I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Being a widow is HARD! And lonely. But just because your grief journey is individual, it doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone.
It is important to find a system of support that works for you to help you through the worst moments.
Here are eight suggestions you can try when looking for support. Now, I’m not suggesting you should approach everyone, or that you should spill your secrets to all of them, but if one doesn’t work, maybe move on and try another. Eventually, something will stick.
Usually, a Funeral Director in your area can point you toward qualified professionals who specialise in grief counselling. These are the people who will help you explore your grief and your emotions and work with you to ensure you can manage what you are feeling.
I went to one session with a grief counsellor and one group session with a grief counsellor and decided it wasn’t for me. While I appreciated what was being said and I could definitely see others were getting a benefit, this wasn’t the support I was looking for.
Still sticking with the professionals, psychologists are people who help you explore your perception of yourself and the world around you, and teach you strategies to change that perception. It is important to note that many grief counsellors are also psychologists, but not all psychologists specialise in grief. That is why this is a separate category.
I first saw a psychologist around six months after Terry died. I was having trouble coping with life and feeling overwhelmed by everything I had on my plate: full-time work, parenting, grief, etc. The psychologist wanted to pick apart my problems and identify the root cause so we could work on rebuilding my outlook.
Unfortunately, after just two sessions, I realised this approach wasn’t right for me. At least not at that point. I was not ready for the work the psychologist wanted me to do on myself in order to make me feel less overwhelmed, mostly because the challenge seemed to add overwhelm rather than reduce it.
I did, however, find a new psychologist two years later, and now I regularly talk to one. I definitely advocate for psychology as an integral component of overall wellness, but I must stress that it is important to find the right person. Interview them if you have to and don’t be afraid to find someone new if you need to.
GP or FAMILY DOCTOR
When psychology is not an option, or if you are worried that your grief is slipping into clinical depression, you’re better off going to see your family doctor. Family doctors are trained to recognise if you need further mental health treatment and, even if you don’t, they often will listen to your problems and offer some guidance. Just know that you will not get the same time allocation when you visit a doctor compared to when you visit a psychologist, so don’t overreach your expectations.
There are so many charities out there that look after widows and other bereaved people, and often they have groups that you can join where you will meet other people who are in a circumstance similar to yours. Connect with these people. Even if you don’t need the assistance of the charity, utilise their services to connect with their network.
One bit of advice I have with this option is that it’s important you find the network that is made up of members in a similar stage of life to you. When I moved to my current home I connected with a group of widows who, like me, are widows of veterans. Unfortunately, I was the youngest in the group by almost three decades and while I found we could share our grief experiences, I couldn’t really connect with them about the daily challenges I faced. They were all lovely women, but where I was concerned with parenting and work, they were focused on retirement and age-related health conditions. We weren’t a good fit.
This option sort of follows from the previous one. There are many, many support groups that aren’t affiliated with charities and often the best place to find them is on Facebook. This is exactly how I found a local network of Young Widows who are living in my area. Through this connection, I have found one person I connect with really well, and a few others that I’m comfortable having serious and personal conversations with if we should meet up.
The benefit of finding support groups this way is that you can search for specific criteria. I, for instance, was looking for young widows, but I’ve also found another group open to anyone who has experienced a loss because of suicide. While I don’t have as much of a connection with these members, I have found value in what is being offered. Be open to all these groups until you find one or two that fit.
Social media is a great place to find support that is hosted exclusively online. I am a member of several Facebook groups and a couple of website-based members-only groups and this helps when I need to vent to people who understand. Sometimes, I don’t even need to be the one posting anything. I can just scroll through what other people have written and maybe comment with my own thoughts or experiences. In helping others I often feel much better about my situation.
Just know that posting online has a level of anonymity that may present problems in your offline world. There are also people who prey on those who are vulnerable and the internet is a convenient hunting ground. Never share personal information unless you’re sure of the person you’re sharing it with, and only do so in private chats, not on open message boards.
For me, this is the most important place to find support. If you know of another widow in your area, whether they are already a friend, or an acquaintance, or even someone you just know of, talk to them. If they’re willing to listen to you, then they are a gift worth more than their weight in gold.
When I first lost Terry, I was fortunate enough to work with another widow (she actually had the desk right next to mine!) and she was a godsend! Seriously. She was about five years into her journey and she would listen to me whenever I needed to talk. Which was a lot. It helped that we had to travel for work sometimes, often spending over two hours a day in the car – lots of time to talk. Mostly, I did the talking and she would listen. She didn’t really give advice, just occasionally asked questions or shared her experience. I can’t even tell you how much this meant to me.
Unfortunately, I moved away about a year later and had to find someone else to have that daily connection with.
You may wonder why family is so far down the list. The reason is simple. Not all family will appreciate or understand your grief. Not because they don’t care about you, but because they haven’t experienced grief, or haven’t experienced your grief specifically, and they don’t know how to help you.
Family members often cause most of your frustration when it comes to grief because they can see you have a problem and they want to help you “fix” it. They don’t always realise that grief is not something you “fix” and it takes time to work out how to live with it.
My advice is to be patient with your family members, but don’t expect more from them than they can give. If you’re not getting the support you need from your family, then it’s time to find another support system.
Finally, friends. One of the most common topics widows talk about is how they have lost friends since they’ve become a widow. It’s true. In the same way family aren’t the best source of support for many widows, friends also may not live up to expectations. It isn’t because they don’t care and it’s not a reflection on you. Most of the time they are just not equipped to help you.
Let go of friends who can’t support you and hold on tight to those that do. Be open to new friendships, sometimes people you least expect will step up and be there in ways you never thought possible. This certainly happened to me.
Well, there you have it. My list of where you can go to get the support you need.
Have I missed anything? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Till next time xx