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Short and Sweet Summary: Hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back now, I can see important lessons of widowhood that weren’t clear to me in the beginning. Here’s my take on how much I’ve learned since then.
It’s been five years since my husband died.
As in 1,825 DAYS.
I don’t know how it’s even possible that he’s been gone so long. It seems like just yesterday we were packing up our kiddos for a ski lesson and sharing hot chocolate by the fire in the lodge.
It also seems like for-fucking-ever.
What a wild ride. I’ve run the gamut of emotions from sad to angry to happy to bewildered. Not happy he died, of course. But, you widows already knew that. I don’t have to explain myself. We know we can find slivers of happiness under the dark cloud of grief.
I’ve learned a lot over the past five years. As a result of that hard-fought wisdom, I want to share with you the 5 important lessons I’ve learned from 5 years of widowhood that helped me get through the hardest years of my life.
Lesson 1: Honor Your Intuition
Intuition is a VERY powerful thing and I’ve learned to trust mine more now that I’ve been on my own for a while.
When my husband died, I was afraid of everything and terrified of making a mistake. Consequently, I ignored the gentle push of my intuition and was so programmed to rationalize why I shouldn’t do something my intuition was telling me to do. My first reaction to almost everything was “No, I can’t do that” or “No, that won’t work.”
Silly, isn’t it?
The funny thing is, when I ignore my intuition, its push becomes less gentle and more urgent. Basically, it won’t shut the hell up. I have a very persuasive intuition. It’s no joke. So I end up doing what I was avoiding in the first place.
I’m getting so much better at listening now. Making so many decisions on my own has forced me to listen and honor my intuition more. I know it’s there to guide me and it’s guided me well so far. The hardest part was trusting myself. Trusting that I could make good, solid decisions on my own. In fact, not everyone agrees with what I do or how I do it, but I know the only thing that matters is what works in my Universe.
Have I made mistakes? Sure. I’m human. But, the majority of my decisions have turned out A-OK.
Thank you persuasive, forceful, spot-on intuition.
If you find yourself repeatedly asking the same questions to arrive at an answer you want vs. the answer you need – you’re likely ignoring your intuition. If your stomach is in knots and you can’t figure out why – you’re likely ignoring your intuition. Its only job is to offer a gentle push (or in my case a hard shove) and if you pay attention, your intuition will guide you to the right answer for you.
It might not be the right answer for anyone else, but your intuition isn’t guiding anyone else, right?
Lesson 2: Take Good Care of Yourself
After so many years of grief, anxiety, and stress, I’ve started to take better care of myself.
I’ve suffered from adrenal fatigue, digestive problems, body aches, sleeplessness, OFF THE CHARTS anxiety and other maladies. My body and mind have been through the wringer. Yours too, I’m sure.
It’s so hard to take care of yourself when you’re taking care of soooo many other things. I get it. But, one of the 5 important lessons from 5 years of widowhood that I’ve worked really, really hard on is putting myself first instead of last.
I’ve put self-care front and center.
I even had surgery to fix a painful bunion and I’m so glad I finally decided to go through with the surgery. My shoes weren’t fitting correctly, it hurt to walk and the protruding bone became a nuisance. It wasn’t a terribly obvious bunion, yet, but I’m vain enough to admit that I refuse to end up like those old ladies with the wrecked feet whose bony big toe is pointing to the side instead of straight ahead. Ummm…yeah…that’s not gonna be me.
So, I got it fixed.
But, I hemmed and hawed for a while. Like, three years. How could I justify a surgery that would require limited mobility (and no driving) for the first three weeks and months of rehabilitation after?
Well, I could justify it by deciding to put myself first. My kids are able to fend for themselves. My friends agreed to drive me where I needed to go. And, I deserve to be pain-free with shoes that fit properly.
I’ve also started eating better for my own digestive issues. I get massages when my neck is in knots. And, I take power-naps when my mind shuts down at 3:00 pm.
I’m taking better care of me and I like it.
You need to start taking better care of you, too. It’s OK, you know? I believe in you and your ability to take better care of yourself. If you need permission, I hereby wave my magic wand and it’s granted.
What do you want to do that you’ve been putting off?
Go do that thing.
Go…git…get on it!
Lesson 3: Let Go of Whatever Doesn’t Serve You
It sometimes takes a tragedy to really hone in on our wants and needs. I mean, I might have thought I was honed in and all self-actualized and shit. But, let’s be real. Before my husband died, I followed a societal script and did what I was “supposed” to do. As a stay-at-home mom, I felt it was my duty, my obligation, to be everything to everyone. I wasn’t earning a paycheck. Therefore, I didn’t contribute financially to the household.
So, shouldn’t I prove my worth in every other way possible?
- Healthy dinner on the table at 5:00? Check
- Clean and tidy house? Check
- Awesome vacation planner? Check
- Ubiquitous school volunteer? Check
- Well-rounded kids? Check
- Always available friend? Check
Ridiculous, I know.
It’s only after five years of reflection that I can look back on the important lessons of widowhood and see how this particular lesson morphed into one of my steadfast life principles today:
After my husband died and everything went to hell in a handbasket, I had to realign my priorities. I had to let go of whatever preconceived notions I had of the “right” way or the “best” way to do something. Whatever didn’t serve me or my teetering-on-the-precipice sanity had to go. It wasn’t like I took a proper inventory of things that didn’t serve me. It was more like, “oh shit, this isn’t working” and I readjusted as I went along.
