Looking to Christmas. My 5th.
2019 was the first Christmas as a widow. 2021 was my 50th birthday and 3rd Christmas as a widow. 2023 is my 5th and we are rapidly approaching it. While christmases up to now have involved me reliving old traditions, using our old decorations, making sure Marks favourite one was in the tree and so on, this year is different. I’ve packed them all away. If you want to know why, keep reading my friends. My 4th widow anniversary (August 2023) was I suppose a bit of an epiphany for me and that started it all.
In August, life changed. Photos came down, different ones went up. Ornaments went away. His hat was taken down and his Queensland shirt went away into the wardrobe. Life was different. This Christmas will be different too. I have packed away all the ornaments that Mark and I had for years. They won’t be thrown away, just stored for a while. Stored are the baubles with dates on, the Aussie flag, the joy ornaments, the frog ones and more.
This year is all about new and traditional. It’s all about baubles, taking my Christmas back to basics. This year is gold & silver colour scheme and I’ve even bought tinsel…. plus wait for it……lametta. Who remembers that? My brother and I when we were kids got to throw that on the tree! (So, if you are reading this Lee…the lametta is waiting for you!!)
Christmas is now mine. Well, it is my birthday too, but Christmas is no longer memory driven. It’s me driven. I had 27 beautiful years with Mark and those memories will never leave me. But life now is all about moving forward. Life now is “Jo-life”.
Loneliness, the silent companion of grief, creeps into the life of a widow, casting a shadow over once-familiar routines and relationships. The absence of a life partner who was not only a source of emotional support but also a confidant and companion can create an intense void. Loneliness can feel like an isolating force, causing widows to withdraw from social interactions, even when surrounded by well-meaning friends and family. This isolation can be particularly challenging as it reinforces the sense of emptiness and intensifies the feelings of sorrow.
Loneliness can manifest in various ways. It can be the quiet solitude of an empty house, or the echoing silence of an evening spent alone. It can also show as a longing for the past, a yearning for the companionship and shared memories that defined a life once shared with a spouse. Loneliness can be particularly acute during holidays, anniversaries, and special occasions, magnifying the absence of a loved one and the life once lived.
This pervasive sense of loneliness often intertwines with a profound lack of motivation. Grief can be an abyss that saps one’s energy and leaves them feeling lethargic and directionless. The absence of motivation can manifest in many ways: neglecting self-care, withdrawing from activities once enjoyed, or struggling to find purpose in daily life. It becomes a challenge to set goals or plan for the future when the present feels dominated by pain and emptiness.
The combination of loneliness and a lack of motivation can create a vicious cycle. Loneliness can lead to further isolation, making it harder to find the motivation to engage with the world. This cycle can be paralysing, and widows/ers may find themselves caught in its grip, unsure of how to break free.
However, it’s essential to remember that there are strategies to navigate this difficult journey. First and foremost, seeking support is crucial. It is the toughest thing to do, to admit you need help. Connecting with friends, family, or support groups for widows can provide a sense of belonging and understanding. Sharing your feelings with others who have experienced similar loss can help alleviate the loneliness.
Additionally, seeking professional help, such as therapy or counselling, can provide valuable tools for coping with grief and its associated emotions. Therapists can assist in developing strategies to regain motivation and rebuild a sense of purpose in life.
Engaging in self-care practices is another vital step in overcoming the lack of motivation that often accompanies grief. This includes maintaining a healthy routine, staying physically active, and nourishing the body with proper nutrition. These small steps can help combat the physical and emotional toll of grief.
Setting realistic goals, both short-term and long-term, can help reignite motivation. These goals can be as simple as taking a daily walk, learning a new skill, or volunteering in your community. Achieving these goals can in-still a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
Lastly and most importantly in my view, it’s essential to honour and cherish the memories of your late spouse while also allowing yourself to move forward. Grief doesn’t have a fixed timeline, and it’s okay to have moments of sadness and nostalgia. However, finding new ways to live a fulfilling life is a testament to the love and legacy of the person you lost.
Sentimentality – where does it end.
