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: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10008.html.
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.