This is a follow up on my blogpost earlier this year at my ten weeks after loss. I write these in case they help other young widows and anyone else who can relate to my experiences. Those who read my previous post know that I lost my husband a year ago. Things feel like they have come a long way. It’s an interesting phase. You accept you have lost your partner, and you are trying to reconfigure your new life. I am seeing that this reconfiguring part happens in phases and I don’t know how long it will be before I reach a plateau with my new lifestyle. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, although you got here for a sad reason. The only promise I made myself was that I will not make sharp turns and that I will treat myself with kindness and compassion. I have a world of emotional safety around myself. And then there is a neutral world and a smaller rough world beyond, which we have no choice but to navigate.
Beyond the initial weeks after loss, there are no mortal remains. My family practices Hinduism, which doesn’t allow keeping any of the ashes or even the urn or packaging or any physical memory from the last rites. The priests even made me donate all the clothes I wore during the last rite prayers. A year out, even the monthly prayers for the soul’s journey are completed and the frequency of prayers becomes annual.
Grieving, as I mentioned in my previous blogpost, evolves as time goes by. There are far fewer crying spells, there are days of emotional crises here and there that become fewer and far in between. The grief spells (or waves as many like to call them) also become shorter in duration with time, but as I have emphasized in the previous post, it’s not a linear progression to a ‘no grief’ state. It is unrealistic to think that you will never grieve. You learn that happiness waves and grief waves are independent of each other. You find joy in life again, although there is no specific timeline. I figured out how to ride the grief wave and come out intact at the end of it. You just lay still, drink a lot of water, and do whatever comes to your mind – like reading or watching TV or listening to music. Not doing anything is a real and a very good option. (I had never given myself permission to not do anything in the previous version of my life.) You have to trust that it will pass. Fighting it will make it worse. ‘Why me’ won’t work because there is always the counterfactual ‘Why not me’. The grief wave eventually passes and you will feel hungry and you get up, eat something and get on with your normal life. The measure of success is regaining the ability to do your activities of daily living (like eating, bathing, etc.,) and the ability to feel joy and feel productive again. You can’t change the fact that you have lost someone who was central to your life. Adding new members in your life (in my case, two wonderful nephews were added to my life since my husband passed) doesn’t substitute the loss.
Material items are a pain in the rear. Seriously! Because you are beyond the acute grief stage, you have a lot more energy and you recognize that tucking in all the material odds and ends is highly necessary. Postponing these will only harm you later on. It’s important to be clear on what you want to achieve though. In my case, I downsized my home, consolidated retirement accounts, sold one of our two cars, sold furniture, and worked through a list of scores of items, big and small. Every time you see an item go, you feel sad, but you feel better later on. Even small things like deleting the home link in your car blue tooth will give you temporary sadness, but every bit makes you feel that much lighter. Crossing items off my to-do list was one of the greatest sources of joy for me. Being clear on what you want out of the material items in your life (and your children’s lives and those of any other dependents in your life) is key in order to get through this process. It’s also critical to recognize and stay away from people who could harm you emotionally or materially or both. Like people wanting to steal your money, or being unscrupulous enough to charge you more than the right price for a service, for example. I have included a different trusted person in material transactions whenever I felt that I was potentially getting taken advantage of. Tucking in material items may never be completely over, and may be harder than I had it, particularly when there are dependents and children involved, but it is possible to reach a reasonably sustainable new state with respect to material items in your life. The hard work is worth every bit, and then some.
Figuring out a new life without your loved one is the hardest part of all. The social landscape shifts around you. Friendships and relationships hit an invisible reset button. Some become stronger, some become weaker. Some just disappear. It is hard to not feel sad, especially if you were counting on some relationships, but you got to let go. You just have to trust that it is what it is and grow towards the stronger relationships. An analogy is this – when you hike in the woods and the path is unpaved, you will step on firm and level rocks, not on loose or sharp rocks, right? It’s the same here. You have to monitor your emotional bandwidth and figure out who you feel emotionally safe with or where you are on the spectrum with others. I have experienced all feelings – hope, conflict, frustration, helplessness, energy and motivation, as I go about configuring a new life without Anil. I made a promise to myself that I will keep the good parts of my current life and lose the bad parts. Same with my career. The goals I set for myself are to become a whole person again, keep intact the ability to feel happy for others, live life and continue to grow to fullest potential. The acute realization of my own mortality made me promise myself I won’t go after unimportant things any more. As for identity, I have learned that there are at least three types of single people – never married singles, divorced singles, and widowed singles. I am able to explain my widowed single state to people with a tone of acceptance. Often times, I find myself helping others wrap their head around what happened to me this last year. It’s funny but true – it seems like there is more sympathy from strangers when they learn that you are a widowed single.
These are the activities and resources that have helped me so far.
· Time with family and close friends, reliving warm memories, journaling, doing things I love doing – like yoga, blogging, reading and traveling
· Pursuing career and meaningful work
· Logging every day what gave me joy, what I am grateful for, what I did that was worthwhile- this has been particularly helpful in reconfiguring what’s important
· Reading – I have read a lot more books this past year compared to previous years
· Seeing a therapist for a few weeks to help with ‘breathing into knots’ as they say in yoga. Even though I am a very reflective person by nature, what was different about the therapist (who was particularly good) was the questions she asked. When a question is framed differently, somehow the answer you come up with is different and that leads you to greater clarity. It was also validating to hear that your concerns are legitimate. I have framed some of my questions in my social interactions like a therapist would, since I met her.
· Hot Young Widows Club, a closed group on Facebook. Being part of this support group has been unquestionably and tremendously helpful. There are a gazillion big and small things that non-widows don’t relate to, regardless of how close you are to them, and that’s where this peer support group helps. Huge props to this group!
· Music, movies and other forms of entertainment that I would have enjoyed normally
Overall, you are not on this journey by choice, but it’s doable and you are not alone in this either.