Do You Ever Feel Invisible?

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Do you ever feel invisible, like no one notices you now? Well, it’s not your imagination girlfriend. It’s a couples’ world and widows are invisible.

One of the biggest challenges of widowhood is this loss of personal identity. For years, you were a spouse, one part of a socially-approved partnership. Now you’re a widowed, single woman and most folks don’t know where to park that.

Well-meaning people often ask me if the death of a spouse isn’t a lot like a divorce. They always point out that a divorce is “kind of” a death. And I always point out that “kind of” a death isn’t dead and that no, it’s not the same.

For one thing, in a divorce, there’s always that group of friends that helps you feel better by telling you they never liked them anyway, that you’re better off without that old so and so. People don’t do that when your partner dies, do they? They don’t say, “Oh, you’re so much better off without them! There’s lots of fish in the sea.” No. they don’t say that.

Regardless of how they actually might have felt about your spouse, people don’t say that. They don’t say, “You’re better off without him.” No! They’re much more likely to say, “Your poor thing, you’ll never find anyone like them.” Which is true, of course, because he was unique as you are. But it’s not a helpful statement, right?

You see, these kinds of statements are just another reminder that you’re alone and people are happy for you to stay that way. I mean, it is the safest choice. Oh, and just in case this death thing is contagious, your couple friends stay away and don’t invite you to do things anymore, in case death is something their husband could catch too, right? Which is ridiculous, because not one of us will get out of here alive and yet.

That’s painful too, isn’t it? It’s actually one of the hardest aspects of being widowed. This sudden abandonment by friends, especially couple friends. And it’s not about you, by the way, because I’ve worked with hundreds of widows and all of them, all of them, have lost their couple friends. And then when you add invisible to abandoned, well then it’s hard not to just go inside yourself and disappear into a fog of depression and a cobwebby world of memories.

Now, here’s what I want you to know, you’ll actually get a lot of support from your family and society for doing just that. There’s a silent expectation that what you need to do is to give up your life so you can serve as the public mourner for your spouse.

Now, men aren’t encouraged to do that. Men are encouraged to remarry, as soon as possible. In fact, I had a widower tell me that every casserole he got after his wife’s death came with an offer. Now, if that weren’t so sad, it would be funny. Right? But unfortunately it’s reality, and when you argue with reality – you lose.

So, how do you handle this conundrum? You have two choices, right? One is to give up, to live in your memories of what was, and wait to die. Not a good choice in my opinion OR you can put on your big girl panties and get on with your life. Since I don’t think waiting to die is a very good option, I suggest Door #2. Getting on with your life.

And the first thing I suggest that you do to rebuild your life is find a new friend. Because you’re going to need support to rebuild your life. So, I want you to think about the things you like to do and the places where you already go. Maybe it’s church or the library. Maybe you volunteer somewhere and have always felt like you could be friends with someone you’ve met but just didn’t have the time in your life right then to invest in a new friendship.

Well, guess what? Now you do. So I want you to take that seriously. You need support for what you’re trying to do and a new friend is a great first start in that journey.

And if you’re looking for serious support, I want you to check out the Widows Recovery System at A Widows Tale.com.

Why Can’t You Just Get Over It?


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I think one of the most infuriating things that a widow can hear is, “Don’t you think you should be getting over this by now?” Which kind of implies that widowhood is like having a cold. A few boxes of Kleenex and two days off work and you should be fine, right? Wrong.

It’s a little more challenging than that. Widowhood is generally acknowledged by psychologists as the single most devastating life event that there is. Two boxes of Kleenex ain’t gonna fix it, I assure you of that.

Why? Why can’t you just get over it? Well, I’m glad you asked. You can’t just get over widowhood because it affects almost every aspect of your life. It’s not a cold, it’s not the flu. It’s not something you did, it’s something that happens to you. It’s something that changes everything in your world. Everything changes, right

My sister used to have this T-shirt with an upside-down cow, the thing was lying on its back with its legs straight up in the air and the caption said, “Really, I’m fine.” That’s what widowhood is like. Death knocks you flat on your back in shock and then everyone leans in over you and says, “How are you doing?” and you say, “I’m fine. Really, I’m fine.”

