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Widow to Widow: Thoughtful, Practical Ideas for Rebuilding Your Life

Widow to Widow: Thoughtful, Practical Ideas for Rebuilding Your Life

4.7 12
by Genevieve Davis Ginsburg

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In this remarkably useful guide, widow, author, and therapist Genevieve Davis Ginsburg offers fellow widows-as well as their family and friends-sage advice for coping with the loss of a husband. From learning to travel and eat alone to creating new routines to surviving the holidays and anniversaries that reopen emotional wounds, Widow to Widow walks


In this remarkably useful guide, widow, author, and therapist Genevieve Davis Ginsburg offers fellow widows-as well as their family and friends-sage advice for coping with the loss of a husband. From learning to travel and eat alone to creating new routines to surviving the holidays and anniversaries that reopen emotional wounds, Widow to Widow walks readers through the challenges of widowhood and encourages them on their path to building a new life.

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Da Capo Press
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

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How Long Does It Take?

How long does it take? Undoubtedly, that’s the question new widows ask most frequently. Every widow knows what it means. Will there ever be a day when I feel happy, when I no longer greet each morning with the fresh realization that he is dead, when I don’t automatically turn to tell him something, when I no longer hear the roar of hollow silence as I come home to an empty house? When will I stop crying when someone says a kind word of sympathy or feel like crying because they don’t? Will I ever stop feeling outside the world, an alien, alone?

The answer is “yes,” in your own time and in your own way: gradually going forward, faltering, falling back, going on again -- in any of the predicted or not-so-predicted sequences. In our society time circumscribes all events. There is a specified time allotted for getting born, beginning school, paying off the mortgage, healing a broken bone; at least you know it will happen. Here there is no time and no sure thing.

Some religious customs used to require the wearing of black for a full year -- it’s still observed in some places -- not only to honor the dead but to signal the resumption of life when the year ended. The custom of wearing mourning clothes may be gone, but the time frame persists because we often hear people say, “It’s been a year; she’s not doing very well” or give good marks for “doing so well” in a shorter time. It would probably come as a surprise to those who knew me at the time, but my second year was worse than the first. The first year I was coping with a capital “C,” perhaps to my own admiration; the second year I realized coping was not a temporary measure. This was it.

I often wish we could drop the whole vocabulary that has come into recent usage on death and dying that so glibly forecasts how we shall respond to the death of a spouse. The so-called stages, described here earlier, were never intended to become a mandatory blueprint for dealing with grief. They were observations of responses to personal loss. Using the medical model for grief -- from shock to recovery -- is a deception. Because we live in a quick-fix time, every illness must have a cure, and for every cure there must be an illness. Implied is the promise that if you carefully go through the stages of grieving you will recover. The message is: You have the illness, we have the pill. If you have not fully recovered then you must have skipped a stage, become mired in a stage or denied a stage. It is your fault, you did something wrong. Guilty again! Widows have trouble enough with guilt; they do not need to be told they’re in a messed-up stage to add to the problem.

How long does it take? is a silly question, because widowhood is not a disease, sickness or mental illness. It is a fact of life and there is no recovering. You learn to live with it, cope with it and survive it. You will get pretty good at it as time goes by. The tears will abate, the anger soften and the future will be brighter than today. But you will not be cured, not even if you remarry.

So let us define the stages of grieving at the outset as feelings or emotions or a state of mind, and know that they come and go like the tide. With the possible exception of the initial shock and numbness that follows a deep loss, the so-called stages of grieving can and do return unpredictably with pristine sharpness any time, any day, any year -- and that is no sin.

When recovery is the touted outcome -- the expected outcome -- the widow feels inadequate and abnormal if she has not “gotten over it” in her allotted time. She can be heard to apologize, “There is something wrong with me.” It has been three months, six months, two years -- whatever -- she is still crying, and she can’t get over it. She has failed the time test. She is still full of tears and anger, she says. She still feels jealous and sad when she sees couples holding hands, still feels confused and rudderless, still cannot let a day go by without thinking of his dying and what she might have done, could have done, should have done. “I know I should be over it by now,” she sobs.

“Six-Month Syndrome”

Worse, another widow may suffer what she believes is a setback after having steadily moved onward and accepted her reality: “I was doing so well, everyone was so proud of me, and for no good reason I’ve suddenly started going backward.” Tears at the drop of a hat, physical symptoms that prove to be groundless, a hand tremor that began with the first formidable document and grows more embarrassing each day, and finally, feeling hopeless and missing him more than ever. We call this the six-month syndrome because that seems to be when progress most often founders. It is also the time when family and friends worry and express concern. “It’s been six months and my mother is doing worse; she’s crying more now. What shall I do?” Mother is doing what her daughter did after taking her first step a long time ago: She fell down.

The six-month syndrome may occur at any time (I experienced mine after two years). Widowhood is dotted with sudden realizations -- some very scary -- that account for the many emotional highs and lows. As shock and numbness fade, the widow becomes more clear-headed. She begins to reconstruct her identity and becomes increasingly aware of how many changes she will have to accept and how many crises she will face single-handedly. With a sudden jolt, she thinks perhaps she will never become used to being alone at night, or maybe that pain under the left rib is the beginning of cancer. Or as one woman recalled, “I couldn’t pull the damn zipper up the back of my dress and that triggered one of my lowest periods. I cried for two days. It really hit me that I was alone and I’d have to lose 50 pounds or wear a Hawaiian muumuu for the rest of my life.” Later, more mundane reminders rise to bait the new widow -- little things, like having no escort for the annual Heart Fund Ball, and hundreds of other first-time realizations that run the gamut from struggling to open the mayonnaise jar to traveling alone.

