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Thursday, May 30, 2019

When it's time to start cleaning out their stuff, a widows journey through grief.

Going through our loved one's things can be the single hardest task we put ourselves through.



In this article, we break down the tough subject of getting rid of things that used to belong to your loved one. This is, by far, one of the hardest and most important parts of your healing journey.


Photo by Niko Lienata on Unsplash


What it means to a widow to clean out their things:


Throughout our lives, we accumulate items, "things", stuff. Some of these are special things that mean a lot to us and things that don’t.

My favorite spot on the couch doesn’t mean much to me now, and I’d get a new couch if I needed one.  However, if I were to die, would someone take comfort in my spot on that couch? Chances are my household family members would sit there, sleep there and want to hold onto that couch for years after I would care to.

Isn’t that what we tend to do with our spouse’s items as well? There are clothes, shoes, trinkets, furniture, pets, you name it! If they loved it in life, then we probably love it now.


So what happens when our spouse dies and we are left with everything they ever kept?


As we are experiencing shock and disbelief, planning a funeral for our one true love, we also have the burden of acquiring their belongings.

Now, this wouldn’t be much of a burden, because we lived together in our home. Our motto was “what’s mine is yours”. What makes the issue of their stuff extremely difficult, is not the stuff itself but the ever-so-loving people in our lives who want to offer the best, unsolicited, advice they can think of: "It's time to get rid of their stuff, you need to move on."

Our friends will tell us that we should start cleaning out their things and sometimes this starts as soon as the first week. Our family may tell us to get rid of their vehicles even though we may want to sit in the driver seat where our spouse sat for so many hours of travel.

We will also have people asking to take our loved one’s stuff for themselves. You may think to yourself, “Hold on a minute! I just buried my spouse and I don’t want to change our home. I want it to still look like we both live here together and I’m not ready for more change than I already have to go through!”

What do you do when you’re too emotional to go through your closet with the unimaginable thought of getting rid of your spouse’s clothes. You don’t. You leave your home the way it is until you and only you are ready to part with things.


When you think you are ready... start small.


At first, you may want to give people small trinkets or pieces of clothes that mean something special to someone that was close. This is easiest to start out with because you can take several small items out of the house and it will still look the same.

Sometimes it’s best to leave most of the items where they belong for a while. As time passes by, you will find it easier to spend some time going through items of theirs. When this gets to be too emotional, it’s important to be kind and allow yourself to take a break.

Another thing to consider early on is if there are loans on anything that needs to be returned, such as a vehicle.

Be sure to always let creditors know of your spouse’s death and send a death certificate, so they don’t continuously call looking for payment.

Also, ask if they had Life/Disability protection coverages on the loan. Many dealerships, banks, and/or credit unions sell this protection on the loan and it could mean the difference between keeping the car and returning it. If you don't have this on your loan, look into it.



When are you ready to do the heavy cleaning, ask for help, take it slow.


You will know when you’re ready to clear most of their stuff out of the house. At times it can be incredibly helpful to ask a friend or relative for help. They will keep you motivated and be a shoulder to cry on if needed.

People also really want to help when it comes to recovering from tragedy. They may not always know the appropriate things to say, but it comes from the heart and they want us to be happy. Helping you to get rid of your spouse’s things will appear as though you’re “moving on” in their eyes, and chances are you’ll have help if you ask for it.

Try to be sure to give people items so that others may cherish them and keep them as a remembrance of your spouse. Friends and relatives generally love getting items from loved ones, as this helps them to feel as though they have a piece of your spouse forever.

Some items you may choose to keep forever, turning their collection into your own. This is okay too. Keepsakes and memorials are a healthy way to carry the good times and good memories with you into your next season of life.

Often times, we don’t want to give items away to just anybody, so we may hold onto certain items and wait until we find the “perfect” person to give it to. Maybe a charity or an individual who would use the specific item.

If your spouse was an avid cyclist or photographer, for instance, and you want to be sure that these items go to someone who will truly cherish them, then it’s ok to hold onto them for the time being.


When is the right time to start this process?


I’ve seen people start this process as soon as the first week after a spouse dies and I’ve seen the house look exactly the same for two years. Everybody is different and it’s important to do what you’re comfortable with.

If you are someone who had the desire and willpower to get rid of everything very quickly, that’s ok too! I would highly recommend keeping at least a box of items so that you don’t have regrets in the future.

However you choose to handle the distribution of your spouse’s possessions is up to you. It should be dealt with when you are ready, not the day after the funeral service when your friend asks if you need help going through your spouse’s items the following weekend.

If you’re ready, then great! Have a friend support you in this task.

If you aren’t ready then it’s important to express that to them and let them know that when you are ready you’ll let them know.

No matter your timeframe, be kind to yourself in allowing the process to be what you need it to be.

