The Ins and Outs of Being A Young Widow

 

I thought I would be more specific in the things that I have experienced and learned in my life as a young widow. I tried to include  the main logistics of things that needed to be done after his death too. If you know of other young widows that this might help please share this blog because our experiences can be different from older widows. These are the main things I could think of. Please comment below if you can think of anything else! Here my list:

  1. Things that need to be changed after death: I had to notify different places of his death and take him off accounts like: our bank, internet, phone, electricity, his old credit cards, auto insurance, cable. Be prepared to send the death certificate off to MANY places. Getting at least 5 or 6 original copies of the death certificate is a MUST!  And always try to keep at least one or two copies with you at home at all times because some businesses are able to settle things on the phone if you have the death info ready. Each business has their own rules. Some don’t require a death certificate so you have to call each one and see what each one requires and what paperwork to fill out. Ben was cremated and I ordered the death certificates through the mortuary and it was sent to our house about a month later.
  2. Important places to contact: I needed to call, meet, and fill out paperwork from Ben’s work It is also important to find out if he had  life insurance through work . Ben had a small amount of life insurance. I also went to Social Security and since I am young and have a child I get some help from them each month. I never knew Social Security took care of young widows!
  3. I planned the memorial service. I got tons of help from so many people but I came up with the songs, who would share, what the program would look like, and the structure of the service. It is important to do what you are able to do and not to push yourself though. Once I had the structure of the service my parents helped me delegate jobs and tasks for different people.
  4. It disgusts me to even fathom that people will take advantage of widows in their grieving but sadly it exists and people have NO MERCY and they do not care if they lie to you. A few months after Ben died I got threatening letters from a  debt  collection agency, which I didn’t know to be fraudulent at the time, that said I had to pay off Ben’s school loans, which was a substantial amount. I met with a family friend earlier, who is a financial  planner, and he already confirmed that since Ben acquired the loans before we were married I was NOT responsible for paying his loans back. The debt collector lied and would state half truths and pressured me to pay off at least $8,000 within the next few days. I was so confused at why I owed money if I was told earlier from our family friend I didn’t owe anything. But the debt collector made it sound true and they are trained to sound convincing. I  ended up giving her my routing number and bank info. (NEVER DO THAT!) I called my dad right after and he said that I shouldn’t have done that. I had to close my bank account that same day and open a new one so they wouldn’t take the funds out. Lesson learned: Usually when people pressure you to pay something on the spot it is NOT to be trusted. I should not have given the debt collector any info and should have  said that I would like to talk to another person first. Always get a second opinion and meet with financial planners who know the rules and ins and outs of things concerning death and debts that are owed. I later called Ben’s loans and they also confirmed I didn’t owe anything.
  5. People project their own fears onto you when it comes to your financial stability. Many people came up to me, who weren’t widows, and said I needed to do X Y and Z when it comes to money. They do not know that being a widow is totally different than being a divorced or single mom. Lesson learned: Don’t believe the fears that people project onto you and just let all the negative comments just slide off of you like water off a ducks back. What is most important is to find out what is true about YOUR PARTICULAR situation and get help from experts who actually deal in the specific areas you that deal with death and widows.
  6. People project their own experiences as a widow onto you. Some widows were helpful and some not so much. People automatically assume that since they are widows they understand you and what you will feel. It is true that we (widows) grieve and feel the same things but how we deal with it and what we do with our grief can be totally different.   Lesson learned: I do think I will always be in love with Ben but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn to love another. I would like to quote what my counselor/mentor said again, “God can always redeem what was lost.” Yes, I lost Ben. Yes, it hurts and it is heart breaking. BUT as I mentioned in previous blogs, if we let God into our healing he can slowly comfort and give us new dreams (beauty for ashes).
  7. As a couple we had certain traditions or things we did together.  I learned that putting myself in situations that could make me cry or be emotional can be a good thing. For example, Disneyland was Ben’s favorite place but it was something we both enjoyed together. I think it was important to go to Disneyland to learn how to love it without him. The first time I  would go to a place or to something we use to do together was ALWAYS hard but it was needed to grieve the whole person I lost. Each situation is different so it’s important to wade through if you can handle doing it or to just rest and not do it. It’s important to go with what you are able to handle each particular time.
