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A Widow's Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice for the First 5 Years

A Widow's Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice for the First 5 Years

by Kristin Meekhof, James Windell
A Widow's Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice for the First 5 Years

A Widow's Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice for the First 5 Years

by Kristin Meekhof, James Windell


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An inspiring, accessible, and empowering grief book for widows on how to navigate the unique challenges of widow grief and create a hopeful future.

When Kristin Meekhof lost her husband to cancer, she discovered what all widows learn: the moment you experience the death of a spouse, you must make crucial decisions that will impact the rest of your life. But where do you begin when your world is suddenly turned upside down?

This inspiring book on widowhood shows grieving widows what to expect in those difficult first five years, and how to deal with the challenges of expectantly losing a life partner, including:

  • Finances, estates, and medical bills
  • Single parenthood
  • Being a widow in the workplace
  • Navigating social situations by yourself

With Meekhof's firsthand experience and gentle understanding, this healing after loss book goes beyond shining a comforting candle in the darkness of loss. It encourages those left behind to tackle the tumultuous and painful first five years and move to a more hopeful future.

Praise for A Widow's Guide to Healing:

"A very valuable and practical guide for any woman who has lost her husband due to an untimely death. Kristin Meekhof's journey is both inspiring and courageous and something we can all learn from." —Dr. Deepak Chopra

"I'm proud of Kristin Meekhof, who has written this inspiring and insightful book to help guide widows through their grief. This book is by an Architect of Change, for all of us who must deal with grief." — Maria Shriver

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781492620594
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 11/03/2015
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 169,941
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

KRISTIN MEEKHOF, MSW, is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post,, WomenThatSoar, and others. Widowed at a young age, she can speak from experience on the unique and unforeseen challenges of widowhood. Currently, she is doing social work in Kenya until January 2015.

Read an Excerpt

A Widow's Guide to Healing

Gentle Support and Advice for the First 5 Years

By Kristin Meekhof, James Windell

Sourcebooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Kristin Meekhof and James Windell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4926-2060-0


the 411 on surviving the first month

"Ms. Meekhof?"


"I'm John Fredrick, the hospice care specialist, calling to see how you're doing."

"I'm fine."

"There are a lot of things hospice can offer you in your time of loss ..."

"I can't talk now. It's not the best time."

I'm standing alone in my small galley kitchen, staring at the wall. Did I said good-bye or just hang up? I'm not sure.

I glance over at my oblong dining room table, which seats six and now is home to various stacks of paper. To anyone else it would look chaotic, but I've spent a lot of time organizing all these papers into piles according to subject, like a student collecting notes before finals week. These are my piles: hospice, inpatient, outpatient, funeral. Each has a different folder with it, and I'm proud of myself for being able to sort through all this.

I feel like I should be doing something, so I walk to the table and pick up the purple folder labeled "Hospice." I look over each paper, one by one. A light pink receipt from the University of Michigan Hospital reads, "Pickup Ticket — adult walker." I used this ticket to get the walker because hospice told me my husband Roy could use it.

I glance at the bottom of the form and see my signature, "Kris Meekhof." I've never signed anything "Kris." It's always Kristin. But that was before my world fell apart. I look closely again. It is definitely my handwriting, although I don't remember signing the form.

I'm searching my memory, trying hard to recall when I signed this. Was Roy in the car? Did I run in, sign it, and leave? How did I get the walker into the car? I just can't remember. I can visualize the pickup dock — it had a long ramp that I walked up, and inside there was a stairway. I'm trying to reconstruct the rest of that moment. It's not coming back.

Now I'm trembling. My heart is racing and tears are welling in my eyes. I let the pickup form and the folder slip out of my hand, onto the table. I walk away, leaving the purple folder open.

The tears are really flowing now. But something is coming back to me as I look out the window. A snippet returns. I remember I tossed the walker into the back hatch of our black Volvo station wagon and Roy said, "Careful with that."

Another memory surfaces. Earlier that afternoon we were in a small waiting room, between radiation appointments. The radiation was palliative, not actual treatment. I knew Roy was going to die. As we sat quietly, Roy said, "I have absolutely no fear of dying. I just don't want to leave you behind."

Two weeks after picking up that walker, he died and I was left behind.

These moments can still catch me off guard and stop my heart: a stranger's telephone call, a medical statement, a signature. When that happens, I may be blindsided by sadness, but I can usually collect myself. Back then, though, I wasn't handling things very well. My mind was stuck on just three words: my husband died.

* * *

When I lost my husband Roy, it was as if I'd entered another universe. I wasn't only grief stricken, I was disoriented, terrified, and completely at a loss as to what I was supposed to do next. Although I wasn't on any medication, I felt like I was in a coma. I could hear what was going on, my body was present, but my mind was elsewhere.

