You are Grieving Perfectly: You are Choosing to Live

Me in Tahoe Two Years Ago

You are grieving perfectly, just as you are. Even if you’re sobbing and sloppy and inconsolable. You are choosing to live with your loss. You are surviving. And that can be very hard at times.

I wish someone had told me this when I was ten and my mom died. The psychological model then was that if a kid seemed okay after losing a loved one, you just let them be. So I wondered why I couldn’t concentrate on my math homework, and why everything had become so awful, but no one gave me a pass because my mom had died a few months ago.

When George died, I told myself I got to do whatever I wanted or needed to feel better.  It’s just that a lot of my choices were really dumb.  I thought if I looked great and dressed well and got out there and met people, I’d be okay because I was looking and acting okay. But inside I still felt awful, unbearably lonely and guilt-ridden. Somehow I’d drunk the societal Kool-Aid that grieving should look like a self-improvement project.

I’d had a second glass of that sugary maraschino red Kool-Aid  when I thought that dating was a remedy for widowhood. But there is no remedy.

There is only living with the pain and surviving it, day by day, minute by minute.

When you feel like this

Time helps. So do friends and family and meaningful activities (once we have the energy to tackle anything meaningful).  But there is no cure and we don’t have to act like there is.

Our loss is hard enough without anyone telling us how we should be grieving or for how long. When I told people I was a a widow, some seemed to think that meant I was open to advice. We don’t normally tell other grown ups how to live. And I despair to think that folks thought I needed advice because I had become a woman in her own. One of the reasons I stopped dating was because I couldn’t stand one more moron man telling me how I should change my life when he’d never been widowed.

When we suffer a devastating loss, the first question is “How do I keep living?”  For some of us it’s even, “Do I want to keep living?”  Please, say yes, that you do.  That’s my only advice.

And that is where time can help.  My first six months without George I wasn’t sure if I wanted to live, but now, years later, I know that I do.  And sometimes, I can even think that life is pretty good,.  Other times, it’s binge-watching and chocolate cheesecake with all the pillows piled on the bed.

So if you are getting through your loss without being self-destructive, you are grieving well. You are surviving. You are getting yourself through this. And you are honoring what you need to do that.  If you need long hikes in wooded areas (I wish this was me), fantastic.  If it’s checking out for awhile with piles of carrot cake and expensive throw pillows…oh wait, that’s me.

Once when I was talking about a trip I was planning, my yoga teacher  friend said she admired me. I asked what for? She said, “Deciding to live.” I thought my choices were pretty self-indulgent, a vacation I wanted to take to someplace I’d never been.

But I am living. And you are too. Despite the pain. Carry on my friend. And if you want, share what you did to survive your loss.  It may help another griever in pain.

Love, Debbie



  • Nancy says:

    I lost a parent early too, and I think that impacted how I’ve grieved. When I made bad choices early on (getting involved with someone in the hopes of short cutting the grief process), I wised up quickly and saw what I was doing. Grief is hard and who wants to go through it? But over the years what has really led to my healing has been focusing inward and forcing myself to take it easy. TV time with brownies is super therapeutic! And I agree, so much better than bad dates with broken men (the only kind I’ve had the bad luck to find so far). Thanks for your writing and best wishes to all fellow widows!

    • Debbie says:

      Thank you Nancy for the helpful comments. I know losing my mom made me a control freak, but when I lost my husband I knew I was going to grieve as much and as long as I wanted. Whenever I wanted within reason. And yes, the ones I met were broken too. Take care.

  • Gary L. says:

    If we compare everyone we meet to our life partner who is gone, can we ever have any type of fulfilling relationship? I am nearly 10 months into this widowed world to which I never wanted admission. Most days I am beyond self destruction, but still wish the roles had been reversed. Diane and I used to joke that the worst thing in the world would be to be single again. Now I know that was not true. The worst thing is being widowed in that single world. I agree the “helpful advice’ from people who have not lived is getting very old. To either men or women, did you experience unwanted advances from people whom you would have never expected them? I lean on the grieving spouse excuse but know that will last only so long. And how do you address the issue of not being able to give someone what they want or need? I met a wonderful woman, who for some reason is interested in me. We had my first date since Diane died and the attention is flattering, but obviously she wants more than I am capable of giving. Any advice on how to tell someone that you are an amazing person, but are not the person who was my life? Or conversely how to not feel guilty for having a casual relationship? Is there a litmus test for when having a date does not feel like having an extra marital affair? Sorry for rambling, but it is one of those nights when our home feels especially empty and writing is a healthier alternative to most other options.

