The first few weeks were unbelievably challenging. The reality of what happened was a fresh surprise every morning. I wasn’t ready to engage in long, thoughtful discussions; I needed some way to stop thinking and just make it through the day.
The house my husband had lived in for 25 years had finally sold and I had 3 weeks to remove the accumulated personal and business items from it. Between that and the messy financial and legal issues to wrangle with, my days were kept busy. It didn’t seem lucky at the time; in fact, it was difficult and stressful, but I realize now that keeping physically busy was the best thing that could have happened.
Prioritizing: now versus later
Not everything had to be done RIGHT NOW. Figuring out the difference was challenging.
The house closing was a set date, and the time spent working on that was unavoidable. As was the time spent meeting with lawyers and real estate agents. When I drove home after the closing, it was to a house with boxes piled high in the living room. I became consumed with examining and sorting every item in those boxes, planning to work straight through without stopping, and then moving on the storage locker.
It was depressing and debilitating. About a week later, I had an epiphany; there was no timeline for this work. I pulled all the boxes into a room, dropped the storage locker key on top of a box, and shut the door.
I didn’t open it again for 3 months.
Staying socially engaged
People said, “How can I help” or “Don’t hesitate to call.” I took them up on the offer. Some responded and some didn’t; I’m grateful to those who did. I have friends who were wonderful during those first few months. They made sure I had options other than sitting home alone on the couch, staring at the wall. To be sure there were plenty of times when staring at the wall was all I was capable of doing, but knowing there were people out there for me helped.
Simplifying my life
Grief is draining, both physically and emotionally. My house is a mess, the refrigerator is full of spoiled food, and there are still times when just managing to make it through the day is exhausting; and that’s after a year has passed.
I dropped my standards, big time. The bills were paid on time, and I showed up at work, but beyond that, I gave myself a ‘bye’.
Accepting the dark side
Late nights spent obsessing over what could have been done to prevent or fix things; weekends locked in the house unwilling to go outside; hours spent looking at pictures and listening to recordings.
That first year was a tumult of emotions. I’d be on the upswing one day, thinking positive and affirming thoughts, knowing I’d make it through, realizing that I would come of this a better, wiser person, confident in my ability to honor his memory while still living my life.
Other days I was more like the poster child for grief counseling. Casual remarks from people at work discussing their weekend plans were enough to spin me into despair. I was furiously angry, deeply despondent, hopeless about any chance of a good future, often all in the same day.
Realizing these mood swings and dark thoughts were normal was helpful. Accepting that it was Okay to feel real anger at specific people (including myself) was even more helpful. I didn’t self-censor. I did make sure to avoid sharing these dark thoughts, but I never thought it was wrong to have them.
Planning a future
The week after his funeral, I laid out a timeline for the next year. It contained all the things I knew had to be done and all the things I wanted to do. I went back to that list every few months and checked off what was completed. It started with all the “have to” items; clearing everything out of his house, going through the closing, dealing with legal and financial issues. The middle stage tasks focused on going through items and determining what I would keep, what would go to family members and what could be disposed. The final items were future focused, ending with planning a trip and a doing something new that would be a bit scary and get me meeting new people.
Having that silly little plan made me face forward.
The one thing I made sure to keep doing; even when I had to drag myself there; was exercise. On my worst days, an hour of physical exercise would make me feel better. Maybe it’s the endorphins being released, or maybe it was just being so physically engaged I couldn’t dwell on things; regardless, I always felt more positive leaving the gym than when I entered.
Just hanging on
Early on, a friend warned me that the first year would be filled with ups and down, and that the best strategy was to just hang on. Oh, how right he was. I couldn’t prevent the mood swings, and trying to suppress or ignore them would have been counter-productive. I just accepted them as part of the scenery. They’re still there, but the fluctuations are much less.
Trying something new
I signed up for an improv class. It’s been great to meet people who don’t know me as a widow, and to try something entirely new. I want to take a vacation. I’m trying to teach myself a craft. Every time I do something new, it’s a chance to realize that I can still have a life.
Accepting the positive
This is the hardest, the most difficult, the toughest of all, which is why it is listed last.
There are some positives coming from this horrible situation. Regardless of the specifics, it is hard to acknowledge them without becoming tremendously guilty. The tricky part is accepting that my life is moving forward, and that there will be joy and good things and happy moments. Contemplating this is a bit bittersweet, and that’s as it should be. It means I’m getting better.