Lessons I have learned through Widowhood:

Losing my husband has been the hugest trial of my life, but through my loss, I have experienced so many opportunities for growth. I have learned so much about myself, about grief, and about the things that are truly important in this life. Over the past year and a half, I have written down snippets here and there, but I wanted to document some of the biggest lessons that I have learned while journeying through widowhood so that as time passes, I remember.

Here are twenty things I have learned since becoming a widow:

  • The world is full of wonderful people. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of support and love that was shown to my family when my husband passed. Hundreds, if not thousands of people came rushing to our aid. Food, flowers, kind words, meals, donations, service, the list really is endless. Widowhood has shown me the good in the world.
  • Grief is so much more than a period of sadness and mourning. I never understood the effects of grief before experiencing my own loss. Grief has an effect on every aspect of your life. Not only is it an emotional roller coaster, the pain experienced after my husband’s death was very literal. It effected me physically. My heart literally hurt. I felt like the air had been knocked out of me. I was sick to my stomach. I had very very real pain throughout my body. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or think clearly for months. I lost a significant amount of weight, and couldn’t get my appetite back. Even now, a year and a half later I struggle with anxiety, memory loss, lack of focus, and heartache. Grief takes an incredible toll on your mind, body, and spirit. It changes you.
  • Go for it. Follow your dreams. Take that trip, climb the mountain, learn a new skill, enroll in the class, whatever is that you keep putting off, just do it. Life is uncertain, and if you don’t do it now, you may never get the opportunity later.
  • Live in the moment. Don’t wait until you’ve gotten the pay raise, until you finish school, or until you live in the perfect house. Don’t wait until later. Be content, and love your life the way it is right now.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. I remember feeling so jealous when I heard people complain about trivial matters. I truly missed things that my husband did that used to drive me crazy. Dirty socks on the floor, snoring at night, whiskers on the bathroom counter…don’t cry over spilled milk. One day you may realize that you just wish you had some milk to spill! This isn’t always easy, and is something I constantly have to remind myself of, as I tend the sweat all of the small stuff. 🙂
  • Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy, even in the midst of trial. This is so much easier said than done, but it can be done. Look for the good.
  • Tell your spouse you love them. Say it every day. My RJ was so good at this. He always made a point of kissing me and telling me he loved me before he left the house. Even if we were angry with each other, he would insist that he always wanted the last thing he said before leaving to be an expression of love. “You just never know,” he said. And he was right. You just never DO know. So tell the people you love just how much they mean to you. Leave nothing unsaid. If I could say just one thing to him today, it would be three words. “I love you.”
  • Take pictures. Just do it. We decided to get new family pictures taken just 5 days before my husband suffered his unexpected stroke. They are priceless to me now, along with the other hundreds of pictures that I had taken over the years. (I included a few at the end of this post) Capture those moments, for yourself, and for your children. For my youngest child, pictures and stories will be the only memories that they will have of their Father. Also, material things just don’t matter. But memories do. Make memories, and have experiences with those you love. And don’t forget to document them!
  • Be financially involved. My husband was a banker, and he had paid our bills for years. I really wasn’t involved in our day to day finances. This was a HUGE burden after he passed. I spent hours on the phone with companies moving things into my name, and trying to log into our accounts. Be a team financially. Know where your money is going, and how to get access to all of your accounts. And for goodness sake, get the life insurance.
  • Say yes to help. Condolences end, but grief doesn’t. Say yes to dinner, babysitting, and extra help around the house. Say yes, and know that soon enough, you will be doing it all on your own. Those who offer you help truly love you, and they want to be there for you. Don’t take away the opportunity they have to be blessed from serving you in your time of need.
  • Timelines don’t exist. People will tell you when and for how long you should be grieving. Move at your own pace. There is no right time to move forward, or a limit to the time that you are allowed to mourn your spouse. Do what makes you happy, and forget others and their opinions of you. The only thing that really matters, is that you feel content with your own choices.
  • Self Care is essential. Soon after my husband passed I realized just how important it was for me to take care of myself. When I was running on empty, I had nothing left to give my children. As a solo parent, I couldn’t afford to not be able to function. Bubble baths, breaks, exercise, massages, early bedtime…do what ever it is that you need to do to recharge. It will feel selfish at first, but will make you a better parent overall.
  • You deserve to be happy. You will feel guilty for laughing. It will be a foreign emotion at first, but go with it. Your loved one would want nothing less for you. When you are ready, be unapologetically happy. Smile and mean it.
  • Everyone grieves differently. Watching others grieve has been interesting for me. No two people grieve the same. Some try to avoid all things related to their loved one, while others feel the need to sort through their belongings immediately. Some keep themselves so busy that they don’t have time to think, while others lay in bed for weeks. Some cry constantly, others find it hard to express any emotion and find themselves feeling numb. I have experienced all of these ways of grieving at different points in my journey, and they are all ok. I think the important thing to remember is to let yourself feel. Get your emotions out, but don’t allow yourself to stay stuck in “the dark place.” Cry for as long as you need, then wash your face and keep moving forward.
  • You will feel it all. Anger, numbness, sadness, regret, loneliness, hope, shock, guilt, loneliness, and moments of joy all can exist at the same time. You can be happy and said simultaneously. When I told my therapist how exhausted I felt, even after getting the appropriate amount of rest, she explained that my body was on overload. I was feeling too much at once. I was emotionally and physically drained, and had far less energy than normal. Feel it all, and realize that you aren’t truly going crazy. 😉
  • You are stronger than you think. When my husband first passed, people would tell me all the time that I was “so strong.” But, I felt anything BUT strong. I felt the weakest I had ever been in my life. Honestly, I was surprised that my heart could even continue to beat after being so violently shattered. I have learned, however, that you are your strongest when you feel the weakest–when you want more than anything to just give up, but you choose to keep going. That is where true strength lies. Strength lies in the moment when you feel the smallest, and when you are fighting the hardest.
  • Kids grieve too, and watching your child grieve is worse than grieving yourself. They will cry, act out, act like nothing is wrong, take it out on you, say horrible things, or just miss their parent. It is so difficult to help your children through grief when you are so broken yourself. Hold them, cry with them, and let yourself just be with them. You are what they need. Also, a good family therapist or counselor can be a lifesaver.
  • Give yourself grace. You won’t be perfect. You will have bad days when you feel stuck. You will take your pain out on others. You won’t have it all together. But does anyone really? Do your best and be ok with what you have to give. Say no to the extras. Do your best with what you have to work with, and remember that God is there to make up the difference.
  • You will never be the same. Profound loss will change you. You can learn, grow, and channel your pain into positivity, or you can become bitter. It really is your choice, and it is one that you will have to make again and again. Choose to stand up, and to thrive, and not just exist.
  • You are not alone. So many others have walked the same path as you. More importantly, Christ knows your every pain. The atonement is real, and he will never leave you comfortless.

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