Becoming a widow is hard no matter what stage of life you’re in, and the first year is brutal no matter what way you slice it. It’s not that the rest of widowhood will be easy (although 13 months in I can’t yet speak from experience), however that first year is a terrifying, numb and confusing blur, and we all need a little guidance as to how to put one foot in front of the other each day. I hope some, or better yet all, of this list of things that have helped me survive so far, will help you too.
1. Lean on those who love you – Especially in the beginning. Let them bring you food, or give you financial support, or run errands for you, or watch your kids for you. Let them take care of you, even if you’re fiercely independent. If you can surrender your pride just a little bit and allow yourself and your needs to be cradled by the love of your closest people, I promise you it will help ease the tension of the day to day and allow you to make space for grieving deeply in a time where that’s all you can manage.
2. People say insensitive things when they don’t understand, ignore them – They don’t mean it. And worse even, they think they’re helping, but really they’re uncomfortable and want to fix the unfixable. You will learn the difference, in the way people speak to you, if they have ever suffered a loss so great it took their breath away. Those that haven’t will say things that either aren’t helpful or are even downright insensitive. You will save yourself a world of frustration if you let their insensitive comments roll past like they never existed. However if they are rude, or cross a line, don’t hesitate to firmly educate them on how to be more sensitive and appropriate during this time.
3. See a therapist – Just do it. Having a professional, neutral and unbiased resource who can help you comprehend and sift through the confusing and complicated feelings that grief brings in is endlessly helpful. Some days you may spend the entire session crying, some days ranting, and some days you may peacefully reminisce about all of the wonderful ways in which your husband transformed your life. All of it is necessary, and more importantly all of it is okay.
4. Hydrate and nourish yourself – I know you may not feel hungry or thirsty, but our bodies need fuel to function optimally. This is especially true in the face of lifes most difficult challenges. Take it slow and steady if you have to. A snack here, a cup of tea there, and just keep going. You don’t need to be hangry on top of everything else you’re going through. Allow your body to be nourished and fueled and you will have more space for the ocean of emotions you’re navigating.
5. Get in the sunshine, the water, the earth – Mother Earth is so healing. Take 5 minutes to close your eyes and really feel the sun on your skin, or the earth under your bare feet, or a river stream around your body. Take your pain and your sorrow and give it to the earth to be transmuted and rebirthed into the atmosphere. I promise her magic will help you feel cleansed and refreshed.
6. Be okay with feeling like a mess – There are plenty of times in life when you will have it together, but the early stages of widowhood is not one of them, and that is perfectly okay. Ever hear the new catchphrase ‘its okay to not be okay?’ Well it’s catchy for a reason. Its okay to be a mess and it can even be very healing to surrender, lean in to it and let yourself be a mess.
7. Take pictures with him, especially if you have kids – I almost immediately printed out several photos – some I framed, some I laminated individually and one is in a word board for holidays and special occasions. My husband is in the living room, the bedroom, the kids rooms, my purse, my truck, and everywhere in between. We take pictures with him on vacation, for birthdays, for the holidays, when we visit his favourite places, and any other time we want. Its important to include your spouse in continued memories. For me I especially want to make sure our children grow up with photos and memories of daddy in their life as much as physically possible.
8. Set boundaries – I know ‘boundaries’ is a buzzword and hot topic these days, but they really are important and have real world applications. If you need time alone, specify it. If you feel you can’t attend a function, say it. If you don’t make the room for you to navigate life and grief on your terms, you’ll likely take these devastatingly complex emotions and ignore them for the better of other people when what you need to do is honour them and process them for the better of yourself.
9. Continue your holiday traditions – Its true, the holidays will never be the same. But they can be a little bit the same if you continue with your traditions, even if it feels painful at first. Put his favorite ornaments on the Christmas tree, visit his favourite spot for his birthday, go trick or treating with the kids, make his favourite dish at Thanksgiving, go to ‘your spot’ for your anniversary dinner, toast with his favorite drink for the New Year. All of them. Incorporating those special and personal traditions into the holidays will help it feel as though he’s still physically present for them.
10. Have a special memory piece made – I did two things. I got a tattoo of a beautiful and meaningful mountain view on my arm. The artist was able to beautifully replicate a special view I gave him and now every time I look at my arm I’m transported to that place with my husband. I also had a beautiful, high quality custom ring designed and made by hand by an exceptionally talented local artist. She was able to thematically incorporate several elements of our relationship inside of a cohesive design that also included his engraved name and ashes inside. I still wear my wedding rings, as well as his (and likely always will), on my ring finger, but now on my other hand I also have a beautiful piece that represents our story and a literal piece of him holding my hand.
11. Write to him – I started this day one. I write in a journal to my husband almost daily. Sometimes I’m crying to him about how much it hurts and how much I miss him, sometimes I’m telling him about my day or something funny the kids did, and sometimes I’m telling him about the signs I received from him or the dreams I have of him. Keeping an ongoing conversation running with him has been so helpful, and something I’ll be able to continue doing and also reflect on for the rest of my life.
