If you’ve been widowed more than a week, you’ll inevitably hear or see this statement: There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
It’s the rallying cry for our community when we feel judged or receive unsolicited advice. How dare someone tell us how to deal with the aftermath of having a dead spouse?
Yes, after all you’ve been through, you certainly have earned the right to live life on your own terms. But, let me caution you: There IS a right way and wrong way to grieve.
You’re probably screaming at your phone or computer, yelling, “No, there isn’t!” Or, you might go with the “If it’s not hurting anyone then why do you care?” defense. Here’s the thing, it is hurting someone. It’s hurting YOU.
Trying to Out-Run Grief
No matter how hard you try to avoid it, grief is going to demand its due. You can’t outrun or outwork grief. After you get done working double shifts at the office, grief will be there to welcome you home. After you drive your children to their fifth activity of the day, guess what will be there waiting for you in the shower? Grief works overtime, plotting and scheming to catch up with you. It’s going to show up whether you’re ready or not and often in the most public of places if you don’t take the time to sit with it.
Trying to Out-Spend Grief
Maybe you’ve always had a great job or you received a sizeable life insurance check. Regardless of how you came to have extra money, you now feel the need to spend, spend, spend! We’re not talking about Disney trips for the children or a nice piece of jewelry. This is more for the widow who channeled her grief into a full-blown shopping addiction. There is no purchase you can ever make that will bring your husband back. Yes, there is a temporary “fix” but what happens when you grow tired of the latest gadget you purchased? Don’t ruin your financial life. Seek out professional help if needed.
Trying to Out-Sex Grief
Your libido is heightened and you miss companionship. You yearn for the intimacy of a relationship. Understand that there is a difference between being in a relationship and having sex. Every widow is not built for a FWB (friends with benefit) lifestyle. If you’re open to random hook-ups and one-night stands and that’s what you want to do, no one has the right to condemn your behavior. Just remember the dating world has changed quite a bit since you met your husband so be sure to use protection. For some widows, it isn’t about having “mind-blowing, mutually agreed upon no strings attached” sex in the back of a Ford pickup truck. No, they continue to make themselves available to a man who wants nothing more than sex and has repeated this a million times. Yet, they cling to the hope that he’ll change his mind…that he’ll return her love and help heal her heart. He won’t change and you’ll not be “made whole”.
Trying to Out-Drink, Out-Drug Grief
You joke about it all the time. You look forward to enjoying a glass of wine at the end of the day. Pretty soon, the one glass fails to relax you so you have another and another. Now, you’re stumbling through the house, having downed “a few” bottles. Maybe alcohol isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s taking an un-prescribed dose of your pain medication. Widow and pain are synonymous, right? If you find you’re using drugs and alcohol to escape the reality of your life, please reach out to a professional or attend a local Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting. There is no shame in seeking treatment.
You’ve already been through so much. Don’t hide behind the cloak of widowhood and justify behaviors that are detrimental to you, your health and your sanity. Sure, grief doesn’t have to look rainbows, unicorns and sunshine. But, it also doesn’t have to represent a downward spiral into self-harm and sabotage.
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.