Since Becoming a Widow
Losing my husband unexpectedly was like a merry-go-round that suddenly stops! Our marriage ended when he didn't wake up from his afternoon nap. I've been on an emotional roller coaster; wandering through financial mazes and unknown pathways into this world of widowhood. 'You cannot start a new chapter unless you stop re-reading the old one' the saying goes. And yet I cannot put the story of our Great Adventure down. Over and over I revisit the memories and what might have been. Nothing prepares you for having your life interrupted and forever changed, but over the last six months I've learned to be a little braver and move a bit more forward as I face life on my own.
- Your Adult Kids will step up and do what needs to be done. Let them. They will give you strength and comfort as their spouses comfort them. They will use their talents and resources to make things happen. They will shield you when necessary....but give you that push you may need at other times. They will give balance to decision making; knowing when to take over ....and when to step back and respect your choices. My son and daughter were hit hard with the loss of their Dad and their kids' grandfather. I'm still amazed at how well we got through it and have never been prouder of my children.
- Ownership of credit cards, vehicles and houses make a BIG difference in the debt and varying shades of red tape you'll face! Two of our cards were in his name only; I was an authorized user. I don't recall us ever considering this or being asked any preference. Visa was quick to write off the balance; American Express not so much. They inquired regularly about the estate, but the calls finally stopped when my lawyer explained there was no estate; no probate. Collection calls are frightening; know your rights and seek legal help if necessary. Our cars and home were in both our names.....with the house having the important "joint tenancy with survivorship" clause in the contract!
- Finances I had to think about money. I sold his car and refinanced the house; reducing my payments by $600! My husband was retired, but did free-lance writing for several publications. I would miss that income, so I had to make changes quickly. His insurance money came within weeks; but it took awhile to secure results with Social Security and our pensions because frankly.....it didn't occur to me for months to pick up the phone; and the processing took more time. Stopping newspaper subscriptions, reducing cable, phone and internet to the minimum needs... and discontinuing pest, weed and lawn services helped make a dent in monthly expenses. Doing without car washes, hair appointments, Starbucks or browsing Target taught me I could live frugally while waiting to get things settled! Someone told me it takes a year to really know where you stand with your financial future, so I continue to be wise and careful.
- Accepting comfort is not always comfortable; but you quickly learn you have more grace than you ever imagined. I'm a hugger and a crier, so that part was easy! I answered questions truthfully, but without much detail. It was raw and private in my opinion; giving CPR, the paramedics suggesting 'cease and desist.' As phone calls and texts started coming, I replied to some; my kids handled the others. The doorbell ringing with gifts of food and wine was awkward. I didn't feel like eating or serving anything; couldn't think about dishware, napkins, glasses. And so I said as much. I recall now that my pals took over the kitchen and handed me a plate and drink. I just let it be....and they just let me talk. The stack of sympathy cards was overwhelming. Do I respond? I've saved these comforting words and have acknowledged each one little by little. I don't think it's expected, but that's me.
- Kids' Views about death are amazing. My grandchildren touched my heart and saved my soul with their sweet innocence. A child cuddled on your lap is peaceful glue that holds you together. Their questions and comments are spot on: "grandpa got dead; now it's a grandma-only house" and "don't worry, grandma, I'll help you understand sports!" I laughed through my tears at "grandpa will be a writer in the sky." Two months after he passed away, my teenage granddaughter spent a week with me. She listened and talked with me like an old friend; asking how our story began, and remembering all that she missed and loved about grandpa. Our first; she knew him the best and the longest. All five attended the funeral... each with a role to play. Helping with the photo and memento displays, manning the guest book, passing out programs and, to my delight, the second oldest spoke the welcoming words as the service began.
- Handling the fog and heaviness of grief is tough because you don't know when it's coming. Music will do it, a kind word, an older couple walking hand-in-hand or just roaming through your home with reminders of him around every corner. Some days you feel uncertain, unsteady and unanchored; I learned to stay put and let the teary sadness come. Be careful if it grips you while driving; scary to wonder where you are, where to turn or where you were headed. I had to pull over and wait it out. Other days I'm eager to get to the gym or store or lunch with friends. Joining a grief group allowed me to face my anger over his leaving; and keeping my grandkids on weekends helped strengthen me and ease the pain. The kids wrote notes and drew pictures for grandpa in heaven. Surprisingly, this nonchalant celebration of him makes me happy. One day at a time is absolutely true!
- Everyday adjustments like cooking, taking out the trash, killing bugs or figuring out why the dryer doesn't work takes time...but will build confidence. These things my husband handled; now I use his tool box, keep a shoe handy, take my time in the grocery aisles......and what I cannot do, I put on a list for my son, son-in-law and neighbors. This is part of the deal....learning to ask for help. I built and lit a fire during the winter storms and made tacos for myself. However, I'm hanging clothes in the great outdoors until the dryer fairy comes. I was spoiled, dependent and well cared for; so it's not easy taking charge of my house and my life. But, like the good witch told Dorothy, I've "always had the power." Buying and preparing nutritious food has been my biggest challenge, so figuring things out for myself and asking questions is another step in the right direction.