Sentimentality. That nostalgia, with a tinge of sadness that we feel as widows/ers. We all know that sentimentality starts with everything our loved ones liked, touched, wore etc. But where does it end? Does it end?
I’ve just ticked over the 4 years. I’ve made life changes these last months. In order to make those changes, sentimentality had to change too. If you’re wondering how, I’ll tell you. For the record, it took me these 4 years to make some changes.
Sentimentality can only change when you add in a healthy dose of practicality. Some people can never do that, but I am able to. It took me 4 years, but I got there. I looked at everything I had left of my husbands and separated the sentimental from what was practical to keep.
Did I need to keep all my favourite t shirts of his sitting in a box that I hadn’t touched in 4 years? No. I sourced my 5 absolute favs, and the rest could go.
Did I need photos of him everywhere or was it time to put other things up? It was time to redo my photos. Out went the old photos and up went photos that didn’t have him in them but had a subtle link to him.
Did I need every single ornament out collecting dust? No. I collected my favourite 4 and had those out and put the rest away.
Do you see what I mean? Sentimentality and practicality. As I look round my house now, there are countless memories. A vase bought for me for our 25th. A canvas Glasshouse Mountains photograph. Some paintings here and there. But what I have been able to do is be practical leaving myself some memories and retain the ability to take steps forward in a new direction.
Move on or move forward – the platitudes you hear.
Your life has altered. You can’t run from that. You can’t change it either. Life is different for you to what it was before. For me, ‘before’ is over three years ago now. In some ways, I feel every moment of those years, yet in other ways, it feels like yesterday.
There does come a time though, when your life has to ‘restart’ or ‘reinvent’. However, for each one of us, that comes at a different time and in a different way
When you lose someone, everyone has an opinion, a thought on how you should feel, act and manage your life. One of the most common platitudes that is dished out by well-meaning individuals is about how it is time to “move on”. Time to “get on with life”. But should you move on? Can you move on? Or is about moving forward?
For me, it’s moving forward. I will move forward taking Mark with me, because how can I move on from him, after 27 years of amazing memories? The answer is you don’t. It’s impossible and why should you?
Remember family and friends mean well when they comment, but grief is a strange being. Family and friends hate to see you unhappy and want to “fix” you. Grief can’t be fixed, but some people find that hard to comprehend. But when all is said and done, how do you keep going and move forward after a loss?
The answer is – you do. Sometimes you dont know how you are going to do it, but you keep putting on step in-front of the other.
Here are a few thoughts…
- Give yourself time. Do not be bullied into rushing things, by family or friends.
- I didn’t listen to people who said cleaning clothes out was ‘too soon’. When it felt right to me I did it. I did it the following week. Do what feels right when it feels right for you.
- Ask yourself this – ‘what do I want from life now?’ Make a list.
- Look at the list and see what’s feasible for you. Realistically and dependant on circumstances of course, you may have financial obligations.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends or family.
- Don’t be afraid to tell a friend that they’re not helping with their behaviour. I wish I had the courage to do this with someone in my social circle whose behaviour was not very nice.
- Remember you can say no to party/Christmas invites. If someone is offended by your refusal, it says more about them than you.
- Make changes that make your life easier.
- Take all the time you need.
After a loss, life does go on, although you never think it at the time. The big rucksack of grief that you carry will always be there. Every now and then it gets lighter. Sometimes you even forget you’re carrying it. If you’re really lucky, you get to put it down for a while. But life continues. Grab that life with both hands. Grab it back for yourself.
Making the big decisions
Getting up in the morning. Remembering to cook for yourself. Going to get food for your fridge. Walking the dog. Paying bills. Clearing your spouse’s possessions. All of these and so many more are decisions that you may have to make when you lose someone. Knowing you have to make decisions and actually doing it are very hard. We have talked about forgetfulness and the other Widowbrain symptoms that can be part of post-loss life. So, how do you manage to make decisions? How do you make the big decisions?