One small victory is still a victory! 

You may weep while doing this. Allow yourself those tears, and continue when you’re ready.


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Thank you for spending time with us today.

We hope this helps you either process your own grief or understand those in your life going through it. Please check out our Resources page for more articles and some links to the tools we've found helpful. For more about who we are, click About Us.


Adrianne and Darrell, fellow Widows/Widowers

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Unmarried Widow - Loosing a partner who was not a legal spouse.

The complexities of being an Unmarried Widow compound the loss and grieving process


In this article, we attempt to explain what it means to be an Unmarried Widow to provide understanding to those who seek it and support for those who are living the experience. If you have lost a Partner or Significant Other, your journey will be different from someone who has lost a legal spouse in some significant and profound ways. We hope you find you are not alone.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


What does it mean to be an Unmarried Widow?


What do you think of when you hear the term "widow"?

When we use the terms “widow” and “widower” we generally imagine we are talking about a married couple who have probably been together for a really long time. Often we think of an older couple, with grey hair and grandkids. Often times, this is the case but not always.

What about those of us who never married our loves, or those of us who were engaged but our partner died before a wedding took place?

The widow community tends to accept us under their wings, so to speak, and acknowledges us as one of their own. We didn’t have the legal documentation to be married, but our lives were put together and we lived as though we were already married, or we were preparing to be.

Then our love died.

Note: If you are reading this and unmarried and not yet widowed, you may want to consult a professional to secure your rights as an executor while you still have the opportunity. 


It means compounding grief with fighting for legal rights


Things can be very different for unmarried widows than for married widows when it comes to the aftermath of a death, especially if it is completely unexpected and there was no time for preparations.

Legal rights regarding the funeral preparations, relationships with their family members and finance issues come up that are vastly different than that of a married widow.

When it comes to a legal marriage, there are legal permissions and responsibilities that are in place when someone dies.

For the unwed widow, these things don’t apply.

We are not the next of kin, which means that if police are involved they will not contact us with information. Funeral directors cannot speak to us unless they have permission. Mail and titles can be changed whenever the next of kin sees fit. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something that happens around us with which we have no control.

If the next of kin chooses to pick up cars and possessions a week after the death, then they will be able and you often have no say in the matter.


Note: Now, state to state, the specific laws may vary, so this is in no way legal advice. Dealing with this from an emotional standpoint is why where we are here. 


What it was like experiencing the loss of a non-married partner


Standing on the street in front of my house, where I woke up to find my fiance dead, I was promised a chance to see him before cremation or burial. I begged and pleaded. I was convinced not to see him before they took him and that it would be better to wait until they can clean him up.

One thing about me is that at every funeral of a loved one I touch their skin if they are available for viewing. It is something I do in order to get closer to accepting that they have died and are not coming back. I did see him and I did touch his skin in the shock and panic of finding him and calling 911, however, I needed to be able to touch his face and kiss him in a more calm manner.

I didn’t get this opportunity.

His father made the choice not to allow it to happen. I was crushed yet again, experiencing a second kind of loss. I begged him to allow me to see my fiance one more time. I offered to pay for the entire service if I could have that chance, but to no avail.

I was able to get a death certificate because they are public record, so I was able to send a copy to creditors who mailed bills to the house where we both lived. That was something that helped me, because it gave me something to do. Some way to help out, but not be a pest and not have to ask permission.

Then one day I received the notice to forward mail. I was so lost and alone, and now I had no responsibility. I felt like I didn’t matter all because we weren’t married yet.


It means letting other's do things you would rather do; but you are not next of kin


So how can you handle this type of situation, where you feel as though you don’t matter and you have no control over things happening around you?

There are things that their partner may not have wanted because that’s not always something you talk with a parent about, but it is something you talk with your partner about. The best option most people have in these circumstances is to be kind and try to remain calm.

The family member making funeral arrangements for their child or sibling didn’t want to do this any more than you did. Sure, the unmarried widow is the chosen family, but the biological family has been with them their entire life and raised them to be the amazing person that you chose to love.

Letting them know if you and your partner had discussed any arrangement plans beforehand is a good idea, but you have to realize that these may not be the things that end up getting done.

Offering to help and letting them know that you would love to help is always good, because they may think it would be too hard on you, or they may be taking it all on because they think they are helping and they want you to know you know you don’t have to do it yourself.

You may not have all that you want, but honestly, your partner just died, so nothing will be ok about any of the situation that you are going through.


It means dealing with the financial fallout 


When it comes to the unmarried widow compared to the married widow, finances are different as well. There may be any version of family finances in the home before the death. One income household, two-income household, so not only does one income end if your partner was working, but unmarried widows aren’t typically entitled to survivor’s benefits from Social Security. Once a household is established and functioning on a certain income, it can be incredibly detrimental to take one away, which is why survivor’s benefits are put into place.

