How to Help a New Widow

(Through most of this post I refer to widows and women. I know there are widowed men out there. While the advice below may be helpful to widowers, I couldn’t really say for sure. I don’t know how the male experience of being widowed compares to the females.)

After a huge loss many widows are going to need a helping hand, daily encouragement and a positive force in their life. It is extremely difficult to know exactly how to help a new widow, because many do not know what they need help with. Since they can’t articulate exactly how you can help them they will seldom ask. Make sure your newly widowed friend is aware that you want to help. And remember that every bit of the advice I give in this post should be done gently and with care. When you offer your help or advice there are few things to keep in mind.

First, as I previously stated, you need to be sure your friend knows you’re willing to help. A strange thing happens when a person is widowed. They are absolutely surrounded by people for about a week or two. Family comes to town for funeral or memorial services. Friends are calling, texting and messaging their condolences. Sympathy cards are pouring in through the mail slot and many promises to check up on and take care of the widow are being uttered. These are all very comforting things. Then as suddenly as it all started, it stops. Usually a day or two after the memorial people gradually stop calling, sending cards or reaching out. Of course this is normal, people have their own lives. I think most widows understand this, but it’s painful and difficult when everyone seems to stop caring. (As a note, we know in our brains people care, but we don’t feel it, which are two different things.)

If it’s been weeks since the memorial service and you suddenly think of her, reach out to her. Even if you’re busy, send a text or an email. Give her a call if you are (and she’s) a phone person. Let her know you’re thinking of her. I had several friends who would think of me and say a prayer. Which was fine, I suppose. The thing is, I couldn’t hear prayers. So while everyone might have been praying for me, thinking they were being caring, no one was actually contacting me directly. If you are a spiritual, praying person, that’s fine. I’m not saying don’t pray, I’m saying go ahead and pray and THEN reach out to the person you’ve just prayed for. Perhaps God put this person into your mind not because you needed to say prayers for them but because they are having a hard day and need encouragement. I might have felt ten times better if people texted me each time they said they had been praying for me.

Don’t let no response discourage you. Unless you said something outrageously offensive in your text, email, or voice message it’s more than likely that she’s just feeling overwhelmed. Keep sending little notes of encouragement and love. It’s a very lonely time right after your spouse dies, knowing your friends are still there helps a bit.

If you offer your help, be specific! Don’t just say “I’d like to help.” As previously stated the widow might not know what she needs. There’s a million things to take care of and she probably doesn’t want to do any of them. So when you contact her be really specific about what you’re willing to do. Some suggestions might be prepare and bring a meal for the family. If you’re close friends offer to do a load of laundry, offer to take the kids out so she can have alone time, or time to get things done. Offer to clean, as much or as little as you’re comfortable with. Offer to take her to out to dinner or coffee or to come over and play cards or just chat. However big or small it seems, be specific. Again don’t be discouraged if she says she doesn’t want help with what you offer. Each person is different, she might want to do it all on her own. Just make sure she knows she doesn’t have to.

If she calls and asks for your help and you can’t due to other plans or obligations offer another time to help. One turn down can lead to her not trying again. You don’t have to give her a novel length explanation of why or apologize all over yourself just something like “I’m so sorry! I’m taking the kids to soccer practice then. But can I help you with that tomorrow/in a couple hours/next week?” A response like that will let her know you still want to help even though you can’t right at that moment.

Those are the more practical aspects of helping. You can also help her emotionally. This can be even more touchy than the practical helping. Because if you are not a widow you can’t understand her pain and she knows this. Reaching out to help her heal emotionally could cause her to shut down and shut you out. I’d only recommend trying to help in this way if you’re very close friends or close family. Remember, never, ever push her or try to force her to take a certain path. This is her grief journey, you are there to ease it not make it worse by instilling guilt, doubt or bitterness in her.

Let me share a bit about my own journey. Very shortly after Jordan’s death I began to develop feelings for another man. It was a man who was close to Jordan. I had my own reservations about it and felt weird about feeling attracted to someone so soon after Jordan passed. To be honest I’ve always been a little “boy crazy” so I wasn’t surprised to find myself attracted to this person.

