Help a widow feel the love. After loss you can show you care. Send a care package to a widow or make one for yourself.
As an overwhelmed and unexpected widow, I had no idea how to respond to the heart given cry “call me if you need anything”.
I, of course, had no idea what I would need or how much my life was about to change.
During the first month or so I was so fortunate to be gifted with gift cards, friend visits and even meals. Being surrounded by loved ones and keeping busy is helpful. But after those first few weeks, most people return to their regular lives and the new widow is beginning to adjust to her new normal.
For many people experiencing the loss of a loved one, moments of grief continue to surprise us. More and more stories are being shared of how lonely people are after the loss of a family member. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, loneliness is even more prevalent. As people age and find it harder to leave the home, life can become even more lonely.
I have written about fighting the fear or the reality of being a sad and lonely widow How to NOT be a Stay at Home, Lonely Widow. But I am a young 58 year old and I am determined to enjoy my life and continue to experience all I can and find joy in each day.
That being said, I remember how when I was in my saddest moments, the kindness and unexpected notes, meals or even comments on Facebook, really made my day.
Should a widow move after the death of a spouse? Consider financial, emotional and social needs of each person before making major life changing decisions.
This question has been burning in my mind since August of 2015 when Mike died. Do I stay in our home, or do I move? The answer is different for all widows and much needs to be considered. Here is what I know.
While widows and widowers all have one thing in common, everyone has a different story and a different situation. The one bit of advice that I found helpful after the sudden tragic loss of my husband was to wait a year before making any major life changes.
For most widows, finances will play a pivotal part in any decisions made after the death of a spouse. If a large life insurance policy is available, it may take a few months to have access to the money. Using that money to pay off a home mortgage and other medical or credit card debts will be most helpful.
If the spouse was over 60, social security monthly payments may be available which will help secure money to be paid for monthly bills.
In my situation, we were both only 51 years old, so I was facing a loss of half our monthly take home pay. We still had a very large mortgage, a son just starting college and plenty of monthly bills as well. I used the small life insurance policy to help make the monthly payments, anticipating that it would only be enough for a year or two.
Each widow feels differently about her home after the death of a spouse. Some refuse to sleep in the same bedroom and may leave his things exactly as they were. Others clear it all out soon and try their best to put it in the past and not dwell on the loss.
Memories of the home and raising a family together can be comforting or painful. The photos and reminders are always there.
Grief from loss knocks the wind out of you. Learning to limit you expectations and take time to be gentle with yourself is one of the hardest lessons.
Being kind to myself is one of the hardest lessons I have learned on this journey after loss. I am beginning to understand what it means to be gentle with yourself and when I am going to need some quiet time to pull it together.
Grief brings about many emotions; sadness, guilt, anger, despair, anxiety and it is pretty much agreed upon by people that I have talked to that grief does not follow the rules of proceeding through a certain number of stages until the finish line. It is more like being hit by waves at the beach, some are bigger than others. Some knock you down and suck the air out of you. Some are unexpected and make you feel unbalanced. Eventually, you learn to prepare for when they hit and maybe to ride a few.
Feeling numb is also common. Labeled the “widow fog”, we carry on with our routines and try to go through the motions but often may not even remember what we did. We lose things. We can not concentrate. We begin to avoid doing even what seems like a simple task. Everything is so overwhelming. I remember that I could not talk on the telephone for the longest time. Mailing a letter or a bill was a major accomplishment.
Going to the grocery store, activities that as a wife were normal, became triggers of anxiety. I was used to shopping for us. Now I was only shopping for me. What do I like to eat? I have no idea. My identity seemed lost and being forced to think about it was stressful.
As a working mom, who took care of her family while managing the household, I was always busy. I was productive during the day at work. Things got done. My students were learning. Coming home, I took care of the home and family. Paying bills, shopping, cooking, cleaning, driving kids around and planning for my days at work took time. Spending time socially with neighbors and friends was a pleasure that I was able to fit into my busy life. I was used to the go – go – go American way of life. I was happy and fulfilled and loved by a wonderful husband.
