When widows and widowers try to move forward with life, a multitude of feelings can suddenly make themselves known. These feelings vary a lot, depending on personality and situation. Here are some examples. See if any of these apply to you.
You have the best intentions, but repeatedly find yourself stuck. You don’t feel like there’s any hope. You don’t have any moments when it’s “not awful.”
My heart goes out to you. It must be such a terrible feeling to have to keep living this way. When I talk with people in situations like this, I often recommend grief counseling. I’ll also ask (very gently) for them to imagine how their deceased spouse would feel seeing them in this hard place. What would he/she recommend?
You believe you should try never to feel bad. You don’t want to dwell on it. You put enormous effort into carrying this off, with the idea that it’s best to do things this way.
Again, my heart goes out to you, because I know how hard this can be on your overall health. It also makes it difficult for others to be around you (especially those who loved him/her as well). Bottom line, everyone (including you) needs to be able to express their true and honest feelings. And, unfortunately, you can’t cut off an emotion (like sadness) and still keep the other feelings (like happy ones). You’ll find that your enjoyment of life eventually leaves.
I tell my clients to “practice” trying out sadness for short periods. You could decide “I’m going to feel awful for two hours,” and go watch a movie that will make you cry for two hours. Or, you could set a timer for an hour and think about the happy things (that now make you sad) that you celebrated over the years. For example, your marriage ceremony, kids, milestones, anniversaries. Then set a timer and do something that you know will bring you pleasure for a specific amount of time. Go for a walk, call a friend or family member, play music (and dance or sing along), or watch a funny movie.
These exercises are all about finding balance through the emotional journey in your widowhood.
You’ve taken steps forward, but then you have a bad afternoon. You ask yourself, why do I still feel bad? You start to doubt your previous growth and your future stability.
I tell my clients that this is pretty normal. After all, your spouse/partner died!
As an example, I’ll tell you about Bea (not her real name). Her husband of 70 years died a year ago. She has been able to rekindle her interest in life (hobbies, social events, children). But, last month, she was walking by their bedroom and was overwhelmed with sad feelings. She says to me, “Isn’t that weird?” I tell her it’s completely normal. After 70 years with someone and then one year without them, we’d all wonder if you weren’t sad now and then.
I do tell people to pay attention to these periods of sadness. How often do they occur (once a day, twice a week)? How long does each one last? Is it affecting your overall quality of life? You can review this with a trusted friend. Together you can decide if (and when) you might need some outside help.
Are you someone who is wondering about memories? How to “bring them with you” without them becoming a ball and chain that drags you down? Doing this can make you feel like you’re trying to move forward with a big weight. But it doesn’t have to be a big weight.
A couple of examples from friends and clients:
- A widow and widower who have now become a couple just moved into a new house. On their fireplace mantle is the urn of her deceased husband and an urn of his deceased wife.
- A widower who has a special “memory” table in his house. It contains her urn, pictures of her, and mementos of their life together. It means a lot to him. He asked, “Do I have to put this away when I start dating?” My answer: Only put your physical memories away when you’re ready. Also, when you find the right person for you, having those memories on your table won’t matter to them at all.
Taking personal inventory.
Did you find descriptions of yourself as you read this? If so, I’d love to hear from you.
Hopefully, you now realize what a wide range of feelings shows up in widowhood. And that staying aware of how you’re handling your emotions is one of the best ways to ensure you’ll have a high quality of life.