As I stood at my husband’s grave looking down at his headstone, I noticed the date of his death.

I have survived 68 months. On Day 1, I never imagined Month 1 let alone Year 1. I never thought I would ever get to a place where the pain of his death didn’t leave me struggling to catch my breath. Sixty-eight months of living without him. Sixty-eight months of finding my way in the world without his voice of reason…without his guidance.

Looking back, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. When you’re in the early stages of grief, you don’t think you’ll ever be able to experience pure joy and happiness ever again but you do and you will. I know it may not look like it right now, but trust me, it comes.

People often think that joy finds you; however, I’m a firm believer in seeking out your joy. Yes, you could wait for it to show up at your front door, but you can also open your heart and mind to usher it into your life with a few simple steps:

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Forgive Yourself

You had a fight with your husband before his death. You slept with someone within days of your loss. You blew through the money from the life insurance policy. Regardless of what’s weighing you down, you can’t change the past. All you can do is grow from it and hopefully learn an important lesson. You’ve beat yourself up enough. Let it go and move forward.

Celebrate EVERY Accomplishment

So you got the kids off to school or actually cooked a wholesome meal…that’s just stuff you’re supposed to do, right? Who cares! You accomplished it so celebrate. Praise yourself for every task completed – big or small. As you knock the little things off your list, you’ll find that you’re now more motivated and confident to tackle those items that you’ve been putting off since the death of your spouse.

Take Care of Self

It’s too bad we don’t take the self-care gem hidden in the pre-flight safety instruction to heart – securing our own oxygen mask before helping others. We often give so much to others that we neglect to take care of ourselves. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Give yourself the permission needed to make YOU a priority.

Find Your Purpose

You’ve been married since you were 18 years old. You were always a wife and now that you’ve lost your husband, you’re unsure of your purpose. Rest assured that as important the role of being a wife, your purpose isn’t confined to that one title. You can be a traveler, a teacher, a volunteer, a foster parent, a writer…simultaneously. Find what makes you happy. What do you wish you could do? What have you always wanted to try? You know life isn’t promised. Go do it!

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Be Happy Alone

You miss companionship and being the center of attention but no man, alcoholic beverage or drug will be the magic solution to dealing with grief and/or loneliness. You have to put in the work to get to a place where you deal with your loss head-on. Sit with your grief. Rediscover who you are…alone. You may be learning who you are or are becoming without your spouse. Find out her likes, interests, passions, dreams and goals. Until you do the work, everything you choose to fill the void with will ultimately fail.

Honor His Memory

While it would be great if you volunteered at the hospital where a spouse was treated or established a scholarship in his/her memory, you can also find meaning in the death by simply being the best version of yourself. Be a better human being. Show more compassion. Stop judging others, including yourself. Even if your marriage was toxic, you can still pay tribute to a late spouse’s memory by treating yourself the way you would have wanted to be treated. Stop thinking you’re unworthy of happiness. Walk away from the disrespectful, unhealthy relationship you’re in because you’ve been taught that’s all you’re deserving of. You get to determine how others will treat you.

Finding your joy is a process. It’s a choice you make daily to see the good in the day despite your circumstances. It’s pushing through the guilt and the shame. It’s realizing that although you’ve been wounded, you’re not broken. It’s deciding that after all you’ve been through, you need and want to be happy. Yes, you’ll slip back into grief and even depression but you have to fight to get out – whether on your own, through a support group or with the help of a professional. Your healing is in continuing to seek out your place of joy.

Mom to a feisty preschooler, Kerry Phillips became widowed at age 32. She runs an online support group for young widows and widowers venturing back into the world of dating and is a blogger for The Huffington Post.

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