    • Debbie says:

      Dear Gary, I know what you mean about writing is healthier than other options, it’s why I started a blog. On the unwanted advances, I did use the recent widow excuse a few times. But not being interested, if offered tactfully is a perfectly great answer.

      You don’t have to feel bad for telling someone who’s interested in you, you’re not ready to date and You don’t know when, or even if, you will be. At 9 months widowed, you need offer no excuses or need you at any time. We feel how we feeel. I used the friend rationale with a few guys who liked me but I didn’t feel more for, and it didn’t work. It wound up awkward at some point.

      Casual relationships? Tread with care. It’s sad if one person wants more even if they say they’re okay with casual. If it doesn’t feel right, just tell the lady who is interested it is too soon. Honor how you feel. Take care of yourself, Debbie

  • Tiffeny says:

    I too have joined a yoga class. I’ve also joined a local hiking club, and spend time with friends cooking and learning to paint. I’m trying to keep busy; to fill the giant hole in my life. It’s hard for sure, but my relationship with my husband left me a strong woman. I don’t want to live without him, but I must, so I’m trying my best to be active, safe, and with friends. I do spend a good deal of time alone with my grief too. It’s all about balance, right?

    • Debbie says:

      It is about balance. I’m trying not to spend too much time alone with my iPad. And being with friends is a huge help.I’m impressed by your strength. I’m working on mine. Take care.

  • Terri says:

    Losing my husband was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Cancer turned him from muscular, energetic and handsome to a thin, frail shell, and yet I begged god to not take him as even ill he was the same man I loved. Unbearable gut wrenching grief when he died made me question whether I wanted to live. Going through the motions of everyday life seemed pointless. I doubt I could have survived without the support of friends and family. One thing that surprised me though who was there and who wasn’t. It proved true that grief rewrites your address book. Accept all gifts of support regardless if they are close to you. My out of shape cousins with whom I was not particularly close joined me in pancreatic cancer runs and then continued to call getting me out hiking and on weekend getaways. Now they are two of my best friends. I also expect grief takes longer if you spent substantial with your spouse; if they truly were your best friend. Every moment of everyday was spent considering that person’s feelings, making plans together, laughing, living… and then they are gone. Your entire routine and day to day existence needs to be replaced. Filling up that time in an emotionally satisfying way is the goal. For me, today was deep cleaning the house while listening to ’80’s rock. So many memories of young healthy bodies, energy and good times. So glad I have those memories. Dating at this age seems pointless so not on my to do list. Hang in there all, it gets better. I am glad I am alive.

    • Debbie says:

      I agree on accepting gifts of support whoever they come from. I’m still trying to put a support network together. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and perspective.

  • Betsy says:

    Hi Debbie, it’s me again. I learned how to accept Bob’s passing. He was very sick for a long time. I went to support a girlfriend when her mother needed a port installed for her cancer treatments. While sitting in that waiting room with all those people is when I finally accepted Bob’s passing. He did not want to live with tubes and such. As I looked at all those poor sick people waiting for some sort of artificial means to keep living, the tears came rushing out. I looked. I listened. I cried. Bob would not want to be here like this. That was my aha moment. My acceptance of what was. He was gone. I still love him. I am sad, but I am knowing he is no longer in any pain. Thank you for your kind and heartfelt words.

    • Debbie says:

      Thank you Betsy for sharing your wisdom and your compassion. I too have to be grateful that George is not in pain and that he doesn’t have to live without his brilliant mind intact. I too am sad. Take care and peace and love to you too.