Things will get tight fast.

Note: Again, state to state these laws may vary, so this is in no way intended to be legal advice. 


It means dealing with housing and possibly having to move


Another consideration for the unmarried widow is housing.

Depending on the circumstances regarding the relationship, the partner may have been the one to own or lease the home, and now as the unmarried widow, you aren’t entitled to take over the residence and may have to move.

If you’re both living with the partner’s family, you may now have to leave depending on the homeowner’s wishes.

It may mean that you simply don't have the money to keep up with the current residence and you are forced to move and downsize.

It's not easy, it's not fun, but you have to keep walking forward


When our partner dies we don’t think of these complications until they come crashing in around us.

We are likely to be in a state of shock, panic, pain, and devastation.

A law doesn’t make a loving relationship, but the love we give each other does. When brought to a place in our lives where we have a partner die, we need to accept that we aren’t legally in control of any arrangements, as we aren’t the next of kin.

Offer a helping hand with the responsibilities, remember to be kind-hearted when it comes to your partner’s family, and remember that finance issues will come up and they are likely to be different than those of a married widow.

There are many resources available to you, but the best if probably found inside a support group of other widows. Find a Facebook Group (see our resources page) or a local group. Ask other widows who have been down this road. In some extreme cases, seek the help of an attorney who can protect you while you walk through this process.



***

Thank you for spending time with us today.

We hope this helps you either process your own grief or understand those in your life going through it. Please check out our Resources page for more articles and some links to the tools we've found helpful. For more about who we are, click About Us.


Adrianne and Darrell, fellow Widows/Widowers

When tragedy strikes, a widow’s perspective.

What does it mean to be a "Widow"?


What happens when our world shatters? In this article, we explain the heart-ache, challenges, and lesser-known quirks of a widow's experience. Whether you are a new widow yourself or an outsider looking in, we hope this helps you come to terms with the real issues we face and maybe learn how you can be a support.



Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash


You don't expect your spouse/partner to die


When we enter into a new relationship, we may discuss the deal breakers we have in a partner.

We talk about our hopes and dreams, any future plans, anything, and everything. Things get serious and we talk about getting married, spending your lives together, fusing our respective plans into one plan as a couple. Marriage, children, house, and day-to-day things come up.

Once or twice we may find ourselves having a hypothetical conversation about if one of us were to die, what we want for our partner or what we would do if it was our partner to die first.

Unless there is a grim medical diagnosis, that conversation is typically not something we see as a plan, but more as a statement to our partner that we want to know that they are so loved and we want them to always be happy.

Most people never experience the death of a partner, so it isn’t a common household topic of conversation, however when tragedy strikes, it changes a surviving spouse’s entire life.


Your world is shattered in an instant and there's nothing you can do to change it


There are many ways in which a person can find out that their spouse has died. Some spouses find their loved one already dead, there are the ones who try to save their lives but to no avail, and there are cases where a terminal illness takes the life of their partner and there was time to talk and plan for such an event. No matter what the circumstances, there are major changes to the daily life, family and friend support systems, and to the psyche of the surviving spouse.

Depending on the situation, the way in which we deal with finding out that our spouse has passed can be traumatic in different ways.

Upon waking up one weekend morning, I found my partner dead in a doorway of our home. Luckily my children didn’t see him there and I am the only person with the constant memory of how he was lying on the floor. That memory lives in my mind and replays every day. The sheer panic of walking up to him and immediately knowing that he was dead. Grabbing the phone and calling 911, I could hear myself quickly telling the dispatcher our address (which by the way, I always had a hard time remembering until that phone call), telling her that “he’s dead” in a rushed panic, then falling to the ground with my face in my hands crying and repeating myself. Dispatchers don’t like to assume someone has died, so she kept telling me to check on him. I was rushing back and forth, as I touched his back and confirmed yet again, then back once more to lift his arm. I knew he had been gone for hours but she didn’t believe me and her job is to make sure I do what I can to keep him alive until emergency professionals arrive.

Then I realized… I have to call his family! I called my partner’s sister and said, “I know it’s early, but I need you to come over immediately. It’s an emergency, and tell your dad to come too.” I believe I hung up right away. I then had to call my daughter’s father and have him pick her up. “Hello?” he said. “I don’t care what you’re doing, I need you to pick Rosemary up immediately.” “On my way.” I hung up. The rest of the morning consisted of police tape, detectives, tears, disbelief.

Spouses who get a phone call or a knock at their door from an officer or friend giving them the news will never look at their phone the same way again. The ring can trigger the memory of hearing that their loved one has died suddenly, changing the way their life would be forever.

