WidowLife Chat `24

JUNE

You cant fix grief: Please stop trying

Everyone wants to “fix” a sad friend who is going through grief. It’s a natural reaction to want to make them feel better. However, spousal loss is a grief that cannot be fixed. It’s one that is here with a widow forever. They are grieving the loss of their loved one, loss of the life they had and would have had. They are grieving every aspect of life that someone with a husband or wife still has. This months WidowLife is about coping with the grief. 

Part 1: The Widow`s Guide

Coping with grief. Three words that really do not go together. I mean, let’s be honest, how do you cope with something like grief, something that’s determined to knock you down every time you try to get up?  Something that comes from the depths of your soul and fills you with an incredible sadness at the loss you’ve suffered. Please bear with me as I try and guide you through this.

  • Remember, everyone is different.
  • There are no right and wrong answers.
  • There is no grief manual that you have to follow.
  • It’s about what’s right for you and not about what everyone thinks is right. 

The first thing to realise is that grief is the worst feeling in the world. You can’t get away from it, hard as you might try. You’ve lost a husband or a wife and if you are anything like me, you feel that you’ve lost half your identity too. You don’t know whether you’re coming or you’re going, and your life has changed forever.  After all, the other half of you is missing. The waves of grief are draining you mentally and physically, let alone emotionally. What you have to do now, is find your coping mechanisms, what works for you. Those ways of coping are individual. What works for you will not necessarily work for the next person.

Here are some recommended ideas for coping:

  • Realise you’re only human. That’s the biggie. If you can accept that one straight away, that’s half the battle.
  • Don’t try to be a hero doing everything. Grief doesn’t allow that. Widow-brain doesn’t allow that.
  • Ask for help. Some people can do this easily. Some can’t. 
  • Seek face to face counselling if you need to.
  • There will be many formal things you need to focus on through your grief. Make lists. Those lists  will be invaluable.
  • Remember you don’t have to ‘be strong” with your loss. Showing your feelings helps your family and you to be on the same page and support each other.
  • Remember there is no timescale for grief.
  • When grief hits, let it. If that means, you don’t get out of bed that day, so be it. If it means you lay in bed at night yelling at the room how unfair it is (I did that), then so be it.
  • If coping with grief means that you clear out your loved one’s clothes that first week after they passed, then do it. It has to be what’s right for you.
  • If getting up every morning and going straight back to work is your coping mechanism, then you have to do what’s right.

Grief is an emotion that never announces its arrival or how long it’s going to stay. It hits like an ocean wave and knocks you down again and again. How you cope, is down to you, your family and support network as well as remembering this. You are only human.

Part 2: The Friends Guide

When someone grieves it manifests very differently. Some people will be quiet. Some will shut down and not answer the phone/messages. Some will be loud and exuberant. Some will be angry. Some will cry. Every one of them is a valid grief response. But the million-dollar question is, how do you support a friend in grief?

That’s a question that I can’t answer. You didn’t want to hear that did you! Okay, let me put it another way. It’s a question where the answer is different for everyone. Now, let’s see what information I can give you that might go some way to helping your grieving friend.

