Some questions for other widows or those who lost a partner
November 21, 2018 9:56 AM   Subscribe

I want to keep this short and sweet because there is way too much to explain but the point is hoping to solicit advice. A little background - I'm in my mid-30s and my husband passed away in April this year after seven months of battling cancer. We had not even been married a year when he got his diagnosis and in total we had three wonderful years together. I have a really amazing network of people who have helped me through everything from listening to me to taking me to do things to helping with the Estate and never did seek counseling. Question to anyone out there that has been through this or can offer some advice, questions below the fold.

When did you consider finding love again?

What stages of grief did you overcome and through what productive manners?

How did you interact with your in-laws afterwards?

Did you have any lasting emotional / physical scars from the stress?

Specifically for caretakers - I have felt this immense guilt weeks and months after my husband passed away not wanting to have anything to do with other folks going through their own battle with illnesses outside of passively donating to GoFundMe. It just hurts too much. Was that a thing for you? I suppose losing one's sense of nurture albeit if temporarily?

Are there any good resources (books, movies, forums) that I could benefit from consuming at this time? One that doesn't take me down an emotional rollercoaster since I've been able to keep it together mostly but still triggered often.

How did you go about what to keep what to get rid of from your late partner? I found it incredibly difficult going through my husband's clothing and deciding what I wanted to keep vs give away because every piece had a memory to it...

I've been dating someone I've known for years the last few months. It's been really good for me. However we've been very discreet about it. How does one introduce the idea to friends and family that you're finding companionship and romance again?

I have a close friend who introduces me as "This is [Husband's] widow". How can I frame a conversation to this person to ask not to do that and why it bothers me in more ways than one.

Specifically I'm interested in people who have been through this experience or very close to someone who has. I've gotten a lot of genuine but not so informed advice on things which just comes with the package for my situation I suppose. Thank you for any help you can lend.
posted by hillabeans to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I haven't lost a partner but I lost my dad a few years ago and definitely went through this part:

Specifically for caretakers - I have felt this immense guilt weeks and months after my husband passed away not wanting to have anything to do with other folks going through their own battle with illnesses outside of passively donating to GoFundMe. It just hurts too much. Was that a thing for you? I suppose losing one's sense of nurture albeit if temporarily?

I'm just now able to reach out and offer personal condolences or help to friends and family who have lost someone. I have felt bad about it but I just keep telling myself that however I need to grieve is the "right" way to do it for me.

Also, this one:

How did you go about what to keep what to get rid of from your late partner? I found it incredibly difficult going through my husband's clothing and deciding what I wanted to keep vs give away because every piece had a memory to it...

I think you do it in stages and only do it when it doesn't hurt to give something up. It might help to donate some stuff that you don't have a specific attachment to - knowing it'll help someone else might make you feel better about it.

Above all just know that there are no "shoulds" with grief. There is really only one way to do it and that's the way that works for you, not anyone else.
posted by dawkins_7 at 10:11 AM on November 21 [8 favorites]


I lost MrsMogur only two months ago, after a three-year battle with early-onset Alzheimers, so it's maybe a little early for me to comment on this, but one thing I did notice in the above was that you have a good support network. That is definitely key, and I would add, if you can find someone who's been through the same loss as you, that is also helpful. So I have joined a supper club made up of widows and widowers - they've been very helpful to me, not so much for advice as being just *relaxing* - it's relaxing to be around people who know exactly what you've been through.

Agree with dawkins_7 that there is no "should" with grief. Everyone has a different journey, sometimes radically different, even if a number of emotions are the same.
posted by Mogur at 10:59 AM on November 21 [7 favorites]


I'm so sorry about your husband. I haven't been in your shoes but I'm a big fan of Nora McInerny, especially her Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast. After her husband died of brain cancer in 2014 when she was 31, she co-founded the Hot Young Widows Club, which is geared toward younger widows (and widowers). It might be a place for you to get some support from other people who have been there too. Wishing you well.
posted by Synesthesia at 12:52 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


The Hot Young Widows Club (read about it here).