That all changed one day late in the summer of 2015 when Mike died.
All the normal behaviors of life that I took for granted, suddenly became so difficult. Making decisions was challenging. That fog must have a layer of thick molasses on the ground because it is literally hard to even move your body in the right direction, but somehow you do.
You make it through the beginning weeks. Funeral arrangements have to be made. Paperwork has to be filed. You must change names on bank accounts, credit cards, the mortgage and your beneficiary and health insurance at work. Cars require a visit to DMV to put registration and titles in your name. Insurance agencies and last place of employment needs to be notified. Lawyers may need to be involved with estates. Medical bills paid. Oh, and don’t forget to tell the pharmacy to stop calling you that your husband’s medication is available. I finally had to tell them in our local store to stop leaving me that message.
Some days you can do a couple of these things. Some days, not so much. I started to write a small list of 3 things I hoped to do each day. More than 3 and I didn’t seem to get anything done.
When I have an emotional set back, I take some time. Certain dates or situations you can prepare for. Anniversaries are difficult. Think about where you want to be, with who and what you want to be doing. My first year I ran away at Christmas with my sons on a cruise. It was different. A Different Christmas is OK, especially after the loss of a loved one. I had anticipated that holiday to be awful so we did something out of the ordinary for us. My wedding anniversary Celebrating my wedding anniversary with the elephants! and the one year anniversary of Mike’s death are a few days apart so I headed to the other side of the earth and distracted myself with elephants in Thailand.
Unfortunately you can’t always travel to the other side of the planet and a lot of times you can not plan for the waves of sadness that hit during grief. You may have days where the ocean of emotions is not that rough. People may tell you how strong you are and you may begin to believe them. Then…one of those waves sneaks up and gets you.
I was recently purging some old files and came across copies of my husband’s college transcripts. I looked at the courses that he had taken and the grades he got. He had transcripts from the 2 community colleges he attended, as well as the UCSD transcript and one from law school. I guess I won’t be needing them anymore but that made me cry. I was glad that I purged the files, but was sad to know that no one would ever need to see his transcripts again.
Another day, my next door neighbor’s mother in law fell on her icy driveway. The ambulance and police came to take her to the hospital. The same doctor that had taken my husband to the hospital in an ambulance came up the driveway to talk to us. Seeing all of this brought back trauma from the night my husband died when the ambulance and police car were in front of my house. It honestly shook me up for a few days and resurfaced so many emotions.
On Superbowl Sunday I was invited to a party at a friend’s house. I picked up the chicken wings and joined friends to watch the game and comment on the commercials. After the half time show a feeling of melancholy came over me. I had always watched the Superbowl with Mike and we often hosted the parties. I had not expected that date to be a trigger.
The important thing I learned is to take time for some rest. I have been learning to be gentle with myself and that it is OK to have down time. There is no prize for the busiest person. The feeling of being calm and centered can only be practiced when your mind quiets itself. Don’t get caught up in feeling like you should be doing something. Just be in the present. No expectations.
Taking time to just breathe and rest after an emotionally intense episode is important. Be gentle with yourself by not expecting much. You would be kind and supportive to a friend who was hurting. Sometimes you need to treat yourself like a friend. Put on some soft music or meditations. Take a nap. Have a cup of tea. Lay on the couch and cuddle with a pet.
In the book Fighting Forward by Jan Owen, she recalls a question posed to her in therapy “What would it look like if you were to show kindness to yourself?” Jan writes a chapter about her thoughts on what that would look like but I especially connected with her quote “…I would understand my limitations and pace myself so that I have time to pay attention to my grief, practice self-care and rest as needed.”
What would it look like if you were to show kindness to yourself?
Do widows wear wedding rings? After the death of your spouse when do you clean out his stuff from the house, and when do you take off your wedding ring?
My left ring finger looks so bare as I think about what to write on my blog today. I have put on a few pounds since my wedding day and my ring was literally stuck on my finger. It was a beautiful ring that my grandmother had worn her whole life and she left to me in her handwritten scrawl on the side of her neatly typed Last Will and Testament.