  1. Accept that you will be uncomfortable with what’s happening. It’s natural.
  2. Accept that you cannot fix a “sad/grieving” friend and don’t try to. Grief is unfixable. It’s there for life. It’s a grief not only of the person who has died, but also the life lost of the person remaining. The life they would have had with that person.
  3. Don’t disappear on your grieving friend. Never assume they need ‘time alone’ as it is rarely true. They will need you but just don’t quite know how to tell you. Sometimes they just need to know that you are in the house with them. It can be that simple.
  4. Never tell them to call you when they want you. Speaking from experience, a widow barely remembers that they get out of bed, let alone making calls.
  5. Be aware that your friend will have a wide range of emotions, some of which may be the complete opposite to their normalcy. Accept that. Again, don’t try and fix this. 
  6. Support your grieving friends with the paperwork side of death – there is a lot and it’s very hard to comprehend everything you’re told.
  7. Offer to drive them to the lawyers and the bank. There are lots of things to do after a death.
  8. Observe your friend discreetly for physical signs of increased emotional fragility. Signs such as fatigue, nausea, weight changes, insomnia, aches and pains that were not there before.
  9. Put together a care package for your friend. Tissues, takeout menus, photo of their loved one, blanket to snuggle up with, a kind note, flowers, movie subscription. Little things that tell them you’re thinking of them.
  10. Never tell them that ‘I know how you feel’. With all the respect in the world, unless you have experienced spousal loss yourself…. you really have no idea. Spousal loss is something else. Every loss is different.
  11. Talk about the person who has died. Just because they died, don’t forget the life they had with your friend. Laugh at the funny moments. Share tears when needed and just talk.
  12. Offer to help around the house, but never be offended if they say no. They may want to do these jobs themselves in order to keep their mind occupied.

When my husband passed away, I remember that I went to a friend’s house for dinner and was blindsided by a houseful of people. I had no idea they were going to be there and they had no idea what to say to me, given the loss.  I had people I’d considered friends step away and never return to the friendship. When that happens you mourn the living and the dead. It’s very sad. 

Widowhood is a traumatic experience, one that can end up lonely if friends step away. Be the person that your grieving friend doesn’t know they need. Be there for them – always.

MAY

What is widow-brain?

The loss of a loved one is prone to triggering a significant brain response. Unintended side effects are usually the by-product of this. Many who lose a spouse report that it can take weeks or months to settle in. This is the brain protecting itself from the stages of grief.

Symptoms of Widow-Brain

Widowbrain impacts almost all aspects of daily life with no prediction as to when and where it will take place. Such symptoms are:

  • Forgetfulness.
  • Extreme sadness.
  • Brain fog.
  • Irritability.
  • Exhaustion, no matter how much sleep you have.
  • Numbness.
  • Nausea.

How long does it last?

Everyone is different. It’s that simple, however there is a generality stated that it usually lasts a couple of months through to the first year. What tends to happen is that the sense of loss will overtake the widowbrain symptoms. Those symptoms can return. Usually triggered by “firsts” without the loved one, they may reappear around birthdays, anniversaries.

How do I manage it?

Widowbrain is an aspect of grief, which in itself is one of the most difficult emotions to navigate and process. Remember it’s all about working through it in your own time. Here are some ideas about what else you can do:

Lean on family and friends.

If you have things that your family can do and offer to do for you…let them. Family and friends will offer condolences and support. Take that support.

Ask for help.

No one knows more about widows/widowers’ loss than those who have been through it. Find yourself a support group, whether it’s face to face or even a Facebook group. Find resources and places you can ask questions from those going through the same thing.

Don’t rush the grief.

I hate to say this, but it’s true. The grief will never go, it’s going to be with you forever in some form or another. There will always be a part of you grieving for the person you had. You never lose the lifetime of memories you had with that person. The grief at losing them, as well as your potential future with them will always be with you.

Write things down.

Write things down and make lists. If forgetfulness is something that has reared its ugly head, use basic tools such as lists, to overcome that.

Self-care.

Self-care covers a multitude of factors. Eat well, sleep well and reduce stress. I know you’re probably shouting at this page about ‘how can a widow reduce stress?’…. you can. Whether it be doing something that you love to do, whether it be simply going for a walk, whether it’s watching a sunrise, sunset…whatever you want to do, just do it. Self care is not about what others think you should be doing, it’s about what you want to do.

Widowbrain affects us all in some ways. I got forgetful. I didn’t shop for food, apart from junk food. I had no energy to cook a meal. I had a shower in the morning and was laying on the sofa at 4pm still in my towel. I was exhausted because I couldn’t sleep properly. I found ways to manage that. I slept on his side of the bed wearing his t-shirt.

The trick is to recognise the symptoms, find your way of managing it and ask for help. You will need it.

APRIL

Funeral Music: Where to start, how to choose and what’s popular?