It’s often said that a widow/widower should wait 6-12 months before making big decisions. Grief and decision making in grief does not have a timeline and it is important that friends of widows and widowers remember that. Telling your widowed friend “It’s too early to do that” or “you can leave that for now”, is not something you should do. If your widowed friend wants to do something, support her in her choice. Help her through the decision rather than criticising her for making it.
Big decisions you may have to make post-loss
- Moving to a new home – This decision may be made when it is needed. Circumstances may dictate when that change happens. A widow I interviewed recently said, “I moved out within 6 months. My memories were not the house. Bricks and mortar are not memories to me.”
- Discarding personal items – Discarding items when you want all reminders away from sight can seem like a good idea at the time but roll forward a few months when you are looking for a coffee mug, a shirt or something else that belonged to your loved one. If in doubt, don’t throw out.
- Changing jobs – There is a feeling that businesses don’t respond as they should to grieving workers. Your grief is fresh, and you may feel that your workplace doesn’t understand. They won’t understand unless they have lived it. They have policies and procedures in place for compassionate leave. What we have to remember is that, at the end of the day they are a business, not a friend.
- Financial Changes – Losing a loved one brings a raft of new responsibilities, ones you may not have dealt with before. If a partner has always dealt with the finances, then for a widow to even pay a bill can be traumatic to deal with. A widow I spoke with recently said, “My husband was terminally ill and in his last months, he transferred all the bills to my name, while showing me everything I needed to know. He felt like he was being useful by preparing me for afterwards. It’s now that I can look back and realise how much that helped.”
There are many more ‘big’ decisions that you may have to make. I can’t list all of them, there are too many, but always remember this one.
If you don’t take care of yourself through the grief process, the toll that it takes will multiply. Time heals all wounds is terminology we often hear. When we’re talking loss, it isn’t true. The loss is assimilated into the new form of life we have as we begin to find out what that means for us.
Re-evaluating a social life
The hardest part of life as a widow is change. Not just change in the loss that has happened, but also change in who you are. Many friends saw that I had changed but didn’t grasp the underlying reason. I had lost more than a husband. I’d lost part of my identity, my life, my dreams and so much more. Friends find that hard to understand.
When you lose a spouse, one of the hardest things to try and do is renegotiate and reevaluate your social life. After all, what it was before and what it is now are very different. For example, before, you would have spent time as a couple with your married friends. Maybe dinners and drinks out. Meals at home. Now, you are a single woman, that married friend social life may not be as easy to slip into. But your social life is yours alone to navigate. There is no right or wrong.
From my own viewpoint, I found being with couples as a newly widowed person incredibly hard. I found being in groups of people hard, as many didn’t know what to say to me after the loss so just said nothing. This happened about 6 weeks after my loss. I found myself in a group of people who just stared. Not a nice situation.
The easiest shift into social life for me was my UK family and friends that I knew I could FaceTime and talk to whenever I needed them. Regular weekly chats with my gorgeous mum in law. Messengering with my brothers-in-law. Talking to my brother, cousins and all the rest of the family. While this wasn’t a ‘get off your backside and go out’ social life, this worked. FaceTime allowed for that sociality to creep back in.
Over here in Australia, I found I was more comfortable on 1:1 outings – let’s face it, I’ve never been much of a social butterfly…ever! Whether my socialising was a friend and I shopping or a friend and I having lunch, whether it was a friend staying over, or whether it was a catch-up lunch of longtime friends from my first days in Australia it tended to be low key events. It needed to be low key events for me to be comfortable. It still does. I’ll never be comfortable in huge groups. I was not made that way. (I got my dads genes for that, not my Mums!)
But there is one day that always brings me and one of my besties together. That is a certain day in August. I don’t have to say why to her, she tells me that she even has the date on her calendar! We share breakfast or lunch. That’s a special friend, my longest Australian friend. When that special person reads this (and I know she will!), if you want to pencil the day in for breakfast or lunch…
Finding your way through a new social life is hard. It’s hit and miss. Some will be there for you, and some won’t. It’s about learning how to navigate the new you. Your new expectations. Your new life, and most of all…finding out who stays with you for the ride.
How hard do you fight with friendships after spousal loss?
