is that wrong? Add to ...

The question: My husband died by suicide 10 weeks ago. It was a shocking experience. What I need to know is, am I acting in accordance to the situation? I have only taken one day off work and that was for the funeral. I have continued to work. The marriage was very violent and challenging and there had been a restraint order in place.

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The answer: The emotions and coping strategies that come up when we have lost a significant person in our life vary tremendously from person to person. There is no right or wrong way to deal with a death, especially in the early weeks and months. Death – particularly when unexpected or tragic – is the one experience all of us will deal with that is perhaps the most complicated and confusing. There is often no rhyme and reason to the myriad emotions that come up, the quality and intensity of those emotions, and how we cope with them.

Certainly a number of elements play a role – including the way the person died, as well as the history of our relationship. You sadly have two very difficult factors at play – the fact that the death was by suicide, and that your marriage was so volatile.

Although reactions to personal losses are tremendously unique, there are a number of stages that many people will experience. Not everyone experiences all of these, nor do they in this particular order:

  • Denial (“This isn’t happening.”)
  • Anger (“Why did this happen to me?”)
  • Bargaining (“I’ll do anything if I could change what happened.”)
  • Depression (“I feel so sad, I miss him.”)
  • Acceptance (“Things will be okay, I can deal with this.”)

It sounds like you are, understandably, in the early stages of denial. This is an adaptive coping response, particularly within the first few weeks and months of a loss. When we feel shocked by something, as you describe, our brain and body often goes into a freeze mode. This is a result of us struggling to make sense of the nonsensical. We benefit from giving our brain a time-out to be able to integrate traumatic or complicated experiences.

Maintaining a routine is one way of keeping us grounded during difficult times – so for you, the routine of continuing to work is probably keeping you distracted and providing you with activity and structure. This is likely a good thing.

However, I would encourage you to speak to people you love and trust about how you are doing, as sometimes people can get stuck in a state of denial for an extended period of time and then difficult emotions can rear their head later.

You may go some time feeling nothing, or even be relieved given how abusive the relationship was. Realize that these are normal responses in your circumstance. It may also be appropriate for you at some point to have to go through the process of grieving the loss of someone who was in your life, in spite of the difficult relationship.

Keep an eye on how you are doing when it comes to sleep, appetite, mood and usual social activities – if any of these start to suffer for an extended period of time, it’s a good sign that you may need to work through and process your grief with the help of a loved one or a trained professional.

Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network’s Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV’s The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra

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