For many widows, the grief of losing a partner can be overwhelming and difficult to cope with. However, it is possible to find a new purpose in life and to live beyond grief.
Widows can take the opportunity to start fresh and explore new ways to create a meaningful life for themselves. Through this journey, they can discover a newfound sense of self and purpose while also building a new life after the loss.
Living Beyond Grief is an exploration of what a widow experiences as they move forward with their lives and how they can find hope and ignite a new spark of life.
Understanding Grief and Loss for Widows
Let me share my story. On Sunday morning, I was a hope-filled wife, excited for the next phase my husband and I were embarking on. As with all marriages, we had ebbs and flows. Leaving the ebb and running into the flow, we mapped out our next few months, including a celebratory cruise through Germany. At that moment, we were eating pizza, and my husband was giving some life wisdom to the young busboy.
We were enjoying a Sunday afternoon. At that moment, I was a wife, a mother, a saleswoman, and a partner with my best friend in the whole world. After lunch, we went our separate ways. Little did I know that our goodbye kiss would be the last.
I share this part of my story to illustrate how each of our individual lives are being led by our own “normal.” Some of us are caregivers carrying the burden of knowing these are the last moments to spend with our partners, and others are blissfully unaware of a traumatic, unknown incident about to occur. In the moments leading up to our partners’ transition, our identity is intact. We maneuver day-to-day lives without questioning ourselves.
I want to be clear; I know you and I have our own unique love, challenges, and relationships. I’m not trying to speak for everyone; I’m lending a voice to connect understanding. We know who we are at this moment. We know who we are as a couple. However, when we suddenly lose our partner, we also lose part of our identity.
This type of loss is not something we can simply move on from, but rather something we must learn to live with and incorporate into our identity. Along with the primary loss of our partner, we also experience “secondary losses,” such as our role as a spouse, future plans, financial security, and companionship. These secondary losses can be just as difficult to cope with as the initial loss of a loved one.
The Process of Finding a New Normal
Our lives were routine. There are good times, bad times, and difficult times. Amazing moments of joy, laughter, and love, as well as moments of sadness, stress, and anger. This is who we were the day before we lost our life partner.
But now they’re gone. We start asking ourselves, Who am I now? Am I just a widow? I’m no longer a wife… just like that. I’m no longer a best friend… just like that. I’m now a single parent… just like that! Everything has changed, and the person staring back at me from the mirror is unrecognizable. I’m lost!
This is my life. A single mom who can’t manage the grief of her children. The sole breadwinner who can’t focus on work, a lone woman who has no one to talk to on her commute home from work, and a really bad cook. I am just a lonely old widow, I thought to myself. This repetitive thought spun around in my brain. I am an exhausted old widow with four kids and no friends who will eat cold pizza and canned green beans forever.
Rediscovering Identity and Purpose
Enough! I told myself every day! I need to rewrite a new story. I want a new life! Clearly, my old one was over, and no matter how much I cried and yelled, I couldn’t undo what happened. I couldn’t be that person ever again. The person I was before his accident along with our hopes and dreams for the future were gone. I had spent long enough mourning the life I would’ve had.
I needed to find a new version of myself. I wanted to be courageous. Someone my children would look up to and my husband would have been proud of. I wanted to laugh and dance in the ocean, kicking water up in the air as I twirled around.
Trying lots of things and finding my tribe helped me rediscover me. I stopped thinking about what I didn’t want and started moving in the direction of what I wanted. I met friends, found new passions, and reconnected with my spirituality Finding love in helping others. It was then that I began to excavate the layers of who I once was. Remembering the younger version of myself and finding the best parts of me. Next was finding my purpose.
What lights me up is helping others find what ignites their passions and motivates them to grab life and pull it onto the dance floor, swinging it around as the room is enveloped with the sweet sounds of music. Kicking up your heels and feeling that fire burning again.
The Power of Community Support
Finding a community that has experience and an understanding of the challenges and milestones unique to widowhood is truly a game-changer.
I found many healing paths. One in The Wellness Universe a community of wellness seekers and wellness providers. The other is in the Modern Widows Club. For the first time, I felt understood and accepted. My honesty was wanted! I told my story, and they listened with interest. I cried, and they held my hand. I asked for help, and they provided me with resources unique to widows. These women were not pitiful and weeping in the corner. They didn’t want the world to feel sorry for them. We wanted Hope, Healing, and Growth to lead our own Empowered lives.
I stepped into the role of a community advocate to share their mission. I would like to ask you two questions. Do you know a Widow? And What can you do to support their path to purpose and living beyond grief?
The sense of belonging to a community is inspiring, especially when the members are compassionate and caring toward each other. It has helped me connect with others and build new friendships, which is a crucial aspect of the healing process. I have been inspired by the stories of resilience and strength of the widows in my community. It has helped me see that I can also find a new purpose in my life. With their encouragement, I have started to pursue my passion for writing and have published articles about my journey through widowhood.
Furthermore, community support has provided me with resources to navigate my financial and legal matters, which can be overwhelming for widows. It has also given me a platform to share my voice and advocate for policies that address the issues that widows face. The sense of purpose that I feel now is driven by the desire to make a difference in the lives of other widows.
Moving forward with hope and strength
In the United States, we have over one million new widows every year. We are professionals, business owners, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and parents. We are thrust into this life we never wanted with no instruction manual and are confused about how to reconstruct our lives.
Widows have secondary losses to manage while grieving. In addition to the loss of identity and ideals for the future, many widows lose household income, insurance, home, and physical health, to name a few. We are expected to make huge life decisions while in a compromised state of competency and show up to work with a smile on our faces a week later. People we love tell us we’ve been sad long enough and begin to distance themselves because grief is uncomfortable. There are no agencies to turn to, and our health system wants to label our grief as a mental health disorder and prescribe a pill that not only won’t “cure” the pain but also has side effects that can induce other mental dis-eases. But in the midst of all of this chaos, there is hope.
Some widows have not only survived but thrived in their new lives. They have found a new sense of purpose and identity and have even been inspired to start their own businesses, nonprofits, or volunteer work. These women have discovered that their grief can actually fuel them to create something beautiful and meaningful out of their pain. They have found a new spark of life within themselves that they never knew existed.
One of the most powerful ways for widows to move forward with hope and strength is by finding a community of others who understand what they are going through. Whether it’s a support group, online forum, or social club, connecting with others who have experienced loss can provide a sense of validation, comfort, and encouragement. Hearing others’ stories and perspectives can also inspire new ideas for how to approach one’s own grief and new opportunities for growth.
Another important part of moving forward as a widow is rediscovering one’s sense of purpose. This can look different for each person but may involve volunteering, taking up a new hobby, pursuing further education or training, or starting a new career.
It may also involve redefining one’s goals and values in light of the loss and embracing a new sense of meaning in life.
June 23rd is International Widows Day. So, I would like to ask you once again, do you know a widow?
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Rachel Vasquez is a WU senior partner, mother, and widow. After an accident took her husband and best friend of 23 years, she began a journey into self-discovery. Rachel now helps others create an inspired life after loss.