Advice For Widows From Widows

Losing a spouse or life partner can be one of the hardest experiences a person can go through. For everyone in a long-term relationship, the reality is that one partner will pass away at some point, and the other will need to continue on alone. It’s important for both partners to acknowledge and prepare. It’s never too early to start thinking about what life may look like as a single person, aka solo-ager. To help face this reality, Big Retired Life spoke with four widows and compiled their advice for navigating grief and moving forward.

  1. Create a personal motto:  A simple but effective motto, such as “Get up and make breakfast,” “Just keep swimming,” or “Just do it,” can serve as a daily reminder to keep moving forward, even when it feels like the last thing you want to do. It’s important to resist the urge to cocoon and instead continue to take care of yourself and those around you. This motto will help keep you going when you don’t want to. 
  2. Tackle the practicalities: Dealing with the business of death, including managing paperwork, understanding finances, and even learning the nuance of a stock value on the date of death versus the sale date, can be overwhelming. Many people believe that creating an estate plan is the end of the task, but in reality, it’s just the beginning. After someone passes, that plan is enacted, and that’s a full-time job. Reach out to friends, family, and professional advisors for support.
  3. Give yourself grace: Grieving is a personal and individual process with no set timeline. Move at the speed that you can. Just chip away a little at a time. Be kind to yourself. 
  4. Embrace the suck: This U.S. Navy SEAL phrase refers to accepting something unpleasant but unavoidable. It’s important to confront your grief head-on, even if it feels uncomfortable. This can lead to “post-traumatic stress growth,” where you learn and heal in ways you never thought possible. Walking into a room alone and saying hello to the first eyes you see can be a small but powerful step toward healing. 
  5. Seek grief counseling: The four interviewees initially resisted the idea of attending counseling, feeling exhausted and drained, but eventually forced themselves to go. They found that being surrounded by others experiencing similar struggles helped put their own experiences into perspective. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that you’re not alone and that others have faced similar, or even worse, challenges. 
  6. Let people help: Don’t be afraid to ask for support from friends and family. They’re more than happy to be there for you.
  7. Find purpose outside yourself: This can be a powerful way to heal and move forward. Engaging in activities that help others can shift your focus from your grief and bring a sense of meaning and fulfillment to your life. See “The Power of Purpose” post.
  8. Develop a spiritual practice: Connecting with something greater than oneself can provide a sense of solace and peace. Even if you don’t have an existing spiritual practice, it’s worth exploring different options to find what resonates with you. For some, reconnecting with the religion they were raised with provides a starting point. One interviewee “sees her loss as having a silver lining where, eventually, grief gets you to a richer place in your life, and it deepens your humanity.” 
  9. Expect ups and downs: Joyful times, such as major life milestones and the holidays, are the hardest. This is when you miss them the most. Consider changing up your traditions. Allow yourself to experience all emotions as they come.
  10. Create a new plan to move forward: In our post “Safeguard your Future,” Carol Marak provides a framework for solo-agers to age well today and into the future. Assess your readiness as a solo-ager.

It’s important to note that every relationship and loss is unique, and everyone grieves differently. There’s no right or wrong way to navigate this journey. A poignant observation is that “their absence still has a lot of presence.” Take steps to move forward.

Throughout this “Going It Alone” section of this blog, we will share learnings from others navigating retirement alone, so that you don’t have to do it all alone.

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