One thing I have learned along my journey of widowhood, is everybody has an opinion! So many people have ideas of what you should be doing with your life, and WHEN. Like, if you should move to a new home, or a new town, when to start dating (if ever again), what stage you should be in of your grief process, if you are making good choices, and if you're following "the rules" of being a widow. Take for example, the rule of not making any decisions or taking any actions for the first 12 months after your person has died.
When I first became a widow, I was not aware of any widow rules, guidelines or recommended timelines. I was, however, using all my energy to find the strength and courage to get out of bed everyday, and carry on with "normal life" tasks. I was certainly not studying on how and when I "should" be making decisions and taking certain actions, and "how to do widowhood." In fact, the first time I heard of this 12 month rule, was when someone brought to my attention they were concerned about me, and my rash behavior, because I sold my home after 11 months, and had not followed the 12 month rule.
So lets talk about that. My husband and I put a lot of love and effort into our home, and we made it perfect, in every way. I really loved it. Unfortunately, when we bought our home, we thought we were still fairly young and didn't think we needed life insurance. Then, just a few years later, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After he died, the house was no longer an option for me to keep, on my single income. I kept it as long as I possibly could, using up majority of my little savings, but after 11 months, I decided to sell the home, and go for something more affordable, on my income. This was a very hard decision for me, because of the love we put into that home. And, it was also scarey selling a piece of my foundation, and security, and trading it for the insecurity of wondering where I would go, and what would happen next, in my life.
Naturally, in life, I wear an optimistic hat, so, I told myself this move would be a good change, a fresh start, a place for me to leave the sadness behind and start a new chapter in my life, and start creating new memories. Little did I know, how true this really was, and how it would thrust me into my healing process.
I decided I wanted to be a renter for a while, and leave homeowner responsibilities up to a landlord. I was 11 months into widowhood and didn't want to do anything but focus on living and surviving. And purchasing a home felt really permanent, which was not something I was ready to commit to yet. I just needed a good place to rest, and heal, while carrying on with life. This felt good to me. I was learning how to pay attention to my own needs, and make decisions that brought me as much joy and ease as possible, while trying to find my place in the world.
The home I sold was in the same town as all my friends and family. However, it was also in a pretty expensive neighborhood and I knew I'd had to leave that neighborhood, in order to find something that met my income level, standards, desires, and needs. In fact, I ended up moving an hour away from that town, and from everyone I knew, in order to find what I needed! I still traveled the same distance to work, but now was coming from a different direction. And, the travel was even better because I had moved away from a big city, to a smaller city, aka = less traffic; no gridlock!
I found an adorable little home that I just fell in love with. It was built in 1930 and had such character and charm. It was affordable, in a good neighborhood, and safe for my pets! It was perfect for me, in every way. And I could decorate it however I wanted; I could make it as "girly" as I wanted, and nobody had any say about it, except ME. Wow, this was not something I was used to! I was used to always considering someone else's input and opinion, when setting up house. This new freedom made me angry, and sad, because, of course, it reminded me I wouldn't be doing this without my husband dying, but it was also exciting, fun, and exhilarating, too. I experienced such a range of emotions with this new change and new house!
This house is also where a lot of my real healing began. I was now in a strange town, with nobody but me and my dogs, and cat. It was very quiet. Even more quiet than my home was, after my husband had died. At least when I lived in our home, friends and family would often stop by, or invite me places, and keep me busy. But not anymore. Now I had to find new ways to fill my time, and the silence.
This is also when my employer announced they were ending my job and transferring me to a new department and a new location, several miles further away. This did not feel good, or work for me, in so many ways, so I decided to start looking for new work in my new town. But, in the meantime, as my other job was coming to a close, lots of people expressed how I should just take this new position, and add the traffic jams and extra commute to my life. But that just didn't rest well for me. I had such intense mixed emotions. My job felt like the last "normal" part of my life and I felt like they had betrayed me by getting rid of my job, my security. How could they do this to me? Didn't they realize what I'd been through and how much I needed the normalcy of this job, and the loyalty of the company? Of course they didn't! This was my issue!
