Friends are all getting together on Friday night. You are recently a widow and not part of a couple anymore. You were invited so the question is, should you stay or should you go now?
If you stay home, it is safe. You can be sad and watch a T.V. show. Start a new binge watching marathon. You could eat and drink and stay in your pajamas and cuddle a pet or a pillow. You could think about your dead spouse and do some crying. Or maybe some screaming.
But what if you go…
I know a lot of newly widowed people feel guilty going out and enjoying themselves. They think they should continue to be mourning all the time. Maybe they are worried about what others will think of them? What if it looks like you are happy and having fun. People will get the wrong idea.
Maybe they thrive on the attention they get from people who feel sorry for them?
But eventually, the other people will not really be interested. In fact, most of us think that other people are always thinking about us, but no one really is. They are thinking about themselves, just like you are.
So, how do you transition from a mourning widow to a widow who is ready to embrace life again.
This step can be scary, especially if you have spent a long time with your spouse and did “everything” together. You need to begin with
Ridiculously enough, one of the hardest places for me to venture out to was the grocery store. I did not know how to shop for just me. I was overwhelmed with sadness. The first time out I felt like I was having a panic attack. I put a few things in the cart and checked out. But I did it.
The next step was to try to speak to the salesclerk or ask someone for assistance in the store. Engaging in a brief conversation with a stranger is one way to start getting out there.
I found it easier to shop or have a meal out, by myself, if I am not in my home town. As a local school teacher I tend to run into people I know if I shop or go out near home.
I don’t always want to engage in conversation, especially about the death of my husband. People ask
“how are you doing?”
Not sure what they expect to hear, but they can’t imagine how I am doing and I don’t want to go into it so I usually would say “I’m Ok” or “taking it one day at a time”. Then I redirect the conversation to my kids or their kids if they have some.
Eating out someplace like the food court in a mall is a great way to start doing things on your own. Another place where you won’t feel awkward eating alone is Starbucks or Panera. You order something, then sit down to enjoy it in public. Everyone is staring at their phones these days so bring one with you so you don’t feel left out.
Once I went out a few times it got easier. I decided to plan a trip for the anniversary of my husband’s death which would also have been close to our wedding anniversary. Only I would know how difficult this all was for me and I felt I needed a challenge and to get away from everyone. I planned a trip to Thailand. Traveling solo was a bit scary, especially to the opposite side of the earth but I arranged to meet up with a tour group. I had no problem eating alone in restaurants in Thailand with my tablet or a book on the table. I made it to Bangkok!
My friends were very sweet and I was invited to do things. I said YES to everything. If you don’t say yes, you will stop getting those invitations. I had FOMO (fear of missing out) too. I was happier being out of my house, especially in the evenings and on weekends. I worked during the week, so I guess I did not like being alone in my house much at all.
Maybe that is why I named my blog “Runawaywidow”, it was easier for me to runaway from reality in the beginning, than to deal with it.
When I was ready, I embraced my feelings. It took time, and honestly some therapy, but I did face my grief and trudged through the pain.
In addition to accepting invitations, I sought new encounters:
I visited the GROUPON website and signed up for some YOGA classes. The central idea of following your breath and focusing for the hour long class, as well as building strength and flexibility, really helped me get through some tough days. It also gave me a reason to get out of my house and I didn’t have to talk to other people, just participate.
Some neighbors invited me to join them in Bridge lessons. I did not know a thing about Bridge, but it was another thing to do every Wednesday night. After that several of us joined the program at the local library to learn how to play Mahjong. I’m going to need a lot more lessons to get the hang of that game.
Luckily for me my kids are college age, so I was able to participate in a few girlfriend weekend getaways. It doesn’t matter if the women are widowed (very few of my friends are), divorced or married – Girl’s weekends are for the GIRLS!! Widow’s Guide to the Girlfriend Getaway
We have had theme weekends like saying we were going to do YOGA. There was the music festival in Colorado and the Spa weekend in Montauk. You can count on me to pack my overnight bag and bottle of wine and join the group for all the fun festivities we will create.
My grief therapist suggested I look into finding a “Meet up” in the area that does something I would be interested in. The idea is that a group of about 20 strangers meet to do something together. You can bring a friend or go alone.
My friend and I tried a Meet Up in New York City where we went on a scavenger hunt competition. We had fun running around Manhattan taking pictures, but we didn’t meet anyone new that day. The second meet up I went on was to the Bronx Zoo. I went by myself and enjoyed walking around the zoo with the group. I did speak to one woman who spent the whole time telling me how sad and lonely she was. I would suggest chatting about other things with strangers.
So, after 2 years of visiting family, having fun with friends, working and traveling I was starting to have better days. Mind you, there are still trigger moments and especially times of the year like his birthday and the day he died that I remember and miss Mike, but I try not to obsess about the negative anymore, and refocus my attention on some of the best moments that we shared together. I have five favorite memories that I purposely think about when I start to feel sad or mad or depressed. The happy memories make me smile and that is how I want to remember my life with Mike.
We loved going out to dinner or the movies and taking walks on the beach. I loved being married and was certainly curious, after two years, if there would ever be someone else to share my life with. The thought of dating someone was so foreign and in some ways felt guilty. I had talked to some divorced friends who had tried online dating sites. I saw their profiles and they showed me pictures of the men who would wink at them or send them messages. It seemed kind of fun, but I would never…
After one of my best friends met someone really nice, I thought I would just peek. I didn’t sign up or anything, just wanted to look. It’s like going to the ocean and maybe just getting your toes wet. Well, I always loved the ocean so I dove right in and went on a date. My criteria was that he should be taller than me and live nearby. The date went really well. So we went on a few more dates. He makes me smile just writing about him.
I was in a very good marriage for 26 years. I liked being married. It wasn’t always easy but we worked through the tough times and learned to love and appreciate each other more and more as the years went on.
My husband was my best friend. He adored me and made me happy. We looked forward to our evenings together even the simple times like eating dinner and watching TV.
We were happy with our sons and were looking forward to having more time together in retirement. I will always miss him, but I don’t want to be a sad and lonely widow.
I did get a puppy. That definitely helped. He makes me laugh so it’s hard to be sad when you are laughing and I am not lonely, because he sits on my lap or snuggles next to me when I sleep. Should you get a puppy after the death of a spouse?
So remember, baby steps. The store. Starbucks. A restaurant. Girl’s weekend. A meet up. Maybe a date. Or maybe a puppy. What will work for you?
For more ideas, check out my book.