When Mike and I decided to get married, after living together in California for a year, I went home to New York, took the ring out of the safety deposit box and declared ourselves engaged. We had of course discussed this before I went home to visit. During the week in New York we quickly booked a venue, ordered a wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses, selected flowers and invitations, and introduced our parents at a dinner. We were excited to get married in a church ceremony with our families and friends.
Living in San Diego, I had brought my grandmother’s delicate and large diamond ring to a local jeweler. It was uncanny how he admired the ring and said it was designed in New York City around 1920 based on the design of the diamond called the “Old Mine Cut”. This popular cut is different from today’s diamonds in that instead of being laser cut, it was hand produced. Every single diamond is unique.
After appraising the ring, we had the jeweler design a ring to match as a wedding band. This was in the late 1980’s when everyone was changing old rings into new designs. I admired those flashy gold rings with the diamonds mounted high above the surface; easy to use as a weapon in a dark, mall parking garage. Resisting the urge and with a lack of additional funds, I kept the ring as is. I am so glad that I did not change the setting because it is so beautiful the way it is.
But, as with many of the things from my marriage, I have acknowledged that some things are no longer true. Like on Facebook it says I am married. I feel like I am married, but I guess I should really change that to widowed. That just seems too real. I’m not ready to let the world know I am a widow.
Most of Mike’s clothes are now gone from his closet, although I still have a few items that I think my sons may want or I just keep them around because they remind me of him and maybe a special time. I have expanded my summer wardrobe into his closet. Recently I was going through some piles of papers and came across his expired license and photo I.D. card from a hotel we worked in together in California. I didn’t get rid of them, yet. Not sure why – I just didn’t want to. To read about more about my attempts at clearing out the house click here: Finding Joy in the act of getting rid of clutter.
Some widows are ready when their husband passes, and clean out the houses right away. That is not the way I dealt with it. Since his death was unexpected, I was in the denial zone for a while, I left everything as is. In fact, I often thought and dreamed that this was all a big mistake and he would be back. He died in August and left his flip-flops outside the side door. I left them outside all winter.
Slowly, I have made progress in moving on or moving forward and parting with some things that I really don’t need. His toiletries and medicines took a while, but I realized that I didn’t want or need them. One morning, when I was tired of the clutter, I cleared out the bathroom shelves. He didn’t collect much stuff, but I did get rid of some of his books and papers. I still have his framed diplomas. I guess as long as I am living in this house, I don’t have to make decisions about all that stuff yet.
Back to the ring. It is so pretty. I had to literally cut it off my finger. It was broken in 2 parts. The original ring was very thin, and the wedding band torn. The two soldered rings were so tight I could no longer remove the set. My finger was beginning to turn blue. Once again, I considered changing the setting and making it a “cocktail” ring. But, since it is about 100 years old and a family heirloom, I will have it resized and wear my grandmother’s diamond ring on my right hand. It will always remind me that I was married to Mike.
But the wedding band that we had made is special to me. It represents our marriage. Maybe I will use my wedding band and his wedding band and design a piece of jewelry to keep him close to my heart as well. Turning the pieces into a heart or a cross would be lovely.
I asked a jeweler if he could turn the rings into a new piece. He offered to melt them down and purchase the gold, but that just didn’t seem right. I have seem some women design a necklace using the two rings. The design is generally still circular.
Do widows wear wedding rings? Yes they do. Some will never take them off. Some will move them to the right hand. Some will even wear their husband’s band on a thumb or middle finger or on a chain. It is definitely a personal decision and not one any one else should make for you. When or if you are ready, you will take it off. Maybe you’ll sometimes put it back on again.
I have seen many examples of beautiful new pieces of jewelry that widows have made. A necklace with both rings on a chain. Or both rings melted down into a heart shape with a diamond. Maybe turn them into a widow ring, which doesn’t sound that great, but basically it is your design and may include parts of both your rings.
It took me almost 3 years to move my ring to the other hand. I may never have moved it off my left hand, but the fact that it was too small and broken helped me make the decision.
