Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How Do You Prepare Someone ....

.... for the loss of their spouse?
The answer is easy.
You can't.
Oh, you can tell them to get their finances in order, to say "I love you" a million times, to make sure their name is on everything from the mortgage to the utility bills, but how can you prepare their heart?
It's impossible.

I recently "met" a woman who reads my blog. She wrote to me, telling me that she will soon become a widow, and she wants to prepare herself as best she can, even though she doubts that is possible.
I told her that it's not, but that I could help her with the day-to-day stuff that could help her physically. I also reached out to many of my widowed friends and asked for their opinions. I've been sending her e-mails for about a week now.

The last time that I forwarded her some good avice, I realized that my heart wanted to tell her more.
So much more.
It was spilling over with all of the things that she should expect, that she will feel, not feel, cope with .... and not be able to cope with.
So I wrote them all down. Well, I didn't write ALL of them down, but I did give her a list of 10.
I told her to take this list and file it away .... for now. And then one day .... on one of the inky, black days when death is so much more inviting than life .... to try to remember to pull it out and read it.
I don't know if she'll remember to do so .... I hope that I'll be able to remind her.
It's not enough, but it's a start.
Please feel free to add to it so that I can pass your thoughts on to her, too.

Dear "H",
I thought of some things that I think you need to know after he dies, though you may forget them when the time comes.
#1. You are NOT crazy. You will feel like you are. You will feel like you are losing your mind ..... but you're not.
#2. You probably already know this but, grief is very, very physical. It makes you sick. You can't sleep, you can't eat (or some can't stop eating), you can't concentrate on ANYTHING, you can't remember many things that you're told, or that you've said. I know that there were many people in my house that first week, but I have no idea who they all were. I would also say things to the kids and then have NO memory of it if one of them brought it up. It got to be scary. Then I met other widows and knew it was the grief. It definitely affects your memory in a big way.
#3. You will not be able to call someone for help. Many will tell you to call them, but they shouldn't do that (you might want to tell all of them this NOW). They need to just show up. They need to just sit with you. You will not know what you want or what you don't want. But just having someone sit with you, even in complete silence, or while you watch a movie .... is huge.
#4. Get your hands on as many comedy DVD's as you can. The girls and I watched one Will & Grace dvd after another. I wanted something to take my mind away for a moment and I wanted it to be funny.
#5. You will look forward to being asleep. Not going to bed, because it will most likely be very difficult for you to fall asleep. I would stay up watching a movie or TV until I was ready to drop and only then would I go to bed. Once asleep, you're not grieving and it's a wonderful break. It sucks to wake up (for a while).
#6. It will take you a long time to stop thinking, "Oh, I need to call Hank and tell him .......". I just thought it a few months ago when I ran into an old friend. Jim was the only other person I know who knew her and I thought I needed to call him and tell him what's going on with that family. It's only a nano second, but it's enough to take your breath away and get swamped by a wave. But it does happen less and less with time.
#7. You will still FEEL married for quite a while. Your heart will still be married to him. I took my rings off after about 9 months .... when looking at them on my left hand made me feel phony, like I was pretending that I was something I'm not. That's when I knew it was time. You'll know, too. It may take years ... or only days, but that leads me to number 8.
#8. There are NO rules for grieving. No matter what you hear, read, feel, etc. No matter what friends or family say ..... you will grieve as hard as YOU need to grieve, for as long as YOU need to grieve. You cannot rush it, you can't get around it. You have to walk through it and it's mostly 1/2 step forward, 5 steps back. It's long. It's slow. And it's hard. But one day you will be able to look behind you and see how far you've come.
#9. Most of the world thinks that the one year mark is a magic date. They think that you're pretty much past/over it (or that you should be). But you aren't. You shouldn't. For me .... and for many, many people (I hate to tell you this but I HAVE to be honest with you) the second year is worse than the first. The first is filled with hazy, shock-filled days. Maybe not so much for someone who knew it was coming, but still .....
The second year brings feelings like, "I should be doing better by now. Why am I not?". People are no longer hanging around your house, or sending cards or just checking on you. They have (as well they should) gone on with their lives and their families ..... and their husbands. So it's harder. The second year also brings the firm knowledge that he is not coming back. This really is your life now and it totally sucks.
#10. And the most important ..... you WILL survive. You are not alone, even when you feel you are. There are too many of us out here, but we're here. And we want to be here for you. If we can do something good because of the crap that's been dealt us, then it's not a total waste. I never wanted to join this club .... no one does. But I have met the most amazing people in it, and so will you. You will find much support and love. It's one of the strangest and yet most beautiful things I've ever experienced. When you "meet" another widow, in person or even just over the "net", you will feel an instant bond. You will feel a strong connection and it will probably last until you die. You will "get" each other .... without even having to speak. You don't have to finish a sentence .... we know. And we listen. And never judge or think anything negative about you, your grief, your actions ..... whatever. We all know that there are no rules and we all understand, in our core, the things that "others" do not ..... the things that you hope "others" will never have to understand.

