Whether you see it coming for months (or even years), or if it strikes out of the blue, the death of a spouse will undoubtedly rock your world. When we join in marriage with another person, we often develop a sense that we are one inseparable unit, bonded together for all time. While this is a lovely sentiment in life, eventually one spouse will pass on leaving the other to cope with a void unlike anything they have ever experienced previously. The good news is that as time passes, you can and will adjust to the new normal of your life.
There is life after losing a spouse.
I’m not discounting any grieving process you may have experienced before, due to the death of a grandparent, parent, a close friend, or even a beloved pet. Death is a natural part of life, and not a single living creature escapes its grasp. The thing that sets apart the loss experienced by widows and widowers is the sense of intimacy and attachment that you experience with a spouse. When a spouse dies, nearly every aspect of your life will change. This includes the most mundane of things, like sharing a toothbrush holder, to the truly significant, such as co-parenting or grandparenting.
Making the Adjustment
God, in his infinite wisdom, has a plan for us all, and it was simply the time for him to pass on. All that I could control, at that point, was my own thoughts and actions.When grieving the loss of my spouse, I found it useful to remind myself that life goes on. Yes, I lost my husband at the tender age of 49 years. His departure was sudden and swift, but not entirely unexpected. I know that death is an inevitable part of life, and eventually, I found peace in the knowledge that the universe was unfolding as it was supposed to unfold. I couldn’t control the passing of my spouse, any more than I could slow Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
Ups and Downs
Some days will be better than others. After a time, you will find yourself going about your daily activities, and allow your grief to fade into the background. At other times, your loss will be all that you can think about. The important thing, I found, was to remind myself that I was still here. My spouse would not want me to waste the remainder of my time on this planet in a perpetual state of numbness and grief. I’m fairly certain this is true of anyone else’s spouse as well.
Eventually, you will need to re-invent yourself, as a single person. Embrace change, and seek out opportunities for growth and learning. By all means, honor the memory of your loved one. Just don’t allow the passing of your spouse to totally define the remainder of your life. To that end, I have a few thoughts and suggestions.
Get Out There
I’m the first to admit that I’m an introvert. I’m actually very comfortable with my personality, and it was extremely compatible with my late husband. He shared my desire to stay cocooned in our house and commune amongst ourselves. This worked very well in our marriage, but staying home with a significant other is vastly different than staying home alone. One is cocooning. The other is being a recluse.
After my initial haze and numbness wore off (and trust me, it will), I realized that I would need to take the initiative, and begin socializing again. Our “couple” friends no longer fit my new lifestyle for the most part, since I was now the odd person out. My unattached friends felt competition rather than comradery towards me. I clearly needed a new circle of friends.
My solution was to become a “joiner.” I started by going to church regularly. I joined Weight Watchers (not just to socialize – I also needed to take off some weight). I re-joined a music group that I had belonged to when my husband was alive, but which took too much time away from him when we were a couple. I tried a wine tasting class, a musical “meet-up” group, tai chi in the park, as well as concerts and other events.
For months after my husband passed away, I continued to wear my wedding rings. It was a source of pride, I will admit that. It also served to keep a certain distance between myself and any unattached men out there, before I was ready to consider my future plans. I need to warn you, however, it may lead to some awkward conversations.
For example, I was at a work function pouring myself coffee during a break, when a man I did not know struck up a casual conversation with me. About a minute or two into talking with me he asked, “What does your husband do?” I looked down at my rings and smiled. I had to make a choice between the truth (he passed away a few months ago), or a convenient lie (he is a lecturer at the local college). I opted for the truth, which made it clear to me that I would eventually need to put the rings away, and live my “new normal.”
That’s not to say that a widow or widower can’t wear their wedding rings for the rest of eternity. Just understand that it’s a shield that may or may not serve your best interests going forward. But that is a very personal and individual choice, so I’ll leave it there.
Online is not Enough
It was relatively easy for me to join online social groups. I participated in a “Young Widow” bulletin board and shared my feelings freely and anonymously with others going through the same thing that I was going through. Facebook was just “heating up” when I became a widow. Today it can take all of your time if you let it. There are dozens if not hundreds of other chat rooms and online organizations that can give you a social outlet.
There is nothing wrong with meeting people online and filling the “void” that you are experiencing. Just don’t stop there. Sooner or later you are going to need to get together with real flesh-and-blood people again. Be sure to start with activities that you already enjoy, and build on that.
Whatever you choose to do, get out there and do it. Retreating from life doesn’t honor the memory of your dearly departed. Think about what you would want your spouse to do if you had been the one to go first. Usually, it would be to live life to the fullest.
Carolyn is a lifelong learner, musician, author, world traveler, truth enthusiast, life optimizer, and all around bon vivant. Working for 32 years at the Southern California Gas Company, she retired early at 55 to pursue projects that brought her joy and personal fulfillment. She is a freelance author, a contract instructional designer, and has published two books while currently working on a third. She writes articles and blog posts on topics from politics to weight loss. She is a patron of the arts, and finds great joy in playing an instrument, singing, and/or listening to music every single day.