I also made the decision to move my ring to the other side because I am ready to meet someone else and be part of a committed relationship. I started dating after three years, and I did not remove my ring. Some men might be offended or put off by this. I left it on because it is pretty and it represents who I am. Telling a date that I had been married and that my husband died was sure to come up in conversation. It’s different from wearing a wedding ring and currently still being married.
I loved being married. Our relationship of course had its ups and downs but overall we had trust and love and continued to enjoy each other. The shock of him being gone is going away and I am learning to live in the life I have right now. If the life I have brings me a new love, then I will honor that.
Healing from the loss of a spouse is difficult. Learning which strategies help you is important. Yoga, acupuncture, therapy, exercise and even a puppy may be what is needed.
My mom passed away 2 weeks ago and now all the grief from the death of my husband are coming back. Lots of familiar anxieties and feelings of regret and sadness are resurfacing. It’s been 4 years since my husband passed, but getting through year one is filled with many challenges. It helps to know we are not doing this alone and that one day, it will be better.
My bereavement group provided us with handouts on ways to deal with our grief. We met one evening each week for an hour and a half. The group was made up of 12 women who have lost their husbands in the past year. We are all similar in age which is helpful and there is one facilitator. The first week everyone tells their story and there are lots of tears. Some deaths were sudden and some were long sicknesses. However, we are all similar in so many ways dealing with coping after this loss.
Successful ways that I deal with anxiety and grief are listed below.
Yoga – that’s been helpful at times for centering my thoughts and feeling good. The stretching and movement is important. Doing an online class or joining a studio are great options. Of course the time I was the only one in the class, and the male teacher had me close my eyes, and then sang to me while playing the guitar was a bit weird, but most of the time I like yoga. Healing with weekenders and yoga ladies.
2. Meditation – I’m not that “good” at it so I find guided meditations on the you tube app of my phone and listen to them. The benefits of spending even two minutes a day sitting quietly and focusing on the present, following your breath, include less stress, better sleep, and can even lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. I especially like listening to Jason Stevenson’s guided imagery available on YouTube.
After the loss of a loved one reaching out to psychic mediums in hope of finding out what happens after we die may be part of the grief journey.
Traveling through the grief process is different for everyone. Family, friends, therapy, support groups, exercise, meditation and medication can be helpful. Some ways of coping can be harmful, like overeating or drinking too much.
Many people turn to faith for support. We pray and ask why this had to happen. We try to make sense of it. And we wonder where our loved ones are.
We start to see or feel signs that our loved ones are still with us. My cousin finds dimes in odd places. My mom used to find golf balls in unlikely spots. Blue Jay birds visit me.
My path on this journey led me to read books about life after death. It started with books where people described dying and then coming back. They saw a light. Some claim to have experienced seeing the room where they died before coming back.
Reading books written by psychic mediums continues to intrigue me. I watch the T.V. shows called “The Long Island Medium” and “Monica the Medium”. I was hooked and wanted to hear as many stories as I could.
One day a friend told me she had visited a psychic medium and during the reading, my husband Mike came through and told her some information about the night he died. A few weeks later my cousin went to this same medium. The medium didn’t know that the 2 women knew each other, and Mike visited her as well and told her the same similar information.
You can only imagine that now I needed to go too. If he is talking to everyone, he should talk to me too!
10 Best Grief books to read after the loss of a loved one. #griefjourney #healingafterloss
After my husband died, and the friends and family all went home or back to work, I was on my own to figure out how to be a widow. I wanted to find a book, the one that tells you what to do after your husband dies and how to deal with grief. Here are a few of the books that helped me move forward and not feel so alone in my grief journey.
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HEALING AFTER LOSS: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief
By Martha Whitmore Hickman
If you only get one book, this should be it. Each day has a one page inspiring story and mediation to think about. The passages are easy to read in under five minutes, which is a blessing for those of us dealing with the lack of concentration that comes with intense grief. The passages contain deep, thought provoking, yet hopeful reflections for those suffering from devastating loss.
