That First Year: Coping Tips For New Widows And Widowers

When I became a widow at the age of 52, I sought out the company of other women in the same circumstances. Being confused and overwhelmed, I hoped that spending time with experienced widows, could somehow help me cope better.

I feel that the wisdom of women was instrumental in my recovery. Based on what I heard from them, and my own experience, I wrote a list of several coping tips and some general observations. I hope that those could be helpful for new widows and widowers in the difficult first year.

Some Words about social contacts

It is ok to decline social invitations, but if you decide to accept, it is best to have your own car, or any other form of transportation, so that you could leave the moment you wish to return home. I drove my car to every social activity for several years, even when friends kindly offered me a lift.

Keeping social obligations to a minimum is probably wise, and it is ok to keep in touch only with those friends who are understanding and don’t ask “why don’t you ever call.”

I find that it is  also reasonable to judge friends, and to decide whether to continue the relationship based on their performance throughout the time when the spouse was ill and afterwards. I chose to discontinue my relationships with several friends and family members who disappeared during my husband’s illness.

As I wrote in the beginning of the post, meeting other widows and widowers was crucial in my case. It helped me to know myself better, to get used to my new identity and to become part of a new peer group.

Dealing with daily challenges 

Keeping some kind of a journal could be a way to express the feelings which we do not wish to share with those who are close to us. I kept a journal for one year after my husband died and then I just stopped. I never looked at it again..

I find that physical activity is essential for healing, I also recommend doing an outdoor sport. I started roller skating few months after my husband died and it became  a favorite pastime and a form of meditation.

Some kind of hands-on therapy such as reflexology, shiatsu, massage therapy, is comforting especially at a time when we are deprived of touch and long for some warmth. My choice was regular treatments of reflexology

And if we mention warmth and touch, getting a pet like a puppy, dog or a cat could be very useful for healing, and in the case of a dog, walking it could also solve the problem of finding an outdoor physical activity.

It is helpful to start a new project or any engaging activity which is not too demanding, short trips are also useful. I joined a choir and found that meeting people who didn’t know me and the music itself were very therapeutic.

General observations.

During that first year and some time later friends commented on the fact that I was jumpy and could not focus on anything. For a long time I couldn’t even read. I realized later that those symptoms which resembled ADHD were part of my trauma, it took time but luckily they passed.

One of the additional headaches of bereavement are all the errands and paperwork. In order to keep on doing all those thankless tasks, I suggest a reward system. You divide the work into smaller segments and upon completing an assignment, do something fun (or eat something tasty)

The first year is extremely hard, especially as in every day that passes you relive the pain and hopes of the previous year. Still, in spite of the suffering, for me that  year was also a year of discovery and personal growth. After 32 years of marriage I had to get to know myself better and to do things my way and on my own.  In my case I renovated a house, moved there and furnished it by myself.The confidence and joy which I derived from my accomplishment was new unexpected.

Milestones, like the first year Yahrzeit, are especially meaningful . They could also be a significant  opportunity to assess progress and to make resolutions for the following year. In my first year I allowed myself several bad habits which I vowed not to carry over to the second year.

Suggestions from friends 

A friend, a fellow widow, suggested from her experience that I try not to live through every experience twice, if I felt sad or angry I should not be sad because I was sad or angry at myself for being angry. 

A close friend who has known me and my husband for many years said “you didn’t ask for this, but since it happened try to look at your new life as an adventure and enjoy it.”  Obviously she wasn’t a widow, and at first it was difficult for me to even hear those words, but in retrospect I feel that this was the best advice which I got.



This post has been updated to include more tips for coping. 

About the Author
I hold a PhD in English Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, specializing in writing about issues related to women, literature, culture, and society. Having lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994), I bring a diverse perspective to my work. As a widow, in March 2016, I initiated a support and growth-oriented Facebook group for widows named "Widows Move On." The group has now grown to over 2000 members, providing a valuable space for mutual support and understanding.