The Best Advice I Took the First Year After the Death of My Husband
When I lost my husband, I was in a fog state for many weeks. Even though in hindsight his health never improved, I was always hopeful that at any moment things were going to turn around. They didn’t and he passed away on December 23rd, a couple of days before Christmas. I was in shock. I never mentally or emotionally prepared because I believed that if I didn’t let that be a possibility, then it would never materialize.
It was surreal to be walking around the neighborhood on Christmas day with my kids playing with their new toys while being approached by neighbors who wanted to share their condolences. My kids were 2 and 4 years old. Death wasn’t going to steal Christmas from them too, I tried to do my best to separate my deep grief from the events of the day.
One thing I learned about death that Christmas day is that life doesn’t stop. As much as I wanted to stay in bed all day in my sadness, I didn’t get a break from my own body who needed to eat, from my kids who needed their mom to care for them, or from any other single responsibility I held as a professional, home owner, and now executive of the estate.
Losing a significant other means that every single task that person did for the family is delegated to you, from the little things such as taking the trash out to bigger things like handling all the finances. And if you were a dual income household, it also means the added stress of providing for your family on one income. All these considerations and changes are happening at the same time you are devastated emotionally. Nobody prepares you for the changes that losing a loved one, especially a significant other, would mean to you, your family, and your household. It is not only difficult on an emotional level, but it affects every single dimension of your life. Your life doesn’t stop.
Besides being now the sole provider for my family, there were so many changes happening around me that were not very obvious. In fact, I noticed some of the extra responsibilities I held because things really needed to be done, like checking the mail or paying the credit card bills (both things my husband did). Others were very painful such as the deep grief of going through the holidays without him, celebrating the kids’ birthdays, etc.
Here is the one piece of advice that helped me make better decisions the first year: if you can afford it, do not make any significant changes the first year. Trust me, there will be plenty of things that will be different. I held to that advice and it was the best thing I did to keep some normalcy in the lives of my kids and mine.
For example, after losing my husband, I felt that our house was suddenly too big. There were so many memories in that house that many times felt unbearable. I was also concerned about being able to keep up with the mortgage payments on my salary, so I truly considered selling the house and moving to a smaller, more affordable place. However, I held onto that advice and committed to staying in that house the first year. If I couldn’t make the payments work or I was still feeling that living in the house was too hard, then I would look into moving the following year.
I am so glad that I stayed put because 6 years later, we are still living in that house and we couldn’t be happier. I avoided the stress of moving, I knew what items in the house needed repair, and where everything was. More importantly, my family and I didn’t have to get used to a new neighborhood, my kids still have their neighborhood friends who constantly came to play with them, and the familiar home they grew up in.
I also kept my babysitting arrangement for the first year. I had a lady who helped me with the kids and was like a second grandmother to them. I didn’t have family in town to help me. Financially, it was more expensive to stay with her as opposed to other childcare options, but that would have meant another significant change and possibly another loss for the kids. Therefore, I decided to invest in her and to this day I am very happy I did.
Losing a significant other is, in fact, one of the most devastating events in a person’s life. The first year is a big year of “firsts”... first Christmas, first vacation, first birthday… without my husband and my children’s daddy. We had to find our new normal in steps. By not making significant changes in the first year, you give yourself time to decide what areas you need to tackle first and where you need to make adjustments to keep everything afloat. This is not an always an option, but wherever you can, try to hold onto some normalcy.