Grieving in our time has gotten so complicated, in my opinion. As widows we’ve come to rely on grief experts, along with scholarly journals and a wealth of information to help us navigate these uncharted waters. Most of us are first timers- it’s our first experience with spousal grief, so there’s no inner reference bank to assist us to remember what to do. So we rely on doctors, therapists, mental health professionals, and the ever-growing library of books, self-help manuals, podcasts, social media groups and well-meaning friends that willingly share grief support techniques.
Of course, we don’t always take the advice offered either. If you’re like me, when my husband first died, I turned to the experts. Published authors that shared their collective experiences about coping techniques when losing a husband. I’ll admit, I was shocked to discover the wealth of resources available to me. If I only made the time to read. But early on in my grief, reading was a burdensome chore, best left at bedtime after a days work of crying, to rock me to sleep. By the end of the first year, I found I needed to read other’s journeys, to read the similarities of the grief roads traveled or to explore the differences.
While I didn’t take all the advice of professionals, like- “just rest and think good thoughts”; or “keep yourself busy- volunteering at an animal shelter, because dogs will make you feel better”- all the words I read, or phone conversations I had, or podcasts I watched made for a lot of “grief clutter” in my head.
Even now, every time I experience a haunting grief moment, I quickly subconsciously wonder to myself- “Am I doing this right”? From all the reputable opinions, of brilliant scholarly authors of best-selling books on grief, most widows still don’t know if their grief journey is “correct.” Should we cry when we think of our dear husbands, or is that not appropriate after 2 years? When is the appropriate time to go through the closets and remove his clothing articles? Do I donate them to charity (would he like this act of generosity?). Or how long should I wear my beloved wedding ring? If I remove it after year 2, will people think I’ve moved on, or don’t feel married anymore? Questions. Lots of questions.
As you can see by now, grief work can be confusing, tiresome and downright unpleasant. After traveling in this ocean of grief over the past 6 years, I have learned a few things. While the study of grief and loss goes back decades, scientists and therapists still cannot provide answers to each person’s individual grief experience. They can only provide examples of the effects of grief on our emotions, bodies and even spiritual walks. There are few definitive answers to the grief questions that may concern us. So I stopped looking for answers and settled in to best understand my personal grief triggers, which are many. Certain music, movies, television shows, novels or even conversations don’t help me but instead bring me to my knees in painful tears of sorrow. So I avoid them. At least right now. Maybe years from now I can handle them, but currently my capacity is limited.
The other thing I’ve learned is that while we, as widows have an unspoken bond, I can’t expect every widow to understand MY journey. It’s still very personal and very private. Only I can fully appreciate my marriage memories with all its flaws and highlights. My remaining journey of life is tempered and seasoned with those memories. Some good, some not so good. What I have remaining is time to learn to incorporate those experiences into a life moving forward, without my husband John. While it can be a lonely journey, I am grateful for the sisters traveling similar roads with me, knowing we’re all trying to figure it out as we go along. We become our own experts at our own grief, and it somehow lightens the weight of responsibilities, which we all need. However and wherever your grief journey takes you- it’s ok. No shame, no comparisons, just do you.