Advice for surviving the death of a spouse or partner at a young age
Becoming a young widow is an experience that completely turns your life upside down. Everything that once made sense, no longer does. The pain feels unbearable, and you are suddenly thrust into unfamiliar territory.
Even if your spouse died from an illness, and you knew that death was near, you are never mentally or emotionally ready for this type of life-transforming loss. Aside from the grief, being a young widow can add an extra level of complication to the healing process. It can be very isolating to be a woman in today’s society, who has lost her spouse before the age of 60. People don’t know what to say, how to approach you, and you may feel like you don’t fit in anywhere.
To move through the grief process in a healthy way, it is important to know that you are not alone. There are practical tools that can help you nurture yourself, honor your loss, and bring you comfort and strength. By making use of these tools, you can once again learn to live whole-heartedly, find new passions or reclaim existing ones, and rejoin your community with strength and purpose.
- talk about your loss
- find a support system
- practice self-care
- grieve at your own pace
- honor your loved one’s memory
- isolate yourself
- try to “get over” it
- deny your grief
- expect others to know what you need
- be too hard on yourself
Do talk about your loss
It is incredibly therapeutic to talk about what you have just experienced. Losing your spouse is very traumatic, and it can take years to process your feelings and emotions surrounding the story of your loss. It can bring you great comfort to talk about your loved one and most importantly, “remember” who they were and what they brought into your life. You may find that certain stories bring you great joy to share. This is a huge step towards healing. Make sure that you talk with someone who will compassionately support you. Seeing a professional counselor or coach, in addition to speaking with close family and friends who you trust, can be extremely helpful.
Do find a support system
Being a young widow can be very isolating. You may feel like you are the only one going through this type of loss. Our society is not properly equipped to handle the grieving process, and you may feel awkward in social situations, especially if many of your friends and family members have significant others and can’t relate to your experience.
It is important to find a support group specifically for young widows. You can find support groups online, such as www.SoulWidows.org, www.sslf.org and www.theWiddahood.com. These websites have a variety of resources and will help you find a group that meets near you. In-person groups are very effective and will offer you a strong sense of community and belonging. Even if you are nervous about attending a group, try at least one or two meetings so that you know if the experience will be a good fit for you. You will quickly learn that you are not alone.
Do practice self-care
When you are grieving, it is so easy to let go of your health. Grieving can cause aches and pains in the body and make it difficult to eat properly and stay hydrated. You may find yourself gravitating towards unhealthy habits. Grief can make you feel like you have a perpetual flu. It is important to nurture your body with activities, such as taking a bath with aromatherapy salts, getting a massage or doing self-massage, drinking lots of water, taking a walk, gentle exercise such as yoga, cooking healthy meals or having someone prepare them for you. When you take care of yourself physically, this also will affect your mental and emotional state. If you are having difficulty getting out of bed, ask a close friend or family member to help you in accomplishing these acts of self-care. You deserve it.
Do grieve at your own pace
In today’s society, we are all about rushing and getting things accomplished as quickly as possible. However, grief is the opposite. Moving through the grief and healing process takes time. There is no specific start and end date. You must allow yourself time to process and work through your feelings. Other people around you may not understand the pace at which you are moving, but remember this is your loss. Your life has been altered in every way, and you have the right to take things one step at a time. So, don’t be afraid to tell the person who doesn’t understand why you aren’t feeling better after three months, that you are still coping with your loss, and that all you need is their ongoing support and respect. Even though they may not understand, it is vital to give yourself the time and space to move through it in a way that feels right to you.
Do honor your loved one’s memory
There are so many beautiful ways that you can honor your spouse. By creating a ritual around holidays, anniversaries and birthdays, you will get to experience ways in which their spirit lives on. You may wish to still hold a celebration for them with friends and family on their birthday. Perhaps there is a favorite spot that you used to go together that you can visit on your anniversary.