In April on the WidowLife blog we talked of friendships post spousal death and how they change. Grief really does change your address book leaving you in little doubt about true friendships. The friends you can ring at 3am and know that they’ll listen. The friend you can ask for help and know they’ll be there. The friend that knows what dates are important to you and makes a note on her calendar. (S. McP!)
But when all is said and done, friends go back to their life, and why shouldn’t they. After all, they have a life to get on with, whether that be partners, kids, jobs or something else. You suddenly find that what was a weekly checkin call from your friend is now monthly. Then the timescale lengthens. Then the call becomes a random email. Then it’s just a birthday wish.
Before I ask the next question, remember this. Friendships with widows are tough. We come with more emotional baggage than many people can handle. We come with our friendship but that ours may be more than someone else can deal with. We may come across with many different emotions to friends who find those feelings difficult to manage.
So, I ask this of you my widowed friends. How hard do you work at those relationships?
Answer: Only you know that. Here’s some points to consider.
- Was the friendship fractured anyway?
- Was the relationship one sided? Did you always do the calling/texting etc?
- When you saw your friend, was there an ulterior motive? Did they want to borrow something? Want you to babysit for them?
- When you saw your friend how was the conversation? One sided?
- Did they ask you generic questions? Avoidance of your situation.
Friends that avoided me have long gone. If someone wants to be part of a life, they’ll be there – even if they’re uncomfortable with it. The sad thing is those that disappear do so without a word, that’s the worst part. There will be some friends that you never understand why they leave but speaking for myself, I don’t have the emotional energy to do all the chasing anymore.
Those that are still in my life have my gratitude and love forever. Friends from the UK and Ireland that I have a 30+ year history with. Family that are always there. Friends in australia, new and old. Friends I have made through my writing work, some I have only emailed and never met yet, but will someday. Most importantly, my dad. There for everything, despite all he has been through himself.
No matter how many years it has been, it doesn’t matter. That horrible feeling, that nauseating ‘pit of your stomach’ feeling never goes away. Life has changed for a widow and will never be the same again. You will never be the same again. If you’re anything like me, you just stick your head down and get on with it, you know you can’t change anything, you have no choice. But your friends around you, they are a different matter. Some will stay. But some will go. It can be the people that you least expect that will part ways with you, and sometimes…with no warning. All of a sudden, no contact.
Why do friends leave?
Many, many reasons. The main one is simple. It is incredibly hard for friends to understand how you’re feeling. Quite simply, unless they have lost a spouse…they don’t get it. I sound like a cracked record when I say this to people, but it’s very true. Friends leave as they see you as a different person, which of course you are. When you lose a spouse, you lose the other half of yourself. Because of a lack of understanding of spousal grief and its complexities, the friendships simply drift apart. You may go from someone who met every week for coffee to someone who gets a message on your birthday and that’s it.
How much do you fight for friends?
That my friends, is entirely down to you. I can’t answer that for you, except to say this. Look at the relationship you had. Were you the one doing all the running? Was it a one-way relationship? Did your friend only make the effort when they needed something, such as a babysitter or to borrow something? Only you can make the decision on which relationships are worth fighting for.
What happened with me?
I was widowed in 2019, almost 4 years ago now. Most of my husband and my older friends are uk based. These are friendships of 30 years and more. I would say 75% of these keep in touch via social media/emails, but there are two particular friend groups that have supported me continuously since I lost Mark. Thank you in particular to the Friels and the Mulcahy’s. These two friend groups got it. They understood.
But of all the friends in Australia, many disappeared. Some were more Marks friends than mine. Some were couples that now may be uncomfortable given that I’m single. But some were close friends. It’s the hurt of losing the close friends, because as a widow, you then grieve the living and the dead. I made the conscious choice not to chase those who didn’t communicate, those who didn’t want to be part of my life. It may be the right or wrong decision, but the decision is mine. There are some that have stood by through thick and thin. Thank you in particular to Sui McPherson and Michelle Ibbertson/Kayla. Sui, you’ve been there from day 2 of landing in Australia. A special friendship, especially those Saturday lunchtimes! Michelle and Kayla, we always had a great relationship, but widowhood and parent loss has bought us closer still.
