Remembering the first year after Todd died revives all of its raw, nearly physical pain. That year was a waking nightmare. Sometimes, another widow’s post or comment reminds me of the early weeks and months, and I hurt for her as well. I want to tell her, “You’re going to be okay–give yourself time.” But, I know no widow wants to hear that sort of thing because what we need is for our stories and voices to be heard.
After 3 years and 4 months, I’m grateful that Hope For Widows allows me to have a voice here. I always write in hope that someone would benefit from my posts. So, what follows is not advice; I’m not a grief counselor or a therapist, and offering advice would be unethical. Consider what follows as affirmation or commiseration and maybe hope. (I’ll keep them short; I remember that I couldn’t read for months after my husband died.)
1. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what you need and if people’s words hurt. You can’t be expected to know your practical needs when your life has been turned upside down. People who ask “what can I do?” mean well, and later, you’ll be able to see more clearly the love they weren’t able to express.
Likewise, ignore people who say things like: at least he didn’t suffer/is in a better place; look for the silver lining/rainbow; his death is all part of a greater plan for your life. You don’t have to turn a devastating event into something positive.
And, if you feel like saying as much, say it. The world needs to know that empathy is more than a cliche; no one should slap a verbal rainbow-stamped bandaid on anyone’s grief and walk away like a mental healthcare hero. Silence allows that cycle to continue. I have been angry enough twice to contradict people who were feeding me that garbage, and once I simply walked away from someone without a word because I was too angry to say anything except curse words.
2. Be gentle with yourself, even beyond the first few months. The first year, anniversary celebrations on FaceBook and jewelry commercials on TV reminded me of everything I’d lost. They simultaneously made me mad and sob. I learned to scroll past them without comment or quickly change the channel, and much later, I was able to acknowledge that that wasn’t their intention.
I couldn’t handle crowds (pre-Covid19)–even church functions, so I’d leave if I became anxious. My truck, the restroom, and my desk became my refuges to cry and breathe until I was calm enough to drive or interact with people again.
I resented the routine “Good morning. How are you?” inquiries at work and hated lying, so I learned to be cordial but honest: “Morning. I’m hanging in there.” Or, I ignored the question entirely and instead replied, “Morning. How are you?”
3. Give yourself permission and time to do what you feel like you need to do.
- Wear your ring and/or his ring as long as you want to. (I still wear mine.)
- You don’t have to “move on” or “get over it.” There is no timeline for your feelings.
- Visit his grave as often as you want. Or don’t. It’s up to you and only you.
- Move or don’t move. Do what’s best for you when it’s best for you.
Picking out a headstone for Todd took me 2 1/2 years. But, I bought a house 6 months after Todd died even though there’s an unwritten rule that widows shouldn’t make any important decisions for at least a year after losing a spouse. I moved because it was what I needed to do.
4. Talk to yourself like you would a best friend. A wise person once told me, “We don’t talk to our best friends the way we talk to ourselves, but we should.” If you got out of bed today, put on clothes, and remembered to eat, that’s wonderful. If you only got out of bed for a few hours, that’s an accomplishment, too.
5. But, really, showering and putting on clean clothes did work wonders for my spirits. So did inventing a few tasks to do every day: a load of laundry, vacuuming, cooking something. Going to any store was overwhelming for me for months, but once I was able to go in for an item or two, that trip became an accomplishment. Actually, it still is.
6. Let your brain rest. It’s dealing with trauma. Watch bad TV, read easy books, scroll TikToks.
I couldn’t read for months, and I couldn’t bring myself to watch anything Todd and I used to watch together, so I watched lots of new-to-me shows and movies. It felt indulgent because most of them I knew Todd would never have agreed to watch. Who cares? It helped pass the time, especially in winter when I was cooped up inside. Once I was able to read, I found an easy-to-read detective series–no love stories or literature, just one detective book after another. I spent hours reading to get through empty afternoons.
I also spent quite a few empty evenings drinking wine, believing it helped me sleep and could make the nights go by faster. Eventually though, I realized that was not healthy behavior, so I stopped. Drinking does not help.
7. If and when you can read anything longer than a blog or a FaceBook post, read books on grief. They are affirming and helpful. Try It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I devoured Didion’s book in one afternoon. I still dip into Devine’s book when I need affirmation, and I follow her on Instagram. Both widows, Devine and Didion taught me I wasn’t crazy at a time when I knew I wasn’t thinking normally.
For instance: I knew he wasn’t coming home, but I wouldn’t throw out his old slippers because he’d need them when he came home. Didion taught me my behavior was normal! (His slippers are still in my closet, only now I can accept he won’t need them–they just make me happy there.)
8. Spend some time outside. Fresh air and getting out of the house always made me feel physically better even when my mood was dark. I liked to sit on the porch. And, I walked everywhere: to Todd’s grave, in the park, with my dogs. I still do, and I talk to Todd out loud as I walk, too, because why not? There’s something about the repetitive nature of walking that’s meditative and that allows me to sort out my feelings.
One thing for me that hasn’t changed beyond the first year is that I still struggle to listen to music. It’s too loaded with memories. So, I don’t wear earbuds when I walk. I prefer the quiet. But, that’s me–I know other widows who need their music.
9. Care for something. Self-care seems impossible when you don’t even want to wake up in the morning, but nurturing another living thing hits differently. My dogs and cat have been unconditionally loving and nonjudgmental companions and great listeners. Planting a few vegetables and flowers in the spring got me outside and looking forward to enjoying fresh tomatoes and marigold blooms.
10. Ignore 1-9. Hold on to the love you shared. He loved you. You! Carry that love inside you, and do what’s best for you.
I never want to forget the first year after Todd died, as painful as it is to recall, because the depth of my grief reminds me how very much I loved him when he was here and how much he loved me. I hold onto that love every single day.