Navigating The W Word ‘Widowhood’ In Grief

As the world debates issues such as elderly care and voluntary assisted dying, there is rarely a discussion about those that are left behind. Whether you are a widow of an illness such as dementia or a widow from spousal loss, the level of grief that you face is unprecedented. When you lose a spouse, you do not just lose a husband or wife. You lose your friend, your financial partner. the person that you come home to at night and talk about your your day to. That person that you laugh, cry and smile with. The one that you cook a meal for and watch television with. You may even lose your soulmate as I did.

Everyone has their opinion on grief and how it should be managed. As a widow, you will have your own thoughts and questions. Ann Brenoff, in an article entitled “Rewriting the Manual on being a widow” on the website #DisruptAging, stated that she faced many comments and accusations from friends and family. She tells how she was forewarned not to try and outrun grief. She stated how she felt pressured to behave a certain way but she chose to buck the trend.

So, what is the trend for a widow? Are you supposed to be laying in bed crying all day not wanting to get up? Or carry a box of tissues with you wherever you go? Can you talk about your partner again?  Are you supposed to keep everything they ever owned or gave you? Should you make decisions about life within those first few months? Here’s the thing – there is no rule book. There are however some tips and tricks that can get you through the first months.

Grief

There is no rule book for grief. There is no time schedule. Peoples expectations versus your feelings are very different. Never let anyone make you feel guilty for that. For those widows that had the time to prepare, grief may be at a different level to someone whose partner went to work that morning and simply never came home. Its okay that it is different.

People will also relay stories about when they lost their parent, brother, sister or dog. That is different again. A paper with possibly the worst title ever “Death,Happiness and the Calculation of Compensatory Damages” put losing a spouse above losing a child in the form of psychological distress. Personally, I considered that to be the other way around but each persons experience is different. Read here more about grief in suicide.

Taking care of yourself

Taking care of your basic needs is the best advice I can give. It is the simple things that can be forgotten in the minefield that you find yourself in. Making sure you eat, drink and get some fresh air. Speaking from experience I can promise you, that even though you may not want to get out of your bed and face anything, it will do you the power of good.

Work

Your financial circumstances may dictate what you do regarding work but if you have the opportunity, take time off. Talk to your superior and explain that you need time. Find out how much time you can have. If you have to go back to work before you are ready, maybe consider scaling back your workload.

Space to grieve.

We live in a culture where some do not like to talk about death and dying. It is imperative that you make time for your grief and work through it. Whether that be, talking to a friend, writing a blog or maybe writing poetry as I did, allow yourself to grieve. To grieve doesn’t mean closing everything off and being sad. Grief can be expressed through a long walk, listening to music or just being alone.

The Firsts

The “first firsts” of everything after your loved one has gone should be grieved but also celebrated. Having just gone through my first Christmas alone and my own first birthday alone, I can say that they were difficult. It is important to remember them and what they meant to you. You may find it beneficial to spend time with other family but equally, time alone may be just what you need too. Again, there is no rule book. It is whats best for you and only you know that.

Making Big Decisions

After a monumental shift in family dynamics and the never ending grief that accompanies it, I have heard it said that no big decisions be made in the first year. Again, I ask you, Who said that?  It is completely up to you if and indeed when you make decisions. To give you an example, my husband passed away five months ago today and I have made the decision to move house. I decided a week ago that my house was holding me back. Its too big and too many ghosts. I am forever waiting for him to walk in the door and call me on the phone. It is time for me to start that new life, my “me” life. Yet I have met others widowed for 5 years or more, that cant even bring theirselves to part with possessions, let alone move. Nothing wrong with either decision.

Sorting through personal effects

This is a personal issue and one that can be decided in a week or five years.  I found that at the end of the first week that my husband died, I needed to move his clothes. I had to be able to walk into the walk in robe without wanting to collapse in a heap surrounded by his outfits. Was I trying to outrun grief? No. I was dealing with my own grief and allowing myself to move forward.

The way I managed was to get all the clothes out and I had three piles. One for me, one for the bin and one for my Dad. He and my husband had swapped clothes over the years as their sizes altered! I now find that when I see my Dad and he is wearing my husbands T-shirt, that it is a comfort. I will confess to three dustbin bags of clothes in the garage that I cannot bring myself to put in the bin yet. The time will come.

Removing a wedding ring

A friend of mine has been widowed seven years and cannot bear to be without her wedding ring. She doesn’t feel married without it. I removed mine at three months. Granted, it was due to arthritic hands and the fact that I didn’t want it cut off. However, I replaced it with a silver hearts entwined ring. For me, I don`t need a ring to remember my husband. I do wear his wedding ring but my memories are not a ring. Memories for me are intertwined with many other things which are not tied up in my ring!.

Reading and researching

In the first few months after my loss, I went ploughing through online book stores looking for self help books and ones written by those in my position. I will highly recommend “Confessions of a Mediocre Widow” by Catherine Tidd. After a mammoth read her book from cover to cover in less than twenty four hours and realised that I was okay. Everything I was feeling was normal. Everything I had said was normal. Sitting alone and bawling my eyes out was normal. Clearing my husbands clothes out after a week was normal. It was as if she had written about me. I found this helped massively.

Friendships and Support

If I can send you away from this with one valuable piece of advice it is this. Never, ever be afraid to say to your friends that you need them, or to ask for help. Don’t worry about crying with them.

When your loved one dies, friendships change and while hard,  there is nothing that can be done to alter this. Some friendships will stand the test of the loss. Others will  be close to begin with and then dissipate. Some will disappear and you wont hear from them again. They may have been more your partners friend than yours. They may not be able to cope with the loss. When this happens, and it will, accept the friends that you still have. the hardest thing is to mourn the loss of someone alive and you may have to adapt to that. In-laws may also be the same. They may not be able to accept that their loved one has gone and having you in their life may serve as a painful reminder.

In conclusion, only you know how you feel. Only you know what you need to do. Only you know what help you need. Use your friends and family. They are there to support you.  But know that one day you will smile again, you will laugh again and the world you are in now, will look brighter again.

By Joanne Hattersley

More information on grief here

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