Welcome to the first installment of an 11-week-long series here on WSW called Helping Yourself Heal. In this series, we will be examining a set of practical steps that I have found to be helpful and relevant to the grief of a widow. (Read more about the origins of this list and my reasons for this series here.)
Each Sunday I’ll tackle one of the suggestions from the list, sharing the info from the original article as well as my own experiences and suggestions. I hope you’ll join me in examining how you can help yourself heal, and be sure to pass this along to anyone you may know who could benefit. <3
Suggestion #1 – Allow Yourself to Mourn
Your husband or wife has died. This was your companion, the person you shared your life with. If right now you are not sure of who you are, and you feel confused, that is appropriate because you have lost a part of yourself. When you experience the death of someone you love, live with, and depend on, feeling disoriented is natural.
You are now faced with the difficult but important need to mourn. Mourning is the open expression of your thoughts and feelings regarding the death of your spouse. It is an essential part of healing. [source]
Honestly, this is a doozy to start with, because it was probably one of the hardest ones for me implement. In fact, I still struggle with this.
From the very beginning, within a few short dazed and numb hours, I was required to start making decisions. These were huge choices, decisions no 25 year old should have to make, much less one who was in shock. Crucial decisions like if I should call my in-laws to give them news about their son since they couldn’t be reached, how quickly I could travel to meet my husband’s body as it touched onto American soil for the first time in six months, and what I wanted to do about a few finance things. More important decisions were looming: where to bury my husband, how to plan his funeral and arrangements, how to get home. I had to make a choice: fall apart, or go into “business mode” and shove the pain into a corner so I could take care of business. And while I’d much rather have given up in that moment, I didn’t. I put it all aside and focused solely on making the right choices, making my husband proud by honoring him in these final ways, doing things as I knew he would like them, and presenting him and his life in the best possible light.
Yet somehow, when all of the ‘stuff’ was over and I found myself back home facing what semblance of life I was left with, I never turned that “business mode” off. It was too painful to face the loss, it hurt too much to let myself mourn. So I stayed numb. I kept everything locked away. Avoidance became my coping mechanism.
I started this blog a little less than a year after The Hubs death as a way to write through my emotions. It was a start, but yet I still only faced my grief for those brief hours it took to write it down. The rest of my days and weeks were spent distracting myself and denying the mourning that I obviously desperately needed. And I’ve learned over these past four years, and especially in therapy recently, that avoiding the inevitable only makes it worse in the long run. The only way to grieve is to go through it. You can’t go around it, you can’t tread lightly on top of it, and you can’t ignore it.
It is so, so important that you allow yourself the time you need to mourn. If this means you need to be alone, do it. If it means you need someone around you all the time, do that. If it means you need to wear your PJs for a week straight while you watch old home movies and cry, then DO IT. Let all of those feelings come and soak them in. Your hurt is evidence of a love so important, so deep, so true. And mourning for the loss of a big piece of your heart is a display of that love. It is okay to let yourself cry in the Target aisle when you see your husband’s favorite candy, the one you purchased in bulk for his care package, because it feels like yesterday that he was asking you over the phone to pick some up while you were standing in that very aisle. It is okay to eat take out and not cook for a month (okay, a year) because every time you grab a pan it makes you think of cooking all of your favorite meals together. It is okay to sleep in his shirt, the worn out one he wore all the time, and to spray his cologne on it and close your eyes while you breathe deeply. It’s also okay to soak that shirt in your tears. Let it out. Let it go. It is okay. You are okay, no matter how you choose to mourn.
But please, let yourself mourn.
The only way out of that pain is to feel it.
Just remember the caveat to this step — you are not alone and this is not the end. I promise. While it is important to allow yourself to feel the pain of mourning, if that pain ever becomes too much to bear, please don’t give up. As much as it’s not possible to believe right now, the pain won’t be this overwhelmingly devastating forever. You will find healthy ways to cope and to release, and the ache of grief for your love will eventually become a comfortable partner rather than a crushing enemy. And until you get there — you are not alone. Reach out, there are widows out there who understand exactly how those breathtaking, out-of-body, disbelieving moments feel and we are here to help you through it. Send me a message, check out the Resources page for communities you can connect with, google ‘widow support’, search for a widow Facebook group (there are many!), call a hotline, whatever you need to do to connect with someone who understands.
Community creates hope. Hope brightens the light at the end of tunnel.
And there is a light. <3