- His things versus our things will make you stop, think and question...probably forever. I lowered the cable bill by removing the hundred dollars' worth of sports packages he loved. Terrible guilt...I'd complained over the years...but it had to be done. More hand-wringing cancelling three papers. Newspapers were us. We met working on our college paper, he was an editor in various cities and newspapers meant coffee and lively discussions in our retirement years. His shirts and pants are still in the closet; but I did donate his warm sweaters and jackets. His recliner is still 'grandpa's chair.' His office we call the den now. I work at his computer sometimes, but the pictures and posters, the model car, the lanyards from every convention he attended are part of him....thus a part of me. I sold his beloved jeep; where he let the grandkids pile in the back and ride dripping wet the half block from the pool. The fab five will always be ours...becoming grandparents created our future 16 years ago.
- Honoring his wishes and his life are huge responsibilities. We'd discussed what-ifs during our 47 years together and assured each other we were having a wonderful life. He felt strongly about cremation and wanted his ashes spread on the lake where he grew up. It was a beautiful ceremony. We held two services in two different states; one was taped and made into DVD's for us, the other was photographed and made into a photo book; treasures forever. I'm filled with joy when I get all green lights, find lucky pennies or hear the twins ask how God will let Santa know not to leave presents under the tree. Whether a spiritual connection or the humor in everyday things, he is close. I tell him about my day at bedtime; and say 8-13 (our anniversary date) morning and night as was our habit. The holidays went smoothly with the support of family and friends who made sure he was included...using his recipes, lighting candles, giving toasts. Framed photos of him sit in every room and I smile now when I glance up and see a reminder. We always knew someday one of us would be left to carry on; keeping his light burning is part of that commitment.
- Moving forward will seem like two steps ahead, one step behind. Keeping busy helps; for me it's been cleaning house, going back to work and volunteering. Hazy, blue days just need the comfort of time passing....so I write, I read, I cry. But there is much more to beginning this new chapter. First, I asked who am I now? Is my body still attractive? Am I single or a widow? Will my goals and intentions change? How can I be confident in all that I do without my cheerleader? It's not easy rediscovering self-image...reinventing a future. Initially, I worried about being the only one left....that I'd die too. I stopped exercising and driving at night and was afraid of shadows. It took my doctor's push to get me back in the gym. I was needed in the evening hours, so I drove. I eventually stopped leaving lights on at night and slept just fine. Memories don't bring tears so much anymore, but rather joy in understanding that his love equipped me for what's ahead.
My mom showed me how to age gracefully, but I remember how she hid her grief and slowed down after my dad died. So consider this; what a great gift it can be to show our kids how to live the end of life. I want to keep traveling, learning and playing just as my husband and I did. Can I do it alone? Will I find a companion? Should I sell the house? I'll find a new future, but I'll still read the chapters of my past once in while. I feel an inner whisper that tells me I'm making progress.
Joan, how brave you are. And how wise. All of us who love are risking having to deal with what you are going through and I can't think of any better advice to give to everyone who loves than to read these words. I wanna be you when I grow up.ReplyDelete
A lot has to do with that love, Bob...we gain strength and wisdom without knowing......and then it's there when we need it. Thanks for your sweet comment.Delete
I'm so sorry for your loss. You give good advice, particularly to keep busy and let people help, particularly adult children. Let someone else be strong once in a while. Take care of yourself.ReplyDelete
My kids depended on Dad just as I did. He was their hero......so seeing them rise ever so high was amazing! They really were my strength....still are! Thank you; I'm taking care of myself for them!Delete
You are brave -- and strong. I am tempted to say I hope I never have to go through this but that would mean that Richard would and I don't want that for him either. I do hope the rest of your journey is an easy one.ReplyDelete
I know what you mean, Kc. It's never something we want to think about. Friends and family and faith are all helping. Thanks for your sweet note.Delete
I am so sorry but I know you will be fine...I have no idea why but you will be.ReplyDelete
I loved your statement "what a great gift it can be to show our kids how to live the end of life. I want to keep traveling, learning and playing just as my husband and I did." That is one of the wisest things I have ever heard. Just being a wonderful role model for our children and grandchildren is enough to keep a person going.