You’re not fine, you’re in shock. Shock is what happens during a major life event. If you were to be seriously injured in a car wreck for instance, you’d go into medical shock. Shock is a life-threatening medical condition.

If you were injured in that car wreck, here’s how the EMTs would know you were in shock: You’d have low blood pressure, rapid, shallow breathing; cold, clammy skin; a rapid, weak pulse; plus dizziness, fainting, or weakness. They wouldn’t give you 2 boxes of Kleenex and tell you to call someone in 2 days. Heck no. They’d transport you to the nearest hospital, sirens blazing, Shock is a medical emergency. It would be crazy to deny it was happening to you.

Well, guess what? Something really big did happen to you. Your spouse died. The shock of this event shakes up your whole world. How can you tell if you’re in emotional shock?

Well, emotional shock can make you feel jittery or physically sick. Your mind might be foggy, and you might have trouble thinking straight. You may feel an almost out of body sensation or your chest may feel tight. There’s a disconnection from what’s happening, like you’re watching a movie unfolding rather than actually being in your life .

Shock can give you other sensations as well. You may feel anger and want to scream and yell or you may feel like you want to run away and hide. And all of that is normal. All of it is normal.

Widowhood is a life-changing event. So the first thing you need to do is be kind to yourself. If your arm was cut off and bleeding you wouldn’t even pretend to be okay, right? So don’t pretend to be okay now. Your world is upside down and it will take you a while to get it back to some semblance of normal. That’s just the way it is and it will never be the same, ever. It’s going to be okay, but it’s going to be different.

Most grief experts agree that the devastation of the death of a spouse has a three to five year recovery timeline. Grief is cellular and you can’t rush it. Emotional shock is a real thing and memories of your spouse can trigger it months or even years after the death.

So when those well-meaning people ask if you shouldn’t just get over it say, “Well, actually, it’s going to take me quite a while to get over my husband’s death. It’s been devastating and I was in shock for awhile.” Just tell folks the truth. It’s a great way to honor yourself and what you’ve been through.

The Widows Recovery System gives you a coat of armor to help you get through the stuff that comes with death. I want to help you get through it and be stronger after you do. Email me and let’s talk about how the Recovery System will help you.

Time for You to Think Outside the Box?

Remember how you used to discuss everything together? Whether you agreed with each other or not is not the point here. The point is that you are used to having that “second opinion” and that “other viewpoint” weigh in on nearly every aspect of your life! (Okay, so they weren’t invited to the tampon selection party back in the day, but you get the gist.)

Thinking alone is hard. It just is so I won’t sugar-coat it. And, I think you are TOTALLY capable of making great decisions, so I don’t think you should be afraid to make decisions on your own.  You’re a smart gal, always have been.

What I’m trying to say is that in order to move forward in your life you have to begin to think outside your internal box. The box that says, “We always did it this way” should probably go out with the trash. Because the thing is, a lot of the mutual decisions you made were made that way to please someone else. And, that someone else isn’t here now. There’s also the fact that your circumstances have changed, literally.

You may not need that man cave or second slot in the garage. Maybe you don’t need to invest in the country club if the one who loved to golf twice a week isn’t here to golf anymore. (But hey, if you’re the golfer, keep it up!)

I know you can and will make great decisions as long as you don’t spend too much time in circular thinking. That’s where you think in circles about something and always end up in the same place: nowhere new.

It’s easy to give into this type of thinking. That little “devil’s advocate” that lives inside you starts blathering away with their fiendish little “but what about this” and “but what if that happens” monologue. One minute the little devil is on the side of buying that new SUV and 20 seconds later (or less) they’re on the side of keeping the 2010 Camry. That’s where the second voice always came in handy, right?

