One question I often get from widows and women who are grieving is this…
When does it get easier?
This question always makes me stop and think because it’s a tricky one to answer. I have to stop and look at my own life. I turn the question in on myself and think about where am compared to where I was six years ago when my life was turned upside down.
Is it easier?
Yes. And no.
Which, of course, is the WORST answer you could hear when you’re asking this question.
The question is better understood if you break it down into parts. The first part of the question is always the trickiest… the “easier” part.
How do you define “easier”? Is it when a whole day goes by and you haven’t cried at all? Is it when you feel like you can breathe again? Is it when you laugh and you don’t have an immediate sense of guilt afterward for enjoying yourself in the moment? See, the thing about this concept is that the definition of "easier" is your own to identify.
But there is also a trap here. A trap waiting to spring itself on you if you’re not careful.
Easier doesn’t mean that you suddenly have all the answers or that everything happens at the snap of your fingers or that you never feel any pain. Because that doesn’t exist. Not even for non-widows. Life is life. It happens whether we want it to or not. Everyone feels pain. Everyone struggles. Everyone questions. It’s part of the natural rhythm of things. If we didn’t do these things, we wouldn’t grow.
So, “easier” is subjective. I can remember when “easier” was being able to get out of bed without trying to negotiate with myself in the morning. I can remember when “easier” was putting on makeup when I left the house. And before that, “easier” was just leaving the house.
Now? My “easier” is different. I’m getting remarried and blending a family which has its own host of challenges and intricacies. It gives entirely new meaning to the concept of “easier” because it’s messy and it’s complicated. Just like widowhood.
So, my question back to those of you who are asking is this: what is “easier” for you? Take a second and ask yourself this question. What milestone will signify to you that you’re reaching an “easier” period in your life? What will you be able to do without thinking or talking yourself into it? Where will you be able to go? Who will you be able to see or talk to?
So the first part is to understand what “easier” actually means to you. In the early days of widowhood (and often the early years if we’re completely honest) the emotional volatility we’re living with is off the charts in terms of intensity. So baby steps are the key. You're not going to go from newly-widowed to happy and carefree in a week. It's just not realistic or sustainable. Once you have your own idea of "easier" then you're ready to move on to the next part of this exercise.
The second part of the question has a pretty straight-forward answer. When does it get easier? When you move in the direction of your own personal vision. You see, the vision is what you identified above when you asked yourself to define “easier” for yourself. You can start getting to that destination by taking small steps in your own life.
It can be as basic or complicated as you want it to be. If you’re new to this work, I recommend starting with something extremely basic.
For example, let’s say that you spend most of your time working and sitting on your couch without any socialization. Would it make sense to force yourself into social situations that make you so uncomfortable you never want to do it again? No, that’s self-defeating in so many ways. Widowhood is an emotionally vulnerable and raw period, so you need to be gentle with yourself. Maybe it’s as simple as having a goal like, “I will call someone today and talk to them for 10 minutes.”
Seriously. The only reason this gets complicated is because we complicate it. And we’re hurting. We’re in agony. So everything is multiplied by a thousand. Keep it simple. Keep it basic. But ask yourself what “easier” looks like and list 3 - 5 BASIC, SIMPLE things that can get you a little closer to that life you’re yearning for.
I wish I could tell you that it gets easier after 18 months. Or that once the bills are caught up, you’ll feel better. Or that there’s a test you can take that will give you an exact timeline of your grief that is 100% accurate and it will just get better on its own with time.
I wish I could tell you that grief goes away. That it slips out the back door of your brain without you even realizing it. That one day you wake up, and it’s just gone. But grief doesn’t work that way.
Here is what I have learned: The grief doesn’t get lighter or smaller. You get stronger.
You get stronger when you define what kind of life you want to live and start moving in that direction. You get stronger when you make good choices for yourself. You get stronger when you face your fears (big and small), when you accomplish goals that you set for yourself, when you start looking forward with eagerness and hope.
That’s when you get stronger. For me, that was when things got “easier.” At first, it was barely noticeable. Then it started to snowball. Some insights gave me huge bursts of confidence or serenity. Others were enough to get me through that day, that hour, that minute. I never fully left the past behind, but those experiences made me who I am today. I carry them with me still.
Do I still grieve? Yes. Do I still have trigger moments where I suddenly can’t breathe and just want to cry? Yes. Do I still feel stronger? Yes.
Your “easier” is waiting for you to arrive. It’s up to you to decide where it exists and how to get there.