Becoming a widow was the single most devastating thing that has ever happened to me in my life. Nothing could have prepared me for it. I spent a lot of time sitting around thinking about what comes next and never coming up with any real answers. It was literally a day-by-day journey through the trenches. After the funeral I had to get right back to work because we were self-employed. There was no time to wallow and feel sorry for myself. We had a daughter that needed me to be a fully functioning mother. I did the best I possibly could with the hand that God dealt me and now I would like to share what I’ve learned in the hopes of helping other widows.
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1. People will not know what to say which means that whatever comes out of their mouth may be dumb or hurtful. They don’t mean it as bad as it sounds. Someone you know could pass you on the street and look down to avoid you completely while others will tell you how hard their divorce was like it even compares. If the father of your kid is across town (or even across the country) and not dead, don’t talk to me about it. I’ve even had someone tell me how hard it was when they lost their pet. I’m sure it was but please find someone else to commiserate with. The amount of sympathy I feel for certain situations took a nose dive the day he died. While I understand what professionals mean when they say not to compare grief, that is almost impossible. Losing a spouse is one of the worst losses imaginable and mine was only 40 when he died.
2. Accept help when it is offered. I’m a very independent person and almost always said “thank you but I’ve got it”. That gets overwhelming very quickly. Trust me when I tell you that the help will fade away faster than you expect it to. You’ll get your chance to do it all on your own for years to come so take any help when it is offered to you. There are things that only you may be able to handle like paperwork or bills but there are plenty of household chores that others can attend to. Someone paid to have my house cleaned, my neighbors provided meals for over a month because they knew Lewis was the cook, friends helped with home repairs that I didn’t have a clue how to do, neighbors took care of my lawn for the rest of the summer to give me time to find a company to take over. I even had friends offer to help write thank you notes because who has the energy for that after burying their husband.
3. No one really “gets it”. They will think they do and some will even try to but they can’t unless they’ve been through it. Only other widows and widowers will come close to understanding. Even then every single situation is different. People will try to empathize but they can’t even begin to understand your particular situation. Every marriage is different, every relationship dynamic is different, every family and home life is different. Everyone’s journey through grief is their own and there is no right or wrong way to handle it. Despite all of that, you will probably encounter judgement because people don’t understand.
4. You are now the person that people stare at in restaurants. Or maybe it just feels that way. Majority of the time I feel like people are wrapped up in themselves (or their phone) enough to not notice me sitting alone but every now and then I will catch people staring and feel awkward. I have no idea what they are thinking. Are they judging me for taking up a whole table instead of sitting at the bar? Are they wondering why I am alone or if someone is meeting me? Are they hoping they never end up like me? It’s a very isolating feeling and it took me a long time to be more comfortable going out alone.
5. It is as bad as you think it is. Everything in your life changes. You lost the person that you had planned to spend the rest of your life with. You lost your dinner companion, your tv buddy, your best friend, the father of your children and so much more. We worked together so I lost my business partner then I had to sell the business because I couldn’t run it alone. I was left figuring out what to do with the rest of my life. It is absolutely every bit as bad as I thought it was.
6. You will not have time for everything and that is ok. If you’re a people pleaser you may find that you just don’t have the energy for that anymore. Now is the time to prioritize what is most important, do what is necessary for the people in your life and let them figure out the rest on their own. People that have never been through it do not understand how challenging it is to be the only person taking care of a household while also trying to take care of yourself and kids if you have them. You may have even had to take on a second job to make ends meet and these are things that no one else considers when they ask for your help.
7. Life goes on. Obviously in the broad scheme of things I understood this but nothing prepared me for what that actually meant. Everyone else went back to their day to day activities and my world felt like it stood still. On top of my world standing still I slowly realized that I was not the same person I was before. I was no longer a wife, I was now a solo parent, I didn’t serve the same purpose, I no longer had employees that constantly needed me, my identity without him felt like a complete enigma. I had to really focus to figure out what I wanted my life to look like going forward.
8. Events will happen that you aren’t comfortable attending and it’s okay to skip them. The worst ones for me have been funerals followed closely by weddings but I’ve also been known to skip a birthday party or two. Turns out some of the loneliest times I have had since he died was when I was in a room full of people which took me by complete surprise. Being surrounded by loved ones without your loved one is an indescribably lonely feeling. Skip that stuff if you don’t feel like going. The people that truly love and care for you will understand and the rest do not matter.
Just to be clear, I am not telling you to hole up in your house and never go out again but skipping events that will be hard for you is totally acceptable…especially in the first year.
9. Widows often get the short end of the stick. There is a $255 death benefit…what the heck does that cover! Your car insurance will go up because you’re now single…really! You’re a single income household until you remarry but you’re only a qualifying widow for 2 years…why…did he come back and no one tell me? You lose social security benefits when your child turns 16 even though you have to continue raising them and paying for everything. If you remarry before the age of 60 you lose social security benefits…and the hits just keep on coming.
10. There are so many things that have to be handled. As if losing the love of your life isn’t enough, now you have to notify family and friends, plan a funeral, send thank you cards, handle probate, go to the DMV to transfer titles. In a best case scenario the practical items were discussed and handled already but things always get overlooked. I had to go through probate simply because we bought his truck 15 years ago when I was a stay at home mom and we never thought to put my name on the title. Everything else was in both of our names but that one little things caused me so much headache in an already difficult time.
I hope these things help you prepare yourself for what lies ahead if you find yourself in this unfortunate position. If you’re already a widow, what are some things that you wish you had known? I’d love to help bring awareness to this so others aren’t so blindsided by everything.