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.”

August 9, 2015: Reflections and Next Steps After Letting God Comfort You

I am coming up really close to the one year mark of Ben being dead for a year. I wish I could have journaled more because I feel I have learned and grieved so much. Also, a lot has happened since my last entry in July. So, I thought I would just type bullet point paragraphs of what I have learned and experienced this first year:

  1.  I am not sure what the second year of grieving will hold but I do know that this first year of grieving has included many raw emotions. There have been many weddings, bridal showers, and parties I have wanted to go to, and I was able to go to some,  but most the time my emotional grief has been too much at times. Not, that I am trying to ignore or run from seeing people but my heart can only handle so much at times. Going back into social circles is very painful. It is painful to see all my friends with their healthy husbands, or friends that I had planned to have my second kid around the same time with, or seeing my friends being loved on by their husbands or significant others. I am happy for them but my heart grieves and misses being loved and being with my best friend.
  2. One of the first parts of my grieving was to just let whatever I was feeling OUT! Whether that was sadness, anger, frustration, confusion, ect. But the most important part to that process was letting God be WITH me (Emmanuel) in that process. Like I mentioned in my previous post, it doesn’t exactly “fix” the hurt or replace the person we are grieving, it is letting our needs be met and cared for. The reason I needed to let God into my grief is because number one, my emotions matter and being cared for and comforted is something God wants and longs to do. Number two, when I grieve with Jesus I give him an open door to speaking to me and to see the situation more clearly. He is able to see the whole picture, I can only see part of it.
  3. The second big half of my healing is learning how to praise him after I have worked through my emotions.  I think so many times I have read and seen first hand that when people’s loved ones die they try to bypass all the pain or sadness and go straight to praising God or seeing the positive. While it is good to praise God or see the positive it is ESSENTIAL to give ourselves the freedom to feel the negative FIRST. I think David, from the Bible, was a man after God’s own heart not because he had everything together or was happy all the time, he was a man after God’s own heart because he was not afraid to be HONEST and REAL with God with how he was feeling. In Psalms 13, 22, 35, 42 and many other Psalms, David is BRUTALLY  honest with God. He does not try to hide his anger, depression, or mixed emotions instead he pours EVERYTHING out to Him and works it out with God. David’s outcome of working through his emotions is PRAISE. We cannot go and should not go straight to praise and bypass our negative emotions or stuff them because if we do that our praise is not sincere and seems forced. Why would God give us “negative” emotions if we cannot express them? I think God wants us to be thankful people but as I Peter 5:7 says he ALSO wants us to “Cast our burdens” onto Him “because he CARES for you.”
  4. Once we begin to praise God we can then see where he working. A beautiful thing about death is what can come out of it if we let God into our healing. God can take the ugly and broken and mourning, and turn it into something beautiful and whole and joyful. I feel like God has taken so much away. He has taken away my husband, the father to my child, my best friend, and all my hopes and dreams I had with him. But very slowly I have bravely asked, “Ok, Lord I have grieved and I have poured my heart out to you and I have let you comfort and speak to me in my sorrow. Now, where are you? Where are you working? What are you speaking to me now?”He has responded. He has given me new dreams.

When my husband was alive I enjoyed doing art projects and anything artsy with him for the church and for people around us. We dreamed of one day doing it as a couple for a job and a ministry. Once he died I was sad I didn’t have anyone to dream or share that with anymore. But this year God has, in a way, taken me back to before I was even married and I had dreams of using drama for a ministry. Long story short I went to an Urbana missions conference when I was a high school senior back in 2003 where I was inspired to use drama for a ministry and to one day even be on the Urbana drama team as well. I started off as a Theatre ministry major at Hope International University but ended up graduating with a bachelors in Liberal Arts and concentration in Children’s Ministry instead. From there took online classes at community colleges to become a preschool teacher and have enjoyed teaching but my first love was always drama. Once Ben died I was given the opportunity to be a part of the Urbana 2015 performing arts team. It has been like going back in time to where I was about 10 years ago and faced with the same choice of either going after finding a career/ job in drama or choosing something that is more stable. This season, because I have the freedom to do either I am wanting to go after drama this time. It’s like getting a second chance and I feel I don’t want to let that chance pass me up again. Not that I regret teaching because I think God can use everything we experience to build on the future or the different seasons in our lives, but  I am sure of the tugging in my heart to pursue my first love again. I don’t know what God will do with my drama passion being re-ignited but I have already talked and gotten counsel from many people and have gotten many ideas that I believe are directing me to something. And I also hope to one day find someone ( a husband) to share in my dream of arts ministry too. But that is another dream that will have to wait for now I guess. Right now, I am so excited for this new chapter of my life of God exchanging “beauty for ashes.”

July 6, 2015: Journal Reflections Of Letting God Comfort You

Now that Ben is gone I truly feel I can raise Zeke by myself with all the help of my great community of friends and family. Family is not lost, it is re-defined. Family is not broken it is mended and healed slowly in time. Zeke has my dad who is becoming like a father to him and so many other great men in his life.

Although in the midst of all the love I feel, I feel so alone. Family can be re-defined and mended and healed but the love between a husband and wife cannot be duplicated. I miss going on dates. I miss all the sweet things he would say when I was having a bad day. I miss going to the park with Ben and Zeke on the weekends. The last year of his life we could not be intimate for many reasons but I remember I still loved even the smell and presence of Ben being with me.