2. IT’S OK THAT YOU’RE NOT OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand
By Megan Devine
The title tells it all. We don’t need to fix or solve grief. It’s not something to get over. Megan writes, “Grief no more needs a solution than love needs a solution.” She offers a guide through stories and her experience as a widow and therapist to build a life alongside grief rather than seeking to overcome it.
3. THE LIGHT BETWEEN US: Stories from Heaven. Lessons for the Living.
By Laura Lynne Jackson
I was truly obsessed with the thought of what happens after we die. Convinced that there must be more to life, I found this book and it gave me hope that our loved ones are still with us. Laura is a certified medium with the Forever Family Foundation. She shares her life story and her work that has brought comfort to many families. After reading this book I spent a healing weekend at a grief retreat with this foundation which you can read about here: https://runawaywidow.blog/2017/03/22/why-reaching-out-to-psychic-mediums-in-grief-can-be-comforting/
4. SIGNS OF LIFE: A Memoir
By Natalie Taylor
After my husband died I went to the local library to get a book that would tell me how to be a widow. This was one of the only 3 books on the shelf so I borrowed it and was actually able to read the whole thing, not an easy task for a new widow since attention span is limited. Natalie, an English teacher, was pregnant and 24 years old when her husband unexpectedly died. She writes an account of the first 16 months as a widow and basically journals her feelings and experiences. Knowing that someone else had been through what I was going through helped me feel not so alone during those first few months.
5. CONFESSIONS OF A MEDIOCRE WIDOW: Or, How I Lost My Husband and My Sanity
By Catherine Tidd
Catherine tells about her husband’s sudden death that left her with 3 young children at the age of 31. The imperfect thoughts and actions she encounters as she wades through grief. Her experiences with single parenting and dating are fun to read and her book keeps it real and at times, even makes you laugh.
6. HEALTHY HEALING: A Guide to Working Out Grief Using the Power of Exercise and Endorphins
By Michele Steinke-Baumgard
Michele is such an inspiration to the widowed community. She lost her husband suddenly in a plane crash when her children were little. Starting a blog called One Fit Widow, she focused on her healing after loss with exercise. She has since married and blended families and continues to inspire people with her exercise programs, healthy eating and small group adventure trips around the world.
7. FIGHTING FORWARD: A Widow’s Journey from Loss to Life
By Jan J. Owen
After the loss of my husband I joined several Facebook pages for widows and met Jan. She inspired me as we are similar in age and experience. After her husband died, she married again and also went back to school for a degree in counseling. Her book was helpful as I could relate to her journey and her ability to move forward after loss.
8. SIGNS: The Secret Language of the Universe
By Laura Lynn Jackson
After reading her first book and seeing her speak on several occasions I was excited to read her newest book. She is a psychic medium who teaches us in this book how to recognize and ask for messages from loved ones on the Other Side. After hearing her speak at a local book store and learning how to reach out to my loved ones on the other side, I had a startling experience you can read about here: https://runawaywidow.blog/2019/06/22/signs-from-beyond/
9. A WIDOWS GUIDE TO HEALING: Gentle Support and Advice for the First 5 Years
By Kristin Meekhof and James Windell
The author Kristin Meekhof lost her husband to cancer and shares with grieving widows what to expect in the first 5 years after loss. Dealing with finances, single parenting, working, this book gives guidance and then hope for a new future.
1O. I WASN’T READY TO SAY GOODBYE: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One
By Brook Noel and Pamela Blair
Understanding the difficulties that come with an unexpected death, the authors guide the reader through the first weeks of grieving to dealing with holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. Helpful suggestions for navigating the grieving process and helping children cope with grief.
SHOUT OUT to a new books in 2022:
11. Different After You: Rediscovering Yourself and Healing after Grief and Trauma
By Michelle Neff Hernandez
Michele became a widow at 39 when her husband died suddenly while riding his bicycle. She took her trauma and grief to new levels as she interviewed hundreds of widows and created Camp Widow and Soaring Spirits International as support groups for widows. Her message to integrate your past and loss, with what you have gained to build a life you love.
