Recently I shared four things that I have learned since becoming a widower. In this article, I would like to continue to share a few additional thoughts on this issue.
For each one of us, this list may be different. As I write in my book The First 365, a loss is the ultimate designer emotion. No two journeys are alike. Since becoming a member of the Widowers Support Network, I have had the privilege of reading and sharing with members of this group. I consider it an honor to be among those chosen to contribute to this group. Each of us has experienced the loss of a spouse or partner. Though similar in many ways, each of our relationships took on different qualities. With that being the case, there are differences in what we miss in the loss of our companions. I shared with you last time that for me I have found it is the small things that I seem to miss the most. For many of you, it is something completely different. So, let’s look at some additional thoughts that I have on this matter.
You May Not Be Able to Do It Alone
When I lost my wife Robyn, I decided very early that I could not navigate through this jumble of feelings and emotions alone. Many years ago, I learned that as a man “what we don’t talk out, we act out”. I made a conscious choice to not burden my family with the responsibility to take this journey with me. While I needed (and still need) their love and support, I would need to surround myself with a team of individuals during this most trying time. I come from a generation and culture that has not always embraced the thought of reaching out to mental health professionals. In some ways, the “suck it up” and “suffer in silence” mentality often ruled the day. However, I am so very grateful that I made the decision to receive support from a professional. It is through this relationship that my book was born, it was through this relationship that I am sharing this article with you today. I respect those individuals that decide to face this trying time in a more solitary manner. I just want to encourage those that make that decision to know that finding support from others is always an option.
Relationships Will Change, While Others Vanish Immediately
In my previous article, I shared how I learned that many people that I thought were “our” friends were really my wife’s friends. Every so often I reflect on how many relationships I said goodbye to on the day of my wife’s funeral. While a bit unfortunate, I have come to realize that on other than a polite social level, none of them played a significant role in my life. To be completely honest, with the shift in perspective and priorities that have developed in my life, there probably isn’t much room for these encounters anyway. One of the changes that being a widower has brought to the surface is how I value my time. With time being so important to me now, the quality of my relationships is very important to me. For many years in the business I always shared with my team that “I rather go to war with 50 good soldiers, than 100 half-ass ones”. In some ways, I have come to look at friendships the same way. Not a thought of bitterness, but quality control in this area of my life.
Prepare for An Adjustment in Finances
One of the areas that I would love to see more emphasis put on in the grief and loss community is the financial impact of widowhood. Talking about money can be a complex issue for many. Far too often there is a tinge of embarrassment if individuals find that they may not have been as prepared as they should have been for the loss of a loved one. With death many times not giving us a timeline, with being amid a battle to take care of our loved one, financial planning may not always be at the forefront of our thoughts. With the passing of our loved one, many see a financial impact from this loss. In my own life, I saw a forty percent reduction in my monthly income. For many that can be devastating. For most of us that I am sharing this article with, we have already dealt with this reality. But as the network grows, our ability to share our experience with others who have not gone through this is something we should think about.
In the early stages of grief and loss, a common mistake is to take in the expectations of others. Many times, we want to be strong for others, try to mask the heartbreak and genuinely want to make others feel like we are going to be alright. While we are working very hard to put others at ease, many times we are not as sure ourselves. In my book The First 365, I talk about one of the mistakes that I made was in returning to work too soon. I was fortunate enough to have an employer that offered for me to take all the time I needed before returning to work. I took the weekend! I wholeheartedly endorse taking more time than that! One thing I often find myself saying to my fellow widowers when speaking with them is to manage their expectations. I often find myself ending many conversations by telling them “no expectations”. As a point of full disclosure however, no expectations do not include behavior deemed harmful to yourself or others. No expectations encompass being loving and patient with yourself, which may not be as easy as you think. Navigating the path toward your new normal can be quite the undertaking.
Initially, I very much struggled with no longer having the responsibility of being a caretaker. For years my schedule was very much guided by that role. It took some time to realize that caretaking had become a large part of my identity. Having the freedom to completely chart my own path became almost overwhelming at times. The great news is however that eventually, you will find your way forward. Try to resist any artificial timelines if you can.
Remember that You are Not the Only Person that Lost Someone
A secondary aspect of no expectations is to remember that we must have compassion for others. While we are grieving our loved ones, don’t lose the fact that your loss has persons around you as well. Even though they may not verbalize it, many times they are hurting as well. I will never forget the strength demonstrated by my son as he sat with me in those initial hours and watched me completely melt down the day my wife Robyn died. It takes love and strength to witness such a thing as that. The same thing goes for friends, co-workers, neighbors as well as anyone who knew of and cared about your loved one. While I am not advocating for putting the healing of others ahead of your own, we must remain cognizant on grief’s effect on those around us. For those of us that are parents, this can be extremely complex to manage. We must find the strength to be a loving to our children as we are to ourselves. Their ability to process the loss often-times is directly correlated to our own.
Do the Work It’s Worth It!
For those of you that have followed my articles, you know I am a strong proponent of the benefits of doing the work. While I strongly believe that there are many paths to the destination of healing, each path requires work on our part. I endorse just as strongly that the work is worth it. No matter whether you seek the assistance of professionals, find the strength within or just let time and experience facilitate the healing process, the work is worth it.
So now I have shared just ten of the many lessons I have learned during my time as a widower. I would love to hear from you about what some of your key learnings have been. One thing I am very sure of is that if I were to write another version of this article five years from now, it may have a bit different slant to it. I am often awed by how much I have taken in over the last four years. I am in many ways so much more grown up and, in many ways, more alive now than ever before. However, that is another article for another day. I wish you nothing but the best on this journey that we share.
Terrell Whitener is an author, motivational speaker, and coach. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Terrell is the author of The First 365, Learning to Live After Loss. Terrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, LinkedIn @terrellwhitener, Instagram @ or through the Widow Support Network.