Widows and Grief

Taken from From One Widow to Another, ©2009 by Miriam Neff. Used with permission of Moody Publishers.

In spite of the countless books written on grief, I’ve found it to be the least understood emotion we experience losing our dearest companion. My grieving started early as I knew my husband’s illness had no cure, and would march to his anticipated death. Being a reader and researcher, I looked for help early. “Anticipatory grief,” I discovered was the label for this wave that was sweeping over me while Bob was still here. Even as I audibly heard him tell me he loved me, I felt the ache of grieving inside knowing I would not hear those words much longer. How could I experience such joy at the words of his tender, baritone voice, and such pain inside at the same time?

I don’t know that discovering a label for my feelings helped, but at least I knew I was not crazy, just grieving early.

Much has been written about the stages of grief. The phases in general include initial shock followed by disbelief. Anger may move into depression. Finally, on its own time table, we move into acceptance. What many of us have discovered is that we don’t move through the stages in any predictable manner. The grieving process refuses to fit in neat packages. Grief defies the outline. In my conversations with many widows, we move forward, and then discover ourselves back in disbelief again.

Since that is our reality, I will not talk about stages but rather our experiences in grief. Please know too, that this is collective wisdom. I am privileged to have women in my new circle of friends who have been on this journey much longer than I. Watching the richness of their lives, I gladly share the insights they have passed on to me.

Your grief is unique. When we cry, where we cry, what prompts our pain is so, so different. Please do not compare yourself with another person. We are frequently asked, “How are you doing?” When you are asked that question do you find your mind leaping to other widows? Am I recovering as fast as they are? If not, what’s wrong with me?

My dear friend, does anyone know ALL that you are grieving now? Yes, they know you lost your husband. Do they know that you are suffering from the loss of future dreams? Do they know the plans you had that will never materialize? Do they know that the 75% departure of your friendship network hurts too? You think of the advice he will never offer your children as they go through life’s big passages – grandchildren events, marriages, all the life events that you will face alone. Please allow yourself to grieve in whatever way and for any amount of time that this emotion floats through your soul.

Grief is a messy emotion. Its face can be tearstained, blank, or a pasted on smile. Sometimes we camouflage it well. Other times there is no mask stiff enough and large enough to cover the fact that we are engulfed in the moment. How do we get through it? Of the following thoughts, I hope at least some will be helpful.

Moving Through Grief

Be kind to yourself. Sleep in if you need to. Only you know how to take care of yourself. Curl up in your fuzzy robe and slippers and sip tea. Stop to watch turtle doves. Take a deep breath. Wonder slowly through a park.

Give yourself permission to forget the task at hand. Grieving does take time and work. If we don’t allow ourselves to stop and recall, stop and weep, stop and drink in a memory, we miss a valuable moment of healing and moving forward.

Write a journal. If this has been one of your habits, you may find the volume increases. My journal became a way I still spoke to Bob. I still diaried my reflections to God, but it became important for me to let Bob know all that was going on. If you and your husband conversed much, you understand.

Surround yourself with positive people. You know who they are. If you have been a helper and encourager in the past, it may be hard for you to NOT make yourself available to those who would drain you at this time. Some people actually seek out those who are grieving. They want to connect to tell them of their losses and woes. Not now. Maybe later, maybe not at all. While they are seeking understanding, please know that your emotional tank is already low, and you cannot risk it being drained further by their story. While grief support groups help some, they are not for everyone. When the program includes going over each person’s story, this may be too much for you.

Give yourself permission to try new things. Visit a place that has no memories. Change your schedule – meal time, sleep time – discover a comfortable new routine. Eat foods you’ve never tried before. Look for something on television that is new, curious, interesting, or funny. (I can no longer watch Cash Cab, which Bob enjoyed, but What’s This House Really Worth is intriguing, especially the international version.)

WHEN IT FEELS RIGHT, change the furniture layout in a room.

Follow your own wish on when, how, and whether to dispose of his things. I read a checklist that advised giving away clothing at least by month three after your loss. (The reason given was that they would soon be out of style and not as useable to others.) Eeee Gads! Please! More than one year after my loss, I am still comforted by Bob’s closet. I know a person who had to move within two months due to an unmanageable mortgage. She did not have the luxury of keeping things. We all must do what we must do—without laying guilt on each other or expecting others to be like we are.

Attend to your health. Grief weakens the immune system. This is a tough one. If you became a widow suddenly, unexpectedly, you may be thinking, “Who cares?” So much simply does not matter anymore. Or, you, like me, may have spent months and years being your mate’s primary caregiver. You are tired. I understand. Your weight has changed; you can’t remember the last time you called a doctor for you. I stayed in that “Who cares?” space for several months. Perhaps we are numbed by grief, or have no reserve to focus on ourselves as we simply make it through each hour, each day. But I can tell you that it feels good when you are able to focus on some exercise that renews your body and your mind. I chose not to return to running, a decision my knees are grateful for. I stopped when Bob was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It seemed cruel to step out our door in running shoes given the diagnosis he had to face. I’m loving lap swimming regularly, something that Bob and I did not do together. It’s healing to body and mind.

Don’t compare yourself to others. First, the reasons we grieve are so different. Many are private. Secondly, we are created so differently as individuals including the intensity of our emotions. Finally, no two life journeys are identical. So why are we comparing? There’s no good reason. Rather than judge, let’s grant freedom; rather than analyze, let’s accept; rather than compare, let’s show compassion.


Your grief is unique. When we cry, where we cry, what prompts our pain is so, so different. Please do not compare yourself with another person.