Responding to Ten Things Every New Widow Should Know to Survive, Jean writes: I just lost my husband on 2/23/09. He passed away at the airport before taking the trip to the East Coast for the new job training. That was his first day of the new job since he was laid off last Christmas. He would have been 40 this month and we have two twin girls. They will be 1 this month as well. I don’t know what to do when I am alone. Everything seems so unreal. His mom blames everything on me. That adds more pain. I miss him terribly. He was my everything. I know I have to be strong but this is really hard to take. My babies are so young. They will never see him again and probably don’t remember him anymore. He was healthy. They couldn’t find the cause of the death so it makes me more angry and sad. After I read your article, I realized I am not alone and crazy. Thank you.
Beverly Chantalle McManus, Grief Companion, responds: Dear Jean, first of all, please accept our heartfelt shared sorrow for your loss. The death of your husband is so recent, and it’s no wonder you are feeling what you are feeling. You are right: you are not alone. We are so glad you reached out.
It is unfortunate that your mother-in-law is lashing out toward you at this hard time of shared loss. Please do not internalize her anger, but instead, consider viewing it from the perspective of a mother who has lost her baby and feels helpless and needs to blame someone, anyone. You are unfortunately bearing the brunt of her pain, but I hope you can somehow realize that you do not have to accept it. She has the right to feel how she feels, and you have the right to know that her feelings have nothing to do with you. If she is actively lashing out at you, consider limiting (or even ending) her exposure to you. The last thing you need at this time is even more burdens to carry, especially unwarranted ones.
All deaths are hard to take, to understand, to accept. But unexpected deaths, such as your husband’s, are especially hard, because you had no warning that when you kissed him goodbye that morning, you would never see him alive again. It is a major shock to the system, and it is going to take some time for your system to come to grips with what happened, to deal with the loss and pain, and to begin the healing process. Please be compassionate with yourself, and allow yourself time to feel what you’re feeling, time to process your emotions and memories, and time to take care of yourself. As the mother of two babies, I realize it may seem like I’m advising the impossible, but perhaps you could take up the offers of some friends or family and accept their offers to help. Consider asking them to take the babies for a few hours so you can have time to catch up with all your emotions.
Your daughters will have very limited memories of their daddy, but you will be able to keep their memories alive with stories you share about him — stories about why you fell in love with him, funny things he did, about how excited he was to welcome twins into his family, about how he loved to take care of them. Consider jotting down notes while they are fresh, so you can share them with the girls as they grow and begin to ask questions.
One of the best pieces of advice I received after my husband died was to carve out a space in my home, and a specific time each day to grieve. Knowing that my time for tears and grieving was “scheduled” enabled me to get through the day without the grief leaking into every aspect of the day. There are many things you’ll need to do in the days ahead, and it will be hard to get through some of these tasks, but if you know that you have set aside time later to grieve, it will be easier to pull yourself together and get through it.
Even though your mother-in-law is acting less than admirably, I hope you are feeling surrounded by love and support from other friends and relatives during this hard time. Please stay in touch and let us know how you’re doing.
Beverly Chantalle McManus lives in Northern California with her two daughters, who have each now graduated from college. She is Vice President and Treasurer of the Board of Directors for the Open to Hope Foundation, a bereavement facilitator and core team member of the Stepping Stones on your Grief Journey Workshops, and a frequent speaker and writer on the topic of loss and grief. In addition to grief support, she is also a marketing executive for professional services firms.