I have just begun Year 5 of Life As a Widow. Year 4 brought some amazing revelations that included:
You might think that four years is a very long time to figure out all this, to get it, to embrace the reality of one's existence, but if you do, chances are you've never lost your spouse. In my experience, the pain of losing my husband when I was 44 years old was so great and so traumatic that I've had to hide the truth from myself, and then occasionally let it be revealed one little piece at a time.
Try this writing exercise (my responses are included in solidarity with my fellow widow friends):
After ___ years of living with grief, I finally understand that:
I still want to enjoy my life anyway, even without Ken.
I am made happier by much smaller things than before I lost my spouse.
There is still much to do and much to see.
Being creative makes me happy.
Even though I had a relatively short marriage, it was a wonderful marriage.
Most things aren't worth too much worry or stress.
I am still a lucky person.
I can deal with being on my own.
Suddenly, as year 5 begins, I'm ready for something altogether new and different because you know what? Grief is hard work, grief is all-consuming, grief is a big drag. I'm tired of grieving. It's no wonder that some people just skip grieving completely and head immediately to the bottle, a brand new spouse, or their own life-threatening illness.
But me? I've put in my time and my work on this one. Recovering from grief has been my part-time job.
The tasks during different stages of my job have included: psychotherapy, grief support groups, writing, yoga, running, pilates, self-pity, meditation, excessive dwelling on finding a man, redecorating, renovating, making new friends, and even needlepoint. The great thing about taking on recovery from grief as a part-time job is that you get to design the job to your own specifications! No one can tell you how to recover. No one is qualified to evaluate your job performance. (They may try, however.)
Here's how some of the tasks I've undertaken as I've worked on recovering from my loss have helped me, lest you are interested in trying any of these for yourself:
Psychotherapy: Ok, I'm a big believer in this one; after all, my very own dead husband was a therapist. My therapist helped me understand that what I had been through was HUGE and that attempting to minimize my loss was not going to make it go away. She gave me respect for all I had been through and for the hard work involved in recovering from grief.
Grief Support Groups: I'm quite a social person so I found that listening to others talk about their losses made me feel less alone. I don't like to feel like I'm the saddest sack in town, so knowing that others are sad too, and working it through, gave me hope and stirred my empathic feelings for others.
Writing: I could not have survived my emotional pain without writing it down. In fact, writing is so helpful to me that I can't imagine suffering without having writing to turn to. If you feel emotions strongly, I highly recommend writing them down. For me, painful emotions lose some of their grip after being expressed on paper. As I've mentioned before, solid research has shown beyond a doubt that writing about your feelings is good for your emotional and physical health.
Yoga: I have now been practicing Kundalini Yoga for the last full year. I will admit that this form of yoga, which includes meditating, chanting, and singing, is not for everyone. It makes me feel great while toning muscle. I feel much happier and more settled in my life.
Running: Since Ken's death, I've taken up running just a little bit. I have run three 5K races in the last three years. This is not something I ever thought of doing. It's just nice to know I can.
Pilates: Strengthen your core and you just feel stronger all over. Pilates made me feel so good that it made me highly motivated to improve my strength in other areas of body and mind. My friend who so graciously invited me to experience Pilates has helped me recover more than she can ever know.
Self-pity: If you can lose your spouse and never feel sorry for yourself, you're a better, stronger, person than me. Or perhaps you're not a person at all. In fact, you might be a robot. Anyone who loses their spouse, gets to feel sorry for themselves once in a while. This might lead to whining, complaining, shopping, or being a big, dependent baby. Go for it. Once in a while.
Meditation: I find meditation to be an invaluable skill. You may not want to take it up as a daily habit, but learn something about it. It can calm you down fast. It clears your mind. It puts you in touch with your essential truth.
Excessive dwelling on finding a man: This was a part of my job that I would not recommend to others. We all take an erroneous path every now and then. For those of us in grief, it can be easy to imagine that there might be a fast path to recovery. At least I didn't choose heroin.
Redecorating and renovating: This is a good visual representation of the change you are going through after loss. I highly recommend changing your environment to suit your mood and brighten your surrounding. Every time I walk up my new walkway, or my new carpeted stairs, or gaze at my newly exposed brick, I feel good.
Making New Friends: Nothing and noone lasts forever. I think that the ability to keep on making new friends as you move through life is invaluable. People come and go. People die. But there are always good people around. Find the ones who make you feel good. Avoid the ones who don't. Keep reaching out.
Needlepoint: I joke that in taking up needlepoint I have succumbed to widowhood. But, the fact is, I find it really relaxing. I just hung my first piece of finished work on the wall. My son picked out the canvas for me when he was 7 years old. Now I'm working on one that my daughter picked out. Recently, I started taking a class to learn more stitches. Most of the women in it (but not all) are about 30 years older than me. I bet some of them are widows like me. They make me laugh.