Dinner consisted mostly of scrambled eggs or macaroni and cheese. But, I wasn’t concerned about it. While I grabbed handfuls of popcorn and a glass of pinot noir, my boys learned the required life skill of making dinner for themselves. Surely, my future daughters-in-law will thank me.
A clean house consists of everyone pitching in to help. Without exception, my kids must clean their own rooms, do their own laundry and clean their shared bathroom. I have zero intention of cleaning up after smelly, dirty, lazy teenage boys. When their pee stream doesn’t make it into the toilet, I’m sure as hell not going to be the one to clean it up. By all means, have fun scrubbing the yellow tile around the base of the toilet, boys.
We had some epic vacations after my husband died, I’m not gonna lie. But, the all-out, every-second-accounted-for, list-making, advanced reservation mom that I was pre-widowhood has morphed into a more relaxed, leave-some-room-open-for-spontaneity, mom. On our beach vacation last summer, my surly teenager stayed in the condo all day.
I soaked up the sun and read a book while he watched an Impractical Jokers marathon. Without a doubt, it was a win-win for both of us.
I stopped volunteering at my kid’s schools because I took over running my husband’s business. But, I wasn’t that sad about not volunteering anymore. I had my fair share and I was burned out anyway.
I set the moral foundation for my kids. Now that they are teenagers and prone to doing the exact opposite of what I say, I have to step back and let them learn from their own mistakes. It’s not easy watching your kids get in trouble or fail classes or become miserable, complaining, combative humans. But, adolescence is a bitch. If I make it through the teenage years it will be nothing short of a miracle.
And for the friends? Some have come and gone. I’ve let go of the friendships that no longer serve me because I don’t have to be everything to everyone.
Man, it feels good. Want to let go of what doesn’t serve you, too?
Permission granted, again.
Just DO IT.
Lesson 4: Be Productive
Do you use grief to make excuses about why you can’t get things done?
Have you said something similar to:
- I’m too sad to clean my house
- I’m too unfocused to pay my bills on time
- I couldn’t possibly work because I can’t stay on task
- I can’t make a decent meal because I’m too tired
- Grief is holding me hostage and I can’t get anything done
You have? Me too. This lesson of widowhood is one of the harder ones to implement.
I’ve used all the excuses. But excuses are like assholes. Everybody has one.
A big, very important lesson of widowhood that I’ve learned is the only way to feel better is to stop making excuses and start doing something. I’m not talking about setting BHAG’s (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals). I’m talking about something productive that’s as simple as eating a healthy breakfast. There are plenty of websites dedicated to healthy eating. My favorite, because I’m a lazy cook, is the Minimalist Baker. I can be productive, and healthy, in the kitchen using this amazing lady’s plant-based recipes that require 10 ingredients or less, 1 bowl, or 30 minutes or less to prepare. I’m in!
Listen, I don’t love to cook. But I can follow a recipe and make a meal. I don’t make meals seven nights a week – that’s just crazy talk. However, I can bake a batch of chicken thighs that’ll give me plenty of leftovers. I’m tired too. But not eating right makes me even more tired, so I’m prepared to put in a little effort for a whole lotta reward.
Grief will hold you hostage. That’s a fact. It’s up to you to decide for how long. I found that I felt shittier each time I made more excuses about why I couldn’t do something. I know being productive gives me a way out. It gives me a way to feel less shitty.
If you’re looking for ways to feel less shitty too you could:
- Get a job
- Take a class
- Declutter one room
- Read one book a month
- Walk outside for 30 minutes
- Pay your bills
- Make a doctor appointment
The list goes on. I dare you to do one productive thing for every excuse you make. If you say you can’t clean your house, I say just clean the bathroom. Can’t pay your bills on time? I say pay one bill on time. Don’t feel like cooking? I say cook one meal.
Just take the step and do something.
Lesson 5: Love is All Around You
When your person dies you feel as if love is sucked right out of the universe. It’s like no love exists anymore. Your person died and took every last shred of love with him.
Only he didn’t.
We tell ourselves all kinds of crazy, irrational things when we’re grieving. Of course, the biggest lie we tell ourselves is that we’re no longer lovable. No one could possibly love us the way our person did and we’re destined to be alone forever.
I don’t believe for one minute that because the love of your life died you’ll never love again. And, I’m not buying the story that you only get one true love in a lifetime. The one thing I know for sure is that love is all around you. Everywhere.
How do I know?
Because I believe it.
I believe that I’m loveable. Because I believe that I’m worth loving, I know that I have an opportunity to experience love again in all its forms.
Will it be like it was with your person? Nope. Not possible. That particular love is too important to replace. But, a different love? A love you never expected? Love that opens you up to a different way of thinking about the world?
Yes. That’s possible. If you let it.
Widow Wrap Up
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the endless stream of grief when widowhood is new and raw. Even after a few years, grief’s presence can still be front and center. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be the main attraction in your life. You get to be the main attraction and at some point, you need to downgrade grief to a supporting role.
I didn’t come by the lessons I’ve learned over the past five years easily. First, I needed to believe it was OK to make decisions others disagreed with. Then, I had to come to terms with saying no and letting go. Finally, I had to get out of my head and on with the business of living.
With the gift of hindsight, I now see where I needed to put myself first and honor my own personal journey.
I hope you’ll begin or continue to honor your own personal journey, too.
What are you doing that puts your needs front and center? Please share!
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