My first 6 months of widowhood
I've been a bit quiet on the blog front for the last few weeks whilst I've been setting up the foundations of a business that I hope in time will provide me the perfect work life balance for still achieving my career aspirations at the same time as being the best solo parent I can be for Molly. I've also been trying to concentrate a bit on self care and figuring out how to look after myself better since I learnt that some chest and arm pains that I'd been suffering with and thought were a heart problem were actually anxiety related and I suppose the impacts of a broken heart and dealing with grief rather than anything more sinister.
But, with it being nearly 6 months since Lauren passed away, I really wanted to write a piece about the first 6 months of widowhood, my journey with grief so far and will even be nodding to a song from Frozen 2 that helps explain the feelings. I'm hoping that sharing this will help normalise the feelings of others that might be fighting their way through similar situations. So here it goes...
For the first month I could almost break it down into a daily view on the way that I felt it changed so frequently. It started off very dark, I'd lost the love of my life, the mother of my child, my hopes for the future and it felt as though anything positive for my life died the same day that Lauren did. But, it did change when I realised that the way I was reacting was having a direct impact on how Molly viewed the situation, I recognised that no matter how much I wanted life to freeze (ideally go backward) it wasn't going to happen, Molly needed me, there were arrangements that needed to be made and practical things to deal with and I managed to pull myself together enough to survive each day. I was surrounded by love and support but felt desperately alone, it didn't matter what anybody said or did I just felt isolated and like nobody could comprehend what I was going through. Nothing offered me an ounce of comfort, I felt empty, lost and the only meaningful conversations I was having were with a fellow widow that had connected with me just before Lauren passed away.
By the time we'd gotten to September Lauren's funeral had passed and Molly had gone back to pre-school. I remember dropping her on that first day back and then just completely breaking down in the car on the way home. Molly was so central to my ability to cope, because being strong for her was literally getting me through everyday. By this point it still didn't feel real that Lauren wasn't here and I was finding the times that were the biggest struggle, were those couple of hours just after the school run and then in the evenings when Molly had gone to bed. The loneliness was crippling, it was these times when Molly was either at school or in bed that Lauren and I would get to be a couple and these times that I found the most tormenting in month 2 and probably ever since, I've just found better ways to distract myself. I started binging boxsets and trying to find things that would take my mind off of it, but nothing really worked.
Moving in to month 3 I was starting to find that I could get through longer periods of time without being intensely emotional, the feelings never left me, I think I just got better at numbing them, in fact in hindsight I probably was putting on too much of a brave face most of the time. It was at this point I noticed that Molly started to talk more about her Mum, in fact she caught me off guard one day with the comment 'I need a new Mummy', which was her way of telling me that she missed her Mum and everything that she did for her. Comments like these ones are the hardest to deal with because you're heart breaks twice, once for yourself and again for your child/ children. It was at this point that I'd realised that speaking to those that had also lost their partners at a young age might be a good source of comfort or at the very least an outlet to people who'd truly understand, so I joined the charity Widowed & Young. Toward the end of October we went on our first holiday without Lauren, going on a trip to Cyprus to celebrate Lauren's Mum's milestone birthday. It was on this holiday that I learnt the importance of leaning into the hard times, I dreaded the holiday, Lauren loved her holidays and I knew it would be tough to try and enjoy one without her. But, as difficult as it was and despite the tears I shed whilst we were away, I also found that by actually going on the holiday rather than cancelling and as such not avoiding the pain, I was able to have moments of joy too! I came away from the holiday feeling like I'd actually had a really nice time, which I didn't think was possible.
November arrived and I'd started to realise that Molly and I had been spending too much time away from home, almost running away from the situation, keeping ourselves busy and trying to fill our time by visiting family. The country went into another lockdown and I decided I would use this one as a chance to get Molly back into a routine and to force myself to spend more time at home, cooking proper meals and getting our lives back to some form of normality. It was important for us both. By then I was living the majority of the time okay, I still felt like I was living just for Molly and really just going through the motions to get through each day, but I'd started offering my support to other widows, just as an ear and champion perspective spinner which helped to give me a little more purpose as I felt I was doing something positive with my time.
