Time Frame > Newly Widowed (1 day to 6 months)

My letter to a newly widowed friend

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted on Widda.  I’m coming up on seven years out, and I’ve learned to live with the loss.  Even in another serious relationship these days.  I guess I’m doing okay.  But the wife of a close friend died from cancer, like my wife did.  A musician and teacher, like my wife.  And like us, went through the emotional roller coaster of remission and hope followed by despair.  Then to hospice.

It brought back all the terrible memories.  And I was that awful friend who faded away when times were hard:  I knew I would bring my baggage to them. And they didn’t need that.

But I made it to the memorial.  And I gave him this letter.  Some of it is drawn from these pages (thanks to WheelersWife for help in locating some old posts).   I hope it helps him.  Maybe it will help some of you.  I know some of the words helped me once.


 Dear *****

The truth is, there’s never the right thing to say.  I’ve gone back and forth whether to write this at all, because I was afraid that I’d make it more about my loss than yours.  But I’ve been – somewhat – where you’ve been.  Details differ, and the fact that you’ve got two awesome kids to look after and care about changes things.  From widows I’ve talked to, it both keeps them going but adds stress of the pain of their loved ones. 

You know your life and loss better than I do.  But here’s what I know.

It’s the worst thing in the world.  You were a caretaker.  You feel that it was your job to keep her alive.  You wake up in the middle of the night feeling like you failed her.  None of it’s true, of course, but the voices come in the middle of the night.  But remember, you’d have done anything for her.  You even made the decision to say goodbye.  And that was the hardest thing you’ve ever done.  But it was right.

The universe is a terrible place, where it steals the future of the best person in the world.  Creative, loving giving, she was supposed to grow old and cranky with you.  And in a world where terrible people do terrible things, the universe chose to deprive a loving family of everything.

And yet…we go on.  Life still has worth, for all the awful ragged hole left behind.  You’re going to have to look after yourself now, though.  It’s that shift from caretaker and husband to widower.  Again, being a Dad might make this different.  But me, I suddenly felt I had no more purpose.  I hope you do.  If not, find one.
Some thoughts.
--You will never “move on”.  The pain recedes, but the loss remains.

--The hurt lasts longer than people think it does.  It’s ok, they don’t get it. 

--After about four months, everyone not close to her will think you should be leading a normal life.  Maybe you will.  I wasn’t.  Honestly, it was about two years before I functioned normally.  Take the time you need.

--Force yourself to take care of yourself physically.  If you can work out, great.  If all you can do is get out the door, that’s a start. 

--Drink lots of water.

--Try to have easy to prepare healthy meals around.  Trader Joes FTW

--Set a routine in the morning and try to follow it.  My dog always got me out of the house, because I lived in a condo and had to at least walk her to the corner in the morning.  Find something similar to get you going.  Tell yourself you'll go back to bed later if you have to.

--Carry Kleenexes at all times.  Duck into bathroom stalls if you need to cry. Cold water on the face helps.  Sunglasses, too.  Your grief is private.

--Did I mention nutrition?  But (occasional) comfort food helps.  Sometimes, I’d make her favorite dishes.  That may or may not have been a good idea, in retrospect.

--Sleep will be hard.  A pillow against the back helped me (I couldn’t sleep in our bed for three months).  Hold her favorite shirt or sweater.

--It’d be really cool if grief focused us and made us able to do superhuman things like write that novel, compose that symphony or train to be Batman.  The world isn’t like that.  I am still waiting for superpowers.

--Friends you thought were close will let you down-- not in a purposeful way, but some people just can't be around others in pain.

--Friends you didn't really think of as close will be the ones over at your place with a hot dinner and an offer to do laundry.

--Everyone will pitch in until about two weeks past the memorial/funeral.  Then they'll be back to their old lives, even family members like parents and siblings.  And you'll be in that empty house.  Be ready for that.

--Be prepared for people to say incredibly insensitive things, often in the guise of wanting to help.  Don't take it personally-- no one ever really knows what to say.

--Don't worry about "moving on" or anything like that right now.  It's okay to curl up with old love letters and photos, watch videos of your lost loved one, all that stuff.  They just died!

--Emotion is a roller coaster.  You will find nothing funny, then laugh uproariously at stupid stuff.  You will not care about major things that will have outraged you (because does anything really matter anymore?).  Then a little thing will anger you beyond belief.  You need to be around people, then you’ll need to be alone.  Roll with it and realize it’s normal.

--You will forget things.  Basic things.  Coworkers may get pissed off.  Remember that they don’t get it.  Shrug.  Me, I used checklists-- not just for work (thank god for industry standard) but at home too.

--Couple of ugly truths.  Some people, relatives even, will use your current weakness to take advantage of you, or pressure you into things that serve them.  I hope this doesn’t happen to you.  It did to me, but I was ready because other wids had warned me.

--Try not to make major life decisions.  It’s probably not the time to put the house on the market just yet.
--For some reason, friends will start talking about you seeing other women after about a year.  Hell, I had one buddy—a guy who’d known us since college—tell me “you’re still young” a week after Janet passed.  File all those comments under “they mean well”. 

--Just file this for future reference, though:  when the day comes you think you’re ready to date again, it’s going to be…awkward.  You’re used to dealing with a life partner you loved beyond belief.  That’s not what a first date is :D

--Finally, the forgoing has been about you, as it should be. But remember that others are grieving too.  They may be just as insane for a bit, so try to be forgiving.  The day after Janet died, I walked in on her father tossing all the contents of her purse in the garbage.  I took her old library card gently from his hand and he just broke down sobbing, saying I didn’t need it.  No one needed it anymore…  I felt the anger flow away when I realized where he was in his head.  Same place I was.

I don’t know if this is any help.  No worries if you didn’t feel like reading it all.  You can call anytime if you want, completely understand if you don’t want to talk.  I didn’t want to talk to any widow/ers at all for about two years, myself.

In deepest sympathy.

Your letter is perfect!  Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

Wow, terrific letter!  Thanks for posting this.

I’m sure your friend will appreciate your heartfelt words. I imagine it was difficult to walk into that memorial service and to relive some of your sad memories as well. It is a good place to be - when we can pay things forward and be present to another person who faces the painful experience of widowhood

Hugs to you,


Perfect.  Just perfect.  Thank you for sharing it.


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