I shared these feelings with some close friends. They had the knee jerk reaction of telling me it was not appropriate and I was not allowed to love anyone else right now except my infant son. While I understand why they reacted that way, that was pretty much the worst thing to say to me. Here I was a grown woman being told by people a few years younger what I could and could not do, who I could and could not love. I am a stubborn person and a bit rebellious. So when I heard the “you can’t” everything inside me said “Oh yeah? Fucking watch me!”

With some distance I now understand my attraction to that man a little better. I now know that I was clinging to him because when I was with him I didn’t feel like “Staci the widow” that people tiptoed around. I didn’t feel like “Staci the struggling single mother” that people pitied. I didn’t feel like “Staci the outcast.” I just felt like Staci and that was fantastic. It was great to be valued and cared about beyond being a single widowed mother. There wasn’t a terribly sexual feeling to the relationship for me until I was told not to “go there” then all I wanted to do was go there.

When he was around there was a feeling of comfort, a feeling like myself again. I don’t blame my friends for my bad choices in that situation. I do think that if the situation had been approached with more care, an attempt at understanding and less negativity towards my “motivations” for spending time with him things might have been different. Maybe we would have come to the conclusion that we were not meant to be together romantically but were meant to comfort each other through this loss that we were both enduring.

Now, I know the time for new love is not right after a spouse passes. However, if your friend does meet someone and begin pursuing a relationship shortly after the death of their spouse, approach this subject with caution. Instead of pushing your friend or telling her what she may and may not do, since she is in fact a grown woman, ask her what about the man or relationship makes her feel better. Is it a matter of companionship, sex, relieving feelings of loneliness or something else? Try to help your friend see her own motivations. If she is using this man to ignore her grief try to help her see that, but gently. And never make it seem as if you’re judging her actions or choices. That’s a sure fire way to make her write you off. If after talking with her, you can see that it’s not an attempt to ignore the grief she’s feeling then just let it go. Like I said before this is her journey not yours.

The last piece of advice I have is don’t treat her as if she’s made of glass. After awhile the pitying looks, deep sighs and tender hugs or pats on the arm got tiresome. I got so tired of people screwing up their faces and asking “How are you holding up?” This was especially annoying if I was arriving at a party or get together. I wasn’t fine all the time, but if I was dressed, out of the house with makeup on, chances are I was looking for a good time not a pity party. After several months I was trying to find a new rhythm to my life and felt these sorts of reactions didn’t help me in my attempts to move forward and find my new normal. Of course I still needed positive support but being treated like I might break at any second didn’t make me feel good. It made me feel weak or rather that I should be weak. As I get farther along in the journey I am realizing I am made of tougher stuff. I can take what this life throws at me.

This is advice is based off of my own personal experiences. You know your friend best and so should know how best to help them. There are no two people exactly alike in how they cope with life changing events. Hopefully the advice above has given you a better idea regarding how to reach out and support a newly widowed person.

A Book Review: Widows Wear Stilettos

Disclaimer: Every person is different in what they find to be helpful, spiritual, humorous and comforting, which is why I include a section for general thoughts to clarify exactly what I liked and disliked about the book. This is simply meant to be a guide in helping you find the book that best suits your individual needs as a newly widowed person. I wish you peace on this difficult journey.

Title: Widows Wear Stilettos: A Practical and Emotional Guide for the Young Widow

Author(s): Carole Brody Fleet with Syd Harriet, Ph.D, Psy.D.

Publishing Info: New Horizon Press, Far Hills, NJ 2009

Helpful Meter 1-5 (1 being not at all helpful, 5 being very helpful): 5

Spiritual Meter 1-5 (1 being not spiritual, 5 being very spiritual): 1

Humor Meter 1-5 (1 being not humorous at all, 5 being very humorous): 3

Comfort Meter 1-5 (1 being not comforting, 5 being very comforting): 4

Staci’s Recommendation (1 being pass on this, 5 being read this today) 5

General thoughts and feelings on the book:

This book covers the very practical aspects of being a widow such as, dealing with social security, life insurance payouts, notifying many entities of your spouse’s passing and obtaining lawyers, therapists or other help when needed. However, it also focuses on the different aspects of moving forward and embracing life. There are areas to journal and keep records and a few pages in the back for notes.