  8. When it came to parties, weddings, and showers oh my! (especially baby showers) those all triggered so many emotions. I experienced feelings of loss, anger, sadness of seeing husbands and wives together, comparison of my loss and how I don’t have a husband to help me at different social functions. I know for me I didn’t want to completely isolate myself the first year either. Because ultimately people do want me there and my presence DOES matter. I was not able to go to all the events I would have wanted to go to but that is OK and ACCEPTABLE! So, I went to what I could handle at the time and what worked for me.
  9.   I had people that I had to  put boundaries on seeing for a year. These are the people who didn’t get grieving, would tear me down and demand unrealistic things from me, people who were friends of Ben’s but not respectful to me, and so on. I didn’t have to surround myself with negative people or put myself in unsafe situations while I was grieving. If there was a situation that I would have to be around these kind of people it  was important to have a game plan of not being left alone with these people or give them boundaries ahead of time.
  10. It’s important to realize many friends and loved ones deal with your loss and even their own grieving differently. Some friends don’t know what to say, some say things that are not helpful, some keep their distance because they don’t know what to say or afraid they will say something dumb, some can’t be around you because it is painful to see you in so much pain, the list goes on. The best thing I found helpful to do was to realize that  I am NOT RESPONSIBLE to help people in their grief journey. It doesn’t mean I don’t pray for them or stop being their friend it just means I realized I can’t fix anyone or how they deal with their grief. I am responsible for ME and my son and helping him cope with the loss of not having a dad.
  11. When “special days” like our wedding anniversary, his birthday, Father’s Day, ect were coming up I found having a game plan of what I was going to do helped. I would do what I knew would be life giving like: going to a park, eating at a fun restaurant, going to my parents house for the day. I never knew how I would do the day of. Some special days I would cry all morning and some I would be fine and break down at the end of the night. So, it’s also good to be flexible and be easy on yourself too because sometimes I would plan something and then realize I just needed to rest or change the game plan. So, it’s important to explain to people that you would like to do something but the day of it might change and catch you off guard. And that is ok because emotions and grief can be unpredictable!
  12. It’s sad to think about or do but since my son only has one parent it was suggested I think about life insurance in case something happened to me. I actually did it through my AAA and made my son the beneficiary. AAA monthly payments are not too bad and the paperwork for it is one page and way easier than most paperwork I have had to fill out for Ben’s death.
  13. Ben and I were semi-good about knowing each other’s passwords for things. Thank goodness I told him to keep all his passwords saved somewhere that I knew about. However, there were some that I had to figure out. So make sure you and your spouse tell each other ALL the passwords to things like: utility accounts, health insurance accounte-mail, Amazon, iTunes, even pass codes for their phone,ect. Oh my goodness especially Gmail! They are so strict about not even giving out the passwords to spouses and loved ones!
  14. When it comes to healing do what works for you! Some people think you should join a widows group, or join a grief group, or connect with other widows, or read specific books, ect. I definitely thought about being in a grief or widows group but I am more introverted and being around other people and their grief, especially if they are not handling it well, seemed like it would cause me more stress. I know what I did will not be what works for someone else but this is what worked for me: I surrounded myself with positive and uplifting people that understood grief, met with people one on one or connected with the widows I felt comfortable with, I continued to go to my inner healing counselor/mentor, I journaled and did listening prayers, I did read some books on grieving, I stayed in my church community and vulnerable with how I was feeling and when I needed help, I had and still have a private prayer group that is constantly praying for my family and I keep those close friends up to date in how I need prayer and encouragement. The number one thing I sought was what I felt God was leading me to. His voice is the one that matters and if I stayed connected and seeking him in my healing He was able to reveal what I needed and what truths to listen to and what he was speaking to my broken heart.

Overall, the first year especially, can include many raw emotions that seem intense and all over the place. I don’t think widows should EVER feel guilty for how they feel or what they can’t handle. If you think about it LOSING a spouse is a BIG THING to lose. Our lives are so intricately interwoven and intertwined in a way that is not like other relationships on earth.

