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Post-Widowhood: Reinventing Your Future

Post-Widowhood: Reinventing Your Future

| July 24, 2018
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Reinvention: It’s not easy.

When your spouse dies, so does the future that the two of you planned together. You’re overwhelmed by the grief, newfound responsibilities, tangle of emotions and resulting exhaustion that so often accompany widowhood. And now you’re also tasked with reinventing yourself and reimagining a future that no longer includes your partner by your side as the two of you realize shared hopes and dreams.

As a widow myself, I can personally attest to just how long and hard this journey to a meaningful and rewarding new life can be. But I can also attest to the fact that it can be an amazing and liberating one as well. I can’t help comparing the process to a caterpillar’s metamorphosis.

Reinvention: It is natural.

Science tells us that in transforming to a butterfly, the caterpillar basically digests itself using hormone-triggered enzymes. Only then can stem-cell-like sleeping cells grow into body parts for the future flutterer. It’s a rough, lengthy transition, but the beautiful butterfly outcome sure seems worth it.

Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed 3-step or 5-step or even million-step program for going from caterpillar to butterfly after the death of a spouse. But eventually, you will achieve readiness to explore, reimagine and reinvent yourself and your life. What’s more, there are a few tips that my personal experience, as well as my work with widowed clients (not to mention my study of human responses to life-altering change), tell me might make the journey a little easier:

Get to know you.

Now that it’s just you, you have both the freedom and the necessity to do so. You might start by asking yourself a few simple questions like these: 

  • What matters to me most?
  • When do I feel happiest and most energized?
  • Whom am I with and what am I doing during those times?

Consider keeping a journal of your thoughts, feelings, and dreams (recorded honestly without judgment) or starting a Pinterest page. Patterns and themes that emerge can help you make plans and set boundaries (financial and otherwise) as you consider the direction you want your life to take now. Keep in mind that it’s perfectly okay if those plans and boundaries differ from the ones you and your late spouse envisioned together. 

Circle your wagons.

Some say that widowhood is a time when friends become strangers and strangers become friends. It’s true. You and your late spouse’s “couple” friends may quietly distance themselves from you now that you’re just one. Other friends who haven’t been where you are simply don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. But widowhood is a time that’s too lonely to let yourself be truly alone. Consider seeking the support of other widows. Having traveled the road you’re on, they can help you find the strength to see hope and possibility in the distance.

Get on your mark, get set, grow.

As you slowly gain/regain your self-awareness, confidence and strength, be open to paths that you have never before considered. There’s no harm in listening, asking questions, imagining and exploring – as long as you take your time before making any irreversible decisions. Social worker, author, and widow (at age 33) Kirstin Meekhoff recommends asking yourself one key question as you explore new possibilities for your life: "Is this going to expand my growth or restrict it?" It seems like a great benchmark for differentiating a rewarding odyssey from a dead-end.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

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