It’s so easy to just plow through cancer or hard times and just ignore the bad feelings or suppress the pain you feel so you don’t have to think about it or have to deal with the grief you feel as you watch someone you love slowly deteriorate. Ben and I, and my parents were fortunate enough to have such a great inner healing counselor/mentor that helped us through the most difficult times of our lives. However, choosing to go deep and choosing to wrestle through it ALL has taken a toll on my body mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Healing from a loved one’s death is not something that can be achieved quickly it happens over time. Everyone “grieves differently” but not everyone finds healing.

It has been very difficult to sift and wade through all the different waves of emotions I feel. The simplest things can trigger memories of good and bad of Ben. Sometimes it can be a song on the radio or someone randomly singing on the street that reminds me of him. Sometimes it can be seeing a couple laughing or hugging or kissing. Sometimes it can be having to overhear my friends talking about their weddings or dates or anniversaries. In those moments I have learned to not suppress what I’m feeling but to just let the tears come. I believe one of the most missed parts to healing is letting God just sit with you in your sadness or whatever you may be feeling. Feelings are a good thing because it indicates where our hearts are or where they are breaking. And it is those weak and vulnerable moments God wants to grieve with us and comfort us. When we let him into those moments we not only give room to comfort but we give room to healing. It is not a healing that fixes or replaces a loved one but healing of having our needs attended to and cared for. And having our needs be attended to and cared for is one of the first steps to the long journey of healing.

Everyone Deserves A Pom Pom

I wrote this from Zeke’s future 5-year-old perspective. I gleaned off of what my dad already does with Zeke. I hope to publish this one day. I want to write books like this for kids and their families. It’s not on it’s final final draft but thought I would share what I have so far. Also, take note of how the grandpa loves his grandson. I also wrote this to demonstrate how God loves us. The Father I learned about growing up is so different from the one I’m learning about during this cancer journey. God the Father loves us like Pom Pom does and so much more. Enjoy!
I love my grandpa! I call him Pom Pom for short. When I was really really little, a long time ago, like 2 years old, I called him that because I didn’t know how to say Grandpa.
My grandpa and I do all sorts of things together. He likes to put me on his shoulders and make me as tall as the sky. He reads funny books to me and he is so silly when he reads.
You know how most grandmas like to garden? Well my Pom Pom likes to garden. He lets me pick the ripe tomatoes off the tree. Ripe means it’s ready to come off. Pom Pom taught me that.
Pom Pom also let’s me follow him with my own lawn mower as he cuts the grass. I want to be just like him when I grow up.

My dad mowing the lawn and my son wanting to copy him.
My dad mowing the lawn and my son wanting to copy him.

This week in class we are learning about families. My teacher asked the whole class to bring in pictures of their families to put on the bulletin board. I noticed I was the only kid who didn’t have a dad. My mommy told me that my dad got really sick when I was only one years old. He had cancer, the really bad kind that no one can fix. Mommy said he wanted to be with us but he was too sick to come back. Mommy says he lives in the sky with Jesus. She also says Jesus takes good care of dad and that Jesus loves us too.
I don’t remember my dad very much because he went to be with Jesus when I was 2. That was a long long long time ago. I’m five years old now.
My mommy shows me pictures of him and I can tell he loved me. He always had a big smile on his face when he held me when I was little. I can tell my mommy and daddy really loved each other too. Sometimes my mom reads cards that him and my mom wrote to each other. They always say nice things like, “I love you” or my dad would say my mom was beautiful.
I wish I could have known my daddy more. Everyone tells me how funny he was, or how kind he was, or how much he loved me. It makes mommy sad to talk about about him sometimes. If you get up really close you can see tears inside her eyes but they don’t come out. She is happy to tell me about him. She says I may not have a dad but I have Pom Pom who does stuff with me like my dad would have done if he were alive. My mom says my dad wanted to teach me how to play baseball.
Pom Pom takes me to the park and teaches me how to play baseball. He doesn’t mind that I can’t catch the ball or throw it very far. He says he is just happy to be with me and gives big hugs if I mess up.
I told my friend Jason about all the fun things my Pom Pom and I do together and my friend Jason said he wished he had a dad or a grandpa that did those kinds of things with him. Jason says his dad is always gone on business trips far away. And when he is home he talks on the phone and tells Jason not to bother him because he’s busy. I think that would make me sad to have a dad that doesn’t pay attention to me.
I told him maybe Pom Pom could take us both to the park to play baseball or do something fun. Jason was really excited when I said that and wants to ask his mom if that’s ok.

Some day I want to be a dad and I want to teach my son what a ripe tomato is, or how to mow the lawn, or how it’s ok to mess up when you play baseball. And I want to tell him what my Pom Pom always tells me. He tells me that, I don’t have to do anything to make him love me. Even if I disobey him or do something really really bad like tell a lie, he might be sad, but that won’t make him love me any less.

It makes me sad to think of kids like Jason who don’t have dad’s or grandpa’s who love them like Pom Pom loves me. I just hope they have someone who loves them no matter what, because everyone deserves to be loved like that.