1. Always, always have a tissue nearby. It doesn’t matter what the occasion or where I am, if I need to cry, I’m going to cry. All the time. For no particular reason. Or maybe it’s for a small reason, like I was cleaning under our bed and his shoes are still there! And they always will be.

2. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should be “over mourning by now.” No matter how much time has passed. A new friend of mine, who I met through my daughter, lost her husband at the age of 31, with a two year old daughter. She told me that someone said to her, after only a few months, that she should be done grieving. But how could she possibly process that loss after a few months? What most people fail to realize is that you never stop grieving. It might get easier to deal with in time, but that person that you lost never completely leaves you. And you love just as hard at age 25, 40, or in my case, 61. Age does not define the depth of your love.

3. Bargain if you have too! I know this sounds silly, but I can remember countless times when I needed my husband for something silly and small, I’d turn to him and he’d fix it. My thing seems to be flashlights. Some might think it’s overkill, but I keep one in every room – not even just for my own safety, but to see the buttons and switches on the tv, stereo, or to look in a closet. Seems I’m on flashlight #2 that I can’t get the batteries out of! I’m not inept at this stuff, so I think my husband is messing with me. So, for something so silly, I bargain with a neighbor. I give him a meal and my flashlight, and he fixes it for me. There are always more than enough leftovers, so share the wealth for free problem solving. You both benefit.

4. Take everything someone says with a deep breath and think about it. I’m still going through my loss, but life moves on not just for me but for everyone. Those that are in your circle know you just had this big loss, but they don’t think about it the way you do. For instance: My neighbors were having some trees cut down. I also need some cut down. But they both work full time, I’m the only one that’s retired and spends most of the time in my house right now. My neighbor meant to be helpful in telling me what it was costing him and what it would cost me, but I have to budget differently now. I have no husband to bounce things off of, to lean on with big dollar decision making. I said to him “Remember I’m the only income now.” And he replied, “Well, my wife is down to 20 hours a week due to Covid.” But the point for me here is: You still have “her.” I no longer have a “him.” But he meant well, and didn’t realize what he said. You take everything people say differently and that’s okay, just don’t let it escalate or you’re going to be told you’re bonkers and need help. They don’t understand your loss like you.

5. I’ll deal with it eventually! That means everything. I’ll clean when I feel motivated, I’ll cut the grass when I feel like it, and so on. Right now, I lost the guy who used to rally me. If there was something I set out to do, he’d encourage me, and so in my mind, completing that task would make him happy. And that’s the bottom line, making someone else happy. I’m not saying I can’t be selfish and do it for me, but if it was important to him, I did it. Now, I do everything with him in mind and how he would pat me on the back when it was done. I was fortunate enough to have a husband that told me everything I did was a good job, even if I thought otherwise. So, whatever you gotta do – do it when it suits you.

6. Keep pushing forward, no matter what. I’m taking 3 trips this year – small, but still some nice getaways. These were planned for us to go together on. I know he’ll still “be there,” and while I will miss having him with me physically, but I don’t let it even cross my mind that I’m not entitled to get away. If anything, I feel more entitled! After all, look around – neighbors, friends, and family that are couples are getting away together, they’re planning cookouts together, going to dinner together. I will be with him there… together… but in a different way.

7. Keep the line of communication open to the one you lost. I ask my husband all the time what I should do, help me make a decision, to get me through this, and somehow, he does. His voice in my head gives me clarity and I hear him tell me to remember the things we talked about. Most importantly, things that were on our list. “The list” has now become a familiar term with me and our kids. They now get that there was always an ongoing list and a plan. Others may not know this, but I do and I choose to keep following the “list.” After all, when he was by my side, this was our list, it’s still our list. But only I know that.

8. Play your hand… the widow/widower card. After all, how many times has someone said, “We’re newlyweds,” “I just graduated,” “it’s my birthday,” and someone does something nice for them? Well, it’s a big occasion for me too! The first time it happened to me was when I was flying home from North Carolina and when the airline cancelled his ticket, they also cancelled mine. It didn’t get me a free trip home, it didn’t get me a seat on the next plane, but it did get me a box of tissues and some great hugs and encouragement from two American Airlines employees at the ticket counter. And sometimes, that’s all you need.

9. People will always tell you they’re sorry. “Sorry for your loss.” “Let me know if you need anything.” “Text or call me anytime.” “I’m here for you.” And yes, they are. But truth be told, they don’t know what else to say, and if you text or call them, they might be busy, they’re not sitting by the phone in that one moment of need. So you then feel, no one is there for you. But they are, it’s just not when you need them the most. Eventually, I’d had enough of the generic questions just to be polite. So when a friend of my sister asked me if there was anything I needed or anything she could do, I asked her “Can you bring my husband back?” She said no, and I knew she could handle that response, so she wasn’t offended, and it felt good to finally get it off my chest.

10. Last rule: There really aren’t any. I continue as best I can. With grief, everyone is on their own personal journey and everyone handles it differently. People have no rules when it comes to dealing with this. There is no manual for how to grieve. Some people will cry all day, every day. Some people will go right back to their normal routine, unfazed. Some people go to counseling, some people lean heavily on their friends and family for support. Some people will try a little bit of everything, still figuring out what works for them in such a difficult, confusing time. Just know that you have the right to readjust to your new life as you play your card. The only rules that matter are your rules.

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