This is when the anxiety really set in and the grief started to really hit me. I actually got to a point where I was crying all the time, and could not stop. I was erratic and explosive. I went to my doctor and told him about the changes at work, and how I couldn't stop crying. Unfortunately he had never met me before, therefore didn't know me from Adam, and didn't know I was also a widow who had recently experienced trauma, and massive loss and grief. He gave me some anti-depressants and told me they were a temporary fix to help me through until I had a better handle on things. However, there was no discussion, nor resources provided, on how to actually get a handle on those things.
I went home that night and sat on my couch and stared at that bottle of antidepressants. Something inside me told me I could not take those meds and I had to find my own way to address, and deal with, my anxiety, depression, instability, insecurity, sadness, anger and rage. That's when I googled meditation. I started a meditation practice that very evening and have not stopped since. I began each morning, thereafter, with meditation as part of my morning routine. I would not leave the house unless I meditated first. This was me grounding myself and armoring up for whatever the day would bring me. It brought me peace. It created calm for me. It helped me face my emotions, and accept them, and work through them.
Within a few months, I found a new job, close to home in my new town, and started volunteering at hospice to fill my quiet time. I learned to be nicer to myself. I learned to say no, and stopped being so busy. I took walks. I started reading books. I found peace.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying life was perfect after that, but I am certain, without a doubt, meditation helped ease my symptoms and brought me through incredible feelings of grief and anxiety. I know this is not the case for everybody, and there are legitimate times when medication can be an aid, or a tool, in healing. But for me, that was not an option. I am extremely grateful for the process of my healing. I am grateful I listened to myself and was able to use meditation as a healing catalyst. I am grateful I learned to come face to face with all my emotions; the rage, anger, depression, anxiety, frustration, uncertainty, and fear. I am grateful for my trials, tribulations, triumphs and glories. I am grateful for this life, and the new eyes in which I see it through. I am grateful for the changes I have made in my life. And, I am grateful for that little rental house that brought me to the ultimate place for my healing to begin.
As far as the 12 month rule, here's how it went for me. In the first 12 months of my husband's death, my role(s) in life changed, my identity changed, my home changed, my town changed, my relationships changed, and my husband's death changed me. In the next 12 months, my job changed, my friends changed, some friends remained and some did not, my role(s) in life continued to change, and meditation changed me.
Now that I am 8 years into my widowhood, I can tell you I have made a ton of decisions and lots of life changes, and as you can see, they all didn't happen within the 12 month rule. Some happened well after, and some happened well before. I'm just glad I allowed those things happen, as they did, which brought me joy and continued my growth and healing.
So, if you ask me if someone should stay within, or follow, the 12 month rule, I say you need to do what works for you, and WHEN. Grief and healing is a personal experience and certainly not a one size fits all. We all grieve differently and in different stages. And for some of us, we need to move to a new home, while others need to stay in their home forever. Some people need to start dating again, and some people chose to remain single forever. Some people need to keep their loved one's clothes and belongings forever and some need to release them in a timely manner that works for them. I don't believe there are any rules except to live your life one day at a time, pay attention to your needs, and remember, we only get one chance, so try your best to make each moment count.
Thank you for reading this. And I wish you healing and wellness on your grief journey.
Here's a fun topic. After 8 years of my husband's passing, his brother asked to have his ashes back! Whaaaat?!?!?
For history sake, and for the sake of this story, my husband's family consisted of an older sister, an older brother, and an adult daughter.
