As I watched Oprah Winfrey’s powerful speech during the 75th Golden Globes, the line, “I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights”, jumped out at me.
I was reminded of those four little letters that played such a critical role in my own healing. The truth is though, I didn’t realize it was those words that helped me climb out of the muck and quicksand of grief. It was only after conducting research for my new book, “The One Things: 100 Widows Share Lessons on Love, Loss, and Life”, that it became clear. One of the widows I interviewed pointed out that it is the key to surviving…the key to getting to the other side…the key to rebuilding after your world has been flipped upside down and shaken to the point where you no longer recognize yourself, your children or your life.
That little word, I realized, is how I got to a place where the weight of my grief no longer held me back from moving forward. Hope played a role in everything from my grief to my spirituality. I believed with every fiber of my being that one day I would emerge from the raw stage of grief and eventually become a better person for having gone through that horrible experience.
Don’t get me wrong. There were days when I questioned God and when I rolled my eyes, swollen from crying all night, at the expression, “Joy comes in the morning”. I had no joy. I was stuck in my shock, disbelief, anger, hurt and depression. There was nothing remotely close to happiness on the horizon let alone joy.
Then one day – it was at least two years post-loss – my joy began to return. At first, I rejected it. I wrestled with feeling “joy” after burying a husband at 32. I can understand smiling occasionally but joy?. How does someone get to a place of joy after being a young widow? H.O.P.E.
Here are five tips for grieving with hope:
1. Understand a Chapter has been Closed but the Story Continues
The sad reality is that life as you knew it might have come to a screeching halt, especially if your spouse’s death was unexpected. A part of you probably died too. The good thing is that there’s part of you that is still here. That’s the part you should tap into. The part that needs to live and live boldly. The part that gets to hope for a brighter morning.
2. Don’t Worry About Tomorrow
It’s hard to not imagine what our future looks like now that our soulmate isn’t here. It can be overwhelming at times to think about our daughter’s wedding and her dad not being there to walk her down the aisle. We think about our son’s transition into adulthood without a father to help mold him. Try to quiet those thoughts. Focus on the present and what needs to be done at this moment in time. Know that although you may not be able to see how, you’ll get through all the challenges that are ahead – in the same manner in which you not only survived but kicked butt at all you’ve already overcome.
3. Know You’re a Work in Progress
So what you’re a mess at this exact moment in time. That doesn’t mean you’re destined to stay there. A bad day or week doesn’t mean the rest of your life will be a wreck. Don’t beat yourself up too much for being swept up in a grief wave. Cry it out and keep moving forward. There’s an expression that says. “You’re allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress at the same time”. Believe that!
4. Want the Best for the “New” You
No doubt, we change post-loss. Sometimes we’re proud of the person we’ve become and other times, we resent this new version of ourselves. Either way, you should strive to make yourself the best you possible. Love your independence? Don’t allow anyone to stifle your spirit. Not so thrilled with your newfound bitterness and anger? Work to change that. Your goal should be self-care and if that means seeking out professional help, do it! You can’t be of help to others – including your children – if you’re not taking care of yourself.
5. Believe You are Worthy
You’re widowed with four minor children. You gained weight. There are a few more wrinkles on your face. So what! That doesn’t make you any less deserving of happiness. We certainly don’t have to settle for any less than we deserve because of widowhood. If you want to open your heart to love again, believe that anyone worth having will love all of you – children included. Save the poem below to your phone. Memorize it. Pin it to your fridge. Let it serve as a reminder that being widowed doesn’t mean accepting less:
Sometimes you’ll just be too much woman.
Too much of something that makes a man feel like less of a man,
Which will make you feel like you have to be less of a woman.
The biggest mistake you can make
is removing jewels from your crown
to make it easier for a man to carry.
When this happens, I need you to understand:
You do not need a smaller crown—
You need a man with bigger hands.”
― Michael Reid
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.