Losing a loved one can make you feel as though you too are lost. But you can find your way again.
A client of mine a few weeks ago sent me a text message on a Saturday afternoon. “I just wanted you to know my wife died this weekend.” My immediate reaction was shock, and I had to read it again to make sure I read it right. My second reaction was pure empathy—I just felt so bad for him and his family and friends. It brought me back to me the night when my wife died almost four years ago. I remember how shocking it was, how sad I was and how utterly lost I felt. It was just the worst feeling to be so lost. His loss reminded of what I wrote about in my book The Sun Still Rises- Surviving and Thriving After Grief and Loss.
You were at a certain point in your life, and suddenly everything changed. Overnight it seems—you lost a loved one. It’s as if your life was a voyage and you were headed in a certain direction and suddenly everything changed, and the voyage is completely different. The map was destroyed. It’s as if the compass got completely smashed and tossed aside—thrown out and you have no direction.
“What do you want to do now?” You have had a catastrophic loss—the question is what will your life look like now?
I know this is so hard, and you wish you could change it back and make it all go away and make everything like it once was; but that is not your or my reality. The reality is everything has changed and everything in your life has changed as a result of your loss. I sincerely and honestly believe that if you can get into a mindset where you are thinking about the future it will help you heal.
So I want you to set aside some quiet thinking time when you can pause and reflect and really evaluate where you are in every part of your life. Socrates once said “the unexamined life is not worth living.” So it is now up to you to do the hard work, the thinking work, the planning work to determine your road moving forward. You can do it, I know you can—because I did.
So don’t procrastinate, and be proactive in looking at each area of your life now to determine what it is you want to do.
Let’s take an in-depth look at each one.
This is the time in your life to really take a look at where you are financially. After my wife passed away I was very fortunate that I was in good shape financially. So here are some areas of finance that what you look at:
- What is my level of debt currently?
- How much cash on hand do I have available in savings or checking?
- Do I have bills which are going to be due in a short time frame or long-term which may be problematic?
- Has the loss of my loved one affected my overall income? For example, if I had passed away instead of my wife passing away, she would have been pretty severely affected financially because Cindy did not work outside of the home. I was the sole breadwinner of the house. So even though I had a fairly large life insurance policy, she would have had to reevaluate what she was going to do to make a living—because she could not have lived off the life insurance forever.
- What are your current expenses for mortgage/rent and other household expenses? Are you able to pay these bills without struggling? For example, you may find that you’re not able to pay your current mortgage or rent by yourself.
- Are there future expenses that you will need to prepare for? For example, you may have a child who is getting close to college-age and you may need to pay for school, or you may have a home that has a roof that will eventually need to be replaced in the next five years.
- Would you like to indulge in something? Maybe you have always dreamed of going to Paris, or signing up for gourmet cooking classes, or going on some sort of wild Safari adventure. If you have the wherewithal financially, are you interested in possibly indulging in something that you’ve always wanted to do?
- What are your financial goals short-term, mid-term, and long-term?
As I have outlined in earlier chapters I decided that one of my large goals after my wife passed away was to become less large. So I joined Weight Watchers and worked out every week consistently, and ended up losing a total of 54 pounds. I can tell you that losing the weight was a tremendous boost to my self-esteem. Once I lost the weight I was constantly getting compliments about how I looked, and was able to invest in an entirely new wardrobe which I must admit was a lot of fun.
There is an old saying I have heard many times which is “you are as good as you feel.” I would change that saying around and say “you can make yourself feel good.” The battering emotion of grief can be emotionally and physically draining. Help yourself and those that you support and love by battling grief by getting in shape or maintaining your healthy body.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to analyze where you are currently in relation to your physical health.
- Where are you at right now physically? Are you the perfect weight, underweight, or overweight?
- How do you feel about your current shape?
- Do you work out on a regular and consistent basis?
- Do you do anaerobic exercise?
- Do you do aerobic exercise?
- Do you have the resources to work out regularly (Gym, home gym, other fitness equipment, hiking trails, etc.)
- What are your fitness goals?
- Can you make the time to work out 2-3 times a week?
- Are there any new fitness routines or programs you would like to try, but you haven’t? (Like Zumba or Cross Fit?)
- If you want to lose weight, how much weight do you want to lose?
When you go from being married to being single, and become a widow or widower, your social life will change dramatically with your new label. If you become a parent who has lost a child, your social life will also change dramatically. If you’re someone who has lost a dear friend, that can also change your social life and social circle. So now is the time to really evaluate where you are socially.
It is tempting to just stay home. It is tempting to just sit on the couch and watch endless TV shows and not go anywhere. It is hard to go to a social event as a widow or widower particularly for the first couple of times that you go. But you’re going to have to put on your suit of armor, get ready for the event, and walk in to a social event even though you don’t feel like doing it at all. Why? Because you need to push yourself in order to become social so that you can eventually feel comfortable being social again.
