At a fair this weekend, a well-intentioned vendor gave my kiddo a package of orange slime. She couldn’t contain herself and demanded we return home so she could play with it the way she’d been instructed: on the kitchen table.

What started off as fun at the table soon turned into playing with the neon goop in the living room, in the bedroom and even in the bathroom. As she moved from place to place, the slime reminded me of widowhood and grieving. Here’s how:

  1. Grief Runneth Over

When she first got the container, it was practically overflowing. We could barely keep the lid on it. That’s what grief feels like. It’s overwhelming and at times, no matter how hard we try to “put a lid on it”, it runs over – at work, in the grocery store, in our car, etc. Grief isn’t something that can be contained. You simply have to let it flow.

  1. Grief Rules Be Damned

Often, as young widows, the loss of a spouse is the first traumatic, life-changing event that happens to us. We buy books about grief or watch podcasts about death and loss. We take the advice we were given and try to anticipate each “phase” of grief we’ve been warned about. And then, just as my daughter discovered, guidelines no longer suit us or fit our needs. We have to do things our way. There’s absolutely nothing wrong that. Grief is an individual process. It’s not a one size fits all. Find what works for you!

  1. A Trail of Grief

As I walked through the house, I started finding more and more pieces of her orange sludge. Not big pieces, but tiny ones that showed up in the most unexpected of places. That’s how grief works too. We don’t realize we’re leaving bits of our grief with people we encounter. It could manifest in the compassion we show someone else, having had to deal with such a profound loss ourselves. Or, it could be the nasty attitude we give the bank teller who doesn’t seem to understand why our husband can’t be there in person. Your grief can leave you a kinder, more empathetic person or bitter and angry. You determine what kind of trail you leave behind.

  1. Grief Quicksand

“It’s stuck!” my daughter yelled from the bathroom. “I gave it a bath and it’s stuck on the towel.” I walked in to find her staring sadly at an orange blog on her bath towel. Grief is like that. Sometimes we get sucked into the black hole of grief and try as we might, we can’t shake it off. It’s okay to seek out help when the grief is so overwhelming that it starts affecting our day-to-day lives…when the sadness is too much and death seems like the only way out. Be like my daughter. Know when you need help.

  1. Shrinking Grief

I walked by the dining room table this morning and saw the slime. It was only half its original size. It no longer threatened to spill out and cover everything in its path. The same can be said of grief. Don’t get me wrong. It never goes away. There will forever be a spot in our heart/soul that never gets filled in – even if we remarry or live to be 100. It’s just that the container that once held so much sludge isn’t as full anymore. There was more space than slime. Just like our lives. Over time, the grief recedes and allows us to fill our hearts with laughter, love, happiness and joy. All those new emotions get to live simultaneously with our pain…in harmony. And on the days the grief swells and washes over the happiness, we know it won’t last forever because our heart/life is capable of expanding and adding more… more laughter…more happiness…more 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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