So what to do now…

Well, you can use a piece of paper and your own wits to sort things out. Take a pencil (I like one with a fresh eraser) and paper. Draw a horizontal line across the top and a vertical line down the middle. Now at the top of the paper put the decision “New Car.” The put “pros” on one side of the vertical line and “cons” on the other. You know what comes now. You begin to write down the real points of the issue. When you finish, one line is going to be longer than the other. Add up both sides just to be sure. Declare a winner and make the decision.

You can use this technique for almost any decision you have. It’s so much easier than asking the relative who’s still driving the 1998 Accord or the friend who trades their car in every year. Plus, making your own decisions is very empowering! It’s just another way to build a strong relationship with yourself AND it will help you take good care of yourself which is really important, since you’re the only one doing that now!

Here’s to thinking outside the box! I know you can do it! You’ve got this! And if you need a little help, let’s talk about how the Widows Recovery System can benefit you!

 

Help Chapel Hill Learn More About Widowed Parents

Dr. Yopp (second from left) and the Widowed Parent team
at UNC Chapel Hill’s Comprehensive Cancer Support Center

Sometimes we meet people who are traveling a parallel path to our own. We think we’re the only one who is passionate about a particular issue and then meet another who is equally passionate about it!

I had one of those aligned meetings today with a psychologist who deeply cares about widowed persons. His name is Dr. Justin Yopp and he’s part of a dedicated team of research psychiatrists and psychologists at The Widowed Parent project, which is housed at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital and the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Yopp and his colleagues have been studying widowhood for eight years now and have come to realize that widowhood is a different beast than other types of grief. They published a book about it last year called The Group. The book chronicles the lives of men in their widowers support group.

Dr. Yopp and his colleagues have been surveying widowed parents with children still living in the home to better understand their challenges and devise ways to help them (and their children) cope. They need your help to learn more about widowed women!

So, if you’re a widowed woman with dependent children and lost your spouse less than three years ago, please take a few minutes of your time to help the folks at the med school learn more about what our lives are like.

Click here to take the survey and help their research!

There are so many of us struggling to recover our lives. I’m doing my part to help with retreats and the Widows Recovery System, and I’m grateful to Dr. Yopp and the Widowed Parent team for understanding that widowhood is not your ordinary grief beast. It’s a raging monster that tears apart every single aspect of your life and deeply affects the life of your child.

If I could wish upon a star, I’d wish that all hospitals, hospices, and medical schools would not only understand the comprehensive and life-changing challenges of widowhood but also be committed to providing healing retreats and recovery resources designed specifically for the widowed! Add your wish upon a star to mine and, who knows, maybe our wishes will come true!

Coming Out from Under the Covers

When something really bad happens to you (like widowhood, for instance) it’s really tempting to go under the covers and stay there for a while. In fact, I don’t think this is a bad strategy, in the scheme of things. Sure beats sitting around listening to other people  tell you what you should do, must do, and so on when whatever it is (like widowhood, for instance) hasn’t happened to them.

Have you ever noticed how much smarter other people get when it’s time for them to solve your problems? Seriously, there they are, muddling through their less-than-stellar lives, bumbling along, confused and stressed out, just like everyone else UNTIL you mention how overwhelming your feelings are (because you’re facing widowhood head on, for instance) and you make the mistake of stopping to take a breath and TA DAH! said persons suddenly leap into your life to try and FIX YOU.

Too bad that doesn’t ever work, right? I mean, why spend all that useless time on personal development and internal skill-sets when you could just let someone who hasn’t done what you are trying so desperately to do fix you? It’s laughable, really, and yet their “help” can keep you from coming out from under the covers and putting on your big-girl pants.

Sometimes these well-meaning people can make you feel like a failure before you’ve even taken one step forward. Just because you say, “I don’t know if I should _____ or ____ ” doesn’t mean you won’t figure it out. It doesn’t mean you won’t find the answer that’s right for you! All that question means is that you are aware of the fact that you have choices.

