3 Critical Steps to Managing Widow Brain

Critical Steps to Managing Widow Brain

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Short and Sweet Summary: Widowhood is already full of heartache and pain and when your brain isn’t functioning at its optimal capacity, it’s frustrating as hell. When you can’t find the right words or you keep forgetting things, take a deep breath. And practice these suggestions to ease the frustration of managing widow brain moments in your grief journey.

When you find your car keys in the refrigerator or milk in the pantry, you can blame your confusion on a very real condition called widow brain.

Grief has seized your brain cells, balled them up with its fist and chucked them right out the freaking window. It’s a good thing our brain cells can regrow [source].

Anyway, the fog that follows you around from sunup to sundown makes it extremely difficult to do even rudimentary things because your brain isn’t functioning normally, if at all.

Widow brain is real and you’re not crazy. The good news is, managing widow brain is easier once you figure out what the hell it is.


I’m not going to get all clinical-like with a doctor-y definition because I’m not a neurologist and I don’t play one on the Internet. So how about if I just offer a brief, easily digestible, definition instead?

Ok. Here goes.

Well, the brief definition is that when you suffer a significant loss, your brain has a way of sheltering you from things that are too taxing on your already fragile system. Basically, it shuts down any nonessential functions.

We call the foggy or “hazy” feelings, the lack of concentration, the forgetfulness, and the inability to complete simple tasks “widow brain” because it’s your brain’s response to your traumatic loss. The lack of concentration and mental capacity limits are just your brain’s natural coping mechanism.

And let’s face it, grief is hard work. That’s about all you can handle right now. Concentration takes loads of effort, so the haze sets in to give your brain a much-needed break from overthinking.

When something traumatic happens, it’s like your brain says, “Ok let’s take this down a notch” because you can’t regulate yourself so your brain’s going to do it for you.


After my husband died, I had several mishaps with my cell phone. It fell out of my pocket. Or I ran over it with my car. Or I looked for my cell phone while I was talking to someone on my flipping cell phone.


I literally moved piles of paper, looked in coat pockets and cursed under my breath because I couldn’t find my cell phone while I was talking on it. I’m so embarrassed to admit that.

And, it’s happened more than once!

I also remember sitting at a red light one night and the left turn lane arrow turned green. I proceeded into the intersection. Only I wasn’t in the left turn lane. I thought the green light was for my lane, but it wasn’t. The boys’ screams from the backseat jolted me to reality before I got too far out into the intersection. I did a “my bad” wave to the other cars and backed up. Ugh. Widow brain almost wrecked my car. And all of us in it.

Years later I’m still fighting the occasional widow brain relapse. My most pressing problem these days is remembering words. Like, I just had to look up the word “intersection.” I typed into the search engine, “the word for where four roads converge.”


How did I dig up the word “converge” from my the far recesses of my brain,  but somehow the word intersection eluded me?

I used to get really upset with and berate myself for forgetting words or for misplacing keys. I mean, I could complete 12,436 other tasks during the day how could I forget common words so easily?

Stop berating widow brain

Berating yourself does no good.

At all.

If you do this, please stop. 

Mistakes make us human.

I don’t get upset with myself anymore since I’ve found 3 critical steps to tame the ugly widow brain beast.

Because I know you have way too many things to do in one day, I’ve only included three easily doable steps.

If you can find time to only do these three things, you’re way ahead of the game.


You’ve been through an incredible amount of pain and your brain has been going nonstop as you try to absorb your new way of life. Exhaustion beats you down daily. The only way to beat exhaustion back is to rest.

Notice I didn’t say sleep. I said rest. If you can sleep, great, but I know how elusive sleep can be during your most intense grief episodes. So if sleep eludes you, simply resting during the day can do wonders for your exhausted brain. When you’re dealing with managing widow brain, if you can only carve out five minutes a day, it’s better than nothing. 

Make time to do something like:

  1. Lay on the couch and close your eyes for 5 minutes
  2. Light a candle and watch the flame for 5 minutes
  3. Put on a relaxation CD for 5 minutes
  4. Stare out the window for 5 minutes
  5. Pet your dog for 5 minutes

These simple things stop your brain from overload for a few minutes. It’s not voodoo mumbo-jumbo. It’s not like only people born in November or left-handed people can do it.