I am so sorry for your loss.
(Gah, synaesthesia best me to it! Worth checking the comments on the linked article for further recommendations tho.)
posted by jrobin276 at 12:53 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


Specifically for caretakers - I have felt this immense guilt weeks and months after my husband passed away not wanting to have anything to do with other folks going through their own battle with illnesses outside of passively donating to GoFundMe. It just hurts too much. Was that a thing for you? I suppose losing one's sense of nurture albeit if temporarily?

That's avoidance due to not wanting to revisit the situation and it is a normal reaction to trauma. Some people will tell you it's PTSD but I don't think it is unless it lasts a lot longer and is a lot more extreme. It takes a year or more to mourn someone, not that you can't be happy during that time or begin a new relationship but your reactions to things will be off for a period of time. It's ok, it's fine to avoid upsetting reminders if you can and people will understand.
posted by fshgrl at 2:05 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


Re: dating. After 30 years of marriage, my sister-in-law died suddenly. My brother simply could not live alone, and started dating 4 months later. He found a new dream girl in practically no time, and they have been living happily ever after for the past 6 years. He stayed in contact with his in-laws, and they were very understanding. What works for you is what you do. Best wishes for your future happiness.
posted by Enid Lareg at 2:19 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


Nthing there's no real way to mourn. Give yourself time. I went through the "stages" at different times. Anger took 2.5 years to really kick in for me, and I never went through denial, for example.

Caretaker stress sucks. You might have trouble dealing with other's illnesses for awhile. Anyone reasonable will understand. (I still have issues related to Mr. Nerd's illness, 4 years later.)

I met my Sweetie 8 months after Mr. Nerd died. The last thing I wanted to do was to fall in love, but it happened. Most everyone was happy for me, though I waited a few months before mentioning that I was dating. Just my comfort level.

I waited until I was ready to start looking through his stuff. Maybe go through the winter clothes and donate a few things?

I suppose you can tell that person who immediately tells people you're a widow that it's painful to be introduced that way. It forces you to be graceful about a huge source of pain.

Sorry if I'm rambling. Thanksgiving is still a trigger for me, as that was "our" holiday. It's gotten easier, especially now that my Sweetie spends time with me at my parent's house.

Feel free to memail me if you'd like.
posted by luckynerd at 3:34 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


I’m so sorry for your loss. My first wife died after a ten month battle with cancer 16 years ago.

Although I knew that I would eventually look for other relationships, it took me a good year or so to even consider it. A lot of that was because I really couldn’t handle meeting new people for about that long. I dated a few people and then met my current wife three years after the death of my first wife.

I never felt like I went through stages - it was more like a swamp of grief. Everyone does it differently. I took up meditation, which was extremely helpful. I joined an irl grief support group for queer women and an online one for young widows. I highly recommend a support group, especially one for younger people. I really liked I’m Grieving As Fast As I Can, which was the only book I could find for young widows/widowers at the time. I also recommend How To Survive The Loss of a Love.
I also spent A LOT of time watching kung fu movies and playing video games. Those last two weren’t quite as helpful as meditating, but they’re up there. They were a fun, kind-of mindless way to pass the time that didn’t put me through an emotional wringer. YMMV

My in-laws didn’t live in the area, so I saw them from time to time, but we fell out of touch after two or three years.

The caregiver thing - yeah. It’s okay to not push yourself to be around people going through illnesses, and getting triggered by it is a real thing. It sounds like you’re helping in a way you can manage. Eventually you’ll find that you’ll be able to deal with it again.

It took a very long time for me to go through my wife’s things and decide what to keep - a couple of years, I think. I'd say unless it’s stressing you out, or you have to move, don’t rush it. Eventually I gave most of her stuff (mostly clothes) away - first to friends, then friends of friends, then donation. There was also some stuff I just put in bags and threw out. Maybe there were treasures in there, I’ll never know, and that’s fine - it was way easier than going through every little thing.