I entered December and the pressure of Molly's first birthday since her mum died, Christmas, which was Lauren's favourite time of the year and everything that comes with it was weighing heavy on me. I'd just started this blog and was using it as an outlet for me and to try and help others, I'm not particularly good at speaking about my vulnerabilities but writing seems to help. Looking back at our holiday to Cyprus, I tried to remember those things I'd learnt and leaned into the festivities, trying to make it as special as I could for Molly. My counselling started and I have to say, having that outlet on a weekly basis has proved really valuable to me and I'm learning things about myself all of the time, my counsellor is teaching me coping techniques and grounding techniques to help in times of heightened emotions and the importance of self compassion. Since Lauren had been re-diagnosed I'd been suffering with chest and arm pains, but also being an emotional eater and having horrendous eating habits I worried that I'd caused myself a heart problem. Having never suffered with poor mental health and anxiety before and also feeling as though I was coping okay made me worry even more about my heart, so I decided to visit the doctors. Following an x-ray, ECG and blood tests it turns out that my chance of a heart problem in the next 10 years is less than 1%. So, all of those pains I'd been feeling were related to stress and anxiety. Who knew that your body could be more in tune with your emotions than your mind!
Over Christmas and New Year, I stayed with Lauren's parents for 10 days, that 10 days actually showed me how much I'd been struggling for the last 4 months. Having their support with Molly, their company in the evenings and just not feeling so alone was a real relief from what I'd been going through without even realising how hard just coping had been.
Moving into the new year and with all the things I'd started to understand about my mental health, the support I needed and for the first time being able to look a little further into the future, I decided to slow things down a little. To give myself the space to feel what I needed to feel and build more barriers into my life that would give me some time to switch off. I'd also decided that in order to have the most control over my time in the future I needed to work for myself and have spent the month setting up a marketing consultancy. If i'm honest about where I am in month 6, it still feels as though I am living for Molly, but I am starting to feel as though there are things that I can put in place that will be for me too. Grief is still hard and at times pins me to the floor and I cannot seem to pick myself up, but it happens a lot less frequently. One of the things my counsellor has shared with me is Tonkins Model of Grief and it really does make a lot of sense.
At first grief completely fills our life, or biscuit jar as I like to call it in my new analogy. It is the biggest, nastiest, bad tasting biscuit you could imagine, but as time goes by your life grows around it, you get bigger biscuit jars. It means that when you reach into your life that bad biscuit is still there, it's still just as big and nasty, but there is room in you jar for nicer biscuits too. Hopefully in time with the room that's created in your life you'll start to place some nice chocolate dipped, double choc chip cookies in your jar. It'll still be possible to reach in and grab the grief biscuit, but you just won't grab it as frequently.
Big events in the first 6 months
I've listed these because I want to show that despite how hard these are and the firsts seem to be excruciatingly painful (I'll let you know about the seconds), you can get through them. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that it is actually possible to enjoy them, by not shying away from them, by not wishing they would disappear and allowing yourself to feel the pain that comes with them, it means you actually get to experience the moments of joy they have to offer too.
Molly going back to pre school
First holiday without Lauren
Visit to Father Christmas
A summary of the first 6 months of widowhood
Being entirely honest about the first 6 months of being a widow, it sucks! Nobody would choose to be in this situation, but, you can survive it. The Tonkin Model of grief, shows us that our grief doesn't get any smaller, that actually contrary to popular opinion, time is not a healer in the slightest, however, in time we learn to build our lives around our grief and just don't trip over it as frequently. In general I live okay on a day to day basis and just being okay is a significant downgrade from the happiness I felt when my family was complete and there are still days/ moments/ periods of time that my grief gets a hold of me and my anxiety rises and it feels horrendous (in fact the week I am writing this it has floored me more than once), but the moments pass and we make it through day by day.
So if there is one thing I can share with anybody that is going through a rough spot, or maybe just starting out on the altered version of their life that is widowhood. Then it's hang in there, just get through the days one at a time and allow yourself to feel the way you need to feel to get through, do so without guilt, criticism and as cliched as it might sound, be kind to yourself.
At the start I promised a nod to a song from Frozen 2 and at the risk of entirely emasculating myself here it is. The song the Next Right thing features when Anna feels as though Elsa has gone forever, her world is crumbling around her and actually I find the first part of the song quite a tough listen. But it does a great job of explaining how grief feels and how to get through it you just have to break it down to one decision at a time, one day at a time and just concentrate on doing the next right thing.
Thanks for reading and being a part of our journey!