You can rest yourself and your brain if you just try. Stop multi-tasking for a measly five minutes a day. Longer if you can. But five minutes is a good place to start.

If you’re looking for permission to rest five minutes a day, I officially give you permission.

You’re welcome.


Forgetfulness, inability to complete tasks and irritability are all natural responses to grief. Accepting that you are doing the best you can with the resources you have will help you through the frustrating times.

No “fix” exists for getting through this period of your loss. It is what it is. Just move through your days reminding yourself that, in time, you will return to some semblance of normalcy. Whatever time and normal means to you.

It took me awhile to accept my widow brain. I don’t enjoy forgetting things.

Especially when I’m at the grocery store with my list and I come home without a certain item that was on the list. I wrote the item on the list. I looked at the item on list. But I came home without the item that was on the list.


Now I look at myself in the mirror and say, “I know you are doing the best you can.” I’ve accepted that I will suffer bouts of confusion and it’s OK. I can only do so much.

Acceptance is key. No one is perfect.


It’s pretty funny when you think about it. When I look for my sunglasses that are perched on top of my head or look for the cell phone that I’m talking on, I have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Humor can be found almost anywhere if you’re open to it.

Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.
-Mark Twain

The belly-laugh, pee-my-pants, funniest times in our house are when I’m yelling at the boys and I’m so mad I’m snorting like a bull and I’m trying to get my point across but I can’t find the words I want to say and it comes out like this:

“…and I TOLD you to clean your rooms and pick up your MESS and put away your dirty…um…uhh…errr…YOU KNOW…those things I told you to pick up 12 times…YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT…those things you put on your feet!”

The boys look at me with heads cocked to the side and say, “uhh…you mean shoes?”

I continue my rant but inevitably break down into laughing fits because I couldn’t remember the name for shoes. Anyone reading this who isn’t a widow or hasn’t lost a spouse must think I’m stone-cold crazy.

But you widows know exactly what I mean. I hope you also laugh at yourself when you put your keys in the refrigerator or when you can’t think of the word shoes.

It’s pretty damn funny.


This widow journey is already full of heartache and pain and when your brain isn’t functioning at its optimal capacity, it’s frustrating as hell. When you can’t find the right words or you forgot an item on your grocery list, take a deep breath. You’re just having trouble managing widow brain.

It’s OK.

You’re not incompetent. You are simply overwhelmed. There is a difference.

Rest when you can, accept your reality and laugh it off. If you can’t laugh about some the absurdity of it all, you are taking yourself way too seriously. 

Lighten up, Francis.

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  1. I read your post about the Widow Brain and I am glad that I found it. My husband died in 2015 and after I felt those exact same moments and forgetfulness. I thought I was stupid and crazy and would ask myself, What’s wrong with me. Now reading this I know I’m not alone. Thank you very much for all the information it was very helpful.

    1. You’re definitely not alone 😊. I’m glad the post was helpful. I still experience moments of intense confusion, but now I give myself some extra time to slow down and try to relax 🙄.

  2. I ran a red light! The green arrow was on in left lane so I went. Photo I forced sent a picture of me and I got a ticket. I knew I did it after I started going through but to late to stop so I had to keep going or get it. I felt so stupid. Every time I had a conversation with a friend I felt like we were playing charades. I could think of simple words.
    18 months out my brain still has not fully recovered just glad it has a name because I thought I was going crazy.

  3. I ran a red light! The green arrow was on in left lane so I went. Photo I forced sent a picture of me and I got a ticket. I knew I did it after I started going through but to late to stop so I had to keep going or get it. I felt so stupid. Every time I had a conversation with a friend I felt like we were playing charades. I could think of simple words.
    18 months out my brain still has not fully recovered just glad it has a name because I thought I was going crazy.

  4. I lost my husband last month, and had convinced myself that I’d lost my mind soon after. I’m glad to read that I was wrong about that. Thank you for setting me straight (or at least less wobbly)!

    1. Hi Nancy, now that you know you haven’t lost your mind, you’ll be able to give yourself some extra compassion when confusion takes over on those extra hard days ❤.

  5. Thanks you for this. It has just been a year & I’m struggling with this & have 2 young kids. Although I’m not glad that others experience this, it’s comforting to know I’m not alone.

