Flashback Friday: 21 Things Widow/ers Should Know

There’s no convenient moment to think about any of the following, but according to my inbox, this list is timely for several in our Tumblr community.  

1.    If an autopsy is not mandated and a viewing is planned, consider skipping the autopsy. There’s no way to say this delicately, but your spouse will look like more like the person you knew if their body is not subjected to one.

2.    Pallbearers need not always be men. If you, a daughter, a sister or friend should be part of the procession, don’t be afraid to give tradition the metaphorical finger. 

3. If you want to save any of his/her voicemails, call your service provider within the first 30 days and have them walk you through how to permanently save them.

4.    Ditto for text messages.

5.    For spouses under 60, Social Security pays a one-time death benefit. It’s not much, but it’s rightfully yours. The form can be completed online and requires one phone call:

6.    Wait a few months before giving anything away to friends, family or charity. It may seem like you have more than you could ever need, but once the shock hormones wear off, you’ll be better equipped to decide what the most meaningful items are.

7.    For things you have to make immediate decisions about—perishables or pets, for example—take a picture first. You may want to remember just how his last batch of rice looked or what color eyes her bunny had. 

8.    You may want to make major changes in your life—and finances might force you to—but for the first year, try to avoid decisions that are irrevocable. This would include selling your house or your business, adopting any kids or pets, getting remarried, moving to another state or country. Twelve months from now, if you still want to do it, then give it serious consideration. 

9.    Don’t be afraid to write “RETURN TO SENDER: NO SUCH ADDRESSEE” on mail for him/her. Those envelopes will keep coming and will keep hurting so the sooner you find the strength to send it back, the less crying you’ll do at your mailbox.

10.    Even if someone hacks their social-network account, don’t EVER tell Facebook your spouse is deceased: they have been known to “memorialize” the page—a euphemism for stripping a profile of everything personal, including previous wall posts and status updates. You may one day decide to memorialize the profile, but the decision should be on your terms and timetable.

11. You’re gonna need a new soundtrack for this chapter in your life. So open a bottle of wine, go on iTunes and download 50-100 new, non-melancholy songs. Pop songs. Party anthems. Shit that makes you put your hands up. Listen to these for the next few months.

12. Just say yes to everything friends invite you to. But immediately put it in your cell phone calendar with a 1-day advance alert. (Because you will forget where you are supposed to be on what day.) When the alert announces the thing you agreed to, decide if you’re really up for that play/that dinner/that museum trip.

13. You do not have to attend any social events that give you anxiety. Weddings and anniversary parties are obvious landmines, but spectacular meltdowns can also happen at engagement parties and birthdays for friends’ husbands/wives. Your true pals will understand when you text them to say you’re having a rough day and need to raincheck. The ones who take it personally aren’t really the sort you need around.

14. Beyond your closest friends, be careful the company you keep. Ex-lovers especially.

15. A month or two before his/her birthday or your anniversary, start planning how to spend those days. They won’t be easy but they’ll be much harder without a game plan. Consider traveling somewhere you planned to go together. Or a place he/she would never go. Then invite a low-maintenance-slash-empathetic friend and go.

16. If your spouse owed taxes, the IRS will eventually send you love letters of the cruelest kind. You are responsible for paying any back taxes for the years you were married. You are not responsible for any taxes they owed prior to the calendar year you were married. If penalties have accrued, send the IRS a love letter of your own, including your relationship to the taxpayer, and enclose a copy of the death certificate. This is usually sufficient ground to remove penalties.

17. If a 911 call was involved and you have any desire to hear the recording, you must request it within six months from the same American police precinct that responded to the call. After six months, the tape is erased but you can request a transcript, which may take another six months to arrive.

18. Holidays will fucking blow.

19. Did I already mention how hard holidays will suck? There will be a gaping hole at the dinner table and the place in the holiday card where his/her name should be, so don’t be afraid to make some changes to tradition. You might think your families won’t understand if you and a friend (or your kids) skip the usual cheer in favor of an adventure or a new tradition. They’ll get over it. If they don’t, see #20.

20. Do not underestimate the power of The Widow/er Card. Playing it may not occur to you and hopefully, for the first few months, you won’t have to. But at some point, when people have seen your brave face enough times, they may forget the staggering loss that you wake to every day. They might vibe you for canceling on dinner or taking two weeks off during your first Christmas without your spouse. That’s the part in the movie where you reach into your back pocket and throw down.

21. There will be nights when the emptiness of the house you’ve already faced 1000 times overwhelms you. Or a restaurant you’ve been back to suddenly prompts you to sprint to the bathroom and throw up. Or 15 months from now, the sight of a Vespa or the sound of sirens or a whiff of cologne knocks the wind out of you. Go easy on yourself. Moments like this are gonna happen for a while. A long while. You miss him/her, for the love of God, and these moments are proof that their memory and your history remains even as you find your way through the grief.

Dumb Sh*% People Say

Inspired by the chapter of the same title of Tre Miller Rodriguez book “Splitting the Difference: A heart-shaped memoir” (tumblr: whiteelephantintheroom)

Although I am grateful to have very understanding friends who have been great support and I have been lucky enough to not yet be told to “get over it” which I’ve been horrified to hear isn’t that uncommon to be told when your grieving, I have had a few comments that have taken me aback that I thought I’d share.

