The Wandering Widow

Observations, Tips and Reckless Truth Telling on the Road Through Grief


November 2016

What Not to Say to the Widow #11 (or, with this ring)

Dear Friends and Family of W’s,

Many of you ask for help with what to, or not to, say to the grieving widow.  It’s pretty easy in the initial period to find help on what not to say (please reference God has a plan; Everything happens for a reason; Some day you’ll realize this was a blessing; et al).  But what about when a period of time has passed?  You know, six months from now, a year from now, or three years from now? There’s not a lot of advice out there. What should you avoid saying?

Please write this one down. Under NO circumstances do you have the right to question what a W does with her wedding ring. None. Zip. Nada. Zero.  I don’t care how many years it’s been.

I’ve been lucky and no one has talked about my rings to my face.  I’m horrified at some of the things my fellow W’s are asked (or told). 

When are you going to stop wearing your wedding ring?

It’s time to stop wearing your wedding ring.

Why are you still wearing your ring?

You’re taking off your ring already?

SERIOUSLY! None of these are okay to say! If you’ve already f’d up and said one, get down on your hands and knees this instant and start apologizing for being a judgemental ass. Assure her that you love her and would never knowingly add to her pain. A hug won’t hurt either.

The symbol of undying love.

Here’s the deal–it’s different for everyone.  Some W’s will wear it for a year. Some will change out the stone but keep wearing the ring. Some will wear it forever.  Some will stop wearing it immediately.  Some will keep it for children or grandchildren.  Some will sell it. It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that you support your W in whatever she decides.

You Should Journal

From the minute we got the terminal cancer diagnosis, we were hustled into counseling.  Dan’s was different than mine. Mine should have been called “How To Become A Widow” counseling (totally vomit inducing since I hate that word), but one thing was constant.  Every session, every social worker, psychiatrist, and grief counselor all said the same thing…you should journal.  

I am VERY good at following instructions, so I did.  I wrote out everything I was too afraid to talk to Dan about.  And after he died I wrote out my pain. It was endless.  And horrific.  And sad.  And miserable.  And lonely.  One day I was complaining journaling how I missed being able to talk to him.  How I missed being able to share my thoughts, fears, and dreams with my best friend in the whole wide world. In that moment I decided to stop using my journal to log my misery, but to start talking to Dan.  I decided to write the same kind of letters I did when he was away on military training, and something crazy happened.

This promised coping mechanism finally started to help me start coping.  The tone of my journal entries changed.  Instead of focusing on how awful I felt, I was reminded that I WAS actually doing things.  I wasn’t as stuck as I thought I was. By writing to Dan as if he was still alive, I was slowly helping myself realize that I was still alive. The darkness was starting to fade.

Will that approach work for everyone?  Of course not…is there anything that works for everyone?  It’s working for me, so I’m sharing it with you, my lovely W’s. 

Dear Diary Dan, I miss you.

The Bucket List

Dan and I worked on our bucket list for years, but that work was limited to talking, dreaming, and writing it down on an actual list.  We saved, paid bills, took care of my folks, and did the responsible stuff. We didn’t start checking things off the list until our oncologist gave us a six-month deadline.   We cashed out retirement accounts and crossed as many off the list as his increasingly failing health would allow.  Don’t get me wrong, over the years we did some amazing things, just not all the things we’d dreamed about.

In the weeks and months since Dan died, I’ve taken a sabbatical from many things that were “ours” together.  I stopped going to our favorite restaurants.  I sold the dream retirement home we built.  I took a year off from cheering on the Boise State Broncos because we met at a BSU football game and that was our thing.   I’ve taken a break from all the things that have become too painful for me, even though I know he wouldn’t approve.  

My grief counselor gently advised that not doing anything we loved was about the same as erasing Dan from my life. That was unacceptable. So I made myself a promise to live the bucket list.  Some of those trips will be stateside, but many are overseas.  This is how I choose to honor his Live Now motto. This is how I choose to honor him.  And this is how I choose to honor myself.  This widow is wandering.  Look out world, here I come.

The last time I needed my passport was on our honeymoon in Belize. I never got around to changing my name. So now I have to submit our marriage certificate with the renewal. *sigh*

It’s what we do.

Before you lecture me about driving and talking hands-free, it is still legal to drive and hold a phone in my state.  And that’s not the point of this post.

The other day I was driving between appointments and, out of habit, reached for the phone to call Dan.  It’s what we do…call each other throughout the day as we drive around town. Correction, it’s what we did. It took almost a minute for me to remember that he wouldn’t answer.  Talk about a gut punch.  In that moment I realized that I’d never hear, “Hey! Whaddya know?” on the other end of the line. Ever.  Ever ever.  I cried all the way to my next appointment and had to hang out in the parking lot to compose myself before going in.

It’s been 123 days since he died, so this shouldn’t be a shock. But it’s one of those random things in the middle of a random day that rips the rug right out from under me.  That random moment that takes any sense of normalcy and burns it to the ground.  The strange thing is I haven’t thought about calling him since the very beginning when I’d call his phone repeatedly just to hear his voice.  

I’m told this is normal.  I’m told this by books, blogs, my grief counselor, and other W’s. Well, this new normal sucks.

My favorite photo of Dan holding our baby nephew. One of his biggest regrets was dying before becoming a grandpa. This photo is as close as we’ll get.

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