Wow...thanks for your vote of confidence, Barbara! You are so right....my kids and grandkids keep me going. I would like them to someday look back and recall that Grandma did it well!Delete
Joan...I laughed and cried throughout this post, So powerful and fragile. You exude grace. I pray you peace, friend.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Patti. I felt so full of grace after reading YOUR post. I know it's always within us.....but it has helped carry me through this for sure. I appreciate your prayers and kind words!Delete
You have faced the unimaginable, and your grace in doing so continually astounds me, Joan. These wise words resonate and will be remembered for a long time. Your husband would be proud of you. The worth and magnitude of the lessons on life and love that you're teaching your children and grandchildren — and your readers — are immeasurable. Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt post. May your challenges become less daunting — and your bugs needing smashing fewer in number — as you continue to nurture the legacy you and your husband began. You. Are. Amazing. ♥ReplyDelete
Thanks Lisa! I know how you feel about bugs.....mentioned so bravely in your posts! LOL I love the word nurture here....it makes me smile and realize that as I'm moving ahead; he'll be part of my future as well as my past.ReplyDelete
Oh, my goodness this is such a moving post. It is filled with so much valuable information and honesty. It made me think of my mom when my father passed away and my older sister who handled the remaining estate when my mother passed. May each passing day continue to bring healing and comfort.ReplyDelete
Thank you so much, Mary! I appreciate your sweet words and your support in other places. My Mom had to deal with my dad's passing....but worked with my brother to prepare everything for when it was her time. It did and all ran smoothly; I want to do the same for my kids now!Delete
You have really raised some great points and in them brought me to tears. I am sorry for your loss. My favorite brother in law recently passed away and my favorite sister in law said to me she did not know how to spell widow.ReplyDelete
Thank you for your touching words, I am so sorry for your loss as well. Hopefully my post can help someone ahead of time; sometimes things stay in our head and surface when we need it! Wish I'd paid attention when my mom was preparing things for when it was her time.Delete
Terrific piece. I am sorry for your loss. You have learned so much; wonderful of you to share it with others.ReplyDelete
Thank you for your kind words, Pam. I shared this journey because it was healing to me.....so pleased it serves to help others as well!Delete
Joan, once again you leave me near speechless...and thankful that I keep a box of tissues in every room. These words are beautifully written and such a powerful testament to your marriage and to your own strength. Brava!!ReplyDelete
Oh Olga, thank you so much dear friend. I hope I covered it well. You are on this path too and I wish you strength, faith and memories for guidance. HugsDelete
Hi Joan! This is an awesome post and so important for all the rest of us who are in long term relationships--because the truth is it could--and will--happen to all the rest of us at some point or another. I know when my parents both passed that there are lots of ways people differ on how we grieve and move forward so having a sense of that is pretty important. And yes, I watched as my parents passed away and you're so wise to know your children are watching. Thank you for sharing your story so that the rest of us may better prepare. And thank you for sharing both your sorrow and your strength--may we do as well when faced with such loss. ~KathyReplyDelete
Writing this had a healing affect on me; so nice to know it holds valuable info for others! Thank you for reading and commenting; I appreciate your sweet words!Delete
I am so sorry for your loss...and scared as well. It could so easily have been my husband...he is still recovering from a double lung transplant. You are a very strong person.ReplyDelete
I've been reading and following your posts about your husband; is he not out of the woods yet? I can't imagine the stress you must have gone through providing encouragement with a happy face and the troubling worries of the unknown. Thank you for reading me. Prayers for you and your husband.Delete
A beautiful post, Joan...you are such a tremendous writer. I have followed along here and there ...I remember the shock of his passing because it was utter shock, unexpected, nothing that you could have prepared yourself for over time. You have been on a hard journey...with wonderful children and grand children to travel it with you...I like the idea of him writing in the sky :)ReplyDelete
This means a lot to me Deb! Thank you so much for being a fan and follower!Delete
This is a lovely piece filled with practical advice. As a new grandma, I especially appreciated reading of the comfort your grandchildren have given you.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Barbara. Congratulations on becoming a grandma! Your life will always be filled with joy now.....in good times and bad.Delete
I found your post on Midlife Boulevard and am so sorry to hear of your loss, but so admire you for writing such a helpful and useful post for anyone else who might go through this same thing. It's wonderful that your kids stepped up to the plate, that shows how well you raised them I suppose. All my best to you as you learn how to live now in this new life you're entering.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Claudia! You and the other amazing women of MB give me strength and guidance as well! :)Delete
There was great comfort in knowing my kids had the character traits we'd nurtured......it shows tremendously now-a-days!
How generous of you to think of others and share what you have learned. Beautifully expressed.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Joyce....this means so much. I'm still learning, but it's nice to know I might help others.Delete
What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your heart. Be strong and live and treasure your memories.ReplyDelete
Wanda Ann @ Memories by the Mile
Memories are sustaining for sure. Even when they bring tears.....a kind of cleansing needed I suppose. Thanks for your sweet words, Wanda.Delete
I really, really appreciate the practical thoughts and suggestions in this post, Joan, as well as the touching memories.ReplyDelete
My husband has a folder on his computer desktop, entitled, "In the Event of My Death". It gives me a cold chill, every time I think about it, and that's quickly followed by the realization of how much love there is in a gesture like that. But the fact that you are facing this with such courage, and wisdom, and are willing to share what you've learned: that brings something very good out of your loss. Thank you.
