Dear Wonderful Widows.
Grieving is a self-centered act. It must be. It requires paying attention to one’s own broken heart, taking the time needed to adjust to a very different existence, and learning to live in a changed world. Grieving requires self-care.
This is especially true for widows with children. We eventually find that the only way our children will be OK is if we are OK. And the only way we will be OK is if we are willing to tend to ourselves.
I had it reversed. I was desperate for Anneke to be OK. In my mind, if she was OK, I was OK.
For those of us who are natural caregivers and who spent years caring for our husbands and our kids first, the transition to caring for ourselves can be rocky and unfamiliar.
Early on, thinking of myself was difficult. When I paid attention to my own heart, I saw how really broken it was. It seemed easier and more natural to focus on my daughter.
I came to see that unless I cared for myself, my efforts at caring for others went bad. I became resentful. I was not used to being resentful and I didn’t like it. I felt bad about it and tried to be different. “Please God make me good,” I asked.
But the harder I tried to be generous and kind and sweet, the more pissed off I became.
I had a friend who needed help when her dog became very sick and subsequently died. I thought I was happy to help. And at first, I really was. But my giving quickly deteriorated into “It’s a DOG for crying out loud…what about me?”
Because I wasn't caring for myself, I couldn’t be there for her. I just couldn’t. My resentment grew, my shame at my resentment grew, and I soon had nothing left to give, nothing at all.
I learned (and occasionally I still have to re-learn this…) that resentment is ALWAYS a sign that I have unmet needs. My need might be a relationship need, a quiet-time need, a downtime need, a social need, a financial need, sometimes even a need for nourishment. When I try to be there for Anneke, (transporting, conversation, shopping etc.) and have not taken care of my most basic need of good solid nutrition, I become crabby. It is that simple.
So, at the ripe old age of 55, I am still learning about self-care. But there is an unexpected pay off. As I demonstrate self-care, my daughter learns to care for her needs. And as she is beginning the process of leaving home, I feel comforted in knowing she will have the tools needed to make it out there in the world.
Are you taking good care of yourself?