Create a memory album that has pictures of your life together and special events. Even though these actions may evoke tears and sadness, they also may fill your heart with comfort and feelings of closeness. You may wish to wear your spouse’s wedding ring around your neck or have it melded together with your own ring to create one. There are so many unique ways to honor them. This will not only keep them alive in your heart and mind, but also allow others the opportunity to talk about them and honor them as well. It can be extremely healing to hear the way others miss and remember your spouse, and it can bring about a strong sense of community and togetherness.
Do not isolate yourself
If you cut yourself off from the world, you will most likely end up sinking into depression and despair. You will need some personal time to process what you’re going through, but don’t become a hermit and never see the light of day. If you do this, you will end up getting stuck in your grief and feel even worse about your situation. Community and compassionate support are necessary to help you move forward and heal. The more you withdraw from life and living, the harder it will be to get out of bed and find the motivation and strength to discover hope and healing.
Do not try to “get over” it
When you lose a loved one, you never actually get over it. If you have ever heard this, it is a myth. While it is possible to move through grief and progress forward with your life, getting over a loss suggests that you will never again feel sadness or longing for your spouse or that it will never impact you again. Do not pressure yourself into believing that you should eventually get to a point where you are over it, and you can simply move on and put it behind you. This is unrealistic, and you will end up wondering what is wrong with you and why you are not “over this” yet. You will always carry the love you had for your spouse in your heart and nothing or nobody can take that away. Give yourself permission to move forward, but don’t worry about getting over it. It is a loss that has changed you forever, and it can transform you in incredible ways if you allow it to.
Do not deny your grief
Grieving is a messy and complex process. There is nothing neat and tidy about it. You will experience a rollercoaster of emotions. Some days, you will feel like you are taking two steps forward, and other days, you will feel like you are taking ten steps backwards. But whatever you do, don’t try to stuff the grief away and ignore it. Listen to what you are feeling and allow it to guide you on what you are needing. If you feel like you are putting on a face for other people to protect them from your true feelings, you are often doing a disservice to both yourself and them.
Be honest with yourself and what you are feeling–and go from there. Grieving is normal and healthy. It is a part of loss, and it should be recognized, witnessed and honored. By listening to your emotions, you will give yourself the opportunity to grow and expand in new ways. It is a time to get to know yourself on a deeper level, and you may discover that you uncover new wisdom in the process. Perhaps this will be wisdom that you can pass on to others someday.
Do not expect others to know what you need
It is important to speak up about your needs while you are grieving the loss of your spouse. Many of the people around you might think they know what you need or want, but they may end up angering you in the process of trying to help. Don’t be afraid to be straightforward with them, even when it comes to what they should or should not say. This can save you many headaches. Unless they also have lost a spouse or partner, they will not be able to fully understand what you are feeling or going through. They may feel lost and unsure of what to do. It can help to give them some direction or simply ask them to sit and listen if they don’t know what to say. You may lose some friendships in the process, but also gain new relationships with people who can truly sit with you and support you in your grief.
Do not be too hard on yourself
Grieving the loss of your spouse can make you realize how little control you have in the world. No matter how much you may have willed them to stay alive or wanted to protect them, you ultimately did not get to decide. There can be many feelings of guilt, anger, shame and blame that can arise as a result. You may find yourself thinking: “If only I had done this differently,” “If I could have been there sooner, “I should have known…” and the list goes on.
It is important to accept and recognize your humanity. You are only capable of so much, and you can only do your best in any situation. Holding on to guilt or shame will not change the situation or result in anything positive. Remind yourself of the things that you do have control over and that nobody can take away, such as the love that you shared with your spouse, the ways that you can continue to love and honor them or the things that you can do now to make a difference.
The journey of young widowhood is not easy. However, there are many healthy ways to cope with your loss that will help you move through it and even uplift you. Reach for support when you need it, speak your feelings and honor the grief that you feel. Grieving is a normal and natural process. Remember that you are not alone in your grief. Even though your particular loss is unique and special to you, there are other women who have endured the loss of their spouse as well, and you may find great comfort in connecting with them and sharing stories. It is possible to move forward and live a whole-hearted and fulfilling life once again. It will just take time, and it is okay to move at your own pace.