To those who are newly widowed, I pray for God’s help as you process the pain of grief. Here are some suggestions that helped me cope with the most difficult experience of my life, when I became a widow with young children.
1. Breathe deeply. Eat healthy, drink water, get fresh air, exercise. Remind yourself of these basics, because your world has crashed in. Care for your body; your mind is working overtime to process everything.
2. The video loop in your mind will stop. Fifteen years ago, I did CPR on my husband when he died of a sudden heart attack. As that video looped in my mind, I beat myself up mentally for what I could have/should have done. Just as I lived through it, know that your video loop will stop. Until then, see #1.
3. Stop criticizing yourself. You did the best that you could do under the circumstances. Talking with the coroner may help explain what happened and ease your mind. The outcome remains upsetting, and the why questions may never be answered completely, but it helps to know the facts.
4. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc. complicate grief. They may provide temporary pleasure or distraction, but they won’t deal with the underlying problem. One widow got drunk every night for 8 months; afterward, she still had to face her grief.
5. Face your grief. Stuffing, ignoring, or drowning it out does not help you process your pain or maintain your mental health. Deal with your grief and work through it. There is no shame in getting help from a trusted counselor or grief group to process your grief. GriefShare helped me; sign up for their daily emails of encouragement or their support groups. Grief is a mental, emotional, and spiritual process that ultimately will be worth working through. Until then, it stinks.
6. Write down memories of your spouse and ask others to do the same. Save them in a notebook. This is painful at first, but these memories will be treasured. This is meaningful to do as a family, especially with young children.
7. Ask for help. People don’t know how to help, so give them specific tasks when they offer. Think of things your spouse did that seem overwhelming or tasks that you normally do, but don’t have the energy to do now. Then ask one person to do one task. Keep asking those who offered.
8. Grief rewrites your address book. Surprisingly, new friends may step up to support you, but old friends may back off. Many people have no idea how to support someone whose loved one dies. Consider that people around you are also grieving; they may stay away to avoid their grief or because it hurts them to see you in pain.
9. Don’t let anyone rush you in decision-making, especially about sorting or giving away your spouse’s possessions. Grief fogs our minds. Wait one year before making big decisions was advice my mom got when my dad died at age thirty-five. Decades later, that advice helped me to wait before moving across the country with my kids.
10. Processing your grief will challenge you mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. You love your spouse, and this a huge adjustment. His/her sudden absence takes time for your mind to understand completely. I had a lot of emotions; my therapist told me to “Take it to God, because He is big enough to handle it.” Working things through—and expressing my anger to God—helped me find comfort and understanding. A life-changing event like this can deepen your character. That outcome is long-term and hard to imagine now, so go back to #1 as needed.
For more details on my story, see the memoir My River of Sorrow and Memorial Stones, the sequel that describes what I learned through grief.
See my previous posts to grieving children, a new widower, a famous widow, and to my late husband.