The author also attempts to instill a bit of humor into the book, which may be welcome by some people a little farther along in their journey. It made me smile a few times but I never laughed out loud.

She doesn’t speak much about spiritual or faith based recovery short of suggesting talking to a member of clergy if you feel it would be helpful.

Overall the book covers many of the “real life” aspects of being a widow in addition to the healing process.

Click here to purchase.

Don’t Say These Things to a Widow Ever. No Really Never, Ever.

As some of you may know I am a widow. I was widowed five years ago on January 2, 2010. It was very sudden and when it was all over I was left alone with a six month old baby. It was a very difficult time, to say the least.

Thursday, July 2 is my wedding anniversary. Jordan and I would have been married for ten years. That six month old will turn six years old a few days after our wedding anniversary.

Lately I have been feeling good about the progress I have made. I’m in therapy (finally) which has helped me a lot in the time I’ve been going. I really believe that almost anyone can benefit from therapy. There’s something very enlightening about having a totally impartial outside opinion.

But this is not about how awesome therapy is. That’s for another time. This post is harkening back to that terrible time; those first few months to a year after Jordan died. The things some people said to me….I didn’t even know how to respond.

I’ve been reading an excellent book called Widows Wear Stilettos by Carole Brody Fleet. She’s dedicated an entire chapter to the awkward things people say to widows, all of which she heard herself. I too have heard a few doozies. Below are things not to say or discuss with widows.

Now before I go into this, I know that many of these people meant well. They were trying to offer comfort or simply didn’t know what to say. If that is the case, if you don’t know what to say or find yourself about to say something below, may I suggest, don’t say anything at all. Offer a hug or a pat on the shoulder. If you feel compelled to speak stick with something like “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” or “I don’t know what to say.” Those are both safe bets. What follows will, at best, make a widow gringe inside and at worst, make them shout at you hysterically.

The thing I hated, HATED, to hear more than anything, “God needed him in heaven.” To those people I silently nodded and held my tongue. I know it was supposed to be a comfort. He’s in heaven. God needed him! Of course! How silly of me to think that perhaps his family needed him more. Now everything is great! Now I know that God really, really, urgently needed him right away at 29 years old. Thus leaving me a single mother to my six month old son. Perfect sense, excellent.

The next worse was “I understand how you feel” or “I know how you feel.” Whenever someone said that to me I wanted to shout at them “Oh yeah?! When did your spouse die?!” Unless you too are a widow never ever, ever say this, because you absolutely can not know what it feels like to lose a spouse until it happens to you.

“You’ll meet someone else” or “God will bring you another husband.” Yeah, I didn’t want someone else. I wanted Jordan. So hearing this didn’t cheer me up. It made me angry. When I think about it now I get even more annoyed because dating. Totally. Sucks. It’s not fun and I’m tired of it and I shouldn’t have to be doing it. I’d found the person I had wanted to grow old with.

“On the bright side I got to wear this new black (insert item of clothing here).” Yes, people actually said this to me at the funeral of my husband. Just don’t say this. It is beyond tactless.

“Oh hey, I was wondering are you still coming to my wedding?” Again, yes some people thought asking me about their wedding at the funeral was a great idea. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to think about was watching two people dedicate their lives to each other for all eternity when my eternity with my spouse ended up being about six years total. So maybe don’t ask about RSVP’s during a time of intense sorrow.

Carole listed a couple things she heard in her book that I think a lot of young widows probably hear. I didn’t personally hear them, so I’ll just quote from her book. It seems like these would be pretty common statements.

“‘At least you were prepared’ or, ‘It’s not like it wasn’t expected’ or, ‘At least you had time together to prepare (you’ll generally hear this if your spouse has died after a long illness).”*

To paraphrase what Carole says, being prepared is different from the reality of the death. You can’t ever be prepared for someone to die.

“‘At least he didn’t suffer.’ (You’ll hear this if your spouse dies after a short illness, accident or tragedy.” That made things easier for him…not you.”*

After a few months of Jordan being gone I started hearing new bits of advice to help me along in my journey.

