Imagine a single event that will dramatically change your calendar, your checkbook, your friendship network, the contents of your refrigerator, the temperature you set your thermostat, your outlook on your future and connection with your children. And that’s not all. Your appearance may change, your emotions, your sleep patterns, your theology, your social status and possibly your address. I experienced these changes and more…the day I became a widow.
That powerful insight into widowhood is penned by Miriam Neff, author From One Widow to Another. It is true that the death of a partner changes a woman’s life in ways small and large. Here are tips for new widows trying to navigate life while grieving.
#1) Find and talk with other people like you. The best individuals to support and guide are those who have been there—other widows. And, the sisterhood of widows is a vast community. They’re in your church, your neighborhood, your fitness center and more. Find a few and spend time with them. Ask about their loss, their journey, what helped them, what didn’t.
#2) Let go of your past slowly. The life you’ve had is over so begin to let it go… slowly. Don’t rush the grief process. Avoid any unrealistic timetables for grief recovery. It’s going to take many months, sometimes up to two years before you’re feeling like yourself. Discount those who suggest, in any way, that your “should be over this by now!” In fact, you will get “over this” but it’s just going to take longer than you and others think.
#3) Get information online. You may not have the energy to visit a library or take in a bereavement workshop but the good news is that you can find ample, solid information about the grief journey online. Do a web search via terms such as grief, bereavement, grief recovery, widows, widowers, etc., and you will find many pages of information, all of which will help you understand yourself and your unique situation better. Armed with information, you can better manage a time of bereavement.
#4) Take steps to build a new you. Some women seek out a job after a long interval being a home maker while others return to school. One woman adopted a cat explaining, “Adopting a cat was something I had wanted to do for years, but something my husband, Harry, didn’t want me to do when we were together. Yet when his end was near, Harry said I should get a cat when he was gone because he wanted me to be happy in spite of him not being there with me.”
#5) Expect some relation-shifts. Some people are frightened by grievers and may tend to fade away. While disappointing, it is understandable and forgivable. While others disappear, new people appear and will offer support. Here’s one widow’s experience with relation-shifts: “I was surprised how many people I thought would be there for me and my kids who weren’t. Try not to be offended—they may show up when they can better handle the situation. All of us are only given so much emotional energy. An overwhelming amount of ‘in-laws’ step away. I was also shocked how many people helped me who I didn’t know very well and we became close friends. Maybe this is because they didn’t have the devastating feelings of loss and had more to give.”
#6) Accept financial responsibility. Like it or not, you are not responsible financially for yourself and your children. Make a commitment to understand your financial situation, especially if your husband was the primary wage earner and bill-payer. Know what your bills are, when they are due, and what you can or cannot afford. If you have a friend with financial or banking expertise, consult with that person in order to best stabilize yourself financially.
#7) Welcome assistance when you need it. Don’t be afraid to accept help when necessary. This does not mean you are weak or incapable. It shows that you’re a realist. There are times when we all need a little help from a friend. Something as simple as free babysitting while you go for a job interview can make a big difference in the success of your transition.
Victor M. Parachin, M. Div., is a bereavement educator and grief counselor.
He is the author of numerous books about grief, including
The Lord Is My Shepherd:
A Psalm For The Grieving and Healing Grief.