Steve Nolan reflects on bereavement and self-esteem

Feeling appreciated

We lose so many things when a partner dies. Some things are obvious. We lose companionship and intimacy. We lose the one who helped us make decisions and we lose the person with whom we could simply sit and do nothing. Less obviously, and unexpectedly, we often lose the sense that we are appreciated. We do not often consider the impact of bereavement and self-esteem.

When we’re in a relationship, whether that’s with a friend, a parent, a child or a life partner, we get to know them well. We find out the little things they like and that brought them pleasure. And, because we care for them and want the best for them, we look for opportunities to please them.

Maybe we make their favourite snack, or remember a significant date, or show up for an important event. Whatever it is, seeing the happiness in their eyes makes us feel good about ourselves. But more than that, they let us know that they appreciate what we did for them, and makes us feel good about ourselves; it boosts our self-esteem.

It’s a virtuous loop of giving and receiving appreciation.

Bereavement and self-esteem

I hadn’t thought about this until recently, at one of our groups, a man said to me:

‘When my wife was alive, I used to do things for her, little things because I loved her and I liked doing them. The pleasure she took from the things that I did for her made me feel appreciated. This helped my self-esteem. Now she is not around, I noticed that my self-esteem is not the same.’

He had noticed that he was feeling the absence of that simple gift of appreciation, and with it the feeling of self-worth and self-esteem.

A woman in the group echoed his feelings and expressed her sadness:

‘My husband loved mangos. When they were in season, he would buy boxes of them, cut them up and eat them. I noticed one day that he always give me the best bits. I miss that now and I know there is no one who will do that for me again.’

Remembering that we mattered to them

What she said was very poignant. But the things that we lose face us with a choice. We can think about the lack, what it is we no longer have, or we can remember what we were given and celebrate the gift.

Although the woman was deeply saddened that no one would do for her what her husband had done, she smiled at the memory of what it was that he had done. The memory of his love returned a smile to her face.

In bereavement, it can be all too easy to dwell on what has gone. That’s understandable. But remembering that we mattered to them, that we made a difference to their life, can be a thought that nourishes – even if only a little bit – our self-esteem.

If you would like support with bereavement and self-esteem you can visit our page on bereavement services.