Two months into my husband's journey with cancer he lost his ability to speak and communicate, therefore all decisions were basically up to me. I learned quickly, when 1 person attends a doctors’ visit, they are limited as to what they actually hear, and absorb, because they are emotionally charged. I wanted to be sure I was hearing, and understanding, as much as possible, therefore would often times take my husband's sister, or daughter, with us, to doctor visits. It was interesting to me how we could walk out of the doctors office, and each of us "heard" something different. It was very important to me that his family be a part of the decision making, and plan of care, even though, ultimately, it was up to me.
When my husband passed away, I had him cremated. I made sure his brother, sister, and daughter, all received some ashes of their own, to do with as they wished. I knew they all remembered him for different things, and may each want to spread his ashes in a way that was special to each of them. I kept the rest for myself, to do with, as I wished. Everybody seemed grateful and I really felt like I did the right thing. Additionally, his daughter and I were gifted a trip to Mexico where we spread some of the ashes, together.
Over the years, since my husband's passing, my relationships with his sister and brother, have diminished. In fact, my relationship with his sister ended right after his death. She and I had talked about taking my portion of the ashes to a special tropical island where we had all visited once before, to spread his ashes there. We talked about it, but in the end, I decided to take someone else, and she has never talked to me since. I have texted/called his brother, over the years, without any replies. And though the relationship is not what it used to be, his daughter and I still check in with each other, and gather for special occasions.
So lets get to these ashes... a few days ago was my husbands’ birthday. Suddenly, at 8pm I get a text from his brother. I was excited to hear from him, because I have no bad feelings, and he will always be like family to me. But when I read the text, I was a little hurt. It went something like this.
Brother: “Today is Scott’s birthday. What did you ever do with his ashes? Can we have them?”
Me: "I know it’s his birthday. I gave you all your own ashes to do with as you wish, and I kept the rest for me, to do with as I wish."
Brother: “Oh good. I just didn’t want him sitting around being forgotten. I have some I carry with me.”
Me: "He will never be forgotten, on my end. My memories of him are carried with me, in my heart, everywhere I go, not in a box of ashes. And, tomorrow would have been our 19 year wedding anniversary."
Brother: "Thats good"
Wow! Talk about side swiped! And who is "we?" His brother is not married so I'm guessing he meant him and his sister.
So this automatically puts me in a tailspin, and suddenly I'm hammered with all kinds of self questioning like, “Does his family think I am not worthy to keep his ashes? Don't they think, even if I had the ashes, I would take good care of them? Have I done my husband a disservice? Maybe I shouldn’t have spread them the way I wanted? What do they seriously think of me, they must think I’m some kind of monster? Do they think they’re more deserving or would take better care of the ashes?” The list of self doubt goes on and on! My feelings were so hurt. And I was pissed!
But then I stopped, and I was suddenly filled with peace. I was reminded of how WE ALL GRIEVE. It doesn’t matter what our relationship was with the person, whether we are spouses, siblings, parents, children, uncles, cousins, brothers, co-workers, neighbors or friends; we all grieve. And, we all grieve differently. And we grieve because we loved that person. And, our grief lasts for an undetermined amount of time and it looks different for all of us.
I do not know why his brother suddenly wanted the ashes back or felt like he needed to imply that I had forgotten about my husband. But what I do know, is this was his brother grieving, and, unfortunately, it felt like he was taking it out on me. Maybe he did it because he also knew I loved his brother, and there was that comfort or familiarity, or maybe it's because he was angry at me for moving on with my life. I will never know. But I do know he grieves, just as I do.
I have learned much about grief, through my own personal journey, and from working at hospice. And, in my opinion, the grief will never go away, but will change faces over time. I am comfortable with the grief now, and comfortable knowing it is part of my life. Most of my days are great, but the grief will certainly come up like a sneaker wave, and get me when I least expect it. But now I'm able to recognize it, and accept it, and work through it. And, again, if I had never loved that person, I would not be grieving him, therefore I will take the grief. My gratitude for the time we shared together is way more powerful than the grief that visits me on occasion.
"And now I'm glad I didn't know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance; I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance." - Garth Brooks