This is a question I’ve been asking other widows – what is it you wish you knew? The answers are varied and sometimes, even contradicting. But that is how widowhood is. As much as we all have in common, and trust me it is a LOT, we are also having a singularly unique experience of it. Even as unique as it is, there is nothing like connecting with other widows. Only another widow knows what this is.
One widow wrote to me: “One of the things that I wish I’d known was that for every person that said *call me if you need anything* … really didn’t mean it. Several times I would call … and either I didn’t get a return call or was told that they were tied up and it would be a couple of weeks before they had some free time. Those calls were about leaking plumbing or needing to start a lawn mower … so, I understood that it was just easier to call a stranger, pay them and move on.”
That is a little opposite of what I found. When I put out the word for what I needed, people responded. Not all. But if I could screw up the courage to blatantly say, “This is what I need,” people would respond. But I surely do not discount her experience. I’m sure many people say, “call me if you need anything” because that is the only thing they can think to say to you. Which leads me to the next thing you wish you knew before becoming widowed.
People will shun you. At least some of them will. Fortunately not all. The reason some people will shun you is to protect themselves from the terrible feeling of not knowing what to say or because they cannot look into the face of their own mortality, or the mortality of their spouse. This is what you represent to them; the sudden realization it could be them. The very idea of facing someone who has just had someone die in their life is far too uncomfortable, so they simply turn away. They may not even be completely consciously aware of what they are doing. They make excuses to themselves. I was stunned at the number of people who just dropped me like a social hot potato. But it made those who did reach out to me all that much more dear to me. Nearly all of our friends who were Jim’s friends before we married completely dropped off the face of the earth. All but one. He phoned regularly to check in on me. These phone calls and emails were such a treasure – I tear up just thinking about it. So when others seems to slink away and disappear from your life, just know it not about you. It is their own pain. Treasure those who are there for you.
Probably the number one thing I would want to share with every new widow is that however you are feeling is fine. It is not normal – nothing is normal. There is NO normal for being widowed. So roll with whatever you feel and whatever you are thinking. Cry or can’t cry. Sit in a chair all day in a daze. It is all fine. Whatever you need to do. Whatever you need to feel. Scream and cry in anger. Sit in a corner and sob over the relationship you had shared. Or just plug along with life. All normal. All fine.
Another told me, “you will want to talk about the person that died.” Maybe even inappropriately so. You find yourself telling the cashier at the grocery store all about it. Then walk out to your car feeling like an idiot for babbling on like that to a stranger. It’s okay. Connect with someone who is willing to listen and let it all pour out – all the stories and memories. Let them know you need to talk about the one you just lost and need a willing listener. You can also write in a journal. Let it all pour out. It’s good for the soul.
You will misplace documents, misplace items, and not be able to remember which bill was paid. You’ll put the wrong check in the wrong envelop. Serious fog brain. Take it slow. Document most everything for yourself. Set reminders. Don’t think you have it covered. I got six months out and suddenly realized I had no idea where some things were in my house!
You will laugh at completely inappropriate and sometimes even morbid things. Gallows humor. If you find a friend in another widow, you can both sit on the sofa laughing until your sides split over something that a “non widow” would be shocked about. It’s fine. We widows share a very different view of life.
When you lose someone so dear and close to you – like having a leg and an arm chopped off; your eyes open to life like never before. Priorities snap into laser focus and you know what is important.
A widower told me, “Life goes on.” Quite simple and succinct. And so it does. Even when you are sitting in a daze, life goes on around you. Eventually you start to join back in on that life going on around you. It is fine. You will even laugh again. It might make you feel guilty. But know it is a joy to the one who passed. Being able to smile again and find joy is a tribute to the life you had shared together. Life goes on. Another widow wrote to me, “I was thinking that you will learn how to live with the pain, smile through the tears, and that you are stronger than what you give your self credit for.” All true. Life goes on.
Most importantly, know there are others out there you can connect with. The support of another widow or widows is the most amazing gift. So find your new tribe. Look to hospice groups. Look in your local community. Reach out. Even the funeral director at the funeral home might be able to assist in directing you to support.
So there you go. Laugh, cry, dance naked in your living room. It is all good.