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Finding our new “normal”: Advice from a widow who can relate

How do we come to terms with our new ‘normal’ as we attempt to navigate the great unknown? Like a new piece of clothing, everyone is trying it on and wondering how it will fit. Without a cure for the Coronavirus, life will be in constant flux as we live according to ever-changing societal rules. But there are ways to navigate through and even find some positive outcomes. Six years ago, my world was completely uprooted when I became a 53-year-old widow. I believe my sudden, life-altering experience can help others during this time. 

Many of the emotions that the world is experiencing are not new for widows. We have had to navigate a life-altering new world filled with the loss of a loved one, financial worry, panic, anxiety, rapid change, stress and loneliness. And, like you, we will never be able to go back to ‘normal’. 

We had to accept that life was forever changed. In fact, accepting this new reality is the first giant step forward. Like every situation, it is how we handle the setbacks, confusion and stress that will determine our outcome. So, here’s some advice from a widow who has been forced to throw out my entire wardrobe and put on the new clothes life chose for me.

1. We are all navigating through the same storm, yet our boats are very different. Although we all were faced with the same pandemic, we each had our own set of distinctive circumstances – before and during – that will determine how to best move forward. There is no shortage of ‘expert’ opinions; but, only you can determine your best course. 

When I became a widow, everyone wanted to help and provide guidance. Friends, family and fellow widows all believed they knew what was best for me. Although I appreciated the input and attempted to follow much of the advice provided, it was best when I accepted that only I could captain my boat.

Similarly, although we all experienced Covid together, we had our own exclusive waters to navigate. The ongoing input from news reports, friends and social media can be overwhelming. The truth is what others may not work for you. And, given that this is novel for all, there is no set plan. Do what feels right for you. If it isn’t working, turn your ship around and maneuver differently.

2. You are not in control & that’s ok. Much will remain out-of-our control as we face the reality of our new lives. Uncertainty is the new norm. As we begin to get comfortable, chances are things will continue to change as new information regarding the virus continues to throw us into new directions. It’s vital to accept that life may never be as it was and it will continue to spiral for some time to come. 

As a widow, my life veered very far off course. I had never planned for this and there was nothing I could do to maintain the life and future I envisioned. Fighting to control my life only set me on a spinning downward spiral with negative emotions and regret. It takes time and practise to accept that our situation has changed and it is very much beyond our control. News flash! It’s time to accept the harsh reality that some things are going to continue to change.

3. Appreciate the ‘new’ you. You are no longer the same person that you were a few months ago. All difficult challenges naturally create change and provide an opportunity for growth.

Every new experience brings change. Surprisingly, navigating life as a widow has been life-changing for my inner growth. I became a better version of me once I accepted that I must grow to survive. I’ve had to dig down deep and although I am still a work in progress, I am proud of who I have become. 

Accept change. During Corvid, we have had to carry on with our lives amidst great uncertainty and anxiety. Many have volunteered time, money or served in potentially dangerous work environments. Some had to learn to survive alone and others have lost employment or even loved ones. These challenges have changed us. Take time to discover the new you. What are some new or better pieces you can incorporate into your old self?

4. Tomorrow will get easier. No matter how awful and uncomfortable today is, tomorrow will get a little easier as we accept the ‘new normal’.

Some days are really hard. Things are spinning and changing and we don’t want this. It’s ok. Breathe. Tomorrow will be better. You can do this.

So here’s a secret. Some days are so challenging for widows that we put the blankets over our head and hope no one will realize we can’t get out of bed. We don’t want to accept our new life. We want it to go away. The hard reality is our lives have changed and there is nothing we can do to get it back to the old way.

Just remind yourself that you must get through today, and tomorrow will be a little bit easier. Day-by-day, moment-by-moment – we learn to adjust and adapt. And, we can also take time out and hide under the covers or in a closet if privacy is impossible.

5. Reach out. It’s ok to admit you need help. We are going through very challenging times and it’s no surprise if you need to call a friend. We all need to feel connected and sometimes that means a hug (even if it’s a cyber hug).

Initially, help came to me from those who were in my inner circle of friends and family. But I quickly realized that these wonderful people could not fully grasp what I was going through regardless of how much they tried. So, I developed a valuable support network of recent widows that proved helpful for that moment in time. As the years passed, I have collected a network of people who I can reach out to for support. Mostly, I turn to my dog for unconditional love.

These are not normal times and none of us have travelled this path before. So, reach out to others for support. Find a friend, colleague, neighbour, work buddy, online group… whatever works for you. There are many organizations available to provide guidance during the pandemic if you feel you could use more professional support. Don’t be embarrassed. Asking for support is the greatest gift you can give yourself.

6. Be still. Being overly busy is a coping mechanism many use to run away from problems. In order to process this frightening new world it is healthy to allow yourself some self-love and reflection. Take time for you. Bathe, meditate or sit by a fire… Do whatever you need to soak in the new reality and prepare to conquer. 

After I lost my husband, sleep became a challenge for me. I did not want to quiet my brain and give it the opportunity to confront my grief. I now understand that we need stillness to move ourselves forward. Being stuck is not an option.

7. Create rituals. We are all in a state of sorrow mourning a lost life we had taken for granted a few months ago. Creating a ritual is nothing new. Cultural and religious rituals are everywhere. There is actually scientific proof that these rites can help fend off some of the sadness. Perhaps it’s a photo of a loved one that you kiss each morning or a favourite vacation destination recreated in your home. The ritual can be as silly or emotional as you decide. The goal is to complete the ritual and allow it to add some positivity into your life. 

My family and I have created many rituals to honour my late husband. These include eating some of his favourite foods and sitting in his seat during family celebrations. It helps us to keep his memory alive and replace the sadness with joy.

You are more resilient than you thought. Look at you. Look at all the stress you have endured in just a few short months. You can do this.

One thing I can guarantee is that life does not go according to plan. Only you have the power to decide how you will handle uncertainty. I hope you chose to find joy, stay healthy and continue positive growth during times of unrest. You are resourceful, creative and whole – you can do this!

Susan has been a widow for 6 long years. She currently studies coaching at Co-Active Leadership Training (CTI) and is the proud mother of three married children & grandmother to five. Susan lives in Toronto with her dog and hopes to be travelling again soon. Recently she has begun evolve for widows, an online community support group for widows who are ready to live their best life. 

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