“Are you over Jordan?” Um, what? No, no I will never be over Jordan. Never. There will be a new normal, but there will always be a tear in my heart that is Jordan shaped and no matter who I meet in the future, there is no replacing him. I think a better question to ask “Is your heart open for a new love?” And the answer to that is yes it is.

“What do you think Jordan would think of what you’re doing?” Well now, I wouldn’t know the answer to that would I? Because he’s not here to offer an opinion. To be totally frank his opinion hardly matters. He’s not experiencing what I am. I do know one thing though and that is that he would want me to be happy and move forward. I think that’s just what I’m doing.

It’s very difficult to know what to say to a young widow. I am one and I’m still not sure what the best thing to say is. A young widow can go from zero to sixty in seconds, especially right after the death of their spouse. They are on a roller coaster ride of emotions, tasks and striving to “get back to normal” when all they want to do is curl up in bed or binge watch Netflix.

There are many ways to help your newly widowed friend, which I will discuss in my next post, but saying anything remotely close to what is listed above is a sure fire way to not help at all. Like I said, stick with a hug and a simple “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

*Widows Wear Stilettos: A Practical and Emotional Guide for the Young Widow By: Carole Brody Fleet and Syd Harriet, Ph.D., Psy.D. New Horizon Press Far Hills, NJ 2009

The New F Word

There seems to be a word floating around that is so offensive, many people will not utter it even in the most secure circles of trust. Feminism has so many different stereotypes attached to it that it’s difficult to say you are one without getting in an argument. But I’ll get brave, I’ll say it. I am a feminist.

I’ve been asked before why I am a feminist. Seeing as how I’m no good with verbal, on the spot debate I thought I’d hash out my ideas in a medium I feel more comfortable with, writing. What follows is why I am a feminist and what, in my opinion, being a feminist IS and IS NOT.

Feminism IS NOT about hating men. In fact I quite like most men. Someday my son will be a man and I’m pretty sure I’ll still love him. What I don’t like is misogyny. All people are different, I understand that. So I know that not all men are misogynists just because some are.

Feminism IS NOT about being better, stronger or smarter. I don’t think that or claim that women are the superior sex. Men and women are different. Along those same lines, every person is different. There’s no way to group all women in one category or all men in one category.

Feminism IS NOT about being a victim. I saw an article in response to the “I need feminism” campaign. It was an “I don’t need feminism” campaign. A number of the women said they did not need feminism because they were not victims. They said they are adults and can take responsibility for their actions. I had to wonder what they’re talking about. The everyday street harassment, date rape, sexual trafficking? The thing about those things, is that it has very little to do with your own actions and much more to do with the actions of a few misogynistic jerks.

Feminism IS NOT about understanding each other. You don’t have to understand someone to give them respect.

Feminism IS about respect and dignity. In the work place, at home, while you walk down the street.

Feminism IS about shining a light on injustice of any kind and not sitting by and letting it happen.

Feminism IS about seeing someone as a person first and foremost; not as a gender, race or religion.

At this point in our society, things are a certain way. When I’ve talked about injustice and lack of respect I’ve been told, well that’s just the way it is. I hate hearing that. Because I believe we can be better as a society. We can make a difference. Imagine if people like Susan B. Anthony or Alice Paul had just accepted things as they were. Would women have the right to vote now? What if Rosa Parks had gone to the back of the bus because that’s “just how things were done”? What if Martin Luther King Jr. had sat quietly and not shared his dream? What a different world we would live in. We’ve still got so far to go, I can’t believe there aren’t more people standing up and getting passionate!

Nothing will ever change if people don’t stand up. People would never grow and change, so society would never grow and change. We have the power to change the world. If people would stop getting hung up on the ridiculous stereotypes attached to a word maybe we would see real change.

Things may be a certain way, but that doesn’t mean that they have to stay that way.

Watch these videos for insightful stuff.

 

A Ban on Handheld Devices?

