Why is it that when we become widowed, we think we are the first person who has ever been widowed? We have a tendency to cocoon and not look around us to realize there are many others who have walked this horrendous walk before us. Our pain is so overwhelming we cannot imagine anyone could have survived.

The truth is there are thousands and thousands of us who have been widowed prematurely due to illness or a tragic event, leaving behind small children or unfulfilled retirement dreams. We are often told the grief journey is an individual journey and you must embrace it to help you grow and work through your unimaginable grief.

Our friends and family want us to “get better,” “put this behind us,” “move on” and “laugh again.” They suggest finding a counselor or a support group, rearranging a room in our home, going on a vacation, exploring a new hobby and learning to live without our spouse is the way for it to all go away. They tell us what we “should” do and not do and wonder why at the same time we feel distant towards them. 

The truth is family and friends who provide immediate support and love after the loss are not necessarily the best help later in the journey. They can provide logistical support but they cannot understand how you feel, what you are going through and how to help you see the light again. While they think they are providing support, we feel they are “preaching” causing us to pull away emotionally and become critical. We feel no connection, which we desperately are looking for. 

In reality, the best people to provide support are fellow widows who are walking a similar walk. They understand the daily challenges, they don’t try to fix anything and most importantly add levity and humor that would only be appropriate in the company of each other. 

Paying-it-forward by providing love and support for the next stream of widows is a great way to continue to learn about your own grief while helping others. As the newly widow individuals provide their stories, you are available to provide encouragement and support while contining on your own grief journey revisiting challenges you had when you were newly widowed. Most importantly, you provide hope for the new widow to continue down a hard and lonely journey.

Finding fellow widows is getting easier every day. With the Internet and smart phones ,we now have the opportunity to connect immediately in many different ways. In the past we often coined ourselves as “the widows trapped in suburbia;” now we can remain connected through blogs, chat rooms, Skype, radio broadcasts, Facebook and so much more.

Each of these tools provides an outlet for a widow to find one another at any given time of the day. They can read about how to deal with challenges, ideas of how to memorialize our loved one, how to react to birthdays, anniversaries and milestone events. While the advice is only an opinion, the source is from a “safe” place — a fellow widow who is walking a similar walk; one that you can trust and truly wants to help. 

As a newly bereaved widow, following daily blog entries or participating in a grief chat on the internet provides you with an outlet to express yourself but also obtain input on how others can have a good day followed by multiple bad days. You can learn about how others are dealing with parenting, in-laws, financial issues and other challenges in a protected and understanding environment where you will not be judged by decisions or lack of ability to stay focused. Grieving the loss of a loved one is a process and many are involved to help you through the process. 

As a more “seasoned” widow, providing input to a blog, chat room, articles and other material offers a ray of hope to the newly bereaved. Just like you look up to an older sister most of you life, looking up to a widow who has been walking the walk longer than you provides reassurance that you will make it through this horrible experience. There are numerous ways we can all help fellow widowers, the support will depend on time constraints, current emotional state and grief circumstances. The best gift you can provide is sharing your experience and becoming a mentor to a newly bereaved. 

There are so many helpful topics that can start a conversation. When do I take off my wedding ring? How to deal with anger? How to deal with guilt? When and how do I clean out the closets? What do I do with my husband’s belongings? What should I expect of myself on the first year anniversary? What should I do for his birthday?

Asking these questions to fellow widows provides realistic feedback and a personal story to share with someone who really wants to listen. With the accessibility of the Internet the support does not need to be local. You can connect with another widows in a different city, state or country. 

We all want to be connected to someone and when our spouses passed away we lost a connection that is so deep — I encourage you to Google widow blogs and support groups in your area finding one that fits you as a newly bereaved widow or you as a “seasoned” widow who can provide wisdom and understanding. 

Rachel Kodanaz 2012

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Rachel Kodanaz

The idea of writing and speaking on Life Changing Topics was a direct result of my experiences while grieving the unexpected loss of my husband in 1992. At the time, I was a member of management in a large corporation and a mother of a two year-old. The challenges while overwhelming me drove me down a path of rebuilding and finding “the new normal” for my family. After spending several years recovering and helping other grievers, I began assisting companies who were dealing with grieving employees. I published Grief in the Workplace Handbook and a booklet titled Grief in the Workplace. My efforts led to me writing a column for ten years titled “Grief in the Workplace” for Living with Loss (formally Bereavement Magazine), speaking nationally on the subject and appearing on Good Morning America. As I continued my journey to pay it forward to other grievers who are suffering losses, I joined HeartLight Center, a grief center in Denver, Colorado. I was instrumental in developing the programs and infrastructure and over the years held the position of Executive Director, Program Director and was a member of the Board of Directors. In addition, over the last 7 years since the center opened, I facilitated many groups, including Baby Boomer Widow Group, Loss of a Parent and Facing the Mourning. The research and development of the Facing the Mourning program provided me with the opportunity to not only support those who are grieving the loss of a loved one but also support families who are “anticipating” a loss whether it is a terminal diagnosis or form of dementia. As I continue to provide support for those who are experiencing a loss, I maintain my column for Living with Loss, help workplaces implement grief programs and speak nationally on grief-related topics.

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