So that was my "List of 10". As I just re-read them my heart started hurting, as it usually does when I hear about a new widow. I hurt for "H" and for lies ahead. I hurt for all of you who are reading this and so fresh on this road.

And I hurt because there's not a damn thing I/we can do to make it stop hurting for you. There are no magic words, no kissing of boo-boos, no perscription meds that will fix a heart once it's truly broken.

But there is hope.
Hope that you will get stronger.
Hope that you smile more.
Hope that your children will be ok.
Hope that you will find when you meet others of us who have made it a little farther down the road.

Hope does not come right away.
But it will come. In your own time.

Everything .... will happen .... in YOUR own time.


  1. When my uncle died this summer, I wrote a post about things I wish I could tell my aunt. For me, the single most important piece of wisdom was you will not always feel the way you do now. That line, more than any other, gave me the strength of will to keep plowing through, stumbling along, crawling forward.

  2. Janine, that is a wonderful and beautifully honest letter. I wish I'd been given this during my first month, it would have reassured me so much.

    I have only one comment, and this is going to make you laugh, but I am being serious, I'd add ... "and breathe, remember to breathe, one breath at a time."

  3. What a great post, Janine. I'm only 4 months out, but you've nailed it. I will share this with the widows/ers I know. Thank you.

  4. Perfect. this post is wonderful. I must say that my girlfriends have made all the difference. They just show up out of nowhere to sit with me, laugh with me and walk down memory lane over and over again. I had 2 1/2 years to "prepare" and yet I had no idea what it would feel like it that last moment when I knew he was gone. The physical changes in your body and mind are so overwhelming. You want him not to be in pain but now...after almost 3 months...I sometimes think I was wrong to have wanted that. I definitely never thought it would feel like this. I thought I was prepared, but nothing, nothing, nothing can prepare you for that final moment and weeks after. Now I have more good days that hopeless days. I laugh. I go out and have fun with the girls once in a while. But I still cry, ache, and miss him with a vengeance. My best advice being so new is follow this list to the letter. It will help, of that I can witness.

    1. One day Pat jumped on a bus to her sister's ballerina studio and then she started to draw ballerinas after she came home.
    2. It is an opinion because some people don't think that Pat is the best artist.
    3. I think the thing that makes her great is that she is creative.
    4. The main idea of this selection is art.
    5. I think that she has a lot more confidence in herself than the hat makers sign. in half after being part of a whole with him for 14 years feels so very wrong.

  5. So well said, all so very true. It's 72 weeks out today for me, (but who's counting?)since losing the love of my life, my sweet husband. It's the day my world crashed, I logistically have accepted he's not coming back, but not my heart it's broken. Grief has stripped me of everything I dreamed, everything I knew, everything I am.

  6. I've been on a search for new blogs to follow this morning and can't even tell you how I found this page... but I am so thankful I did. I am only 23 and am not married, but am grieving the loss of my mother. It's been three years now, and yet every word you wrote I can relate to. I noticed myself shaking my head up and down in agreement, getting chills with the honesty and care in your words, and tearing up with the realization that it doesn't matter the age, the relationship, or the time that has passed-- grief is grief. And it DOES totally suck.

    So happy to have found you :-)

  7. Excellent post....thank you .

  8. I knew my husband was dying and the hospice nurse told me to just "breath" and go day by day. What I was not prepared for was the second year. I didn't see it coming on that hard and it was as if I was watching my life through someone elses eyes. Thirteen years out and there are still moments that can drop me to my knees.