If someone introduced me as my wife’s widow I would bluntly ask them not to do that because it makes me sad. That should be sufficient explanation, geez.
posted by smartyboots at 4:09 PM on November 21 [3 favorites]


Are you in a young widows support group?
posted by k8t at 5:34 PM on November 21


My husband passed away after a short and sudden battle with cancer almost two years ago. I’m still very close to my in-laws because I have a young child, so my situation might be different from yours.

I did find that my in-laws were quite fine with the idea of me dating. But his sister was not, at first. She expressed the sentiment that I could find a new husband but she could not find a new brother. If you watch the Facebook show ‘Sorry for Your Loss’ this comes up there :-)

Also, they have been very defensive about the idea of me getting rid of his things. They were all right with me throwing away underwear and stuff like that, but he was a collector of many things which are taking up a lot of space in my home. And every time I have broached the subject of perhaps paring down the things somehow, they have not wanted to do that. It’s been. Bit of an issue because they just don’t understand the sheer quantity which is involved. I have put away some of it for my son already but I simply don’t need three closets full of baseball cards and Star Wars figurines. I feel like if they are so interested in keeping this, they should come and get it and keep it in their own house.

Feel free to PM me with any specific questions. My situation is a bit different so I’m not sure what applies and what doesn’t. And yes, there are Facebook groups. I can send you some links if you don’t find them with a search.
posted by ficbot at 6:13 PM on November 21 [3 favorites]


About 8 years ago, when I was 30, I lost my partner to a long illness. Circumstances were slightly different- we were not married, and didn't live together.

When did you consider finding love again? I started dating really quickly after he passed, I was so lonely, and had been for a long time. I was very secretive about it, because I thought people would judge me. Also, I was a disaster to date. So for about 2 years I dated very casually and didn't let anyone get too close to me. Around years 3-4 I wanted something serious again, but couldn't quite find it. Now I've been in a serious long term relationship for just over 2 years. Sometimes I still see the after effects of my loss, for example, my boyfriend had a medical scare, and I almost lost it, I wanted to leave immediately, because I did not want to go through that again. He was okay, but honestly, I don't know what I would have done if he was actually sick.

What stages of grief did you overcome and through what productive manners? I went to see a therapist who specialized in grief. I was very against any kind of depression meds, but she eventually convinced me to try them. I was on an SSRI at the lowest dose for about 6 months, and it really really helped me see a light at the end of the tunnel. I remember feeling like I was a ship bobbing around in the middle of the ocean, with no land in sight and no destination. I never wanted to get out of bed. The meds helped me see that eventually I was going to be okay. I also went back to a therapist about 4 years later when a new relationship started stirring up old feelings. Can't recommend a good grief therapist enough!

How did you interact with your in-laws afterwards? I'm in very loose contact with his parents. I left the city where we both lived, but when I visit I will have lunch with his mother.

Did you have any lasting emotional / physical scars from the stress? I have so much anxiety surrounding health. I'm now always just waiting for the other shoe to drop, if that makes sense. Like, the worst already happened, and whats to stop it from happening again.

Being a caretaker can be so emotionally draining, I understand that you can't handle other people's illnesses, and what sucks, for me at least, is that people expect that since I've been through it, I'm a good resource. I'm not! Especially right after (8 years out I'm a little better). For me, I just distanced myself. Maybe it wasn't the best solution, but I couldn't handle other people's illnesses/losses. I just needed to focus on me.

Are there any good resources (books, movies, forums) that I could benefit from consuming at this time? I LOVED this book called The Way of Transition by William Bridges. It's about how loss can open up new possibilities, its something I read about 6 months after my loss.

How does one introduce the idea to friends and family that you're finding companionship and romance again? This is a tough one. People, especially those who have never really lost, are really judgmental. They think there's some sort of nobility in never moving on. I don't know what to tell you on this one, except that now, 8 years later, no one is judging me for having a new partner.

If you have any questions feel free to PM me.
posted by foxonisland at 3:31 PM on November 22 [1 favorite]


I dated my boyfriend for about four years, and he died 9 months after his cancer diagnosis. We had talked about getting engaged, but just hadn't had time to pull the trigger yet.

