Widows get a lot of advice. I mean, oh so much advice.
While I wouldn’t call all the advice I’ve received good, I’ve been very fortunate in that it has almost all come from a good place. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I was subject to advice from bossy people who didn’t seem too particularly concerned with my well-being. Likewise, only on relatively few occasions have I had to endure a stream of questions from someone who was obviously more interested in hearing all the gory details than in understanding my situation.
However, I realize not everyone shares that same experience. I’ve heard horror stories of widows subjected to others telling them everything from what to do (sell the house!) to how to feel (you should be grateful it was quick!).
Just in case there was ever any doubt: no one gets to say you’re doing this wrong.
There is no guidebook or manual for grieving. We all go through this differently and how dare anyone suggest otherwise.
If you want to wail in the cemetery, you do that.
If you want to laugh over coffee with your friends, you do that.
If you decide to get your Martha Stewart on in the kitchen, you do that.
If you decide to be on a first name basis with the lady working the drive thru lane, you do that.
If you need to stay home and pore over old photo albums every night, you do that.
If you need to get out of the house (and your mind) and hit the library/store/wherever every night, you do that.
Again, no one gets to say you’re doing this wrong.
We talk about phases of grief or the continuum of grief, and you may be a textbook case of one of those or you may be totally different.
Don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel bad. And most of all, don’t stop grieving in the way that helps you heal.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen
That said, this article isn’t permission to simply shut out everyone else. It doesn’t absolve you of your responsibility to try to move forward, particularly if you have children at home who now need their Mom more than ever.
If someone who loves you gently suggests you could benefit from counseling or maybe you should consider getting out of the house more often, they may be seeing something you aren’t. You don’t necessarily have to follow their advice, but you should at least consider it.
There’s a difference between someone trying to dictate how you grieve and someone who is trying to help you through it. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to discern which is which. But it might help to ask the following questions:
- Does this person sincerely care about me?
- Does this person back off when I decline their suggestion?
- Does this person still want to help me even if I don’t use their advice?
If you can answer yes to these three questions, then the person is probably speaking from a place of love. That doesn’t make their suggestion automatically right for you, but again, it might deserve a little more consideration than one from the busybody coworker who is insisting you come to the office potluck because she’s looking to notch a good deed on her belt.
Don’t let your grieving be self-destructive
This all seems a bit contradictory, doesn’t it?
I mean, first I tell you no one gets to say how to grieve and then I tell you to listen to your friends. I understand if you feel like I’m flip-flopping here. But I mean every word.
Yes, no one gets to dictate your timeline and method of grief.
Yes, your friends may actually be able to help you so don’t blow them off.
Grieving people can sometimes turn to self-destructive behavior. I can tell you from experience that retail therapy is real and not simply a punchline. Other people drink, have sex with strangers or quit their jobs on a whim. That’s not every widow, for sure, but certainly it describes some people.
The problem is we don’t realize what we’re doing at the time. I have a closet literally (literally!) packed with 100s of purses, but at the time I was buying them off eBay every night, it never occurred to me that maybe this wasn’t healthy. Likewise, the person who is polishing off a bottle of wine every other night may convince herself that she’s simply dealing with grief in her own way.
We don’t see the damage we’re doing – the damage to our finances, to our bodies, to our souls.
That’s why it’s important to pay attention when someone you love suggests maybe you should try a new approach to your grief. They don’t get to tell you what to do, but they do get to help you avoid mistakes that could cost more on top of what you’ve already lost.