Planning the music for a funeral or celebration of life is a deeply personal and meaningful task. It’s a way to honour the individual and create a memorable experience for all who attend. Here are some considerations and suggestions to help guide you through this process:

Why Include Music?

Personalisation:  Music adds a unique touch to the ceremony, reflecting the personality and preferences of the departed.

Setting the Tone: Whether uplifting or somber, music sets the emotional tone of the service, guiding attendees through their grief or celebrating cherished memories.

How to Choose Music?

Personal Associations: Consider songs that evoke memories of your loved one. Reflect on their favorite artists, genres, or specific songs that hold special significance.

Preexisting Requests: If the departed made specific requests or had favourite songs, honour those choices. It’s a meaningful way to fulfil their wishes and pay tribute to their life.

Explore New Options: Don’t be afraid to explore new music that resonates with your loved one’s spirit or the mood you want to convey.

Music Suggestions:

  • “Ave Maria” – Schubert
  • “Jerusalem” – Blake
  • “Angels” – Robbie Williams
  • “My Way” – Frank Sinatra
  • “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” – Monty Python
  • “Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley
  • “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – Israel Kamakawiwo`Ole
  • “Tears in Heaven” – Eric Clapton

Remember:

No Fear of Offence:  Choose music that resonates with your loved one’s memory and your own heart. It’s about honouring their life, not worrying about pleasing everyone with your choice. 

Flowers

When selecting flowers, consider the symbolic significance of each bloom, conveying messages of love, remembrance, and renewal. Here’s some commonly chosen funeral flowers.

Lilies. Roses. Carnations. Chrysanthemums (Mums). Orchids. Gladioli. Daffodils and Tulips. Hyacinths. Forget-Me-Nots. Calla Lilies.

Recognise that flower meanings can vary across cultures, so choose blooms that resonate with your loved one’s spirit and preferences. If a funeral isn’t held, consider sending flowers directly to the grieving individual as a heartfelt gesture of support and remembrance.

MARCH

How do I know who to invite to a life celebration/funeral?

You have lost a loved one and are sitting at home wondering what’s next. There are lawyers to see. Documents to sign. Death certificate to get. Estate to deal with and that’s without even thinking about the funeral. One of the biggest questions for a funeral is, who do you invite?

Before you decide what form the funeral and/or life celebration will take, sit back, take a breath and think about what you want for your loved one. Do you want a big celebration? Do you want a small funeral and to go home and have time for yourself? Do you want everyone back to your property afterwards? A funeral/life celebration is a big event. It’s a long day. It’s a lot of preparation and decision making.  Think about what you want.

Who to invite.

Did the deceased leave instructions of their own? If the deceased has left their own wishes, then decisions have been decided for you. It is always preferable to honour the deceased wishes if you know them.

Immediate Family only?

Following discussion with loved ones, you may decide to have a family only funeral. This is usually by invitation only. It would not be advertised, and family would contact those attendees that are to be invited. This would include the spouse, children, parents, siblings, and grandparents of the deceased.

Family and close friends only.

This again would be by invite only. If you want to keep the funeral private, do not advertise it.  Invite the friends who were close to the deceased and shared a special bond.

Co-workers

If the deceased was a colleague, you may want to invite their co-workers, bosses, and employees who worked directly with them.

Extended family

This could include aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews.

Spiritual leaders

If the deceased was religious, you may want to invite their spiritual leader or members of their faith community.

Ultimately, who to invite to the funeral is a personal decision and should be based on the relationship that the individual had with the deceased. There are no right or wrong answers. I can offer advice but the decision is down to the funeral/life celebration planner. 

How to invite attendees.

It is important to send a celebration of life/funeral invitation as it will serve as a reference for the important points of the day. It will tell the attendee where to come, time to come and dress expectations if any. You can add in whether flowers are welcome or if you wish for charitable donations.

Is it rude to not invite someone to the funeral?

