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Managing Grief and Loss: 7 Things Widows Forget to Do

What Widows Forget to Do When Managing Grief

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Short and Sweet Summary: When you’re grieving, doing even mundane things takes extra effort. But what about the not-so-mundane things? The things you can’t necessarily check off on a to-do list? Because managing grief and loss requires stamina and internal fortitude, don’t sabotage your efforts by forgetting to do these 7 important things.

Is grief manageable?

I mean, can one really manage something that causes so much heartache and confusion?

If you’re like most, myself included, you’d rather shake off the grief, not try to accommodate it. It sucks, and it’s uncomfortable.

But we know grief isn’t going anywhere. We don’t get to bypass the pain.

I’ve tried.

It doesn’t work.

Sometimes I forget to do the things that DO work. Because grief requires so much stamina and internal fortitude, it’s easy to forget how to help yourself.

I mean, you’re exhausted, right? Too stressed out? Suffer from widow brain?

Read on as I remind myself, and you, about 7 ultra-important components for managing grief and loss.

FEEL THE FEELINGS

Grief is ugly. Man, is it messy.

And it hurts.

Grief will kick you so far down into an excruciating abyss you won’t see light for days. If you do manage to glimpse a sunny flicker here and there, grief will come back with a right hook so hard you drop to your knees from the dizzy spinning inside your head.

And then it will shake you again. Slap you around a bit. Try to wake you up.

When grief drags you into the ring for another fight, call a truce. Agree to feel the feelings that grief is demanding you feel. Grief doesn’t want to fight. It just wants to be acknowledged.

The more you ignore your feelings or try to suffocate them, the harder grief will try to get your attention.

Cry when you need to. Scream if you must. Just stop doing whatever you’re doing long enough to observe your feelings. You can make peace with grief just by saying, “Hello grief. I see you. You have my attention.” And once you’ve observed and felt those feelings, you can let them pass.

No judgment.

Just feeling.

ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR PROGRESS

You don’t get to bypass grief and pain any more than a caterpillar chooses whether to undergo metamorphosis.

It’s the law of nature, wids.

The caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out [source].

The caterpillar turns into mushy, fucking soup before it becomes a beautiful butterfly.

There’s no way you get to emerge on the other side of excruciating pain before experiencing your own metamorphosis. You must digest then release all of your profound, gritty, uncomfortable, messy, painful truths before you transform into the new you.

It’s so easy to focus on the hard stuff – the crying and misery – that you forget how much progress you’ve actually made.

You’re making progress every day just by:

  • getting out of bed
  • overcoming challenges
  • completing tasks
  • acknowledging grief
  • breathing

All of that is progress. Every day is progress. Don’t sell yourself short on what you’ve accomplished.

Acknowledge your awe-inspiring evolution every day.

ASK FOR HELP

Do you ask for help when you need it?

Often, we don’t ask for help because we don’t want to be a burden. Everyone else has their own schedules, appointments, and things to do. It’s really, really hard to ask for help.

So we try to do everything ourselves until we either lose it mentally or exhaust ourselves physically.

Unfortunately, I learned the physically exhausting lesson the hard way.

I still suffer from a wrecked shoulder when I laid 60 bags of mulch and 40 bags of rocks the summer after my husband died. I didn’t want to ask anyone to help because it’s a sucky job to begin with. So, I purchased the bags. Emptied them out of my van. Dragged them to the mulch and rock beds. Poured them out. And raked it all evenly.

ALL IN TWO DAYS.

A few weeks later, I was in the doctor’s office because of acute shoulder pain. When the doctor tried to diagnose the source, she asked me what I’d been doing differently lately. In my grief-induced fog, I couldn’t come up with one single thing out of the ordinary.

I seriously didn’t remember laying the mulch and rocks!

WTF?

She casually mentioned landscaping and then it clicked. Oh yeah. Mulch and rocks. OMG!

I ended up doing several weeks of physical therapy because I was too proud to ask for landscaping help.

And now, every year, right around this time, my shoulder pain flares up. Like clockwork. Every stinking year. I think it’s my body’s way of saying “please don’t EVER do that again!”