When did you consider finding love again?
I started a FWB situation with another person who was going through really tough times of their own about a month later, because I was numb and depressed and desperate for human connection and touch. We spent a lot of time taking about how miserable we were, but it genuinely helped me to be able to express all of my confused, raw, ugly emotions to someone else who was able to empathize with my situation on some level. (I isolated myself from friends for about a year, because I felt like they were not able to comprehend or truly empathize with what I was going through. I also did not want to hear about friend's engagements or pregnancy announcements for about a year.) I ended the benefits part of my FWB about a year later when I realized I was starting to recover and regain normalcy, and he wasn't.

I started dating my current person about 6 months after that, and things are still going well. I fell in love, and to my surprise it wasn't any different from falling in love the previous times, except I felt older/wiser/slightly more realistic/cynical compared to my previous self.

What stages of grief did you overcome and through what productive manners?
I spent a lot of time feeling extremely bitter. I felt like life had dealt me an extremely shitty deck of cards. I felt major resentment for people whose relationships were progressing and hitting new happy milestones. I felt like life was deeply unfair. I felt hatred for certain people who were involved in his medical care, who I felt had made his death more complicated. My situation had some unique twists and turns that I don't want to share online, but I needed a therapist to work through them. I'm still seeing that therapist. I've made a lot of progress. It has taken me a few years to feel like I have some level of agency and control over my life and that I don't always have to keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I still don't know how to react calmly to health scares in other loved ones.

How did you interact with your in-laws afterwards?
N/A - There is some situational stuff here that impacts my answer to this question, which I don't think would be relevant for you.

Did you have any lasting emotional / physical scars from the stress?
I still feel like I carry seeds of resentment and bitterness with me. It happened in my late 20s and I didn't get to get engaged to him, or to plan a wedding with him, or have babies with him, or build a beautiful long life with him. I saw my friends start to do these things and it felt so, so unfair. I am in therapy and these feelings have lessened, but they are still there. If I get to do these things in my new relationship, I think these feelings might dissipate completely with time.

I randomly have an intense longing to see him again, and spiral into hours of depression and looking at photos and feeling bad. These misery sessions used to happen every few weeks; now they happens every few months or less. Sometimes they are provoked by a familiar sound, or location, or even in one case, I saw a man at a restaurant with a similar smile and it sent me into grief shockwaves.

Specifically for caretakers - I have felt this immense guilt weeks and months after my husband passed away not wanting to have anything to do with other folks going through their own battle with illnesses outside of passively donating to GoFundMe.

Yup, totally normal and happened to me. Your sense of self and normalcy WILL come back eventually, and with it your reactions to things like this will return to the way they used to be. It can take months to years.

Are there any good resources (books, movies, forums) that I could benefit from consuming at this time?

Thirding Hot Young Widows Club -- they have a Facebook group. It helped a lot in the first year. However, I removed myself from the private FB group this year because I felt it was holding me back on the grieving side of things and I wanted to stop thinking of myself as a widow. I liked this book, too: Confessions of a Mediocre Widow: Or, How I Lost My Husband and My Sanity

How did you go about what to keep what to get rid of from your late partner?

We didn't live together so I only had access to some of his things. I still have things of his that I'm trying to decide what to do with. I am waiting until I feel totally and completley OK with getting rid of some of his things. Until then, said things stay. I don't want to "throw out" any of his things because I can't stand the idea of things he touched and used going to a landfill -- I will only consider donating them or giving them to someone else to use.

How does one introduce the idea to friends and family that you're finding companionship and romance again?
I didn't tell them about the FWB, but when I started dating my current boyfriend I told them right away and they were thrilled and happy for me. Unfortunately it did seem to prompt people to think "she is dating again so she must be Totally OK now and Done with grieving!" which is laughable and obnoxious. People just don't understand, and can't, and are so terrible at understanding grief until they have been there themselves.

Sorry my post is so long-- I hope it is helpful in some way. I'm so sorry for what you've gone through. You do come out the other side eventually, and dating again/talking about it with loved ones and on places like here/ seeking therapy all helps.
posted by tealcoffeecup at 9:35 PM on November 22 [1 favorite]


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