I’ve been seeing this article floating around on Facebook. It’s called 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under 12. I read it. I didn’t feel moved or challenged by it at all. Do you want to know why? Because although my son uses a handheld device occasionally, I feel I’m a good parent and he won’t turn into one of those statistics. Here’s what I find most interesting. The people I’ve seen posting it are great parents, or will be great parents once they have kids. They read stuff like this and think about the one or two times they lost track of time and their kid spent more than an hour on a handheld device. Then they start to feel guilty. The thing is, I really doubt their kids are going to fall into any of those statistics. Because, as stated before, they are good parents. What’s really frustrating is that it’s the good parents who read stuff like this and feel bad. When in reality the parents who should read stuff like this and feel bad probably don’t, or don’t think it applies to their kids.

The problem I have with a ban is that frankly, it won’t do anything. Much like the prohibition of alcohol, people won’t stop giving their kids handheld devices simply because there is a ban, they’ll just close the curtains. How would you hold anyone up to this ban? Would you be able to call the police any time you suspect your neighbor of distracting their child with a handheld device? And why would you want to take such an excellent tool for travel away from parents? Download a couple movies on your iPad and that 8 hour flight goes by with much less stress to yourself and other passengers.

Putting a ban on handheld devices won’t stop reason number 8 (parental neglect leading to addictions) from happening. Parents do not need technology to neglect their children. Neglect has been happening as long as there has been children and parents. Banning handheld devices won’t stop that from happening. If a parent wants to ignore their kid they will find a way. Additionally a child won’t always become addicted to technology. Perhaps that child will turn to something else for comfort and develop an addiction. Maybe it will be some sort of handheld device. If it’s not a handheld device maybe it will be smoking, drinking, drugs, sex, rock n roll or even schoolwork. Why is an addiction to a handheld device any worse than next addiction?

The neglect/addiction cycle can happen with anything. We can’t ban all the things parents do that cause them to ignore their children. We’d have to start banning knitting, reading, movies, hot bubble baths. That may sound extreme, but that’s essentially what this reason says to me. You are distracted by something so you’re scarring your kids and making them turn to violent video games.

Which brings me to one tiny point, I wonder if the person who wrote this is aware that there are so many other video games out there besides the ultra violent ones. It’s true that violence permeates our society. We see it all over the news. I fail to see how a person can simply blame video games/handheld devices for our children’s aggression when we are constantly surrounded by violent news reports and movies (many of which are rated PG-13 because ya know there’s no sex so it’s ok to see your favorite character get blown up into a pile of blood and bone and brain). Again violence has been around since the dawn of time, it’s not video games making our children violent. I’m not going to pretend that I know what does. But it might have something to do with trying to work out and deal with feelings they’re not sure how to handle yet.

That brings me all the way back to reason number 1, which names all sorts of technologies as the reason our children have “increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate, e.g. tantrums (Small 2008, Pagini 2010).” I’m sorry but this is just stupid. You know why children are impulsive and can’t self-regulate? Because they’re CHILDREN. Even before Jack was watching TV and playing video games he had tantrums. I’ve taken a parenting class or two and in both classes I was told that tantrums happen. Most of the time they happen because the child is experiencing an intense emotion they don’t know how to deal with. Not because they played too many video games.

I’m not going to go through every reason they list because overall I believe they don’t apply to my situation. Because I believe I’m a good parent. It’s true sometimes I give my child my phone so he can play Angry Birds. Sometimes he watches some TV and some nights we even have a (gasp) family movie night.

I refuse to let this article, which seems to be feeding into this guilt parenting thing, make me feel bad about it. I will not be a guilt parent. I’m not going to force myself to spend time with my son when I really don’t have the energy because  you know what? That forced time is not quality. I will not feel bad for letting him play video games or watch TV once in a while. And I’m not going to support some ridiculous ban that will not change a thing.

In short bad parents aren’t going to change their ways because of a ban. They’ll just find some other way to hurt their children. Instead of focusing on banning things why not focus on helping children in dire situations? Reach out to the abused, neglected and hungry. And while you’re at it bring your kids along and teach them a bit about love and kindness to others.

What do you think about banning certain technologies? Is there any merit to it?