Message received. Loud and clear. Now I pay someone to lay the mulch. It’s money well spent in my book.

So, I get it. I know how hard it is to ask for help. I’ve had to ask for help with my irrigation system (the bane of my existence), tree trimming, snow blower malfunctions, etc.

I don’t love asking for help, but my body and my sanity are thankful when I do. We just can’t do it all.

So, please ask for help when you need it.

Don’t forget or ignore this ultra-important aspect of coping with grief and loss.

SEEK OUT A SUPPORT GROUP

It’s important to validate your feelings with people who get you. People experiencing the same thing you are. Participating in a support group is immeasurable in helping deal with the devastating effects of loss.

Not all grief is equal, though.

When we started out in our family grief support group, I remember adult grievers who joined because their 80-year-old mother or father died.

Hmmnnn…not quite the same.

I wanted to scream, “that’s the circle of life, people! Old people die!” They were not my peers. Or my kid’s peers. I didn’t even want them in our group.

But when a mother joined because her husband died and she had her two small kids in tow, I felt her pain as if it were my own. Because it was my own.

Friends in grief

Talking openly and honestly with other people in similar positions offers a dose of empathy you just can’t get anywhere else. No one can understand your pain unless she’s living it. That’s why I am a firm believer that grief support groups can be a significant blessing when managing grief.

I still talk to a friend I met in our family grief support group five years later. We just get each other.

It doesn’t matter if you’re introverted (there are online groups), extroverted, widowed for one day or five years, from a small town or live in a big city, support options exist.

To learn more about finding grief support groups near you, click here.

GET OUT OF YOUR OWN HEAD

When we are in the throes of grief, it’s hard to think about anyone but ourselves. The paralyzing fear, dull, aching pain and overwhelming dread occupy our minds all day every day.

Sometimes it feels like there’s no way out of the nightmare that is our new existence. No way to shake the perpetual panic.

But a way out does exist.

A special way of managing grief involves getting out of your own head and reengaging with family, friends or coworkers once in a while. Talking about anything other than what’s going on with you.

More than once I’ve had friends start to tell me about a really bad day or a troublesome event, but hesitated. I get the, “well, this is nothing compared to what you’re going through…” speech before they spill the beans.

The thing is, we all have struggles of one kind or another. Just because my struggles involve death and grief, doesn’t mean that my friends or family member’s struggles don’t matter. They do matter.

If you want help managing your grief, ask other people how they’re doing from time to time. Ask about what’s going on in someone else’s life. Listen to stories from others about how they navigate the trials and tribulations of everyday living.

Do some people complain about inconsequential things? For sure! But that’s not the point. The point isn’t to compare pain levels or adversity scales.

The point is to stop focusing on your pain and grief long enough to get out of your own head. To loosen grief’s grip by extending a helping hand or listening to someone else for a change.

You’d be surprised how much better you feel when you shift your focus every once in a while.

TAKE CARE OF YOU

I’m sure you’ve heard that saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” One of the essential ways of managing grief involves taking care of yourself.

We often forget that part. The taking care of ourselves part. Especially if you have kids.

Grief is exhausting. Sleep can be hard to come by. And being responsible for everything results in a never-ending to-do list.

However, taking care of yourself must remain at the top of that list.

If you need some ideas you can Google, “self-care” and pick and choose from ideas returned in the 1,500,000,000 results. Or you can read 10 Unusual But Significant Self-Care Ideas for Widows or try some of the 64 Self-Care Ideas for Grievers.

You could listen to 9 Inspiring Podcasts That Are Self-Care For Your Soul. Or read books that bring you comfort.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, just do it. Find one or several self-care ideas that work for you and keep doing those. Change it up whenever you want to or need to.

Just be good to yourself. Take care of yourself.

And never stop.

BE HAPPY

It’s OK to be happy. The thing we forget the most when managing grief is to allow ourselves joy and bliss.

But what if you’re convinced that nothing will ever make you happy again?

I think that’s guilt talking more than anything else. If you peeled back the layers of the self-defeating ways we assume we’ll never experience joy again, you’ll find guilt sitting there all smug and superior. We feel guilty when we’re smiling or laughing because our husbands died and they can’t be here smiling or laughing with us.

