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Love Letter to a New Widow - 20 things I wish I'd known at the beginning of grief.
A short guide to help you get through the first few months of the worst time of your life.
Whenever I hear about a new widow, the first thing I want to tell them is “ice your eyes.”
I know - it’s not the thing you’d expect from a medium or grief educator, like “they’ll always be with you” or “they loved you so much”, but those things are always true. At the beginning you need to know practical information!
It’s not as if there are magazines full of advice about having a spouse die, like for weddings or home design. 99% of us had no idea what we were doing. I still have no idea, but as a fellow widow, and now a Thanatologist (I study death, dying, & bereavement), I can give you my best advice - both personal and academic.
So, to my new Widow (er), a love letter:
Welcome to the S#$% Show. This is a short guide to help you get through the first few months of the worst time of your life.
You will notice there are more of us widows than you expect. We’ll send you Facebook and Instagram messages, but none of us expect a response. Seriously. We just know how much it sucks, and we start to remember that we also had no clue what we were doing in the beginning. We still don’t know.
Some of us refer to ourselves as the Guild of Sarcastic Widows. We need a badge, a coat of arms, and a drink named after us, but we’ll get to that later, as soon as we’re done washing the casserole dish that was dropped off…
Ice Your Eyes:
My tips, some are serious, some are sarcastic, some are both - there are LOTS of other things I could include, but those will be in my book, and honestly this article would be way too long! My experiences have told me these are the most important. Take or leave them, but at least know you are not alone in feeling any sort of way.
Ice your eyes. They are going to swell and burn from crying. You don’t want them to get infected!
Its ok to throw things. Avoid throwing them at people. Also avoid stepping on the shards (ask me how I know. ha!)
It’s normal to puke from crying. Eat Saltines.
Chug water and have some salt. (Saltines)
Take your vitamins, if you can. Fish oil as well. Your brain needs them! (The Chemistry of Joy discusses this).
It’s normal to feel like you’ve been hit by a bus. Adrenaline comes and goes out of your system. You’re going to feel like crap. This is why you chug water.
Find someone to come and tell you to shower! If someone tells you it’s time to shower - they’ve probably thought that for a bit.
It’s normal to smile and laugh!!! You’re not a horrible person. Love means laughter!
Get a journal. Write it ALL out. You can burn it if needed. PTSD is real, and it is not just for people who have served in war. Writing can help.
Have someone else answer your front door, the phone, take messages, etc. Have them make a list of food donations, if you’d like. A personal assistant, if you will.
Someone, usually MANY someones, is going to ask if you need a GoFundMe. It’s their way of helping. Say yes or no, but don’t be surprised if someone just does it without asking. They don’t think you are helpless or poor, they just want to help. Don’t take it personally. You do not need to share it, but you can.
Buy something that makes you look and feel good in at the funeral. You can burn it if you’d like later… ahem.
Everyone is going to tell you a story about their own loss. They want to connect with you and possibly make you feel less alone. You can listen to them or zone out. If you are having a bad day, but you have to appear as if you are listening, visualize a brickwall. You are not being mean - you are being kind to yourself and maintaining your energy.
You’re going to be an a hole to people, and you’re going to be an a hole to yourself. You’re not a permanent a hole. I promise.
You do NOT have to lose your inlaws, but people say weird things during loss. Don’t hold it against them. Everyone is hurting. It may take years to heal. That is OK!
Feel your feelings! As I mention in the Onion of Grief, rolling up that grief and making it go away is actually not a good idea. It physically hurts, yes, but delaying it makes it worse (as if you could possibly feel worse, but yeah…)
The are no stages of grief. If someone starts spouting off about the stages of grief, and how you are stuck at “such and such” either 1) run away or 2) kindly remind them that the stages of grief were based on a study of people actively dying, NOT people mourning their loved ones.
You will grieve how you will grieve. There is no roadmap, and no one can dictate how you do things to heal. You do you.
Widow brain is real! You’ll feel like you are losing your mind and forgetting everything. That’s because a traumatic loss can effect us the same way as a traumatic brain injury. Notebooks saved me!
Your loved one may disappear from your dreams for over a year, or they may come in dreams where they yell at you. This is your subconcious being mean, NOT your loved one. When they die, they are not mad at you, they do know that you love them, and they are no longer in pain. This is actually why, as a medium, I don’t want people to get a reading before the 6 month mark! Everyones’ brains need to get settled.
As it may be apparent from this long list, the advice I have in this love letter is from looking in the rear view mirror for over a decade after my husband died, but it’s also from actively studying grief.
Grief gets better, worse, better, then worse, then __________. Honestly, your journey is your journey. None of us know what way it will go, but just know - grief is a fingerprint. It is yours alone, and you will survive it. I promise.
In the meantime, ice your eyes.
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