Choices are good things. Choices are brain-judo you do in the safety of your home gym. The contemplation of choices is essential to the act of crawling out from under the covers after the unthinkable happens. And YOU are the only person who knows which one of those choices is the right one for you, right now. (That’s the cool thing about considering your options, most things are reversible. More on that in another blog.)

So bravo on you for being brave enough to come out from under the covers! Instead of letting someone try to “fix” you, ask yourself cool, contemplative questions, like, “I wonder what it would look like to ___________.” Yeah, that’s the ticket. Because Helen Keller was right, “Life is a grand adventure, or it’s nothing.”

Need a little help peeping out into your new world? Use your free call to find out more about the Widows Recovery System.

 

Surviving Labor Day

Here comes another holiday weekend. The Widows Nightmare. The family cook out or camp out or boating trip. Everyone’s together but you.

Even when family invites you along it can be really rough. You’re looking around at other couples feeling very lonely indeed. If your kids are there that can be really dicey, too. You’d think you’d be on the same page but you’re not. You’re grieving different people.

So you have some choices. You can hide out under the covers. You can take a cruise or a trip out of town. Or, you can prepare yourself emotionally for the holiday.  I always like that third choice the best.

Here’s a holiday preparation technique I have found to be very effective. For a few days prior to the holiday event,  spend about 10 minutes focusing on yours inward self, become inwardly quiet and aware of what you am feeling. Close your eyes gently, and focus on your breath, allowing the emotions you are feeling to float to the surface. As the emotions arise, breathe them out as you exhale. Now focus on the holiday. Say quietly to yourself, “I know this might be hard, but I’m going to be okay. People might say the wrong things but they mean well. I am preparing my heart now to be open to having a good time with my family and friends.”

If you try to pretend that the picnic or cookout won’t bring emotions to the surface, you’ll be sabotaged when they do. There is great benefit to “front-loading” your psyche to expect a bit of discomfort but to also reassure yourself that it will all be okay.

When you allow your honest emotions to surface and be acknowledged prior the holiday event, you’ve prepared your mind and your heart for success.

Happy Labor Day. Enjoy yourself! And remember that every moment of your life is a gift! That’s one of the lessons you’ve learned from death.

 

Take Time to Breathe

Summer has come to a close and there’s a busy-ness that is starting to show up. Back to school sales, meet the teacher nights, new work expectations, and all this as the days grow shorter. Times like these can feel so hectic that stress is never far away!

When things get hectic it’s time to get quiet. It’s only by finding your quiet center and acknowledging the energies that are rotating within you that you find the calm and peace you so want and deserve.

Here’s a new healing mediation made just for you to do exactly that. May peace always be yours.

I Don’t Ever Want to Forget Them!

“I don’t want to ever forget who we were to each other,” a widow said in a retreat recently. And I want to reassure right now that, no matter what happens, if you start dating again or remarry, you will never forget who you were to each other.

Your love and marriage to your spouse is indelibly part of your life. It was part of who you were when they were alive and it’s part of who you are now and it will always be a part of who the day you die. Our union with another soul is just that powerful. You have memories wrapped around it that will always remain. And you will find, as time goes on, that most of them are really good.

Initially after the death, we’re often overwhelmed by the exhaustion of the experience, too numb to feel much of anything. And then we enter “gone” which is really different from dead. Dead is where they bury your spouse. Gone is where you realize, day after day, that they’re never coming back. I think this is why many widows say the second year is actually the hardest. Kind of like the terrible twos little kids experience, it usually comes with a lot of emotional volatility.

Trying to rebuild your own life, the one you’re left to lead on your own now, in no way devalues your life with your spouse. The fact that you are trying to live a happy, healthy live is nothing to be ashamed of or to feel embarrassed about. If your spouse were able to talk to you, they’d say, “Go for it honey, I want you to be happy again!”