The thing is, guilt is a motherfucker. And a liar. Don’t listen to guilt.

Sometimes we actually forget about happiness because we’re mired in sadness for so long. But, you’re not a better widow for staying sadder longer. There’s no prize for widow misery.

You’re allowed to feel joy. Elation is not just OK, but freaking mandatory to manage grief.

What brings you joy? Go do that thing.

It’s next to impossible for me not to feel happy when I hear the chickadees calling to each other in my backyard. When my younger son puts on his best Forrest Gump impression, we break down in fits of laughter. And I’m happy.

It feels SO GOOD to laugh. Please don’t forget to be happy once in a while.

Click here for some science-backed practices to help you embrace the full range of human emotions with compassion and strength.

WIDOW WRAP UP

Managing grief is hard work.

We forget to do many things for ourselves when we are knee deep in a grief-induced fog.

Maybe it’s time to take stock of how you’re managing your own grief and decide if you’re ready to do things differently.

Decide if you’re ready to feel all the feelings. Take better care of yourself. Get outside of your head once in a while and ask about what’s going on in other people’s lives.

Grief requires lots of stamina and internal fortitude. When you ask for help, seek out support, and allow happiness into your life, you’ll help strengthen your stamina in ways you never imagined.

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22 Comments

  1. I have come across your fabulous help at perhaps the darkest hour yet as a ten month widow. God bless you as you continue to share your writing as a healing balm! Thank you ever so much.

    1. Oh Julie, those damn dark hours. I hate those. I, and all the other widows, are giving you virtual hugs as you keep searching for the light. The light is there, but sometimes it’s a real bitch to find. Keep on keeping on.

  2. I have been a widow for almost two years, and instead of the pain and isolation easing just a bit, it is unfortunately getting worse. I have looked for support groups in my area to meet people, but have been unsuccessful. I even tried a dating site just to find a friend, and I made it very clear in my profile that was all I wanted, someone to go to dinner, a walk, a movie etc. The owners of the site said my profile was too mundane and I needed to spice it up. That wasn’t what I wanted, so I didn’t spice up anything. Maybe this site isn’t able to help me, but it you have any suggestions they would be extremely appreciated. I want and need some friends. Thank you and take care.

  3. I have been a widow for exactly 3 weeks today. (NOT due to Covid-19!) Last night I finished watching some of the documentaries that we started watching before he died. Before, when we would finish watching something we would just talk for hours and hours afterwards about the video and wherever the conversation would take us. He isn’t here to do that with now. That’s what made us whole. We were best friends, a partnership and we loved the insight gained from the other to help us see things from another view. There is not a single thing in my life he didn’t have some part of. How does a person go on living with half of their identity missing? I web searched ‘widow grief support’ and came across your site. I am so relieved to know I’m not the only one who is lonely and BORED. We are both still in late 30s. So I thought being bored was me being selfish or just immature. Thank you for letting me know it isn’t just me.

    1. Hi Tara, the loss of identity is one of grief’s startling, though common, after effects. No good words here, just a nod of compassion and empathy ❤.

    2. Kim

      It has been 6 weeks since my love past. He was so fit healthy and young. I am struggling, no sleep no purpose and so lonely. Thank you for your emails.

      Helene

      1. Hi Helene, it’s hard to see even a sliver of light at the end of this very dark and painful tunnel. But I assure you, it’s there. Take one day at a time and give yourself lots of extra grace along the way ❤.

  4. I just came upon this web site, I feel it had to be divine intervention because today as I write this is
    one of the hardest days since my husband passed which was a year August 22. I would think that I
    would be moving on but I’m not and feel like I’m going back into a dark spot. Thank you for this
    article. Amy E. Ensminger

  5. Hello I’ve been a widow for just about 5 years. December 13 2015 was the day my husband died. His death was a suicide and it has been an uphill battle. I used to see a therapist and it did help to talk to someone. I started looking into support groups and I found one. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to attend due to the covid pandemic. I think for the first year and half I was having nightmares and sleeping a lot. I just want to be able to talk to people that are going through the same thing. I’m so glad I found your site.