12. Sleep, you just might dream – On that note, make sure to sleep, because he just might visit you in your dreams. Dream visitations from our departed loved ones are very real. Spirit is able to get through to us in our dreams because our human ego is out of the way and we are more open to the unusual things our waking self may label illogical. I highly suggest writing down your dreams in as much detail as possible the moment you wake up, before they fade away. This way when you’re having a particularly low day, you can reflect on these dreams and remember that he is right there with you, visiting you at every opportunity he can.
13. Cook his favourite meals – For us, food was a huge part of our relationship. Food is one of my (and one of our) love languages as I like to say. I regularly cook meals that my husband loved. I love teaching our kids about his favourite foods, and when we eat them it’s another little piece of him (along with his photo) at our dinner table.
14. See a medium (but not too early) – Having the opportunity to speak with your husband on the other side is possibly one of the most helpful things you can do. The ability to hear memories and messages from him helps you to know just how close he really is. If death is just another room, well a medium has a key to the door. I know it may be tempting to go as soon as possible, but as a medium I do need to let you know that if you go too early it can be harder for you and occasionally harder for the medium to establish that three way connection effectively. Its not a requirement, but I recommend waiting at least 3 months, but preferably 6+ months if you can. It’ll be worth the wait.
15. Find a hobby – Something to keep you occupied here and there. I’m not saying to distract yourself day and night, as that’s not healthy, but something to keep your hands or mind busy when you need a break is helpful. Gardening, reading, martial arts, knitting, cooking, hiking, swimming, yoga, anything that you want to do or try. It gives our mind and heart a much needed break to do some of the subconscious and hidden processing you don’t know needs to happen.
16. Talk to him (he hears you, and if you listen you’ll hear him) – Remember earlier when I said death is just another room? Well the door is paper thin, and you can learn to communicate through it, you just have to learn your husbands new language. There are loads of resources out there to learn how to do this on your own, but I highly recommend the book Signs by psychic medium Laura Lynne Jackson. It’s an enjoyable read and gives you extraordinary true stories and completely managebale ways in which you can learn to hear from your loved ones who have crossed over. The sheer joyousness that comes from a simple sign can turn your whole day for the better.
17. The only way to heal is to feel – It may be easier to stuff your emotions or gloss them over with a glass of wine, or an extra serving of food, or another episode of your favourite show, but the only way to work through your emotions is to feel them. Turn off the distractions (we are all guilty of this, myself included), and sit with your emotions. Journal them out, talk to a friend, see a therapist, however you need to do it, but feel them. When we face the hard things (yes even at a slow pace) within us, they lose some of their power and suddenly they don’t subconsciously run your life.
18. Learn to create emotional intimacy with yourself – Speaking of journaling, its an excellent tool to create emotional intimacy with yourself. One of the biggest secondary losses I noticed was how heard and understood my husband made me feel, and without him here physically I began to feel misunderstood and invalidated. When I began to feel unheard and invalidated, I started questioning my sanity. Learning to hear yourself and listen to your inner voice allows you to work through those day to day questions of worth, and choice, and direction, without looking for external validation that may not always be in your best interest.
19. Tell stories about him regularly – Don’t be shy to say his name and tell stories about him as though hes still here. Keep him alive with your words, say his name and share your memories. I bet you others will be encouraged by it and will join in. You may just learn some interesting or funny things that you never knew, and that will help keep him alive in an even more dimensional manner.
20. Take all the time you need – Last, but certainly not least, take all the time you need. Really. All. The. Time. You. Need. This is not a race, and you don’t need to validate or justify your process to any single person. No one can tell you how to grieve, that’s all on you. If you need alone time, that’s okay. If you need to be surrounded by community, that’s okay. If you need to submerge yourself in projects from time to time, that’s okay. If you want to sell everything you own and travel in a camper van, that’s okay. If you don’t ever want to repartner, that’s okay. If you remarry right away, that’s okay. It’s all okay. Really. There is no wrong way of doing life, let alone a wrong way to grieve, and you get to choose how you walk on this journey. Choose you, and be okay with your path no matter what others opinions may be. Be present in the journey, because in the face of remarkable pain, is also a story of extraordinary transformation unfolding before your very eyes.
As a fellow widow and hope sister, I know how devastatingly difficult this is. There are days that you won’t want to get out of bed and there are days that you remember what laughter feels like. I know right now the idea of it getting easier seems impossible, and in so many ways it is, but it does get ‘easier.’ For me that sliver of ease has come from first and foremost establishing a regular conversation with my husband in spirit, and secondly from finding as many ways as possible to incorporate him into our day to day earthly lives. Its not easy, and it never will be, but what it can be is manageable and even a different version of happy. You’re more resilient and capable than you think you are and you can do this, I promise you.
Have you heard about Hope for Widows Foundation’s annual virtual Widows of Hope 5K on May 15 and 16? Registration is now open! For details, FAQ’s and to register/support go to: https://racewire.com/register.php?id=12122 Anyone can join! Whether you are a widow, widower, or a friend/family member showing support, or walking in the loss of another family member, everyone is welcomed to participate. The deadline to register is May 15, 2021. The proceeds will directly support widows directly through their annual financial Restoring Hope and Peace Grants, Sunshine Boxes program, and our Bring Hope Holiday Assistance Program