The good news is you will find your footing and you will eventually feel more comfortable. I promise.
There are two elements to your social life: 1) your general social life (socializing with friends and family) and 2) your romantic social life (dating and love relationships)
Your General Social Life
Take some time to think about where you can socialize with others. You may want to get involved in social events at your former University (like alumni associations), you may want to get involved with fraternal organizations ( Lions, Elks, Jaycees), or with religious organizations or clubs at your respective churches. You may want to get involved in local politics or historical associations. Heck, you can even join a hockey league—that’s a great way to meet people.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Where are some organizations where I can meet and socialize with others?
- What are activities that I enjoy doing that also could have a social component? ( A volleyball league for example)
- What kind of people do I want to meet? Why?
- Who should I reconnect with now?
- What is the age range of people that I want to meet and socialize with?
- Are there any hobbies that I enjoy but also could have a social component? (such as a book club)
- Are there any online groups that I could join to help me socialize both online and in person? (like meetup.com for example)
Your Romantic Social Life
As outlined in a prior chapter I made very specific decisions about when I was ready to start dating. So I really want you to look into your heart and determine how soon and when you would like to think about reengaging in a romantic relationship. I do not believe that people are meant to live alone—ever.
I do believe that many widows and widowers have a very strong belief that if they begin dating, it is a sign of disrespect to the one that they lost. Please reconsider this thought process because it is so wrong and so damaging to you on a personal level. It is not disloyal to seek the companionship of another person after your loved one has passed away.
Everyone that I have talked to believes that the loved one who has departed would want you to be happy.
I’m going to be blunt—it absolutely sucks to come home to an empty household. It hurts to lie in an empty bed at night. It is an empty feeling to go on a business trip and know that you have no one to call to tell them that you arrived safely. It is a terrible feeling to know that you no longer have a loved one to be concerned about you. So my question to you is why you would want to continue to maintain a lonely lifestyle when there are people out there in the world who could bring you great joy and happiness?
I believe that love is unlimited, and I could have loved one woman and also end up loving another woman later in my life. The love of each one does not nullify the love of the other.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are you willing to take a risk on love again?
- What are the risks?
- When do you feel like you would be ready to date again if you are a widow or widower?
- Who would be the kind of person you would be looking for?
- How do you feel about the idea of being with another person?
- Would you like to be in love again?
- Do you feel as if loving another person would be disrespectful to the one that you lost?
- How would you go about finding someone to date?
- Would you be open to joining singles groups?
- Would you be open to joining online dating sites? (like eHarmony)
- Have you spoken to any of your friends or family about this issue?
Please don’t overlook this very important aspect of your social life. You have been through enough pain. If there’s anyone on the planet that deserves to be happy—you, of all people, deserve to be happy. The choice is up to you. Think about it.
There is no question in my mind that when you have a loss the entire dynamic of your family will change. My wife Cindy has a brother and a sister, and of course they were my brother and sister-in-law. But here is my question; what are they now? Are they still my brother and sister-in-law? Are they my “ex brother and sister-in-law?” Are they my “former brother and sister-in-law?” I have not seen them in over 22 months since my wife passed away. Admittedly, both of them live in other states. I have found that with the distance of time, the number of e-mails and phone calls have dramatically reduced.
That being said, I do think you need to decide who you will continue to associate with in your immediate and extended family. Here are some questions to consider:
- Who do I want to maintain contact with?
- Who do I not want to maintain contact with?
- How will I communicate this information?
- How do I think the dynamics will change?
- Which family members do I think will stop associating with me?
- How will this family dynamic affect others around me? (your children, sisters etc.)
- How has my loss affected this area?
- Why is this important to me right now?
Sometimes when people have a loss—they continue to do the job they have always done. I am a professional speaker and a book author, and it’s how I continue to make my living today. After my wife passed away, I never considered changing my profession, because I love what I do. However, sometimes after people have had a significant loss in their life they decide that they want to do a different kind of work, new work, or change careers. The decision should be purely up to you. So here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do I love the work that I do currently?
- Do I want to continue in this line of work?
- Do I want to change my work?
- When do I want to retire?
- If I was going to change my work, would I change where I work or the kind of work I do?
- Do I want to change careers?
- Am I currently happy with the work I am doing? Why?
- Am I currently unhappy with the work I’m doing?
- What kind of work would I be doing if there were no restrictions or limitations?
So these are the most important areas to look at now. These are all central to analyzing where you are and where you want to be. These will help you navigate the waters of your new life.
Finally, I want you to live the life you want to live—and to take control. Grief doesn’t have to own your whole life. Look grief in the face and say “you don’t own my life you know—you are just renting!”
Here is a great quote from Ellen Boss:
The thing is to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.