  6. Although it’s been two years there are nights it feels like it was just yesterday. And so many little things can trigger the feelings. Today, though, it is the empathy I feel for a family that lost their youngest due to an accident. I know their pain, yet it is not the same. 40 years of being with one person cannot even touch the pain of losing a part of you, a life gone before it has even began. I can still feel their pain and sympathize but it brings back that heart stopping pain I felt two years ago. It still has the ability to bring me to my knees if I’m not on constant guard.

    1. LoAnn, those triggers can be intense. But also a reminder that grief demands to be felt one way or another. It’s in the acknowledging and accepting of ALL of our feelings that we make room for grief instead of guarding against it ❤.

  7. I’m 14 months into my grief and found this article 8 months ago, but it has so been painful, the shock, aftermath, planning the funeral and all the other things you have to take care of. You’d wish the world would just stop, or that’s how you feel and nothing matters. I now know that I am making progress, acceptance was difficult for me for quite a while, but I’m learning to accept it and know I will never be the same again. Different and this grief will be with, but in time it will get easier. Thank you for sharing for advice, much appreciated and such a difficult topic to talk about.

    1. Hi Poppy, acceptance is one of the most difficult aspects of grief. Still we all learn how to move forward somehow, some way. I’m glad to hear you are making progress ❤.

    2. I have left a previous comment, but now a few more months have gone by and I find myself more angry. I was no way ready for him to leave because he always rallied and recovered. He had chronic heart disease but had never let it slow him down. We had young children when he developed it and I believe that is what kept him going. He was told he wouldn’t see our youngest graduate…but he did and was within days of seeing her married. He rallied so often I made myself believe he would never die. Unfortunately I attended her wedding without him by my side. They staged a mock wedding earlier so he could give her away with just our family in attendance. He insisted on standing with help, when he gave her away. Most bittersweet moment of my life. I don’t know if he was aware that the cerimony was for his sake or not but I truly believe he thought it was the real thing and he was so proud to give his
      baby to a wonderful man.
      I am angry more because I am having to deal with more admire that he always took care of. My car is older and starting to give me problems. Snow is coming and the deck needs winterized. My daughter’s drains ate plugged and he would have helped her unplug it or at least got on her boyfriends vase till he got it fixed
      So many little things that he did and no one to take his place. The hurt, the anger. All acknowledged but still growing. I see it in myself manifesting in sleeping the day away, letting my house go into shambles. Can’t afford a mechanic so car is close to a breakdown, and so am I.

      1. Hi LoAnn, I understand your pain. It’s difficult to get thrust into the world of taking care of ALL the things. The mountain seems insurmountable at the base looking up. But climbing it only requires one step at a time. When life seems overwhelming ask yourself “what small step, what one thing can I do today?” Those small steps eventually lead you to the summit and when you look back you realize you really can do hard things. Just keep climbing ❤.

  8. I have been a widow for exactly 3 weeks. I lost the love of my life to cancer and am struggling. I happened on your website and it has been a godsend. To know how I am grieving is normal, knowing I am not alone in my new journey. Thank you for this!!

  9. As I write this, I’m thinking of the many sympathy cards I received in which dear friends expressed their anger at the “unfairness” of my circumstances.
    Twenty-four years ago I became a widow when my husband committed suicide, leaving me to raise four children (ages 11, 9, 2, and 1) amid a whirlwind of pain and confusion. Thankfully I had a good job and some financial security, but the real difference was that I had young children. There was no doubt in my mind then that I simply had to move forward for them and for myself.

    Now those children are grown (I even have four grandsons) but I am a widow again. I managed to deal with that awful grief years ago and married again to a wonderful man. We were together for nearly 20 years until he died suddenly of heart disease three months ago.

    I truly wonder how long I will feel this numbness that occasionally gives way to tears and unbearable loneliness. “Unfair” just doesn’t seem the right word for what I’m going through, but this website has helped me realize I am not alone. Grief hits hard and sometimes more than once.

    1. Hi Ivette, you’ve had your fair share of really shitty circumstances that unfair doesn’t even begin to describe 💔. Wishing you peace and strength as you stumble down the widowhood path… again.

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