Guilt and Grief

Grief can be one of the loneliest places on the planet. It is completely isolating, debilitating, soul destroying and painful. At a time where you wish everything would just stop, where you could hit rewind and change the events, life keeps whirling by and it can take everything you have to hold on.

In September 2006, two days after my son turned 3 and with an 8 month old in tow… My life imploded. My husband, driving to attend a funeral was killed in a road accident. The events of that day are ingrained in my memory and if I allow myself to dwell, I actually think I can stop my own heart beating. It is still that raw. I guess I just don’t allow myself to do it that often.

My story is like so many others… there are only small differences in people’s grief journey really, and that comes more from how we choose to cope. The trauma or shock, the loss of control, the loneliness and confusion all of this goes with the unfortunate territory. I’m no lone soldier in dealing with all of this, so I won’t bore you with the details.

For me, an aspect of my widow journey that I wasn’t prepared for… and trust me there was A LOT I was not prepared for, was the guilt I would feel when happiness returned. Or more importantly, when I chose to be happy and seek out happiness opposed to being riddled with distress and sadness. I actually don’t think happiness just turns up, we have to make a conscious decision to go about creating it.

As desperately as I wanted to create happiness and forge a new future, the guilt of this was all too consuming. You see, when you are widowed and you have children, your decisions tend to impact more than just you. This was something I struggled with terribly. The unfortunate reality was, every decision I made pulled me further and further away from my past. There’s a massive degree of guilt that can follow these major decisions. It changes the course of so many people’s lives and I felt accountable for that.

Time and healing have helped me understand that all of what I have done, Uni degree, moved, met someone… all of this is the natural progression and I am entitled to create the life I need, albeit very different to my previous life. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t hours and days where I feel bad for being so happy again. I mean, really? Do I really deserve to be this happy? What does that mean and say about me? My husband didn’t make his 33rd birthday, never finished his family and doesn’t get to see his boys grow up. Yet I’m off creating a happy future! I guess it means I have chosen to not allow his death to be in vain! He was very big on why worry about what you can’t change and deep down I know he would want his kids to be happy… Happy Mum, happy sons right?

I may not be living the life we would have created but I’m teaching my boys what resilience is. I’m showing them that no matter how bad things get, we have the choice to rise from the ashes. I’m teaching them that bad things happen to good people but it doesn’t have to destroy us. I’m showing them that good things can come from bad situations. I’m teaching them that happiness is our responsibility. I’m showing them how important it is to love and care for each other because life is short. I’m teaching them so many things because of their Dad’s death. Things maybe I didn’t fully understand before his death.

I am not the same person I was before my husband passed away. I truly believe no one ever is after losing a loved one. My ability to fully appreciate the things and people I have in my life has been heightened through facing such a traumatic experience. I understand more readily the responsibility I have in my own life and the direction it goes. I chose and continue to choose to be happy… I’ve worked through the guilt, some still resides, but essentially I am proud of who I have become despite what forced me here.

There are so many emotions and feelings that come from losing a loved one. The anxiety and isolation only began to lesson for me after connecting with EA. Suddenly I was talking to people with as many questions and insecurities as me. People just like me fighting the fear, the unknown, the judgement, the confusion. Finally there was a forum for me to express myself and feel understood. SERIOUSLY understood without judgement. If Andrew’s death taught me anything, it was that whether I liked it or not I had been cast into the spotlight. I had to defend myself against personal decisions because of the impact it had on others and this was not always the easiest of burdens to carry. Finally people, somewhere, behind a computer screen got just how tough some of this stuff was.

We have shared the lows and celebrated the highs and no matter where our journeys lead, I know I wouldn’t have made it through without these lovely ladies. All from different walks of life, coping with different traumas but tied by the bond of young Mums coping without their kids Dad. Maria and Aisling you are the guardian angels for so many.

Andrea


Changing Relationships

There are many changes to relationships when you have experienced the death of your partner. The changes can be for the better or the worse and can be with different types of relationships: your family, your in-laws and your friends. Grief is a time of crisis where many people also evaluate their relationships.

Many of us are surprised by “friends”, who completely disappear from our lives as soon as the funeral is over. It can be very hurtful at a time when you already feel weak and vunerable. Maria and I have received many emails and had many conversations about the withdrawal of friendships during this difficult time. So why does it happen?

Firstly death is an uncomfortable subject! For many people who have not experienced death and grief they will find it easier to avoid you and any talk of your deceased partner. I’ve certainly experienced this: a few months after my husband’s death, I saw his friend’s wife at the shopping centre. She pretended not to see me, and ducked into a shop! She later mentioned to a mutual friend that she had seen me but just didn’t know what to say. So to sum that one up, some people will feel uncomfortable and you will feel like a leper.

