Why Skipping is Good For a Young Grieving Widow And Other Lessons I've Learned.
Moving Forward is a Conscious Choice
When I was 29 I married the love of my life. He was kind, loving, handsome and an amazing father.
Seven years into our marriage he died suddenly, leaving me with two daughters under the age of five to raise on my own. After the initial shock wore off, I realized very quickly I had a choice to make. Would I choose to let this tragedy define me for the rest of my life, or would I move forward?
Many of my loved ones said to me "You have to go on for the kids." Of course I understood that, and in the beginning, while in the midst of intense grief, that was the only thing I could do. Put one foot in front of the other and go through the motions for my children.
But as the weeks and months slowly passed and the loneliness and isolation moved in, going forward "for the children" was not enough of a reason for me. I discovered that in order to truly embrace life and happiness again, I had to do it for myself.
That may sound selfish, but it turned out to be the best thing in the world for all three of us.
Here are some valuable lessons I learned on my journey.
1. Putting Yourself First is Not Being Neglectful
It sounds terrible, doesn't it? Your children have just lost their father; how could you put yourself ahead of them?
First of all, when you're a widow, putting yourself first does not mean neglecting your children. Quite the opposite. It's similar to when the flight attendant before take off instructs passengers to put the oxygen masks on themselves FIRST before assisting children. We can only help our children once we've put ourselves on solid ground.
Kids are intuitive. They know you better than you think. Going through the motions may work for a while, but eventually they'll be on to you. The one thing children need most when they've lost a parent is reassurance that everything will be okay. If you don't believe that yourself, they will know it. Pretending to want to get out of bed in the morning cannot be sustained indefinitely.
2. Face Your Fear Head On
How do you begin to find joy again?
For me, the first step was tackling my fear and anxiety about raising the girls alone. What I discovered by going to a good therapist (which I highly recommend if you can swing it) was that I needed to reclaim some of my own power. For example, up until this point, I had let my husband take care of all financial matters. Once he was suddenly gone, I was left feeling incredibly vulnerable.
When we met I had a thriving career. But he was ten years older and made more money than I did, so I figured he knew much more in the financial department. Therefore, I basically deferred to him in money matters and took very little interest.
That was a mistake I would never make again, not because he didn't do a great job, but because I felt financially vulnerable without him. I quickly learned that I need to always be an active participant in my own financial future. I called our accountant (whom I had never met), and he gave me a crash course on where our money was and what kind of situation I was in. After an additional meeting with a probate attorney, the picture became crystal clear.
The research I did restored a feeling of control over my family's financial future. It also reminded me that I had the ability to make sound decisions on my own.
*Did you know that death benefits of a spouse do not come to you automatically? If you have dependent children, you qualify immediately for benefits, but you have to go online or to your local social security office to apply for it. Go to http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10084.pdf for more information.
3. Ask For Help.
You'd be amazed at the resources you already have surrounding you. And one thing is for sure: people WANT to help you.
My brother helped me sort through a lot of paperwork in our home office. It was really helpful, just having him there with me. My sister was probably the one I leaned on most for emotional support. I don't know what I would have done without her.
If you have a family member or a close friend you trust, use their skills and expertise. Whether it's financial, home improvement, or babysitting for the kids, I gained so much by asking for help.
And you will need emotional support. Someone you can say ANYTHING to without fear of judgement is priceless
4. It's Okay to Laugh
It started off small. The girls would say something funny or I'd catch a favorite comedy on television.
Eventually, I decided to take matters into my own hands. With the girls in the car, I sang at the top of my lungs. When we got to the grocery store parking lot we held hands and skipped our way to the entrance. My daughters would giggle uncontrollably and it was contagious. Laughing definitely helped get me through some dark days.
But it was a dear friend of mine that gave me my first real belly laugh.
She lives in another state and flew in to surprise me a few months after the funeral. She just pulled up into my driveway one day. I went to the door and started to cry. (I'm a cryer anyway but during this time in my life it didn't take much.) Then she took a good look at me and said "You look like shit. Don't tell me there's a rocking chair in that house and a thousand cats running around."
The crying turned to hysterical laughter in seconds. She was one of the first people who didn't feel the need to walk on eggshells around me or feel sorry for me. She knew it was my strength and humor that would get me through. I will never forget that moment and will always thank her for that gift.
5. Let Go Of The Anger And Guilt
There are people in your life who will not be comfortable with your grief. Some you will recognize right away. They will be the ones who avoid you and it is painful. It took me a while to forgive and let go of my anger toward people I had once considered friends.
Truthfully, I think we all do the best we can with what we've got. And for some people, death is just too hard to get close to, perhaps reminding them of their own mortality or that of those closest to them.
Others will make you feel guilty for moving forward. It sounds crazy but it's true. They have some notion that there is a certain amount of time you need to spend shrouded in black. The truth is, there is no timetable for healing. Everyone goes at a different pace.
In time, I realized that the best way to honor my husband was to embrace life and love again.
6. Do Things Just For You When Possible
Working while single parenting is not easy, but try to put some time in for yourself whenever possible. I was fortunate to live near family and friends who would help out. I was also able to afford the occasional babysitter. I started exercising regularly (really helped) and doing more cooking again. Both were healing and reminded me of who I was before I was a widow.
Eventually, things got a little better. Months went by, I joined some singles groups and got involved in my community. Later, friends approached me who "knew a great guy" and I began to date. It felt very strange at first but it got easier as time went on.
7. Moving Forward is not Forgetting
In the early months after my husband's death, grief came in waves. There would be a day when I was feeling great, then suddenly out of nowhere, the tears would come.
Once it happened in the grocery store in the toothpaste aisle. Just comparing dental floss one moment, then suddenly some sappy Celine Dion song comes on and I'm a basket case.
Someone wise once said "There is no way around grief, you just have to walk through it to get to the other side." Nothing has ever been more true in my experience. It has been seventeen years since Rick died. I am happily re-married to a wonderful man who my children and I love with all our hearts. And Rick is part of us as well.
For the first year, there was not a day I didn't wake up and immediately think of him. Later on, it didn't happen every morning and became less frequent over time. But it never went away completely, not even after I found deep love and happiness with someone else.
Even now, a song, a movie or a milestone for my daughters that he has to miss can trigger sadness. But I actually welcome it. He is a beautiful memory that will always be in my heart.
My Daughters. Flower Girls in Their Mom's Wedding
Some great sites for help and information
Merry Widows and Some Surprising Truths About Grief
On Being a Widow