But just we aware that some folks won’t think you should do that. About a year after my husband died, I was in the grocery store. I’d just finished listening to “It’s a Wonderful World” in the car and I was smiling and humming the tune. And a woman that I only vaguely recognized came up and said, “What are you smiling about? Didn’t your husband just die?” Well, that shut down the humming for sure.

How dare she! How dare she judge that moment of happiness that came from listening to a great song about life. I had one of those dialogues inside my head, you know the ones! “Well just come sit with me tonight while I eat my supper alone with Tom Brokaw. And the night after that and the night after that and the night after that. B…H.”

Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t judge yourself for wanting to be happy and healthy. Your life is up to you now and you deserve all the happiness you can get! And, no matter how happy your life becomes from this moment on it will NEVER take away the love you felt for your spouse. What you had together will always be a part of you. So don’t fear or regret wanting to have a life worth living now.

Just Stop!

If you avoid thinking about what you’re afraid of in this new life alone, you’ll just sabotage yourself. It’s really not very kind to you to do this!

There’s another way and that’s to name some fears and then use a release technique (I like the STOP technique by Harvard psychologist Dr. Rudolph Tanzi.) to let go of the nervous energy you have gathered around each concern.

Want to try it? Here’s how:

Over a week-long period, name a fear from this list and then use the STOP practice immediately after you write each it down. Each named fear should have its own STOP practice. If you find that some of these fears are deeper than others, repeat the STOP as many days as you need to feel release, looking deeper each time at what you are feeling. ;

THE STOP TECHNIQUE
S: Just stop
T: Take 3 deep breaths
O: Observe how you are feeling
P: Proceed with awareness

Now, look at your fears regarding these areas of your life. Acknowledge them and apply the STOP technique as soon as you write them down:

YOUR LIVING SITUATION

I am afraid that ___________________________________________________________________________________.STOP

YOUR HEALTH

I am afraid that ___________________________________________________________________________________STOP

YOUR FINANCES

I am afraid that: __________________________________________________________________STOP

RELATIONSHIPS AND FRIENDSHIPS

I am afraid that __________________________________________________________________. STOP

Understanding that the changes you face in almost every aspect of your life as a widow require a calm mind is an important realization. Don’t let fear overwhelm you. Face it head on with exercises like this. The Widows Recovery System offers ideas like this on a weekly basis and gives you the support you need to move forward. You can do it, I can help!

Learn more about the Widows Recovery System!

 

Moving Forward

Ever get that frozen feeling? The one where you’re worried that IF you set a new goal for yourself or try to move forward you’ll fail because you’re in this all alone now? This happened to me a lot when I was recovering and it kept me feeling frozen and stuck.

Then I came across some really interesting tips from psychologists at Harvard. The first is that it helps to have a support system, primarily for accountability (well, duh!). But there is also a little formula that they have discovered that makes almost any goal more likely to succeed. It goes by the acronym SMART.

S is for specific. For instance, a goal of “I want to be happy.” Isn’t very specific. But a goal of “I want to take yoga classes twice a week because they make me happy” is.

M stands for measurable. This means if you decide to do yoga twice a week you put it on your calendar!

A is a reminder to make sure it’s an achievable goal. “I want to be happy” is too broad to be achievable in one step. “I want to take 2 yoga classes every week” is achievable. Each achieved goal gives you renewed courage for the next one so this is important!

R stands for realistic. It may seem counterintuitive, but choosing the change you most want to make—like losing weight or being happy—won’t bring as much success as choosing the change
 you’re most confident you’ll be able to make. Focus on sure bets, like eating an additional serving of fruit every day rather than losing weight. Especially when you want to make changes in lots of areas of your life, you want to build on small successes.

T reminds you to set a time commitment. “Starting tomorrow, I’ll add fruit to my breakfast every day for a month to get more fruit in my diet.” Time commitments are another great way to ensure your success.

The SMART technique has helped a lot of widows in the Recovery System succeed in making changes to their lives. It’s a proven system of breaking big goals down into smaller ones so that your success is assured.

Find out if the Widows Recovery System is right for you!