Dear newly widowed self

Oct 10, 2020

In the early days of loss when my world went dark, I could have never imagined my future. Well intended comments like, “You have your whole life ahead of you,” sent me into a panic, as that was precisely my biggest fear. I wasn’t even sure how to get through the current moment.

Luckily, I had a few mentors who knew the journey, and I was grateful for their wisdom. How much more powerful would it have been, though, to get advice from a future version of myself.

Looking back eight years later, this is what I would have wanted my newly widowed, not yet 40-year-old self, to know. (This is a personal note-to-self. If anything isn’t helpful to you or relevant to your journey, as always, leave it right where you found it and keep going along your unique path.)

Dear Teresa of September, 2012,

  1. Everything changes, most of which is horribly difficult. You’ve lost your shared past, your dreams for the future and his physical presence now, right when you need him the most. It is horrific and although you can’t possibly believe this now, it will not always hurt like this. You will survive this.
  2. Making immediate changes, out of survival, will help you. Stop exposing yourself to people and situations that drain you. If there ever was a time to say no, this is it. Effective immediately, stop people pleasing. You’ve got nothing to give right now, and that’s okay. This is where you change the rules and establish new, permanent expectations.
  3. Accept help from others. Yes, you’re more comfortable giving than receiving. But if there was ever a time to receive, it is now. This is how people can show their love. This is how people can feel that in some small way, they are of help to you. Just let them.
  4. Solitude and silence are your friends. Create a simpler, quieter world. Be outdoors as much as possible.
  5. You have enough energy to last maybe a few milliseconds. If you spend it in judgement, it will be spent foolishly. Relinquish self-judgement and judging others. You need to spend that finite energy caring for yourself.
  6. Notice your thoughts, and never believe everything you think. Your brain will offer you thoughts that are neither true nor useful. Beware. These thoughts will pile suffering on top of the pain. And the pain by itself is already pretty unbearable.
  7. Society isn’t grief savvy, and that’s the understatement of the year. Allow the well-intended to not know how to help, to nervously search for the “right” words and to offer extremely unhelpful platitudes. Be glad for them that they don’t know (and see #3). Find people who do and you will feel less lonely.
  8. Sleep is what you’ll need the most, yet it will be evasive for a very long time. Panic attacks happen while you’re awake and asleep. You will find that deep breathing and a quick prayer will help.
  9. Your brain is cluttered with confusion, which leaves you overwhelmed. Know that some things you will never understand in this life. Other things you will need to understand eventually, but not immediately. A few things need your attention soon. File your thoughts into those three categories and then you can direct your attention where it is most needed.
  10. You will experience an unprecedented feeling of tired in the very depths of your soul. It is due in part to trying to be stronger than you actually feel. Do what you can to nurture your soul, and over time you will find rest.
  11. You will be surprised to hear yourself laugh. Don’t make it mean anything. It is not disrespectful. See #6.
  12. Experience, according to C.S. Lewis, is the most brutal of teachers, “but you learn, my God do you learn.” And indeed, you will learn such important lessons that you will emerge a different person. While you would give anything to go back to your former life, you will also like the person you’ll become. Your life-after-loss will be one of your choosing, not something you settled for.

There is more, but this is a good start, dear one. Just keep drawing the next breath, just keep willing your heart to beat. You have a pulse and there must be a reason why. Above all else, find your why.

Teresa Amaral Beshwate, MPH, The Sudden Widow Coach, helps widows who have experienced the sudden loss of their spouse or significant other learn to live and love their life again. Her coaching program is exclusively for widowed people and offers the perfect mix of private and group coaching along with the most life changing tools for the uniquely challenging widowed journey. 

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