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On the day I spoke my wedding vows, there were two things I did not expect. I didn’t expect that “in sickness” would come so early on in our marriage and I did not expect to become a young widow, less than eight years after saying I do.

Life is full of the unexpected. In the years since I first tried to wrap my head around the shift from wife to widow, I’ve learned a lot – a lot about me and a lot about life. Today, as we mark International Widows Day, three things stand out:

  1. Listen to your heart. It will help you find your way. It was my heart and my intuition that guided me through my darkest hours to the other side. This doesn’t mean you have to figure it out yourself. There are many avenues for support and ways to identify resources to help you. Grief counseling, art therapy, bodywork, coaching, and more can support you through the process. Experiment with a few different approaches and see what fits your needs best.
  1. You are number one. When dealing with grief and the loss of a partner, you need to put yourself first. You get to be the expert in your grieving process. No one else can tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing or by when you should be “over it”. Identify your needs – ask yourself, ‘what do I need right now to nurture my mind, body, and soul?’ It’s not about being selfish. It is about recognizing grief can eat up your energy. The further along in the healing process you are, the more energy you will have to be able to prioritize others and take on more.
  1. Believe that your loved one would want you to find happiness again…and that it is possible. It’s not uncommon for guilt to hold us back from moving toward happiness again. I remember hearing myself laugh for the first time after my late husband died and immediately judging myself for being able to laugh at something when he was no longer living. Thankfully, he had shared his wishes to a mutual friend who wrote me a beautiful letter imparting them to me after Gary’s death.Gary told our friend directly that if things didn’t work out as Gary hoped, he would want me to go on and be happy again. It was like getting a hall pass I could show guilt anytime it showed up. Even if your loved one didn’t have the opportunity to communicate a message like this, imagine what you would want for them if the roles were reversed. You would want the best, right? Therefore, it is highly likely they would hope for you to get up on your feet and, when you were ready, be open to being loved again, to laugh fully again, to live fully again.

As we honor widows today, let’s also consider all those who lose partners and must go on without them. Widows, widowers, significant others, life partners – no matter what we label the role, the loss of a loved one takes our breath away and marks the death of hopes, wishes, and dreams.

Grief is grief. Loss is loss. Love is love. Be love – to yourself and to others who must journey the often lonely path of learning to walk forward in life without the love of their life. Be love.

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