I had hopes and  dreams with my husband, we fought and we resolved conflict, we had mutual friends, we raised our son together, we encouraged each other, we prayed together, we came up with game plans of how to handle different events with a child, we planned our daily schedules and year together, and so on.

I think that is what made it so hard to start life again without him and why almost everything reminded me of him because our lives intersected and crossed in all areas of life. 

I think watching the movie Inside Out was such an amazing thing to see recently. It was like a visual picture of what I felt when Ben died and what it looks like when there is a huge loss. It’s like your whole world crumbles and all your emotions go haywire because your “normal” is gone. However in the movie, like Jesus, we can have new dreams and life can go on. It will NEVER be the same and it shouldn’t. But it can be different and that can be a good thing. 

Living without my best friend and the love of my life is one of THE HARDEST things I have ever experienced  but thank goodness for a God who is Emmanuel (God with us), who promises to comfort and be with us in our grief and never rushes us in our healing process.  It astounds me to have a God who cares about my WHOLE BEING: spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical and how he can show us how he can heal ALL OF THOSE if we let him. And then he doesn’t stop there, he turns our mourning into dancing and our ashes of old dreams into sparkling new ones. He gives new dreams to us when we are ready and that is a BEAUTIFUL  and HOPEFUL thing that just astounds me everyday.

Reflections on the End of the First Year: Choosing Healing

When it comes to alcohol it has different forms that can either heal or numb. Alcohol, in it’s medicinal form, can help heal wounds and cuts. We all know it stings and there will be pain but in the long run it eventually heals the wound or cut. On the other hand, alcohol’s other form is to numb. We go to a bar, a wedding, or a social event, or our house and use it to numb what we are feeling or what we don’t want to feel. And in the long run, it doesn’t heal the “emotional wounds” because we don’t ever deal with it and we will keep running into it in our lives if we not don’t address it. Everyone, even myself, have our own way of numbing the pain at times with our own choice of “alcohol”. It can be: food, staying busy, watching tons of Netflix, climbing the academic ladder, writing a famous book, landing a better job; only wanting to talk about ministry and not what’s going on in our own heart; you fill in the blank.

I recently went to my first wedding since Ben died and I was faced with choosing healing or choosing to numb. I was honored and blessed to share in my dear friend’s wedding and got to see her marry her best friend, but at the same time, I grieved and began to think of my own wedding about 4 years ago and how I longed and missed my best friend and husband.

My husband and I during our first dance: May 13, 2011
My husband and I during our first dance: May 13, 2011

But I have learned that letting yourself feel the pain and intense emotions that tend to light up in different settings is so freeing. So, at the wedding,  I was not depressed when the tears came as my friend had her first dance with her husband. I let God be with me in that pain. And yes it stung and yes was painful but, like medicinal alcohol, God poured his love and comfort over  me and he was able to bring healing and  I was able to have joy in the midst of my sadness.There is joy because my needs and feelings were being met. And like I mentioned in the previous blog, God the Father wants to be there for us and care for us in our pain. I was fortunate enough to have a great girlfriend who physically hugged and comforted me when I began to cry during my friend’s first dance with her husband. That was also very comforting to have a friend that didn’t have to say anything but to just physically be there with me in that moment as I was hurting and missing Ben. I later asked God where he was when I began to cry at the wedding reception and he gave me this image of him stroking my hair and kissing my head as he held me tight in his arms. He also gave me an image of where he was with my friend and her new husband. He was dancing with them and enjoying their love and happiness. I think that really struck me that God was able to comfort me in my sadness AND be with my friend and her new husband at the same time. BOTH of us mattered to him and he wanted to join us both in what we were feeling.