Thank you, Susan. Writing was healing and also knowing that my experiences may help others. How wonderful your husband has gathered everything together.....we only talked about the what-ifs. Thanks for reading and responding.Delete
One of the most beautiful posts I have ever read. I'm crying while contemplating how you wove in canceling the sports package, Amex and so much more.ReplyDelete
Thanks for being so brave and not only teaching your family about how to grieve but everyone who reads this post.
Sounds funny now, but that's what popped into my head at the time; things I had to look at, figure out, handle on my own. Thanks for your sweet words, Pia. My kids and grandkids needed my strength I guess.....I just kept going.Delete
This brought me back so quickly to the time when I was 15 and my father died the exact same way. It devastated us he was 46. It was horrible to lose my father and I still miss him 30 years later but to lose my husband I can't even imagine. My husband has lost alot of family members to cancer 3 last year alone the youngest only 41. We all know that death is going to happen but having to navigate your whole life over through a different set of eyes has to be one of the bravest things. I'm sure your children and grandchildren are equally proud of you as well.ReplyDelete
So sorry for your losses, Rena. Facing life on my own...without my parents or husband...was not in the plan. Renegotiating my way and continuing the ride is all I can do. Hope floats!! Thanks for reading me.Delete
Wow! I am sitting here not really knowing what to say except to tell you how much your post touched me. I think most women know that this will likely happen to us "some time" but this points out just how much our life will change when/if the time comes. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and my sincere condolences on your loss.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Shelley. It's been 3 and 1/2 years now and I've made progress. But still a part of me that wishes I could still be dependent, spoiled, looked after...make my coffee, pour my wine! Thanks for reading me.Delete
I am so sorry for your loss. My husband is infirm, so I worry that your story will be mine one day. Thanks for the encouragement that people do get through it.
My husband used a cane; leaned on my arm sometimes. I'm so glad I told him it was perfectly okay when I helped him out after all he did for me! Our love and friendship did equip me to be stronger and smarter than I ever knew....until I had to be. Hugs to you and your husband.Delete
You amaze me. That you could reach out past your own pain to help others who may be going through the same thing. Thank you!ReplyDelete
I couldn't write for 6 months...he was my editor. I had no cheerleader. It was this group of women who urged me to write again and share my pain. It's been 3 years but this is evergreen and I've shared it many places. Knowing it touches/helps one person helps me to continually heal too. Thanks for reading and commenting, Diane!Delete
In 1998, my father in law went to bed on Christmas night and never woke up. My husband and I were there visiting and that day after Christmas was a blur of trying to make arrangements, etc. In the next months I saw my mother in law gain an independence she never had while married but I know it was harder than I was permitted to see. I am sharing your post - it has a lot of practical advice, and, yes, I never even thought of some of these things you pointed out. Thank you.ReplyDelete
What a great post! My deepest condolences on your loss. I am also a widow -- my guy died in 2015. I don't have biological children, but am involved in the lives of his two adult kids. Thanks for the great things you said.... it's good to know I'm not the only one.ReplyDelete
Joan I am so sorry for your loss. What a generous gift your writing is. You have taken the most painful loss and shared it with us so poignantly to give us hope, as well as practical advice, to help us when confronting the inevitable loss of our own partners.ReplyDelete
It will be six years, this Christmas Day, my husband went out for a walk and died unexpectedly. Like you, I was blind-sided, stunned with overwhelming grief. I've always been a tough woman, but his death brought me to my knees. He was my everything. I'd waited all my life for him. Unlike you, I didn't have children to comfort me. At church on Sundays, the other widows--all older than I am--would comfort me. I remember asking one of them when does this terrible hurt go away, and she said the worst part would be over in about a year, but it never leaves you. You just learn to walk beside it. While I've gone on with my life--starting 1010ParkPlace was what helped me turn the corner--I haven't even been to dinner with another man. On one hand I'd like someone in my life, but on the other hand, I'm not sure that's really true. My thoughts are with you, Joan. BrendaReplyDelete
Thinking of you too, Brenda. I remember you telling me this last year and my heart went out to you....really makes Christmas time so tough for you. Be careful what you wish for; the only time I felt anything for another guy he stepped back. He's still my 'person' but we can't get past the feeling of betrayal even though our spouses died. We dance around the labels (companion, relationship, friendship) but that is enough. :) Hugs to you as you navigate this holiday weekend.Delete