If you don’t know any one of those 4,000 plus folks, that may seem like nothing but a number. It’s easy to lose the humanity in a figure or statistic. But the truth is, each of those 4,000 individuals was a person, with a heart and a soul, with a family — maybe kids, maybe parents, maybe cousins, aunts, uncles, friends. Maybe spouses. Often spouses.
The New York Times recently published an article about the widows (and widowers) left behind in the wreckage of a COVID-19 infection finding connection with other COVID-19 widows over social media. Reading the article brought me back to the earliest days of my young widowhood. I knew their loss and their pain on a macro level, if not exactly micro — my husband didn’t die of COVID, but he died — which means there are certain truths and experiences that are universal. Certain heartaches and devastations that are inescapable.
My heart broke for their stories, but even more for the moments that weren’t captured in those stories. The lonely first mornings waking up in a bed that once held their sleeping body. The strange grief in folding and putting away that last load of laundry that belongs now to a ghost. The unsent texts and endless silences and desperate “what if” questions that keep them up at night.
There’s no way to make their next days, weeks, months easier. Young widowhood is an impossibly difficult path to walk with no shortcuts. But there are some pieces of advice I’d like to offer to those widows, from myself and the widow group I found over social media — advice born from trial and error, from triumph and loss, from grit and new perspective.
Give Yourself Grace
When I put out a call for advice to my widow group, the number one theme running through each piece of advice I received was simply this: give yourself grace.
“Survival mode is necessary,” wrote Cory. The best you can give in any particular day is enough. There is no right or wrong way to live this life. Give yourself the space to stumble (or even crumble), and also, don’t feel guilty giving yourself the space to flourish. Sometimes, stumbling and flourishing find ways to co-exist in the space of a single moment. Often, actually, I’ve found they do.
Cut Out The Noise
As a part of giving yourself the grace to stumble or flourish, give yourself permission to not “listen to the noise and gossip,” advised Miranda. A lot of people will have a lot of opinions about what you should do next and how your grief should look. They may even have opinions on whether and when you should or shouldn’t date again. But they don’t know. They haven’t walked your path. They can’t understand the complex swirl of emotions that sometimes take over an innocent moment. And, they will never know that a dinner with friends is never just a dinner with friends, anymore, that birthday is never just a birthday anymore, and for that reason, they don’t know what you need — only you do.
Find Your People
With the above being said, know that there will be people who understand, who do know what you might need when you don’t know. They are other widows. Regardless of how different the life they lived before loss dragged them into the trenches of widowhood looked from yours, they will understand better than anyone.
When I read that the COVID-19 widows were finding each other online, I breathed easier for them. Even though I’m not particularly active in my group (a consequence of my introverted personality), knowing the group is there and going through what I’m going through makes it a little easier to go and do and be.
It boils down to this advice from Jennifer: “Find another widow or widows… No one will be able to normalize your feelings along the journey, like another widow.”
Hold Onto The Ones That Stay
One of the horrible truths of widowhood is that friends will leave. People will surprise you—those who leave and those who stay. “Hang onto the ones that stay (they’re keepers) and consider forgiving the ones who come back,” wrote Kate.
Your Grief Is Yours
“Don’t let anyone tell you how to experience your grief,” wrote Candace.
Losing a spouse is — it’s unlike any other kind of loss, really. Which is not to say it’s harder than other losses. I firmly believe there’s no hierarchy of loss — loss is loss — but losing a spouse is a unique kind of loss. It comes with a set of radiating losses and heartaches, the ripples of which are felt for a lifetime — though the intensity will ebb and flow with time. “Some parts of the grief journey get easier, but it mostly just changes,” wrote Amanda.
Find And Use Your Voice
Say no. “Say no to the invitation, to the well-meaning advice, to the whatever that’s being offered that you don’t need — if you don’t need it,” wrote Christina. But also, say yes. Ask for help. Chances are, the people in your life want to help, and they just don’t know how. “Accept the help,” advised Amanda.
The single most resonating piece of advice came from Cammie, who wrote: “The biggest advice I give new widows is to not listen to all the d*mn advice they are going to be given. Just do what you have to do for yourself and/or your kids. Listen to your own body and your own heart.”
I hope some of this advice helps. I hope, even if the advice doesn’t help, that knowing you aren’t alone helps. Mostly, I hope, at the heart of all my hopes, that knowing simply that you are seen, helps. At least a little.