Those who have terminal illnesses will rely on their spouse to be their caregiver. Many spouses will dedicate their entire existence to the comfort of their loved one. The vast majority of these people will watch as their spouse takes their last breath. They will be sitting next to them, holding them, crying out.

The commonality amongst all of these and any other way in which we learn of our partner’s untimely death is the shock, the trauma, the soul-crushing pain and the immediate and long term changes of our entire lives. The word that most closely described how I felt was “shattered.” I’ve heard other widows use the same term in describing their pain. When you delve into the feelings more, you find that losing a spouse causes despair, loss of feelings of stability and safety. Often times, we find ourselves either wishing death upon ourselves or terrified that something similar can happen to us or our children.


Surviving the initial shock - the first year of a widows life sucks


Dealing with these thoughts and feelings requires support from family, friends and/or professionals. Ideally, we would have a vast outpouring of love and support from family and friends, and they would stick around until we are confident in our new life.

Realistically, people move on incredibly fast leaving us in the dust.

Personally, I would say that my family and friends wrapped me in their arms for about two weeks. I didn’t want to be home alone for the first week, so I asked for people to come sit with me and talk until I got tired.

After the first week, I was just mentally exhausted from never being alone. At that point, the silence was deafening. Two kids in the house and it was quiet and still and empty. I ended up finding Young Widow/Widower groups online that offered tremendous support and community for me and gave me virtual comrades who understood my pain.

Some people would call me to check in, but it wasn’t enough. I needed him back. Had anybody else on this planet died, I would have gone to him for comfort. Who do you go to when your person dies suddenly? I didn’t have a clue, because none of it felt comforting.

Nothing felt ok. I ended up limiting my communications with almost everybody for several months. Everything was hard, and I couldn’t make small talk anymore. I wasn’t able even if I tried.

Eating was almost impossible. Many people experience a lack of hunger when they lose a spouse. For the first 26 days, I didn’t feel hunger. The only way I would eat is if someone made me food or I was at a restaurant because I didn’t have the energy to so much as cook a meal. I had to have someone with me because I refused to eat alone, and one meal per day was my limit. I didn’t feel able to do more than that, and each meal was a victory and was exhausting.

At day 26, something changed. I decided that I needed to be able to eat more frequently, so I would snack instead of having one meal. It was a process, and as long as I was eating enough to maintain my energy, I was fine with that. Around the second month without him, I started eating a lot of fast food. It was a meal, I could pick it up on my drive home from work, and there were no dishes to pile into the sink afterward. Instead, I had a bag of trash on my counter.

My entire 3 bedroom 2 bathroom home was a complete disaster for the first 6 months.

At one point I had red ants inside my house. In a normal time of life, you find red ants and you deal with the situation. During grief, however, there’s a chance that you may leave the ants alone and hope that they find their way outside.

They did not. I was bitten by ants inside my home and probably two weeks after their arrival I had a burst of short term energy and I used that to find the hole they were using to enter and I found craft glue and sealed up their hole.

Grief is weird and it sucks. Grief allows the house to remain trashed, the puppy to remain un-housebroken, the toddler to remain un-potty trained, and allows us to go days or more without showering. Seeing a counselor is a great way to express your thoughts and needs, but isn’t always feasible due to the cost and severe depression.


Recovering from surviving to find a new normal - your Widowversary


As one nears the one year anniversary of the death, they are going to relive those weeks and days leading up to it. Replaying in their mind the exact series of events that lead up to the tragedy that shaped their lives forever.

At one year, we have experienced every holiday, every birthday and every event passing by without our spouse to join with us.

Parties are lonely and gifts aren’t purchased. Although, we look around and think “That’s the perfect gift for my love, but s/he’s gone.” A close family friend has an annual Christmas Eve party that we had attended the previous year together. This past year I was invited but didn’t know if I could handle being there without him. After much deliberation, I decided to go. I love that family and always have. They loved my partner for decades, and they were missing him as well. I was glad to go, but it was honestly gut-wrenching for me. I was showered with hugs and love, and I still couldn’t believe he wasn’t there.


You are not alone even though you are alone


As you go through your journey of grief, you need to remember that you will likely feel lonely and that we have been there in the trenches as well.

Those who you think may help you months after your spouse has died may tell you to move on and stop dwelling in the past. Maybe they’ll tell you to date, or they’ll tell you that you aren’t ready to date.

This life is not the one we had planned when we met our partner and fell in love. Everything has changed, and we have to change with it.

Tragedy is not something that you wake up from. Grief is the process we use to help us along the path.



***

Thank you for spending time with us today.

We hope this helps you either process your own grief or understand those in your life going through it. Please check out our Resources page for more articles and some links to the tools we've found helpful. For more about who we are, click About Us.


Adrianne and Darrell, fellow Widows/Widowers