26 and widowed. That’s how I introduced myself for the better part of a year.
Losing a spouse at any age is difficult. It is particularly challenging for someone who is trying to navigate the world as a young adult. The average age of a widow in America is 59, but many men and women lose their spouses well before that threshold. How do you cope with loss, life, and starting over all at the same time? Especially when you’ve never lived on your own? I won’t say it’s easy, but it is possible.
I wanted to create a guide to help young widows like me get through this incredibly difficult situation. Hopefully, you can learn from my experiences and find comfort for your future.
A Quick Introduction: How I Became a Young Widow
Before I get into the advice portion of this, I wanted to briefly introduce myself. My name is Heaven, and it has been a few years now since my husband passed away. We were high school sweethearts, married at 18, and optimistic about what life would bring us. We faced all the challenges you would expect of a young married couple, but we got through them year after year.
About 6 years into our marriage, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He needed surgery to remove some irreversible damage in his intestines, which is fairly common for people with Crohn’s. Unfortunately, he got an infection during the surgery that ultimately spread throughout his body. In less than three days, he went from sitting up in surgical recovery to being strapped to every dialysis machine available. When the doctors said he had a 0% chance of recuperating, his mother and I decided to pull him off the machines. That’s what he would have wanted.
So there I was, 26 years old and alone for the first time ever as an adult. I didn’t know who I was or what role I was supposed to play in this new chapter of my life. I could hardly fathom the idea of a new chapter at all. My book had just begun. It took me months go through the “grief cycle,” and it was only after I went into counseling that I was able to truly move forward with my journey. I’m hoping to now share my wisdom and real-life experiences with others like me, so they may find their own source of healing.
Acknowledging Your Grief
The healing process is different for everyone, but it always starts with an “aha” moment – a time where you admit and accept that you are in fact grieving. It may not happen at first. It may be long after the funeral. For me, it happened when I moved into my own apartment. I moved in with my family after my husband died so I would have access to a support system. A month later, I got an apartment nearby. It was only when I was finally 100% alone that I realized just how powerful grief was. I was forced to face my thoughts, feelings and frustrations, and it was as if a switch flipped in my head. This is one of the most painful parts of the process, but trust me, it will get better.
Dealing with Emotional Fluctuations
They say there are several “stages” of grief, but I don’t think that term accurately depicts what you go through. It’s not like you move from one stage to the next. You may feel sad one day, angry the next, then back to sad again. You might have a change of emotions within the same day, or you might feel several emotions at once.
You can work with a grief counselor to control these emotions. That’s something I would strongly encourage any young widow to do. However, there will be times you cannot control your feelings at all. You just have to let them happen. Simply knowing that you’re going to be emotional is a form of comfort. You’re not going crazy. You’re grieving. There is nothing wrong with that.
Working with a Grief Counselor
I refused to go to counseling for much longer than I should have. I put on a happy face and would get through most of the day unscathed. Then out of nowhere, I would start sobbing uncontrollably and wouldn’t be able to function at all. I didn’t know the right way to process my emotions. All these feelings were so foreign to me.
When I finally started to work with a grief counselor, everything changed. I talked about my feelings and experiences, and I got feedback about it. My counselor asked the right questions at the right times, and those random bouts of crying slowly went away. Knowing that I had someone to talk to that wasn’t directly involved with the situation was comforting as well. For instance, if I had something negative to say about my spouse (discussing my relationship as a whole), I didn’t feel like I was being disrespectful. I was telling someone my story and getting their unbiased advice in return. It was amazing, and I am forever thankful for the progress I made in counseling.
Learning to Live on Your Own
Aside from the emotional elements of being a young widow, I had to learn how to live on my own. My husband controlled our finances, and we had lived together since we were 18. In part two of this guide, I’ll explain some money management tips for young widows that I learned over the years, along with other elements of life development. To put it simply though, it’s important to live within your means. Find a roommate, live with family, reduce your bills, and cut back to the bare essentials as you start this next chapter in your life. Keep your stress to a minimum, and you’ll have a much easier time in your transition.