There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no right or wrong way when it comes down to managing invites to a funeral. However, it’s important to consider the circumstances and relationships involved when deciding who to invite to a funeral. It ultimately comes down to personal preference and factors such as family dynamics, the deceased’s wishes, and the size of the ceremony. It’s important to communicate clearly and respectfully with those who may not be invited to avoid any misunderstandings or hurt feelings.

The most important aspect of a funeral and/or life celebration is to provide a meaningful and respectful mourning opportunity for those attending and the ability to celebrate the life of the deceased. You will never please everyone with decisions that you make. Do what is right for you and the deceaseds wishes.

My late husband chose a non attending funeral and a life celebration at home. See below for the link to that story. 

To have or not to have

FEBRUARY

Funerals: To have or 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 widows are 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 immediately made plans for the end of his life. He said to me “I don’t want a funeral.” My first instinct was to giggle and tell him he wouldn’t know anyway, but the decision was 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.

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 and I stood by his choices and comments.

(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. There were mixed emotions. I was met with disbelief from some 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 livestream a funeral service and met with queries and questions as to why there wasn’t one. 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 what was happening, that it was my husband’s decision and were fine with my seeing it through.

In all reality, you have to do what’s right for you. If a family member has made plans, think carefully about everything you do. If you don’t follow their wishes, you can’t change your mind a few months later. Make sure you’re happy and can live with all of your decisions. Most of all, make sure that you have support.

JANUARY

How do I break the news to everyone.

In the era of incessant news cycles and pervasive social media, we find ourselves privy to a plethora of information, often in real-time. From disasters unfolding before our eyes to political events and the untimely passing of celebrities, the immediacy of communication is unparalleled. Yet, when the time comes to share the deeply personal news of a loved one’s passing, navigating the delicate process becomes both a physical and emotional challenge.

Effectively conveying such news requires careful consideration of the circumstances, the relationship dynamics involved, and the global dispersion of those affected. Recognising the impracticality of reaching everyone face to face, it becomes imperative to approach the task with sensitivity and thoughtfulness. I had to deliver news of the loss of my husband to his parents, brothers, children, my parents, brother, extended family and our friends. They were spread overseas, from USA to UK to Australia.

Let me offer some guidelines for you.

The first one is for you, the widow. You have just lost your partner and you need support. You have a lot of information to give to people who will be very distraught. Make sure that you have someone with you who can take the phone for you if you need to. Someone who can take over the conversation and be the empathy and strength that you need.

(A) In-Person Communication:

Whenever possible, share the news in person, and in a private place.

Allocate sufficient time for the conversation

Create a quiet environment by turning off phones, TV, and radio to minimise interruptions

If the recipient is elderly, consider having someone present with them and for them.

(B) Crafting the Message:

Plan what you intend to say in advance, although there us no easy way to say it.

Use plain and simple language, directly stating that the person has passed away.

Begin with a gentle introduction, such as “I have some news to tell you and it isn’t good.”

Ensure understanding by asking the person if they comprehended the information.

Encourage open expression of feelings and allow for shared grief.

(C) Keeping It Simple:

Limit the discussion of peripheral issues surrounding the death immediately after delivering the news. Everyone will ask questions. It’s human nature to do so. ‘When’s the funeral?’; ‘what happened?’  Keep the answer simple. Explain that you will give more information in good time.

(D) Multiple Recipients:

If possible, share the responsibility with another family member to lighten the emotional burden.

Delegate specific family members to convey the news to others.

Consider group texts for efficient communication.

(E) Social Media Considerations:

Assess the appropriateness of a social media post based on the relationship with the deceased.

Prioritise informing close family members before making a public announcement.

Craft a respectful and informative post, including essential details and plans, if available. If you are crafting a message for someone else, make sure that you ensure that they have seen it and are happy with it before it’s posted to social media.

In the age of rapid information dissemination, death remains an inevitable facet of life that necessitates a delicate and thoughtful approach. However, regardless of the method chosen, delivering such news is an inherently challenging and universally difficult experience.