This past week we invited all of our Facebook friends to offer suggestions for upcoming articles and we were immediately asked if we would offer some advice for adjusting to being a widow. My heart goes out to the lady who asked this, as I too have lost people along the way and I know what it is like to lose the anchor in your life. This traumatic experience affects each of us differently and could never be covered in just one article so what follows are merely some opening thoughts on the topic.
I will say upfront that no one can prepare you for this experience – the death of a life partner is a gut wrenching process that forces you to evaluate your entire identity and mode of being when you are least prepared to do so. Even when death is “expected” and you have had time to prepare for it, what you invariably prepare for is the passing of your life partner – not for your own life afterward. Until the very last day, your life is the life you have always known and then you wake up the next morning filled with grief and absolutely everything has changed … except you are too busy crying to realize it at first.
If you are lucky there are relatives and neighbours to hover over you in the beginning, but eventually they leave and then it hits you – you are alone with yourself in an empty house. You vow to keep “the memory of the relationship” alive. You look at photos. You talk to your loved one. You buy stuff to cheer you up and think about what your loved one would say. This can go on for a short while, or a really long time. It all depends on you – you will live in your new pretend world as long as you decide to. Don’t beat yourself up about this; you are doing this to protect yourself until you are ready to deal with the reality of your situation.
But one day you will wake up in a mood to change everything. You may try to be brave and tell yourself it’s just a phase, but everywhere you turn there is someone else’s stuff … and you don’t know how to program the remote, or the toilet is leaking, or you still can’t find the keys to the safety deposit box and invariably you have a meltdown that you don’t tell anyone about.
That is the moment that life begins again. And be ready – there may be anger, lots of it. Don’t dwell on it – use it as fuel. Use it to clean closets, empty basements and shove the furniture around. Use it to get out of the house even if you don’t know where you are going. You need fresh air.
Walk until you are tired and then tomorrow do it again and again, until you get to a place where you are not afraid to sit still – and then sit. And then be ready for it – the grief will rush back in like a tidal wave. That’s ok. Now pick up a pen and write about it. Yes write; pages and pages of bad spelling. Write anything that comes to you – happy memories, sorrow, anger, frustration and fears (especially your fears about your new life).
Then make a plan to do anything – plan a trip, plan an outing, plan the next day. And keep planning very full days until you find a life … or it finds you if you are very lucky.
There is no quick fix for what you have been through … but I can promise you that you will dance again as long as you plan to.