  9. Wonderful post, thank you. The first thing I do every morning since finding this website is read the new posts everyday. I can't tell you how relieved I am to know that I am not crazy. So much of this incredible list is so true for me as well. I am just seven months into this new life with four young children and I never, never know if my choices are right or good or anything...but it gives me such relief to read this and be able to relate because I don't feel like I relate to anything anymore.
    Grief is so very painful, I actually walked around with ice packs on my neck for weeks after my husbands funeral. I couldn't even tell you who was there because I don't remember.
    I stayed up til 3am every night for weeks because I hated waking up and being hit all over again with reality.
    I still feel married, I still wear my rings.
    Even I foolishly thought the one year mark was the turning point, I realize now, five months from the one year date, that this is far from over. I now fully anticipate how difficult the next year will be, I now know that every happy occasion will be accompanied by great sadness, forever, for me and our children.
    I have recently registered the kids and I for bearevement classes. I am scared of what is going to transpire through this process but whatever it is, I know, we will survive it together.

  10. Great post. I am at 15 months. I can only share my own coping skills, as we all have to do this on our own terms. I am not a grief counselor, however I am a counselor and have dealt with grieving clients. When my husband passed, I realized very quickly this was much bigger than I could handle. After a few weeks I called Hospice and began therapy with a Hospice therapist. I cannot overestimate how valuable this has been. This is their specialized field, and the therapist is also widowed. I also called my Dr. right away and was given a prescription for a sedative, helpful for sleeping and times when anxiety hits. I have kept a journal which is me writing to my husband and communicating my grief, any feelings of guilt because I couldn't save him (early thoughts, in the insanity of it, of course I couldn't) etc. And for me, I needed to be alone alot, to grieve and process the events of the previous six years which were unfortunately filled with one illness, terror and heartbreak after another. To Michelle who is grieving her mother, I am a mother, and I want you to know that mothers' realize they will leave before their chldren, and your mother would want you to have a happy life and move through your grief and your turn at happiness. My prayers are with you.

  11. When I was trying to figure it all out after my husband died, one of the most helpful things for me was when my cousin, who has had many loses, said to me, "You never get over losing them,you just learn to live without them.' That is the hard part--making a new life without them.

  12. So sorry, my comment above is to Sami who is grieving her mother.

  13. Very well said, I too was shaking my head up and down agreeing with the words said. I am 6 months out from losing my husband and best friend in a tragic accident. I started counseling pretty quick after he passed and I have to say that has been a blessing for my 3 young children and myself.

    My words of advice to pass along to "H", there will be some people that you thought would be there for you and they aren' them any way, as they are grieving too, and there will be people who are there for you that you would never have guessed would be. And last but not least, it's ok to get mad at God- He can handle it, just don't stay stuck there.

  14. Thank you for sharing this. My husband killed himself almost 10 months ago. Though he'd suffered all his adult life with clinical depression and had been suicidal more than once, it was still a complete and total shock to all of us when it happened. I wonder sometimes how my grief journey would be different if I'd had some time to prepare for his death or just the chance to say goodbye and tell him I loved him one more time... Reading this, I understand that it would be different, but it wouldn't be any easier.

  15. Yes, different, but not easier. My husband died suddenly after a surgical error. No time to say goodbye (at least not when he could hear me). I don't think there is an "easier" way to deal with any of this. I get up each day, get dressed, go to work, face the day...

    Loved the advice above from Gouldsmith - go ahead and get mad at God - his shoulders are big and he can take it but be careful not to get stuck in the anger - it will eat at you and does not ultimately help.

    Tough letter to have to write - you did a beautiful job.

    Death definitely sucks...

  16. All of the above is so true. It's only been 2 months for me and although we battled the ups and downs of cancer for almost 6 years, I was not prepared. I am just recently coming out of a complete fog. I was so afriad because I couldn't remember our life together even though he was THE love of my life and my best friend for 25 years. Now that I'm remembering (probably because of counseling), I cry a lot. Another thing I have experienced is guilt for living, thinking about selling his dream sports car which he purchased after his diagnosis, and also for enjoying the beautiful sunsets we used to enjoy together. I'm so glad I found this site. I don't talk much about it to my friends because how could they understand?