I know choosing to heal is easier said than done because healing is a choice and healing is painful and a lot of work. The amazing thing about God is that he does not  rush us if we are not ready. He is patient.  He is still with us when we just want to numb out or “not go there.” The passage of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 has really been sticking out to me and I guess I didn’t really understand it deeply until now. It says:

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”

God is not in a hurry. And whether we are choosing to let God heal or to numb out, he is with us. He is there and wants to be with us in whatever we are feeling. He is with you when you are feeling down about being single; He is with you when you make your kids cry because you are yelling at them; He is with you when you are failing a test you studied and knew like the back of your hand; He is with you when people are treating you unjustly; He is with you when you are feeling like you don’t have any friends; He is with you when are finding out you are having a miscarriage; He is with you when you are questioning if he really cares; He is with you in EVERY situation!

As I end the first year of grieving I am embracing and looking forward to the second year. The first year has been emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually  exhausting but allowing God into my pain is bringing healing. It is very uncomfortable at times and in the midst of it, I felt I would never get over it or stop feeling so much pain. But I truly feel all the hard work of letting God be with me and speak to me along the way has slowly begun to heal my “wounds.” That is where the exchange of “beauty for ashes” comes in. There is always an exchange if we let God into our healing. And that is the beauty and hope we have in a God. I love what my counselor/mentor said in our session earlier this week, “God can always redeem what was lost.” Life sucks and there is darkness and evil but God can REDEEM and God not only comforts us in our sorrow but he also gives us beauty for ashes. I would like to end with this verse in Isaiah 61:3 of God wanting to give us:

“… a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”

Pebbles or Jewels?

This is a story I wrote in college, I was 21 years old. Back then I wrote it as my process of dealing with being single. I never dated all through high school or college and I was feeling pretty down on myself. Flash forward about 8 years and I was astonished at how this story helped encourage me in my grieving process of losing my husband. I won’t say too much. But I will say that I love how the Father (God) is never in a rush or hurries us. He is so gentle and patient with us. That is what is captured in this story I wrote:

Which Will You Choose: Pebbles or Jewels?

The little girl clenches tightly to the ordinary grey pebbles in her hand. Her father puts his tender, loving hands on her tiny shoulder. He holds out a handful of sparkling, glittering, rainbow-like jewels. Each jewel is glowing so brightly the little girl must use both hands to shield her eyes.
“Let it go,” her father tells her.
“I can’t.”
“I want to give you something better.”
Hurt and wounded tears well up in the girl’s eyes. With her fist still clenching her ordinary grey pebbles, she melts to the ground. “Daddy, I want to trust you. But how can I be sure what you have to offer will last or satisfy? I thought the pebbles I found for myself were jewels but it turned out they weren’t. The more I looked at them the less beautiful they became.” Soft, tender tears begin to fall from her father’s eyes. Ever so gently does he kneel down and lift her head up to his tearful face. As her head is lifted up she begins to weep, uncontrollably.

He quickly embraces his vulnerable precious girl. Both father and daughter weep together as he carefully and slowly rocks her back and forth in his arms. Not long after he begins to quiet her with his love and sing adoringly over her and her broken heart. “Hush, my little one,” her father says as he kisses her tiny little head. “I know and feel your pain more than you know. I am here. Hush. Shh. Trust me. Let me help you heal from your pain,” he whispers in her ear.

The little girl’s crumpled hand slowly unfolds as one small pebble falls from her hand. Her father lifts her to her feet and they begin to walk. And as they walk hand in hand she soon notices in her other hand a bright, glowing jewel in the middle of her ordinary pebbles. How it outshines anything she’s ever beheld! “Don’t worry about the other pebbles,” whispers her father, “they will be replaced later. For now, trust and walk with me.”
-Aimee Gonzaga (Price)

My Journal from April 30, 2015

Recently I feel I have been running into intense feelings I haven’t felt earlier. I have been feeling really angry and really sad and can’t stop crying at times. As I’ve been learning with my counselor/mentor to allow myself to feel those things. The only way to get through this is letting myself feel all I need to feel and to allow God to be “Emmanuel” to me. I have felt so much freedom to pour everything out and invite God to speak and to comfort me at the same time. God cares about helping us heal but he also cares about being with us in the midst of everything. Healing doesn’t always come from taking away something but sometimes it is found in just letting God comfort you in your pain.