It took me years to figure out how to move forward after becoming a widow. My husband’s death in 2009 was the most difficult time of my life. I made it through the process of grief by following my instincts, trial and error, and some earnest soul searching. Now it’s been more than a decade since that emotional trauma, and I have the perspective to see what worked for me. So, I’m going to tell you how I moved forward after becoming a widow.
Grief takes time. There’s no way around it. You must pass through it, allow those emotions to penetrate and then learn how to cope with their pervasive impact on your life. Express yourself. Even though my marriage was far from perfect, and I had some anger at my husband after he died, I felt a deep longing for him that took years to dissipate. Allow the process to unfold in its own good time. Don’t feel like you have to rush grief out the door. It’s part of your history now and will always be with you. Embrace those tender feelings as a memory of the love your shared.
To distract from my own yearning for the past, I turned my attention to the present, my home and my work, and I began to ask myself key questions about the future. How do you want to live? What will you do with your time? Who do you want to become? The answers to these questions surfaced on long walks, during meditation, and in conversations with my friends, and those answers changed as I evolved, but here are some of the basic ideas.
For a few years I gradually disposed of my husband’s possessions until what remained in my house was truly mine. I cleared out closets and storage spaces and made a methodical effort to reduce everything I owned by one third. That may seem like an arbitrary number, but it gave me focus, and as I made these choices, I began to discover my tastes and preferences. Downsizing was my path to better mental health, reduced stress and self-love. As I curated my new look, I was designing my new life, and I learned to enjoy the solo decision-making.
I felt I needed to do useful work. I wanted to keep busy and feel valued, to learn some new skills and try my hand at new experiences. After 32 years of marriage, I needed to build my confidence in managing my life alone. Most of all, I wanted to be fearless about the future. I had to embrace the idea of being single instead of fighting it. I started with volunteer work, then I got a part-time job, then a full-time job, and then I retired from employment and decided to become a writer.
As my life became simpler, I appreciated the freedom I was creating for myself. I got a dog, went on a road trip alone for thousands of miles, and began to write a memoir. Each of these adventures gave me a chance to explore my new identity, and as I got to know myself better, I was able to make plans for my future that gave me something to look forward to, goals that motivated me, new horizons. I didn’t feel like a widow anymore. I stopped feeling like something was missing and I felt whole.
The newness of the life I created for myself energized me. I was satisfied with being single, got used to doing things like going out to eat or seeing a movie by myself. I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely. I was open to the idea of a new relationship, but it was not a goal. Frankly, I didn’t think it was possible to fall in love again. So, I was single for eleven years before I met a man who interested me, and those were some of the best years of my life. I was successful at moving forward after becoming a widow, and I found happiness again.
10 thoughts on “How to move forward after becoming a widow”
I became a widow 7/7/2021. Even though he was sick, the end didnt seem part of our immediate future. He lived post stroke with no new complications for 11 years. We were planning trips, outtings, upcoming weekends. A fever came on, and 3 days later he was gone. I still cry everyday, as I am right now. But everyone tells me Im so strong and appear to look great….really. ? Right now i dont see another relationship, i was married for 33 years. Got married very young, Im barely 50. I live 3 minutes from the hospital he died in, and have to pass it everyday. So the memories are very real, and basically in my face. I am changing things in the home we did together, but dragging my feet because this is the home we built. I just hope one day I am ok. Grounded with this change, and smiles come instead of tears.
Thank you for sharing your story, Vicki. You and I have had similar experiences with our husbands’ deaths. To me, your grief seems fresh, and I would imagine you still have much to express. It takes years to process such a loss. The main thing is you are in transition from 33 years of marriage to a new life. Get to know yourself. If you can avoid it, don’t rush into anything. Time can be very helpful in sorting things out for you. Good luck with your journey.
I have been widowed for a third time now. I am 60 years old and do not know how to cope with so much loss. I feel like I have no one to talk to, they could not begin to understand my pain and loneliness. Looking for hope
Thanks for reaching out, Tammy. I know it’s difficult to be hopeful after such loss. Grief takes time and there is no way around it, you must pass through it. Give it the attention it deserves. But then find a way to return to yourself, love yourself, invest in your own interests and ideas, learn something new that will occupy your mind. It may take years, but you can do this.
Relic; dowager… you’re so right. These are the words we think of when ‘widow’ comes to mind. If you’re a skier, there’s always the black-diamond hill: “The Widow-maker”. If you’re left-handed, the French translation is ‘gauche’ – or Latin: sinister. Why do we do this to each other? What mo-fo is making life so hard for people who might be different? Great piece of writing, Ms. Best. Thank you.
I agree that much of our language is archaic, with many prejudices and insults buried in the linguistics. But also we have cultural traditions that aren’t so subtle. Yes, dowager is another. Thanks for thinking about this with me.
Though not the same really, I too have walked the Widow’s Watch. Sometimes I get over the loss in a snap. Scares me about myself as if I am protecting the heart for future use. The longest of course being Gay whom I have been ‘over’ the split second he told me he was no longer in love with me. I then gave myself permission to no longer feel that shit for him. As if he was the instigator. But that’s oh so different from losing the dear one in death. That I do not know. I hope I never do. I continue, even as an elder, to live in the sugarland of romantic love. Been lucky that way I guess. Love still confounds. So many lessons still unlearned. But like Gloria Steinman said about her life (the last words in the documentary about her): ‘I never want this to end’
Love you, Bil
Yes, love still confounds.
This is an amazing essay, reflecting so much of what I have thought over the past year and a half of widowhood! You are a gift, Billie.
Thank you. Sending you wishes for a future rich in self love.