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cookiejarpoor widow headerBy Carol Scibelli

My life was sweet like a chocolate chip cookie, yet I admit I didn’t savor it until something very bad happened, and then my days were filled with stale saltine crackers. “Come back chocolate chips!” I’d yell to the cookie jar. “I promise to take small bites and chew slowly.”

Let me lose this cookie analogy and be clearer. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate my husband until he was gone. All right, maybe I didn’t...fully. I just expected life would go on as it had ending with both of us 90 years old and dying as we lived; I’d croak in the chair at my beauty salon and Jimmy would peacefully slip away asleep on the couch as he dreamt of a younger version of me, having sex with a younger version of him.

Our kids would tearfully say, “They loved each other so much one couldn’t live without the other.” Not to poo-poo their movie version, but let’s face it, statistically speaking, at 90, to simply wake up each morning with or without your mate is iffy. Planning ahead at that age is It’s nine o’clock. Should we watch the 10:00 o’clock news?

So, here I am, a widow decades under 90, but just as anyone who has lost a parent or a child or a best friend we are heartbroken but our shelf life continues; our expiration date is written in a cloud somewhere and unknown to us. We’ve got to go on and now we’re wise enough to savor the cookies along the way. Aren’t we?

I don’t need more than a few seconds to answer this. Yes. I’ve learned to appreciate what I have and not dwell on what I’ve lost. I know this because I experience joy often, especially when my granddaughters rush into my arms. The hours with them are magical although, I am acutely aware that in my near future is a goodbye hug, a quiet car ride home and a glass or two or three of Cabernet.

We struggle to find ways to adjust. Some of us slip into our new life with less effort than others. Recently, at a widow conference, a speaker, widowed two years, told the group that as she was having sex with her boyfriend, she thought she heard her late husband’s voice, “NOW, you’re interested?” The crowd laughed, of course, but it was also sad because she still had one foot in her old life; something we all know is a stage on our way to being so called ‘adjusted.’

My husband died nine years ago so it’s been a while since I experienced the official five stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler Ross first proposed in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.

The first year or so I went through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I actually experienced some of these stages twice by mistake. That could have had something to do with my bad sense of direction. Oh, no! ! I’m feeling angry again? Am I going backwards?

I may have even invented a new stage. If Elizabeth Kubler Ross was alive today I’m convinced she would tack it on as stage number six. I call it. “I know that my husband would want me to have that leather jacket.”

Does adding a stage make me an overachiever? Who knows? But the fantastic journalist and spiffy dresser Diane Sawyer’s quote helped me to understand the secret to living well after loss. Long before her husband passed away she said, “There is no substitute for paying attention.”

Hearing this, I perked up like a hunting dog and paid attention to how I might apply this to my life. Then I compiled the following list. By simply paying attention to other people’s ‘stuff’ I felt smaller and less important. It turned out that being gracious is the secret to making our life and the lives of our loved ones more fulfilling.

7 Ways to Grieve Graciously or How to Avoid Being “Poor Widow Me”

1. At gatherings with family and friends it’s our place to raise a glass and toast to our loved one and acknowledge that empty chair. Other people might be afraid that hearing his/her name would upset us. It’s up to us to let them know we’re comfortable reminiscing.

Make sure there’s alcohol in that glass and we must finish it!

2. Assume that people mean well. Just because they haven’t been in touch doesn’t mean they’re not thinking of us. Haven’t you ever thought about reaching out to someone and you never did? It didn’t mean you didn’t care.

Also, the more understanding we are the more guilt they’ll feel.

3. People who rattle off thoughtless comments have no clue how insensitive and moronic they sound. Just shake it off. Don’t call them on it.

And/or don’t call them at all!

4. On our loved one’s birthday or their death anniversary instead of allowing others to take us out we could round up those who have been the kindest to us throughout the year and make dinner for them in our home.

• If we’re a lousy cook it might be more considerate to take them out to dinner. 

• We could hand had our credit card beforehand to the maître de or waiter to ensure that no one else picks up the check.

To avoid a hefty bill, it’s wise not to let our guests see us do this and it’s even more wise to encourage them to fill up on bread.

5. Be aware that others miss them too. Simply say, “I know you miss him/her, too.”

Try not to blurt out “But not as much as I do.”

6. As soon as we’re able to we ought to take back a holiday or occasion that we routinely hosted.

If we always hated to do it, now we’re off the hook forever!

7. Admit that people grieving are difficult to read. We flip flop. For example, if no one calls us on a significant day we feel slighted but if someone does call, we pretend we’re fine.

They hang up wondering, “She’s okay. Why did I even bother to call?

As soon as I made the decision to go to bed each night and wake up every morning grateful for the blessings in my life, like magic, I seemed to attract more blessings.

About that same time, I bought a bigger cookie jar.

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