It’s a tough call on how to manage friendships, but as a widow, only you can decide the right action for you.
Asking for help
My widowed friends, this month we’re talking about help. More specifically, asking for help. Now I bet I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking that you can do it all and you know what to do. Should you just get on with it?
Guess what. You may very well be able to do it all but one thing to remember is that grief varies for everyone. Just because someone you know could ‘do it all’, it doesn’t mean that you can, or should.
You’re thinking that no one understands this pain you’re going through.
The answer to this is you’re absolutely right. Unless someone has lost a spouse, they have no idea of the pain. It’s on a whole different level to losing a parent or sibling. When you lose a spouse, you lose yourself too. You change as a human, which is one of the reasons why some friends ‘disappear’ after this loss. They view you as ‘changed’ and feel you’re not the friend you once were.
How do you ask for help?
This is the toughest thing to do. Take it from a person who hated asking for help, and instead spent a year alone clearing a house. Asking for help feels like admitting you can’t cope. Asking for help feels like you feel a failure. But the reality is, you just have to say the words.
You’ll know the right people to ask. Those friends that turn up unexpectedly at your door. Those people with no expectations of anything in return. They’re the ones to ask.
“I need help”.
“I can’t do this alone”.
“I don’t know what to do”.
That’s all you need to say, and a true friend will sit beside you and start making your to-do list with you.
So, how did I do things? I had these things happen.
Do you want me to come with you? – a family member asked me this as I went to the funeral directors. However, I needed to do that alone.
‘Ring me if you need some help’ – anyone that knew me, knew that is the wrong thing. I won’t ring. I’m an independent soul and hate to feel I fail in a task. Plus, a widow/er won’t ring. They probably won’t remember you even said, ‘ring me’.
‘Can I help?’ – one person said this, but the timing was lousy. They couldn’t help me clear my husband’s clothes or anything of his. That was personal to me. They never tried again.
‘I’m coming back to your place, give me a crappy job to do’ – I had lunch with this friend and after we’d eaten, she said the above. She got the job of packing up my surround sound system and undoing all the wiring. We laughed throughout as it really was a crappy job.
What did I learn from the process?
- I learned that it is ok to ask for help but that it is also ok to do things yourself. Dependant on the task, sometimes you need the time to be alone.
- I learned that people I considered true friends, ones that I thought might just turn up to help, didn’t. They were processing their own grief at his loss and also didn’t seem to comprehend what his loss had done to me, how it had changed me forever. Some I never heard from again.
- I learned that I could use power tools without my husband standing at my shoulder telling me I am doing it wrong.
- I learned that I had many skills that I hadn’t given myself credit for over the years, things my husband had done that I could also do.
- I learned that even after losing my husband, moving in with your parents at the age of 48 proved a wonderful experience.
Most of all, I learned that three and a bit years down the line, living with my dad makes great memories.
Funerals: To have to not to have. That is the question
When you lose a member of your family, there are copious amounts of things to do. Bank accounts, wills, lawyers, house deeds, telling everyone, clearing property. Believe me when I say, I haven’t even scratched the surface. It’s overwhelming. But one of the big things that a widow is asked, pretty quickly, is “so, when’s the funeral?” Imagine the reactions of those around me when I said, “there isn’t one.
When my husband and soulmate was diagnosed with his incurable illness, he immediatly made plans for the end of his life. He said to me “I don’t want a funeral.” While my first instinct was to giggle and tell him he wouldn’t know anyway, I sat back and looked at him. “Think about it” he said. “Everyone that would go, they live in the UK”. He was right. While we had some family and friends here in Australia, the entirety of our family and friend network were spread too far and wide.
