Perez puts the spotlight on her experience of recent widowhood, by offering personal recommendations to combat the trauma of loss.
The funeral is over. Your family and friends have gone, returning to their day-to-day routines. Things seem like they are regaining a sense of normalcy. Then, without warning, you’re laid off from your job, effectively going from a two-income household, to a zero-income household in just a few short weeks. This unthinkable scenario is exactly what happened to me. It’s now been six months since my husband passed away, and five months since I was laid off of my job.
Amidst the pain of losing a spouse, it’s imperative to find a way to carry on even though your world has turned upside down. Below are some practical suggestions to get you through the initial trauma of loss, while at the same time putting yourself in the best position to take care of YOU. As I lost my husband and 6 weeks later I lost my position- went from a 2 income family to a one income family to no income at all in 6 weeks – the amount of loss was terrifying for me and still is 6 months into this journey – I did wake up countless nights in fear and panic , crying out loud – and these steps helped me through and remembering to take it one day at a time.
1. Review loans, bills and financial obligations
The first task is to confer with your trusted advisors and focus on the most immediate financial tasks. Avoid making any major life-altering decisions when you are in a state of emotional flux. It may be tempting to shake up your life in the wake of such a major loss by selling your house or condo and moving across the country to live near friends or family, but this is not the time to act impulsively. This is the time to take care of yourself – more than ever. Note: If you are without employment, fast forward to number 13. That gets moved up in the order of priorities for you.
2. Cry often and hard
Try not to hold on to the grief. Instead, concentrate on letting go and staying in the present. Take deep breaths in and exhale the pain. Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid overdoing it with alcohol. It may feel like it’s helping in the moment, but it can actually worsen feelings of depression.
3. Find a local support group
Find a group, or find multiple groups, to help you express and process your grief. Although you may feel alone in all this, there are many others having the exact same experiences who will share invaluable resources with you.
4. Medications and supplements
Your physician may recommend anti-anxiety medications or supplements if anxiety is an issue for you. I have to say this is a completely personal choice. I felt more comfortable taking organic supplements than pharmaceutical drugs. The one that worked best for me was Rescue Remedy.
It took the edge off my anxiety and allowed me to sleep. My dear friend and neighbor introduced me to it, and it really helped.
Also try the Calm app: www.calm.com
5. Buy a weighted blanket
Studies show that these specially engineered blankets promote relaxation for a more calming sleep. Some say the weights hit the body’s pressure points in a way that replicate the feelings of being hugged. I bought one and used it for months, and highly recommend it. It’s difficult to explain, but it made me feel close to my husband, as if he was on top of me hugging me.
6. Go outside every day
Take a walk, either alone or with a neighbor. Living alone can feel isolating and its very new to you as a recent widow. It’s important to leave the sanctuary of your home and interact with the outside world – especially on those days when you do not feel up to it. Make it a mission to go to the grocery store, even it’s just to pick up one item. Talk to one person, even if it’s just to say hello to the postal worker. This is so important for your mental wellbeing. I went from having someone at home my husband that I loved very much to not having him at home then to having no coworkers to interact with – this was a devastating feeling of isolation – so take a walk daily – get out into the fresh air- it will help you.
7. Find free or low-budget activities
The word “free” is going to be your new best friend for the near future. If like me, you are suddenly without any recreational budget, there are many things you can do that don’t cost much money, especially if you live near a city or university. I’ve had to cut back on seeing performances, and I look for the concerts that are free or “no cover” instead. Also, I find art openings are a great way to spend the evening and get “out of your head” for a while. Book Stores always have events – those are also a great way of getting out and always interesting. I am also known for throwing small dinner parties at my home. I’ve learned that, if I cook a “main,” (as opposed to cooking the entire meal) people don’t mind bringing a side dish or dessert, and there will still be plenty to go around, and even a fair amount of leftovers for the week. If that sounds like you, go for it.
8. Cooking at home
Speaking of dinner, it can seem surprisingly overwhelming to cook for a “party of one.” I decided to keep it simple, and rely on a few one-pot recipes that I can go to in a pinch (see below). It’s wintertime now, so you may want to change it up for the warmer months. Take a look and see if any of these ideas from Allrecipies.com sound appealing. Or reach out to me – I have loads of recipes, I love to cook.
They all keep well too and can be eaten over several days, if needed. Just reheat, and add some different sides, or fresh veggies and herbs like tomato and watercress to jazz it up.
Like food, regular exercise is another way of nourishing the body. When I lost my job, I also lost my treasured membership at Equinox Sports Club. I understand the huge impact of exercise on mental outlook, so I started to work out at home. I would also play fun music and dance around the house for 30 minutes to get my heart rate up – free cardio! I am a jazz singer so I danced and sang out loud – this is a fantastic feeling. In December, I received the best gift — a two-month pass to Equinox! This gift really raised my spirits. I still don’t know the identity of my Secret Santa, but I want to use this opportunity to say a special thank you to whoever you are!
10. Surround yourself with loving people
During this time, you may have to engage with friends, acquaintances, or family members that are well meaning, yet do not offer the kind of support needed. This is a time to keep your loved and trusted ones around you, and steer clear of any negativity or toxic thinking. You want to be with people who are good for your mental wellbeing.
11. Journal your thoughts
Buy a journal that is aesthetically appealing to you, place it by your bed, and write down thoughts as they come to you before or after sleeping. I often write to my husband Gregg at night, or I write about the challenges since his passing. Writing down my thoughts helps me prioritize and find solutions. Remember: For every problem, there is a solution.
12. Try sleeping in the middle of the bed
In my opinion, it’s not healthy to sleep on the same side of the bed, imagining what if your spouse could return. It’s best to change this pattern, and sleep in the center of the bed. You may also want to re-arrange the furniture in the bedroom, and make small changes to the accessories, to reinforce the change.
13. Loss of income
If what happened to me happened to you, and you find yourself with zero income after the death of your spouse, the first thing to do is to not panic. The second thing to do is to make an appointment with a financial advisor to see where things stand monetarily. Tell anyone and everyone that you are looking for work, as you never know who might be a potential resource. Then update your resumé and start applying to agencies and companies you think would be a good fit. Make a goal of applying to 5-10 jobs a day, and ramp up your search on Sundays, as that’s when many new postings are listed. Also, if you are not finding your dream job right away, be open to the idea of temp work. I had a wonderful experience temping for Moët Hennessey over the holiday season, which was instrumental in helping to cope with feelings of loss. Please keep your faith and confidence as the months go by – your dream job is just around the corner.
14. Plan a trip
Start planning for a trip to be taken one year after your spouse has passed away. Pick a favorite place, or a place s/he always wanted to visit. Take the love and your memories of your spouse with you in your heart. Some people choose to memorialize their spouses with ceremonies or rituals like spreading ashes in a scenic spot or sending flowers across a lake. Breathe deeply, and exhale, remembering all of the good times you had with your spouse. They will always be with you.
15. Be kind to yourself
Seek out the positive in all aspects of life, even when you don’t necessarily feel it. Watch only lighthearted films. Avoid sad films altogether. Read inspiring works like those of the poet Mary Oliver.
The loss of a spouse is one of the most stressful events in life. At such a difficult time, it’s important to take care of yourself and take charge of your life. It’s been six months now since my husband passed. And gradually, at my own pace, I’m moving through the grieving process and making space for the healing process to begin.
Whether you’re 56, 61 or 70 years old, you need to think about the rest of your life and managing your finances to support yourself and the life you want to live.
Again, be kind to yourself.
Article by Perez
Edited by Kelley Suttenfield
In loving memory of my dear Husband Gregg Stegeman