The Long Break

I’ve been neglecting my blog. That’s mostly because I’ve had a hard time getting back into a routine since the holidays. I’m just now feeling like I’m focusing and getting into a good routine as far as healthy living and working on things I want to work on.

Honestly I haven’t felt like I’ve had much to say; that is new stuff to say. I’m still struggling with dating and wanting to date, but have almost zero options aside from online dating. I don’t want to post about that every week.

I’m also distracted by trying to get drawing on my comic and finish writing up the comic script. I’ve also got a draft for a sequel to one of my stories going. So I think this blog is going to fall by the wayside for a bit. I’m not going to force myself to write if I’ve got nothing to say. So updates may be sporadic for awhile. We’ll see how long. In the meantime, if you’re a new reader now would be an awesome time to go back and read my old posts. I have been posting on this thing since 2007 or 2008…I think.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day has always given me different feelings at different points in my life. As a kid I looked forward it to because there would neat cards and small gifts from my parents waiting for me on my breakfast plate. We’d give Valentines to the class and likely have a little celebration at the end of the day.

As a junior high/high school kid I started to feel a little resentment toward the holiday. Especially when all the popular, pretty girls got candy and balloon grams and I didn’t. Unless one of my friends got me one. We’d do that every now then, send each other the grams and that actually made it a little better. I’d still hand out Valentines to my friends, but we didn’t get to have a little party in the last class of the day. Which was sort of a bummer.

When I got to college I had a healthy annoyance toward the holiday. I would get a small package from my parents, but I never really got anything else. Because all through college I was single. My freshman year I got a letter from my “future husband” in my campus mailbox. It was just a letter from my PA (peer advisor, basically the same thing as an RA) which I found a little disappointing, but it was still nice to get something in my mailbox on Valentine’s Day.

After I was married Valentine’s Day was just another excuse to leave little notes and sweet things for Jordan. We were both hopeless romantics so it wasn’t an odd thing to find messages scrawled on the bathroom mirror, a note tapped there or a surprise maple bar in the microwave (so our crazy cat wouldn’t eat all the maple off the top). It wasn’t odd to find flowers on the kitchen table for me. Every time I did I was thrilled though. It didn’t matter how many bouquets he got me, it was always a treat.  So Valentine’s Day was just one of those days when I knew something would be waiting for me and likewise for Jordan.

After he passed Valentine’s became a little bitter for me. I was dating someone for one Valentine’s Day. It was alright. He got me a gift and I got him a little something. He didn’t feel our gifts were an even trade so made feel bad for getting him something so small. It, apparently, was not the thought that counted, but the money spent.

So I’ve experienced the whole spectrum of feelings toward Valentine’s Day from loving it to being neutral to absolutely hating it. This year as Valentine’s Day approached I began to see things popping up about it on social media. Lots of people hate it. Which is fine you’re allowed to hate something. But the reasoning for it is weird. It makes single people sad, it’s only about card companies making money (like all other holidays are devoid of frivolous spending, come on!).

But Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about your significant other. Just as Halloween evolves from trick or treating as a kid to parties as an adult, you can do the same with Valentine’s Day. There are no hard and fast rules for holidays you know. You can make Valentine’s Day about all the people in your life you love. Change what Valentine’s Day means to you. That’s what I decided to do this year. I focused mostly on my son. It helped that he’s in preschool now and so we worked on cards for his class and cards for the family.

Just because I don’t have a boyfriend doesn’t mean my life is devoid of love. My son loves me, my in laws love me, my parents, my sister, my brother in law they all love me. So why do we focus so much on romantic love? We don’t have to.

So your coworker received flowers from their significant other, so what? How does that affect you? Maybe you want flowers…but who the hell did you send flowers to today? Instead of groaning about it, why not turn the holiday on it’s head. Send a bunch of flowers to your roommate, your sister, brother, mother, father, whoever! Maybe next year you’ll get something, but you know what? I’m inclined to say that’s not what love is about, love is about giving. For me Valentine’s Day is an excuse to get my son a nice little gift. I’m not going to let it be a reminder of what I don’t have in my life. From this year forward I’m making Valentine’s Day a reminder of the love that IS in my life.

What are your feelings about Valentine’s Day?