Decision made. There was to be no funeral. We made the decision together that he would have a life celebration instead. A party. Now for anyone to make funeral plans and life celebration plans, it’s a tough thing to do. It can be incredibly traumatising. Imagine making your own. That’s downright brave. He planned who he wanted there. He told me where he wanted food from. He told me what colour scheme he wanted (silver for the anniversary we’d just celebrated). He even sorted out his own playlist of music on Spotify. I kid you not. Picture the scene. We’re in the palliative care unit. We are both curled up on a single bed. My iPad propped up between us with Spotify on. We were sharing the one set of headphones that we had with us, while making a playlist. Seriously, you couldn’t make this up.
Now, I bet you’re reading this thinking…no funeral? How can you even think of no funeral? Here’s where I ask you to bear with me, hear me out.
All my late husband could visualise was me at his funeral, upset with the trauma. He said to me these things. (1) it doesn’t change what happened. (2) you don’t need a funeral to say goodbye to me. (3) it won’t make you feel better as you have the trauma of knowing I am in the coffin in front of you. (4) the people you’d have the funeral for, are mostly in the UK. (5) you’ll find your way to grieve me and it’s not at a funeral, grief is forever.
So, we went for no funeral. I was met with disbelief from family members. I was met with trust from those he had shared his wishes with and trusted me to see them through. I was asked to livestreams a funeral service and met with disbelief at first that there wasn’t one, following by respect for him making his decision. I was questioned by family members about his ashes and where they would go. The most important family members…his children, brothers and mum all knew and were fine with my seeing this through.
People have found their own way, their own niche, in which to celebrate and honour my soulmate. His brother watches anything on TV to do with the army, as that was his brothers ‘happy place’. His mum has his photo beside the bed and by the TV, always in eyeshot. His children have photos and videos of their dad to play as well as their private memories.
My soulmates best friends get together on August 30 each year and have a whiskey together. I talk to these guys too on special days. Me, I smile and laugh at the memories. His photos are everywhere in my room, his hat is on the wall and I sleep in his t-shirt. My memories will last forever
“You’re a widow. “
Words that no one ever wants to hear. Words that put you into a club that no one wants to join. Words that put you in the club with the worst admission price. The loss of your partner.
First things first, I want to make a couple of things clear for the WidowLife blog readers. The main thing to remember is that grief and coping with being a widow is different for everyone. The second thing that you need to know is that I speak from experience. I lost my husband in August 2019
Being a widow is traumatic, and in those first days/months, you will have lots to do. I am not going to attempt to list all of the things you need to do, there are too many. Plus of course, everyone’s needs are different. I’ve posted some checklists for you that I sourced online. I’ve included links for ones from USA, Australia and the Uk.
Before you do anything else, I recommend that you sit down, just you, a relevant checklist, and a cup of coffee. Cross off everything that you have done or those things that don’t apply to you. Have a good read of it and make some notes. Get yourself a clear starting point.
Now, practicalities aside, I want to check in with you to tell you a few other things to prepare yourself for. There’s no easy way to say some of these so I’m not going to sugar coat it.
- Widow-brain – you are going to be forgetful and it’s something that you will work through. It`s natural. Do whatever you need to help yourself.
- Your friends may tell you “not to do things yet,” such as cleaning out clothes etc. Grief is different for everyone. You do it when it’s right for you.
- People will tell you “I know how you feel.” The loss of a spouse is very different to the loss of a child, friend, sibling or parent. You will find yourself nodding along to these familiar words.
- People will tell you that “you’re so strong” but of course they don’t see you when you’re alone at night.
- Friends may say “ring me if you need me”. They are trying to be helpful and it is because they don’t know what to say and also what you need. A piece will be coming in the future on how to ask for help.
- This next one was a biggie for me. I didn’t foresee this coming at all and it hit hard. Grief will alter your friendship circle. There will be some who’ll stay and some who’ll go. Friends may have been more your spouses friend than yours. Of course, you and your husband may have been friends with other couples. Now, however…you are a single and not a couple. Life has changed. This is one that you really need to prepare yourself for. You end up grieving the living and the passed.
Widowhood is a long road. I’m walking it with you and from my experiences and ideas, hopefully I can guide you. As a spouse, the first thing you need to do for your partner is arrange a funeral. In Februarys WidowLife blog, we are going to look at funerals and ask the question ‘to have one or not to have one?’