  6. I don’t know how I came upon this today . I sure needed it . I have learned a lot .I have lost 2 husbands . I rook care of both with Hospice. . Just wanted to say Thank You

  7. I lost my husband of 26 years on 1/5/2021. I feel like I cannot concentrate or stay focused at work. I’m afraid this will cause problems with my work. I cannot help it. I think about him all the time and if I am bot thinking of him I feel so bad. He was such a wonderful man. I feel a little lost. But I get up everyday and do the best I can. I know that’s what he would want. It’s just hard.

    1. Hi Becky, things are still so new and raw for you. Please give yourself the extra grace and space to feel all the feelings. This IS hard. Let it be hard without judgement ❤.

      1. Thank you for your input. I am really trying my best. I have a wonderful support group in friends. Our 3 boys (grown men but always our boys)are awesome. I feel like I’ve not grieved as I should be grieving. I know everyone grieves differently. The paperwork involved I losing a spouse is also overwhelming. I will get through this. I am thinking of joining a grief group as well. Thank you again for reaching out to me.

      2. I lost my husband on 8/11/20. He suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke; he was only 53 years old. Here I am at 43, trying to navigate my life without him. As you stated, grief is bad enough. But when you begin to feel like you’re developing early onset Alzheimer’s or fearing you have a brain tumor because you literally lose chunks of time from just the day before, that is truly frightening. I’m sorry we have or are currently experiencing this but there’s a sense of relief knowing you’re not alone. Now it’s just working through it with my grief counselor to try and figure out what life looks like for me now without my husband at my side. Strength and peace to all of you. God bless.

        1. Thank you for reading and responding, Melissa. I think we lose chunks of time because that’s when our brain is protecting us from the trauma. So, it’s not only OK but necessary for our mental health ❤.

  8. I looked for my phone while I was talking on it before I even got widow’s brain🙄🙄🙄

  9. My husband of nearly 47 years died Christmas Eve morning of Parkinson’s. In so many ways it was a relief because he had suffered with dementia for several months. I did really well ( or at least I thought so) for 3 months. Then I started feeling like I was walking in a daze, unable to complete tasks, etc. it is just as you described. Reading your article makes me realize I am not going crazy, I am just dealing with grief in a way I never expected. Thank you for this insight.

    1. Hi Joanne, lots of unexpected feelings and actions surface as a result of grief. You’re definitely not going crazy and need to show yourself some extra grace now more than ever 💛!

  10. Comment:
    just came upon this site. looks good. I lost my husband about 3 months ago, from a long debilitating illness. we were married 45 years. I still cannot grasp the enormity of his passing. the finality and reality are overwhelming.
    I find going to Zumba, or something similar is a great catharsis for me. often I find that I am crying copious teras during dancing, I guess my endorphins are all over the place.

    re widow brain, I find that I am quite scattered, jumping from tasks half-finished to another task. similar to ADD. and often not knowing how to start my day….decisions don’t come easily as they often did in the past. I have what is called a monkey brain. jumping all over the place, like a gerbil spinning in a cage, round and round………
    I catered to my husband for many years, now, it’s about my health. quite frankly I think I am suffering from PTSD. Need much patience for the process of grieving. my mantra…

    1. Hi Chana, crying is good. And Zumba is good. So crying while you’re doing Zumba is good ❤. You’re still in the beginning stages of “WTF just happened?” so give yourself some extra compassion as you navigate this new world.

  11. My husband of forty years died last August. I thought I’d feel better after 8 months, but there are still so many issues. Yes, I get more done but none of it feels purposeful. Grieving in a pandemic is worse. I go days without seeing another soul. Friends have almost vanished. My family is all far away.
    Thank you for putting so much of how I feel into words.

    1. Hi Rosemary, I understand everything you’re saying. It’s incredibly difficult to manage so many things…a death, a pandemic, family, friends, etc. Please give yourself credit for facing your daily challenges and continuing to move through the crappy days. Your husband would be proud of your progress ❤.

  12. I lost my husband February 12, 2021 . We were married 53 years. Our 54 th anniversary is coming August 6th. I know it has only been 4 months but I still cry and am just tired. I was his caregiver for two years. I feel so many things you describe in Widow Brain. I go to lunch with friends but I am just happy to stay home. I just miss him.

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