  17. To the woman who has posted "anonymous" above . . . your posting so resonated with me. I couldn't remember much of the details of before my husband was diagnosed, his illness, a brain tumour was so devastating and rendered his disabled from the day after his biopsy that I had "forgotten" what it was like when he was well. Thank you for saying that. I thought i was losing it. The illness was so pervasive and his care (he lived and died at home during the last 14 months of his life) that it became our life. It has been three months since he died. I agree with Janine's posts - don't let anyone tell you how to grieve. . . it is as unique as the relationship was.
    I have had people (good hearted) tell me . . . get rid of his clothes right away (I haven't. . .I can't yet), go out. . . i have but I also need the alone time in order to grieve. . . .
    People have said "Well you must have done a lot of your grieving while he was ill"
    No I didnt ! I would not let myself grieve while he was with me, I wanted to focus on his living not his dying. Yes, sometimes it just came, often when I watched his labored attempts to be independent. . . heartbreaking. But while he was with me, I immersed myself in every minute we could still share.
    So when he died, it was still a shock. A shattering heart smashing shock.
    People who have not had this kind of grief can not understand it. The ones who can . . . .don't give you advice, they just show up and do what it is that helps you get through. '
    Like you . . . I cry everyday. Sometimes for moments, other times for much longer - the drop you to your knees grief.
    I know I will survive - I will be forever changed but I will survive . . . for him.

  18. All so true. You do not get over it, you learn to live with it. I have lost my mother, brother, but my spouse has been the hardest. My best advice is make lists of the things you have to do and include in it fun things like making plans with friends, because doing anything takes so much effort. Do a few things on the list everyday or week. This got me through a lot of stuff I needed to do and forced me to do things that made me feel better after I did them, especially making plans with friends- it gave me a life and I often started to feel like I could actually have a life without my husband-even though I did things without him before he died. I needed to make a plan for fun, because if I did not I ended up doing nothing, but grieving. Yet, do not be too busy to grieve either! I allowed myself time every day to cry, even if it was an hour. I think it is about the balance between mourning and living-our lost loves would want us to do both for our own well being. It has been a year and a half, I accept that I will always feel this loss, just not at every moment. They have become fewer,but still can hit hard at any moment.You just get better at dealing with it.And there will be joy again, mixed with loss. You will appreciate those moment so much more than you did before this happened to you, making you a better person.

  19. Thank you for saying this.
    I was making breakfast this morning and my mind finally saw the three boxes of cereal in the cupboard - my husbands favorite kinds, they have been there for three months but it is like I did not see them. I gathered them up and put them in the garbage in the garage. I just had to get them out of there and then i came back in and cried for an hour. Realizing I can't keep holding onto these small things. He is never coming back, I will never be making his breakfast, he will never again be sitting in his wheelchair looking out the glass doors at the bluejays at our feeder. I just want my life back - the one that had him in it. . . and its gone and nothing I do, nothing I keep holding onto will bring him back.

  20. that list is good ...i am coming up to the first anniversary,if you can call it that of my husband going away,i still have many times when i think it isnt real, it hasnt happened..the dreams are so real , i wake up and what i have dreamt isnt really true , he are still gone,maybe one day i will savour those dreams,for now i want the dreams to be real....

  21. Love it! To everyone, do what you want to do when you are ready. SCREW everyone else. There is no preparation for this journey. almost two years, some of my husband's clothes are still in his closet. After two weeks, I moved his clothes from the dresser to a box in the attic. I have covet his drawers since we go the dresser!!!

    I use this site to look forward to where i will be, I use this site to acknowledge where I have been.

    We all make it, and really none of us are really sure how we do it. That's Ok, for me it was just good enough to know that others have done this before me! Janine you surprise there!

  22. Wow, you just described my last two years exactly right.

  23. Thank you so much for this list. I lost my husband 2 months ago to cancer at 28 with less than a month from diagnosis to death. I had one of those bad days that ended up going worse with an email from my mother in law. You've described every one of the last 70 days exactly right. I needed some encouragement tonight. I felt like I was going crazy and needed someone to tell me I'm not.