11 ways to help survive this holiday season and maybe even find some joy
“I am totally not decorating this year!”
That’s what I said the first time I drove past someone’s festively decorated home the year that my husband died.
That first Thanksgiving without my husband was the toughest. I was not prepared. I don’t think I could have been. My brother in law and his wife generously offered to make all the food and bring it over to my house. My boys were home from college and my in-laws wanted to see them.
I provided the wine which I started drinking very early that day. It was awkward. We all missed Mike but didn’t know how to approach his absence. We ate. We talked about stuff. Some of us drank a bit too much. We were together and not alone so that helped.
I remember wanting to just spend the day in my pajamas and order a pizza but I went along with the tradition of having family together. I cried all weekend. Grief is hard and the holidays only get worse.
This year will be different for many of us as we limit the size of our get togethers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will be happy to see 2020 shut the door. We are hopeful that 2021 will leave the chaos of riots, the polarity of the election, and the wariness of the virus behind.
For people dealing with the first holiday season without a loved one, this time of year can be simply awful. My first year as a widow I practiced the title of this blog and was a runawaywidow after that first holiday.
For Christmas I booked a week long cruise to the Caribbean with my 2 sons. We slept together in a tiny cabin with 3 bunks. Eating and drinking in the sunshine was different from a week in New York and we even swam with dolphins on Christmas morning. I had been determined to do something different. In addition, I did not send cards. I did not decorate my house. I did not buy presents for anyone. I did not go to church. I just disappeared or ran away from the idea of the holiday.
Widows get a pass that first year so take it if you need it.
As the dates get closer this year I recognize that I may have waves where the grief hits me again. They still come unexpectedly but I have learned to ride them. I know to let the feelings hit and that I will be OK.
Learning to acknowledge my feelings and not always run away from them has been difficult. I love the analogy that my widowed aunt sent me after my husband died.
That the journey through grief is like treading down a road with potholes. In the beginning, the holes are big and wide. It seems you may never get out. Over time, the potholes are still there, but they do get smaller and come along less frequently.
Knowing that waves of sadness or tears will come, and that “this too shall pass” allows me to keep moving forward. Here are some suggestions that have helped me get through grief during the holidays when it is getting tough.
How to memorialize and remember loved ones after the funeral. Celebrating life and sharing stories with family and friends.
Headstones, tattoos, ashes in objects, memorial runs and benches: How to memorialize and remember a loved one. Ways to help process grief after the loss of a loved one are many and is there more guilt if you don’t do it right?
It is impressive how much good and how much craziness comes from memorializing our loved ones.
Each religion has it’s own traditions for the passing of our family members. In Judaism the body is buried immediately and the family sits shiva for one week. The word “shiva” means seven for the 7 day mourning period and mourners are supposed to sit low to the ground. Mirrors are covered which symbolize the absence of vanity and self indulgence in a place of grief. People are expected to stop by and may bring a meal or a cake and then sit with the family.
In the Christian religion a casket is presented at a funeral home for a wake prior to a church service. Mourners visit with the family for one or two days and say prayers in front of the casket which can be closed or open showing a well dressed. deceased body. A religious service and burial ceremony in a cemetery may follow.
If the body is cremated the ashes can be interred in a mausoleum or scattered outside. According to an article by Cremation Solutions, the extreme heat of cremators means that absolutely no organic material remains after cremation so human ashes do not present any sort of health hazard to the living or the environment. According to the EPA burial at sea of human remains – cremated or not – is permitted if placed in the ocean at least 3 miles or more from land.
It’s OK to say their name. Life after loss of a spouse. Complicated grief. Memorials and celebrating the birthday of a loved one.
After spending the past thirty 4th of July’s together, which was also my husband’s birthday, grief comes back full swing and is one of the more difficult holidays to get through for me.
Year one I made a nice Facebook post with photos. Then I made sure to be away from home. My brother and sister and mom and our kids joined us in Cape Cod for a family reunion. This ensured a good distraction and no one really mentioned Mike. Avoiding pain and sadness was my immediate goal. My family was hopeful that I’d be OK, so I was.