  • 3 days after the accident: Merry Christmas!
  • 9 days after the accident: Happy New Year! Wishing you and your family a happy new year for 2014!!
  • 11 days after: Try to relax. Chat soon, and don’t forget we have the rest of that TV series to finish.
  • Around a month after: My mother in law recently lost her husband and has been having ups and downs too. After 61 years of marriage I think she just intensely misses her husband.
  • A month after: Keep being awesome
  • A month after: I just broke my ankle so I’m cooped up inside feeling the fomo [fear of missing out] of everyone enjoying Australia day
  • 2 months: I hope you’re finding some normalcy again
  • 2 months: [from HR personal of my work] If you are unable to return to work by XX date we will have no choice but to terminate your employment [yes actually used those words]. You would be eligible for rehire and you would be provided the same consideration as all other applicants.
  • 3 months: Hope all is well and life is starting to resemble something normal for you.
  • 3 months: I’m sorry to hear that it has been so tough for you
  • 3 months: I miss my gossip buddy so if you’re even in the mood to hear me talk about my own personal dramas let me know
  • 3 months: Have you ever thought of it from this angle.. From what I hear he was a truly good person. Maybe so good that God whisked him away to a higher place.
  • 3.5 months: You’re doing remarkably well for only just over 3 months in (see recent post about said comment)

Although not nearly as shocking as some of the things Tre experienced (it’s still early I may get some doozies later on), I still just find that people don’t really think sometimes. I completely get that most people have no idea what to say and I’ve let these types of comments wash over me a little bit more, I know they don’t know how it affects me and are usually trying to be supportive. And thankfully I’ve had way more positive experiences than negative during this difficult time. But really, just pause for a second before you open your mouth or write a message of support. Please!

I just read the ‘Dumb Shit List’ by foreverlovedforevermissed and it brought back memories of all the times we’ve compared notes by phone. I am proud that you are helping other people deal with mourning and death issues…and with the many people who, for lack of knowing what to say, make such insensitive comments. Love you, Nene.
—  — Alberto’s mother, Hilda

You can shed tears that he is gone
or you can smile because he has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that he’ll come back
or you can open your eyes and see all he’s left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
or you can be full of the love you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember him and only that he’s gone
or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
or you can do what he’d want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

—  Edited version of “She is gone” by David Harkins
That word

Dead. I hate that word. I can’t bring myself to say it. Or Died. Don’t like that either.

Instead I say, since the accident, he’s not here anymore, he’s gone, since I lost him

I am also acutely aware how often these words are thrown around in every day conversation:

My phone is dead
This cake is to die for
I’m dying of laughter
I’m so unfit I almost died

Each time I hear it, I flinch. I don’t say anything to anyone, I just wish these words weren’t so common.

I need to get more comfortable with that word. It is true. James is dead. Urgh I just hate seeing it in writing or hearing it. It’s just so final :(

You're doing remarkably well

Why do these words hurt me so much when I hear them?

Why do I feel that my first reaction is to defend myself?

Don’t I want to be feeling better? Don’t I know James wants me out and living, and to not be curled up in bed crying all day? I do; and he would.

Aren’t I in fact doing pretty well? I’m a million times better than I was those first few weeks. My cheeks aren’t stripped raw from so many tears, I can eat a meal (and even more than 1 meal a day), I can leave the house, I can smile, I can drive, I can see friends… these are all progress and things I couldn’t do 3 months ago.

Then why when someone tells me I’m looking good or doing so well for only 3.5 months in, do I feel an urge to say that I’m doing as best I can, but I’m actually still struggling a lot, that I am in fact not doing fine at all.

Is it because I feel that they don’t think I loved James enough if I’m actually out in public functioning? I’m pretty sure thats the main reason. I think with that also comes the internal guilt that I am trying to mediate with my response. Why aren’t I crying for him as much as I was, or others do? Maybe I don’t love him as much as others loved their loved ones. Others are still struggling after years and years.

I think the defensive is also from the fact that although I may look ok on the outside, I know I’m not even half the person I was. Yes I’ve come a far way… but leaving the house isn’t actually an accomplishment for most people. The fact that it is for me currently shows there are still huge steps forward that need to be taken. I think maybe by confirming I’m not ok, it is to make sure that I still get the support I’ve been getting to date. I don’t want people thinking I’m doing well and therefore they no longer need to check in on me and no longer need to be sensitive to me needs. I’m not doing well… I still need help, I still need support, I still miss him every moment.

So please, if you know someone grieving and they don’t fit into the mourning mold you think they should be in, even if they look like they are “doing well” please don’t project this thought onto them. Im not sure what you expect or want them to say (oh yeah I’m doing great, its not that hard losing the most important person in your life???), but they are far from great, well or even ok and are now one more step back in their journey because you have said that they are doing “remarkably well”.

A letter from heaven

When tomorrow starts without me, and I’m not here to see,
If the sun should rise and find your eyes, filled with tears for me.

I wish so much you wouldn’t cry the way you did today,
While thinking of the many things, we didn’t get to say.

I know how much you love me, as much as I love you,
And each time you think of me, I know you’ll miss me too.

When tomorrow starts without me, don’t think we're  far apart,
For every time you think of me, I’m right there in your heart.

- Alena Hakala Meadows

A friend sent me this. It resonated. I know this is what James would tell me, even though I know he wasn’t religious, it’s a letter from the heart.