Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | January 6, 2011

Resolutions for The Unrequested Life

I have found myself friends with a community of people who have been widowed more or less the same length of time as me. That is, more than one year, less than long enough to be fully embracing our new lives. We have a new life, to be sure, but not because we wanted one. We didn’t ask for this life. We’re not so very comfortable here yet.

Many of us are certainly not “dating”, as is a huge topic of conversation in the bloggy widowed world. I put it in quotes, as I’ve hardly been on a date in my life. Mostly we just…well, never mind.

Dating: If, when, how, who? what about kids? what about expectations? what about ghosts real or imagined? what about all those pictures of our late beloved  in the bedroom? I read somewhere of an equation: how many photos you keep on display divided by months he or she has been gone equals whether or not you are ready to date. Oh my. I guess it’ll be a while.

Judging by my compatriots’ discussions and self-criticism, I think the hardest thing we do is be kind to ourselves. When I am having trouble, which, frankly, is most of the time (except at work, typically), I try to consider how much slack I would cut my best friend, say, if this had happened to her, knowing what I know now about how hard and interminable and exhausting this grief is. It seems a lot easier and less self-indulgent not to have such high expectations of someone else. When I think about my new unrequested life in that way, from the outside looking in, it is easier to see that I am doing all I can, and this is important, even if it does not show on the outside, even to me.

I know I should be taking better care of myself: small details like choosing appropriate amounts of food, drink, and sleep are difficult at best. Skills like paying the bills, keeping gas in the car, and forming sentences continue to elude me, almost 18 months out, but hey, it is the New Year and I am hoping for some fresh clarity.

Being actively happy takes far more energy than I have been able to muster so far. I hardly remember what it used to feel like. I am so far away from clear thinking that I can go a whole day having ingested nothing but a banana, a handful of nuts, and a whole lot of very strong coffee, then wonder why I am dizzy and weepy at 7 pm. And then decide that the obvious solution is to have a large glass of wine.

And then just for fun maybe look at some old photo albums.

Haha, even I know enough not to go that far.

Yeah, right.

So here are some thoughts about changes for me to consider in 2011. Notice how I didn’t say “actions”. My main resolution for the new year is Make Some Headway. There are so many possible avenues for change and growth that even in a year of wholeness and vigor I could not achieve it all, so let’s be real. I will just try to achieve forward motion somewhere. It hardly matters where.

Okay, first of all:

•Get up in the morning and EAT SOMETHING.

I have learned – ever so slowly – that keeping individual servings of appealing, easy to eat things around the house makes this more likely. I now shop as if for a small child or an invalid. If having a box of granola bars, or a wedge of brie, or some tangerines around means the difference between eating something and eating nothing, then By All Means, spend that three bucks on the granola bars or the cheese. A dear friend suggested cutting up an apple and leaving the slices on a cutting board to grab while walking past. Instead of having to deal with a whole apple! Seriously, people, that is the level to which I have sunk, that a whole apple is Just Too Much.

As we know, you’ve gone too far on the Widow Diet when people stop saying “You’ve lost weight! You look fabulous!” and start saying “You’ve lost weight! Are you okay?”

My friend’s suggestion, by the way, leads me to something that probably should be blindingly obvious, but apparently isn’t to me. Maybe the biggest crater death leaves behind is not having that someone around to talk to, to bounce ideas off. It’s not that I need someone telling me what to do, but just having a conversation, brainstorming, tossing words around can be a catalyst for ideas. Maybe this is why I have so few good ideas these days, and such an abysmal memory.

Evidently talking to yourself doesn’t count, because I sure do that a lot, with no result except the neighbors discreetly pretending they did not overhear my heartfelt conversations with the cat.

Along the same lines of elusive self – care:

•Go to bed at a reasonable hour. There seems to be some unresolved trepidation about the empty bed, because rarely do I climb in before midnight even if I have to be up and about at 7. Perhaps it’s a residual effect from the unwelcome habit of waking up at three, when my answer to that was to stay up until two. Month after month this starts to wear on a person. It would be nice to have a dream again sometime, too. And who is that haggard woman with the dull puffy eyes in the mirror? She looks like an older, subdued version of someone I used to know.  How I wish to wake up, even one morning, stretching contentedly and leaping joyfully out of bed to greet the day like in the sleeping pill ads. That is not how those pills make me feel, even on the nights they do actually bring sleep. The groggy bewildered hangover is not worth the empty heaviness of that drugged unconsciousness. It may be sleep, but it is not rest.

•Which leads me to The Wine. There seems to be a lot of drinking in the widowed community. There are lots of cute jokes about it. But for me it’s getting to be time to pay attention to it. My tendency is to sit down with a stiff drink and the laptop at 5 o’clock, and then suddenly it is 10pm. Maybe if there wasn’t so much nightly drinking while alternately typing madly and staring into space, there would be more eating dinner and getting eight hours of sleep. Look into this theory.

