10 things you need to do as soon as you are a widow

I was not expecting to become a widow, so it caught me completely off guard. I had no idea what to do in any area of my life. Now I have some suggestions for my sweet friends who are going through this themselves.

10 things you need to do as soon as you are a widow…

1. Contact your local Social Security Office as soon as possible. They may start helping you financially, but will not pay for any months that you have missed. They will do an interview and you will need to bring some forms and records, so please call your local office to find out exactly what you need to bring and schedule an appointment now.

2. You will feel like you are in a fog. They call it “widows fog”. It feels like you are in a dream and this is how your body is protecting your heart. I was very numb for a few weeks, and then it started to lift as time went on, but didn’t go away for many months. Maybe years.  Some tips for your new widow brain–

*Sometimes good, sound advice doesn’t even go in one ear– so it can’t go out the other! (This means you’re not even “there” to listen to advice.) You’re emotionally drained -some days before you even get out of bed!

*Write everything down! I felt like I needed a lot more RAM in my head, but I couldn’t buy it. I had to write lists that were pretty elementary- like  3:30 – PICK UP THE KIDS FROM SCHOOL!  I had SOOO much to do. I had more paperwork than I could have ever imagined. I had to make lists so I could remember all of the things I had to do. (changing names on all utilities, banks, titles, loans, memberships, schools, services, and emails- just to name a few!)

*PLEASE PLEASE keep a journal. You may think you will NEVER want to remember this awful time in your life, but what you don’t know is in a few weeks or months you can look back and realize you have come far in this journey. You will not remember much with the new “widows brain” and down the road, you really will want to have a journal of what happened. I seriously can’t believe what I went through when I look back and you know what- I survived!

*6 months after my husband’s death it was December and SO cold outside. I came home from the gym in my biker shorts and tank top and shoveled the driveway. I realized when I went inside about 15 minutes later I didn’t even know I was cold. I didn’t even feel it- I was numb from the inside out. This is part of that widow’s fog and numbness.

3. Sleep- you won’t. I didn’t sleep well for a year. Maybe two. That is also a reason why you feel you are in a fog because you don’t think well when you are sooo tired. Please see a doctor to get professional recommendations for sleep and grief.

4. Your friends and family may leave you. I was surprised by how many people I thought would be there for me and my kids that weren’t. I realized it wasn’t me- it was them and they couldn’t handle it themselves- they have lost a lot too, so they didn’t have anything left to give to me and my kids. Try not to be offended- they may show up when they can better handle the situation. All of us are only given so much emotional energy. An overwhelming amount of “in-laws” step away. I was also shocked by how many people helped me that I didn’t know very well and we became close friends. Maybe this is because they didn’t have the devastating feelings of loss and had more to give?

5. Everyone grieves differently. So differently! Everyone has their own views or expectations of how people should act when a tragedy occurs and you never know until it happens what you will do. Please do not judge yourself if you are different than others- they haven’t lived your life or walked in your shoes. I had 6 kids and wanted to be strong for them. Some people told me they couldn’t believe how strong I was during the viewing and the funeral. What people didn’t see is the hours of bawling alone in my closet or with my best friend or mom. Most people weren’t at the cemetery when we laid him to rest to see I did fall apart on top of the casket. I wouldn’t let myself go there until I knew it was over. Some people wear their emotions on their sleeve, some don’t. Some people can’t say a word, I spoke at his funeral and so did my children. Some people couldn’t believe how I could make all of the hard decisions so easily- who-what-where-how on the funeral and burial. What they didn’t know is what a spiritual time it is and my head was crystal clear in that decisions-more than at any time in my life. Some people told me they couldn’t believe I smiled in pictures. I was in complete shock and did what I had to do or what was natural for me. I also didn’t post the pics that I didn’t like with swollen eyes. Some people couldn’t believe I could go to the church the day after finding my husband deceased. I couldn’t think of a better place to be. Many people fell apart in front of me and I felt I was the one consoling them. Some people asked how I did all of this. It wasn’t a choice. I had no control over whether my husband died and I had to deal with it the best I knew how at the time. Grief can also sneak up on you years later when everything else has settled. The first year or three I was so worried about my kids and everything else, that I didn’t spend much time on myself. Don’t worry- grief will always catch up with you!

6. Get professional financial advice. I got a lot of advice from family and friends, but it would have been wise to talk to someone who was not emotionally involved. A financial planner, banker, or estate planner has seen many situations before and will have good advice. It is well worth their fee because it will help you for years down the road.

7. Get professional counseling. A grief counselor, group therapy, and family counseling will help you so much. I saw a life coach for about 9 months and she helped me put things into perspective and helped me talk through my emotions. I didn’t know her well before so it was nice to have an objective opinion and sound advice. I have seen many counselors since and have taken a piece of advice from each of them and used it in my life.

8. Join widow or LOSS  groups on social media and/or in your community. At the time my husband passed away Facebook was quite new. It wasn’t until about 5 years after his passing that a widow friend added me to a group. This group still helps me today and I know I am not alone.

9. If you have kids, get counseling for your children. Your kids will go through good and bad times, just like you. They may be fine for a couple of years, then break down, cry or get angry. Be sure to watch for this and get them the help they need.

*I took my kids to the pediatrician each year or two, even the older ones. My kids trusted her and told her what they were feeling, more than they would share with me. They knew she had their best interest in mind. She could also see things I missed because I do not have the deep education or experience she does.

*In Utah we have an amazing grief support group for children called. It hosts age-appropriate grief support groups for children ages 3-18. The parents meet separately. We went twice a month. Each group is led by a coordinator and a number of volunteers who have all completed extensive training. Call right when your spouse passes away to get on the waiting list. You pay by donation. There are groups like this all over the nation.

*My children were also put in grief counseling groups in their schools for years and loved it. I was amazed at how many kids had lost a parent in their elementary school and filled the class up, well 5 of them were mine! They did crafts, planted trees in their parents’ names, talked, and had parties. They stayed in these groups even after I was remarried and they also talked about blending. My youngest kids were in their elementary group for 6 years and loved every second of it. They met twice a month. If your school does not provide this, make a suggestion.

*The schools also did free one-on-one counseling for my kids. Some of my kids were fine for a year or two, then needed extra help. One was fine for 5 years, then needed counseling. The counselors at school have been so helpful to me- another trusted adult who the kids know they can count on.

10. Take care of yourself. You probably lost the one who would take care of you, so now it’s your job to be kind to yourself. Let yourself grieve (look at the 5 steps of grieving and give yourself permission to feel whatever emotion you are feeling- guilt, anger, relief, shame, remorse, sadness, despair, joy, frustration…)  Eat. Sleep. Take naps. Exercise. Have a hot bath. Let others help you. Fill your mind with positivity. Your heart needs extra care so be good to it– my heart physically ached so I would hold it and tell myself things my mom would have said to me like, “You are strong. You can do this. It’s going to be ok.”  Grief lasts a long time- pieces of it for a lifetime. You will never be the same, but you will learn how to live and be happy in your new normal.

I made a sign in my house that said: “I can do hard things.” I found my kids and I really could. We are stronger than we thought and even though we didn’t choose this, we choose to be happy.

Take care, my friends!

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