Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Widowed or Divorced: Starting Over With Grace and Grit

I went to a 30th wedding anniversary party today for two really good friends. I sat with the wife's mother who has been a widow for about 20 years.  I sat across the room from the husband's mother whose been a widow for about 5 years. What a difference between the two.

Really got me thinking, especially after a divorced friend started telling me all about what she's been up to. I remember when this woman packed up her life, hoped in her convertible with her three kids and after no small amount of anguish started again.

Doesn't seem to matter how old or young you are. 

It seems that once your spouse is gone, there's a period of time that you expect to see him, or dread seeing him, coming down the steps from upstairs, or up the stairs from the garage. It isn't going to happen. You have to accept that. Sooner the better.

Yes, the big green leather chair with its matching footstool that you nagged him to get rid of still sits in the den. Sometimes you even sit there crying for him, or, when you need to reassure yourself that the divorce was the right thing to do, you scream at him. That's okay. We all think what if...

From what I've observed, taking the following steps will help you move forward and find some peace so you can get on with your life. Every little tiny bit of clear space you find makes a difference whether you are aware of it or not.
1. Allow yourself time to grieve. That's what crying, wailing, at funerals is all about. That's why some women take cruises or long walks. It frees the body and mind in order to begin again. Take as much time as you need and can afford.

2. Family and friends want to help. Eat the food they bring. Relish it and renew your strength and taste for the good things life has to offer. Do your best to be receptive to their empathy and attention even when they are shallow. They don't understand what you are going through, but they still care. If someone is overwhelming or insensitive, excuse yourself, take a breather, and find someone else who will quietly be at your side for as long as you need. When you've had enough, say so and take yourself to a place of comfort, alone.

3. Allow yourself the opportunity to be open to others who have loss and sadness. Give them every ounce of reinforcement you can muster. Offer prayers, make a charitable contribution in their name. Do this regularly, just for them, not for yourself. Do this expecting nothing in return. There will be a return, your job is to wait for it.

4. As soon as you can , in good conscious, offer his things to family and friends realizing they are going to good homes. If no one wants them, then donate to charity or have a service or friend do it for you. Separate keepsakes from give-aways as realistically as you can by putting the keepsakes in one bag and the give-aways in another bag. Do not shift the contents from the give-away bag back to the keepsake bag when your helper is out of sight. If you sell your home, wish the new owners well and mean it, even if it hurts. It is supposed to hurt. Pain means you are alive.

5. Pursue opportunities that present themselves even if they seem outside your realm of comfort and desire. It doesn't have to last forever, it is meant as a means to meet people and see the world through fresh ideas and situations. Go to church or temple, go out to dinner, go to a party, go back to school, go to a yoga or tai chi class. Talk to the person on your left, your right, in front of you, and behind you. Find something, anything to say. Tell your story, not all at once, and more importantly, listen to their story.

6. When a nice man wants to spend time with you, especially in a group, take the chance. Put on a pretty dress, nice shoes, earrings or a necklace, and perfume. Take a handbag large enough to carry only your driver's license, lipstick, and mad money. No matter how nervous and unsure you feel, answer the doorbell and walk out the door.

7. When you get home or the next day, sit in that green leather chair with your feet up on the footstool and tell him all about the evening and your new friend. Say to him, "honey, I love you. I will always miss you. I will, in time, have to get rid of this chair."

Talk to your best friend(s) about your adventure as soon as you can. Telling them all about your new adventure, you will relive the best parts, maybe even laugh. If you do this you will be on your way to finding peace, moment by moment, perhaps even without noticing.

I'd love to hear how this works for you.