If she speaks with friends about the emptiness she is experiencing during these low periods, she will hear, “You’re feeling sorry for yourself.” Her family is the audience for bright thoughts, not black ones. The widow herself becomes the most distressed if she suspects she may indeed be feeling sorry for herself. For no convincing reason, self-pity is judged to be the worst of all possible sins.

On the other hand, self-pity is actually more desirable than other people’s pity and feels pretty good when you are just plain tired of coping. Feeling sorry for yourself is like putting your emotional feet up -- resting between coping bouts and catching a second wind. Overdone, of course, it can become a bore for everyone.

Once you stop equating good days and bad days with success and failure and grading yourself on performance, your energy is freed for better use than self-reproach. Reassure your family and friends -- and your doctor -- that sometimes neither you nor they can tell what stage you’re in. Today, it might be the stage called regression or be all of the stages simultaneously.

Anger is a troubling emotion for some people to admit into their consciousness. Depression comes in many disguises, and confusion may become so pervasive that it feels natural. You’ve heard people say, “She only hears what she wants to hear”. Well, it’s the same with emotions. The true value in taking a look at our emotional reactions to grief is not so we will identify and label ourselves, but that we give ourselves the right to feel the way we are feeling. “You mean it’s OK to feel sorry for myself? Angry? Useless? It’s been eight months, I thought I was supposed to be over that.” You’ll always have a little left over for another time.

Grieving is a process rather than a series of uphill steps, and gains are most often realized in retrospect. One day you will realize that a whole day has passed without thinking about him. You actually enjoyed yourself for an entire weekend, that this Christmas was better than the last, that the little knot of envy has worked its way free, and that the good days far outnumber the sad ones. How long did it take? Six months? A year? Two years and three months? Only you can say. But it does happen, in your own time and in your own way.

Copyright © 2001 Fisher Books. All rights reserved.

What People are Saying About This

Nathaniel Branden
"A wise, practical and eminently useful guide for a woman struggling to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. Highly recommended."
--Nathaniel Branden, PhD., author of Honoring the Self
Harold Bloomfield
"Ms. Ginsburg has written the most useful, practical and compassionate guide to surviving widowhood. This is must reading not only for widows, but also for their family and friends."
--Harold Bloomfield, M.D., coauthor of How to Survive the Loss of A Love

Meet the Author

The late Genevieve Davis Ginsburg, M.S., founded Widowed to Widowed Services, a support group in Tucson, Arizona. She received the Jefferson Award and the Arizona Governor's Award for her social service.

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Widow to Widow 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am now placing another order to have "Widow to Widow" on hand when an appropriate instance arises and another new widow needs some calming insight. This book has given me much needed insight into how to help my mother cope with her sudden singleness. Ginsburg's empathy (she herself was unprepared for widowhood) and intelligence (her prose isn't rife with the self-help jargon that doesn't come naturally to many of us) permeate each insightful page. She details not only the facts of widowhood (living alone, eating alone, suriving alone) but also includes personal commentary that places her words in much-needed context. I will purchase copies for my mother and sister, and I believe that they will now begin to understand that it's "okay" to feel anger, and sadness, and hopelessness. Ginsburg validates one's feelings, and no one else has been able to do that for me/us yet. This is a very special book. I find the emptiness overwhelming at times and picking up this book (between counseling sessions) is a great boost to my sense of where I am now.        
Toni22 More than 1 year ago
I was widowed at the age of 57 - my husband Glenn was 58 when he died which is similar to Genevieve's experience. As widows know it takes awhile to focus long enough to read but I encourage new widows to read it as soon as you think you can focus. There are parts where I felt she was looking over my shoulder and writing about my experiences. Like all "how to survive" books - there are parts that didn't apply to me but most of it did. It even helped me to teach others how to act or react to a friend who suddenly loses her past and her future. For instance saying "I'm here for you - just give me a call - let me know if you need anything" puts the responsibility on the widow to first know what she needs and to contact the person. Rather Genevieve tells us to be specific with something like - "I'd like to come over on Tuesday with dinner." I found myself saying to my family that it frustrates me when people say just call if you need anything - I didn't know what I needed - "do you want to take out my trash, can you bring my husband back, can you change my future." This book helped me cope and understand that they are just trying to help but they don't know what to do either. I appreciated this book so much that I sent it to my friend who recently lost her husband at the age of 58. Is there something magical about that number 58? Anyway, it is a good resource and I highly recommend it.
jspur More than 1 year ago
I lost my husband at age 46 and felt so lost and so overwhelmed at what I needed to do. This book not only helped to explain some of the feelings and things I had already gone through, but it also prepared me for things that were still to come. Widow to widow lists many tips and explanations on things you will go through that most people don't even think about...like removing your wedding rings permanently or cleaning out the closets. This book doesn't just take you through the grieving process but continues on to give you the hope and confidence you need to move on in your life and make it become whatever you want it to be. I was so encouraged by this book that I not only recommend it, but I have found that it is one of the best gifts I can give to any of my friends or family that suffer the loss of their loved one.
RRZ More than 1 year ago
This is the book I wish had been written when I was widowed at age 40. It covers so much of what the widow goes through beginning with the death and through the grieving process. It is not necessarily a "grief" book, it is a "how to survive now that I am no longer a wife" book. I have given this book to others who have lost a husband.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An excellent book for widows. Through my experience I found that this book helped me understand the process of losing my spouse.
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