Turning Grief Into Growth

By Carole Brody Fleet

You’re too young to be a widow”.

Frankly, if I had a dime for every time I heard that phrase…I’d rattle a lot. However, and as nonsensical as that lament may sound, it was certainly true.  I was not “supposed” to be a widow at forty years of age. Like everyone else in the world, we too were supposed to live “happily-ever-after”. 

(…I’m not sure exactly how long “happily-ever-after” is, but at the time, I was fairly certain that it was supposed to take you into advanced years).

Widowed? You must be joking.  We were supposed to be raising a family and living the life that we had built together; the life for which we had worked so hard and loved so much.  We were supposed to be married for 50 years, talk fondly about the “good old days” (the 60’s and 70’s) and lovingly help our children grow into adulthood and create families of their own.

Widowed?  Me? I don’t think so.  Widows aren’t forty years old with long blonde hair and a fondness for heavy metal music, NFL football, sky-high heels and dressing ridiculously on Halloween. Widows are retired.  Widows have grandchildren to love on and spoil sideways.  Widows play cards on a weekly basis and talk about their “good old days” (the post-Depression era).

….or so I once thought.

I lost my husband Mike after his valiant two-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease; leaving me widowed with a grieving young daughter to raise and in the midst of emotional and financial ruin.  It has now been over a decade since that terrible season in time and through trial, a few occasional “errors” and with a determination to “get strong again”, I discovered a “roadmap for recovery” that can be easily utilized after suffering through almost any kind of devastating loss, tragedy or life challenge:

  • The best way to honor a loved one’s memory is by committing to healing and moving forward.  Realize that just by being here, you have one basic entitlement – that of a life of happiness.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but by making the choice to start taking “baby steps” forward, you can lead a life that is once again fulfilling and filled with more smiles than sadness.  Life may not feel or seem fantastic right now and that’s fine for the time being.  There will come a time that life again holds the gifts of promise and peace for you.

 

  • It is absolutely normal to think, “Why oh WHY did this happen to me?  What did I do?  I’m a good person; why is this happening to me?”  However, healing also requires a shift in thinking.  Rather than spending time focused on “Why Me?”, concentrate instead on “What Now?”.  Begin each day by asking yourself, “What positive things am I going to do today to help myself heal?”  Operating with a “Why Me?” attitude will do nothing to either change your situation or further your healing journey.  Deciding instead to pay attention to “What Now”… WILL!

 

  • Accept that there will be times when you will cry, feel melancholy, or feel as though you are having a “setback”.  A setback implies that you are right back where you started; negating any progress that you’ve made.  Even if your loss happened last week – you have progressed forward.  You are healing and as long as you continue to take those steps forward, a setback is not possible.  Don’t minimize the progress that you’ve made by deciding that tears-equals-setback. Hold onto the certain promise that it does get better.

 

  • There are those around you who will have opinions, insights and observations as to your particular healing journey – and they may not be particularly supportive or even positive. Some who were once in my life believed – and stated, “Once a widow, always a widow“.  In other words, I was “expected” to be in mourning for the rest of my life.  I eventually discovered that while widowhood definitely shaped who I was, it was not going to define who I was; ultimately enabling me to turn a deaf ear to the naysayers of the world – none of whom had ever experienced widowhood firsthand.

As long as you continue to see to the needs of your family and fulfill your obligations to your household and to your career (whether that career is inside or outside of your home), you answer to you.  Period.  To invest any energy in the negative opinions of anyone around you is a nothing more than a waste of perfectly good energy and valuable time.  The unconstructive opinions of others cannot and must not influence you or otherwise give you cause for doubt, guilt or shame.  Make the conscious choice to refuse to allow it.  Put on a smile, rejoice in your choice to heal, pity those who instead choose to offer pessimistic (and generally unsolicited) opinions…and keep going forward.

  • Who and where you are today does not have to be who and where you are forever. You do have control over your destiny and the actions that you take today can determine your destiny tomorrow.  Don’t let your loss decide your destiny for you.  Make a choice…to get excited about life; whatever that life involves.  Get excited about your children; your loved ones; your dearest friends, the people you’ve yet to meet and where life is going to lead you next.  Steadfastly refuse to lead a sad, mournful, half-baked, lukewarm, ho-hum, just-getting-by, non-passionate existence.  

Your recovery is a work in progress and you may forget to take that every-so-often pause to look back to see how far you have come.  Whatever amount of time has passed since your loss, take a moment to stop and look back.  Do you remember a time when you felt like, “I’m always going to feel ‘this way?”. Now, take a look in the mirror right this minute.  You need to be very proud of who is looking back at you, because you survived.  No matter how much or how little time has passed, you are making your way back from tragedy and turning it into triumph.  You are turning your grief… into growth. 

Carole Brody Fleet is the award-winning author of the critically praised, “Widows Wear Stilettos: A Practical and Emotional Guide for the Young Widow” (New Horizon Press) and “I’m ‘Heeling’ One Day at a Time: The ULTIMATE One-and-Only Question, Answer and Reference Guide to Life After Widowhood” (Crystal Night Books); as well as the author and executive producer of the best-selling CD entitled, “Widows Wear Stilettos: What Now?”. Carole is featured on national, regional and local television and regularly appears as a guest expert on numerous radio programs nationally and internationally; as well as in national and international magazines, newspapers and websites.  Visit http://www.widowswearstilettos.com

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