There may also be a lot of changes with people who were your partner’s friends before you met, such as childhood friends. They will also be grieving for the loss of their mate, and they may find that being around you brings on these feelings, and they may possibly retreat.

As time goes on, you may also find that the invitations from people who you and your partner socialised with will diminish, or maybe cease completely. There can be a few reasons for this. Firstly as previously mentioned others worry about what to say around you, or may be concerned that you will turn into a blubbering mess! Secondly, insecurity: you may be unaware of this but now that your husband is dead you can be viewed as a threat! Yes, there are women who feel threatened by a widow. It is sad but it happens, I can assure you.

In my experience some people will fall away and it is hard to deal with at a time when you are in a mentally fragile state, but they make room for new people to come into your life also.You may be surprised by the people who step up to support you. And there will be those who walk with you on your journey through grief. The ones who will listen to you cry,remember you at milestones and are there for you. These are your true friends,remember to let them know how much you love and appreciate them.

Aisling


Widows Supporting Widows

When I first became a widow I never imagined the bond I would form with a group of strangers. These strangers were widows just like me. Our husbands all died in different ways, our ages varied, we lived in different cities and states, we came from different walks of life, but we all had one thing in common – we were young widows. Young widows who needed each other’s support, understanding and strength to get through our grief. We formed a place to vent, to ask questions, provide insight and understanding. It was safe to speak our thoughts and not be pitied or fixed. It was a Godsend to have these women who understood the thoughts, feelings, emotions of a young widow. We advised each other on how to help our young children with their grief and to answer the questions our children would ask. We were all learning to raise our families as a single parent.
We would support each through our bad days and there were plenty of these in the beginning. As time went on we not only shared our down days but were able to share good days too. There have been many tears and many laughs as each of us has learnt to adapt to our new lives. After speaking to each other over the Ever After forum, through private messages and emails for months we decided to meet up in person. We arranged for everyone to fly into Sydney for a weekend. Finally I could put the faces to the names and voices of these widows who had become so important to me. The weekend together was great, plenty of champagne was consumed, plenty of tears were shed and plenty of laughs had too. The weekend brought us all closer together.
As I look back at the last 8 years I see how far we have all come. Now we can share in happy and special occasions with each other. The distance between us does not stop us attending special events. One memorable event I will never forget was when I attended the wedding of one these women. Most of us were able to share in this special day. It was an emotional day on so many levels, there was sadness of what was but happiness for the future. We shed tears and laughs and celebrated into the early hours. For my fortieth birthday I had a party and invited family and close friends, my widow friends were there too making my night even more special.

My advice to all our members on the Ever After Widowed forum is to reach out to each other. The members on this website are the ones who will truly understand the road you are travelling.

It has been a blessing to have these beautiful women in my life. Through tragedy we formed a friendship which will last for life

Maria

All You Need Is Love

How to Support a Grieving Person
You may want to ask family and friends to read this section.

Understanding their grief

• Be aware that grief is like an emotional rollercoaster there will be highs, lows and setbacks and everybody deals with grief differently.
• Grieving involves extreme emotions and behaviours. The bereaved needs reassurance that what they are feeling is normal.
• The bereaved needs to feel free to express their feelings without judgement.
• It’s alright to sit in silence with the bereaved; sometimes they do not want to talk they just need a comforting presence.
• Don’t avoid talking about the deceased person, it’s important to the bereaved that their loss is acknowledged and their loved one is not forgotten.
• There is no time frame to grieving, so don’t pressure the bereaved person to move on.
• Do not compare their grief to that of a divorced person or to one that has lost an elderly parent or any other type of grief.
• Don’t assume if they were together a short time like 10 years, their grief is much less that a couple who were together for say thirty years. We beg to differ; it is the depth of your love, not the length of time.

Practical Assistance

• Drop off a casserole or other type of food.
• Offer to stay in their home to take phone calls and receive guests.
• Assist with forms and bills.
• Offer to watch their children, pick up from school, sports, etc.
• Offer to take their children shopping to buy a gift for their parent on significant occasions such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays and Christmas.
• Offer to drive them wherever they need to go in the first weeks.
• Look after their pets.
• Go to support group meetings with them.
• Accompany them on walks.
• Ask them to join you on activities.
• Remember them at milestones (birthdays, anniversaries..) A card, text or call to acknowledge is often greatly valued.