•Plan some activity to get up and about in the morning, preferably something physical. Even if it’s only donning hat and boots and taking the dog on a scenic brisk walk, it gets the blood moving and provides some momentum. Otherwise the day’s main accomplishment may be writing the list of things to do. And then feeling bad all day for not doing them. But not bad enough to actually get anything done.

•Pay the bills and attend to obligations in a timely manner. Without getting into the finances of being widowed – as we all have our sad stories – I will say that the brain fog of widowhood has not been a friend to my credit rating. I really have to get a handle on paying the bills on time, filing important papers where I can lay hands on them again, and getting organized enough to be able to eat at the kitchen table instead of having it constantly awash in unpaid bills, unread magazines, and chirpy postcards from the dentist saying “It’s that time again…”

•I probably shouldn’t bring this up in mixed company (depressed and not): Change your shirt once in a while, and remember what the hairbrush is for. For me one of the clearest signs of clinical depression is when you don’t shower because What’s The Use and why would you change clothes; it just leads to having to do laundry. Not a good sign. Make a note of it.

•Don’t make yourself do things you can’t do yet. I’m thinking here of dealing with my sweetheart’s stuff. After lots of trial and error, mostly error, I know I need to be in a certain mood to follow through with certain projects, and God knows, once started you don’t want to walk away, because that only means you’ll have to come back. I read recently a concise piece of advice for widows whose helpful friends advise “getting away” soon after the funeral. The author says it may seem tempting, but wait until you won’t have to come home to his glasses on the bedside table and his overcoat in the closet. Now for some of us this may mean we could never go anywhere ever again, so riddled with his possessions are our daily lives, but presumably her point is, if it’s going to cause pain to see his coat, then get rid of it. As for me, I wear a select few delicious, oversized jackets, and the rest disappeared in several stages of purging, spaced months apart, with lots of inertia in between. But I know of people who, years later, still have his toothbrush alongside their own in the bathroom cup. For me the mantra in making the house my own is the same one I found so helpful during his illness: be as deliberate as possible now, to not regret anything later. I can always shed things, but we have already learned the hard way that you can’t get them back once gone. The key is balancing what will bring the most peace of mind: having the stuff, or not having it. If you’ve seen my house you may not believe I can be ruthless in jettisoning possessions, but it once was true.

•But also, don’t settle into this half-light of a life just because you are getting used to it and it seems easier than venturing out, squinting, too pale, skinless, and fragile to survive in the bright sunshine of this world. It’s a fine line between being gentle with yourself, and allowing yourself to ignore the phone, abandon all social interaction that doesn’t involve the internet, do nothing at all for days on end, and decide consciously or otherwise that this is what life is to be, or worse, that this is what you deserve.

And now, since somehow it is midnight again, and my glass is empty, I am off to bed. I will try again tomorrow.



  1. You may not have felt it, but I think your sense of humor has shone through on this post. That it’s still intact gives me hope for your long term happiness.

    Also, the phrase “brain fog of widowhood” is genius. Sounds like a good name for a blog.


  2. Erik, thank you. I hoped it came through as humor, not cutting sarcasm. It is pretty easy for me to crack myself up, but who knows how it reads on the outside…I have hope for long term happiness too, for myself and all my buds who are walking through this darkness that is so hard to imagine from the outside. Every one of us is carrying around our own pain – not only widowed, all of us. What are we going to do with it is the question. Or one of them anyway.


  3. Such a great post, full of compassionate action points. Thank you!


  4. Carolyn,

    Thanks for pointing me in this direction. This is great. I love every thought and idea. You hit on everything that goes on in my day, and through my nights, perfectly. I feel like I have two lives right now. My work life resembles a normal one, where people often comment about how well I’m doing. Then there’s my home life…well, home life-less is more like it.

    I’m so glad I read all that you do, and don’t do, because I still can’t pay a bill on time to save my life. I still never get to even opening all the mail until my pile begins to fall onto the floor. We seem to have the same diet as well.

    I think I isolate myself from people when away from work, because I’m so tired of them expecting me to be happier, or further along. As you say, it takes way too much effort.

    What I do like to do, as you know, is get tattooed. I have spent so much time, and so much money, getting inked up this past year. I finally put a stop to it all because everyone around me starting getting concerned. I must admit, my body would not look the way it now does if Michael had not died.

    Well he did, and well, this is the result.

    Thanks for having such brilliance!

    Love. Dan


  5. Hi Carolyn, it’s nice to meet you here … I found you on Dan’s blog and thought I’d visit 🙂

    … and I’m so glad I did … what a wonderful and honest post. I found myself nodding along to all your words (like one of those nodding ornamental dogs that sit at the back of people’s cars!) … because I have done all that you have talked of here … and still do quite often …

    You know, I think this post should be read by all the widowed when they are around the six month stage. It is really really insightful and you have managed to give such an accurate overview of ~”the first 2 years” in a manageable-to-read-size for those poor lost souls who cannot read a chapter of a book in one sitting.

    I love this post. Not just because it comforted me to recognize myself here, but primarily for its analytical and BALANCED approach.


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