There were issues I had to deal with immediately, decisions that had to be made, but I had no experience with this thing ... widowhood. This was not my life. I needed a blueprint for how to survive the next week, the next month, and the next year.

As we mentioned in the introduction, this is why we wrote this book — to give you a blueprint. This chapter will tell you what you'll need to deal with in the first few weeks after your partner's passing. We'll provide detailed guidelines, so you won't have to feel like you're all alone. If you do these tasks one by one, and know who to ask for help, you can manage it. This will be a terribly difficult few weeks, but you can and will get through it.


No one thinks clearly after a tremendous loss like the one you have just experienced. For me, it felt like my stomach was perpetually churning and the skin on my head was pulled too tight. When my coauthor, Jim, and I interviewed people about the first days and weeks of widowhood, they said similar things: "I was in a fog." "I felt like I was moving underwater." "It felt like there was a cement block on my head."

Like these new widows, you may not be able to think as clearly as you usually do — and as you will again in the future. For right now, your needs are simple. You need to get up and get dressed every day and then be guided toward whatever must be done. During the first few days, weeks, or, in some instances, months after the death of your spouse, you may not be able to recall whether you ate lunch or where you parked your car. You may have difficulty trying to find the words to complete a thought. Emotions and events may be foggy, and at times you may experience trancelike symptoms. We want to assure you that all of this is completely normal.

Communicating with other people can be a particular challenge during this time. You may feel as if you are talking underwater and they don't understand you. The funeral director hands you a box of your partner's belongings to go through; you wonder if he's trying to rob or trick you when he makes suggestions that will cost more money. A neighbor you hardly know appears at your door with a check for fifty dollars, saying, "For expenses — this is our custom." You are baffled. The only reason you answered the door is because you thought by some cosmic fluke it might be your partner standing there, waving a magic wand to bring you out of your nightmare, not a neighbor offering to help you pay for your own expenses.

You may start each morning by having a conversation with yourself, convincing yourself to get out of bed. You tell yourself, "Today I will do three things on my list ... Where's my list? Wait, I don't have a list. What should be on the list? I don't even know." All of this is normal. You have not lost your mind. The important thing to know is that everyone who suffers a loss, expected or unexpected, is experiencing a significant trauma. As Megan, the wife of a man who committed suicide, said, "You go into robo-mode." She and other widows confessed, "I just wanted someone to tell me what to do next."


If you're reading this book about widowhood, chances are you have already held a funeral or memorial service for your spouse or partner. (If you have not yet arranged the service and need guidance, please see the Resources section at the back of this book.) A week or more has probably passed, and with the funeral over, you're left standing in a very quiet house, shell-shocked. Friends and family ask what they can do to help, but you have no idea because you need help with everything. Although you are traumatized, by the second week certain practical matters must be attended to. We'll talk about long-term and ongoing financial arrangements in Chapter Six, but some aspects of your finances will need your attention right away. In addition to bills, insurance, and legal issues, there are concerns involving your job, your kids, their school many things to think about! But what do you tackle first?

In the following sections, you'll find weekly to-do lists to help you organize your tasks during this difficult, confusing first month. We strongly urge you to ask other people to help you, even with the seemingly easy things like opening a pile of neglected mail or compiling a list of people who need to be sent thank-you notes.

Weeks One and Two: Tasks That Need Your Attention ASAP

1. If you have moved, even temporarily, notify utilities, newspaper delivery, landlord, and the post office. If you want your mail delivered to a new address, file that paperwork with your local post office branch. In many cities, this may be done online. This is a good task to ask a friend to do for you.

2. Call your employer. Your decisions about working will naturally depend on your financial resources as well as your state of mind. You may be ready to return to work, or you may need to take a few more days or weeks. Your company may allow you an extended unpaid leave of absence, or you may be able to use vacation and sick days to buy yourself a little more time before returning to the office. You'll need to discuss your options with your employer, your supervisor, or the HR department. In Chapter Seven, we will look at jobs, careers, and employment in greater detail.

3. Pay bills — mortgage or rent, credit cards, utilities, and so on. Although you may intend to move later, maintaining your financial obligations will give you more options. Check on all debts and installment payments, including credit cards. Some may carry insurance clauses that will cancel the debt. If there is to be a delay in meeting payments, consult with the company to request more time before the payments are due. Go to the bank and get statements for all your accounts, or access them online. If you have been living in crisis mode, you may have made purchases that you didn't document. Your statements will help you get on track. You will eventually want to bring a copy of the death certificate to the bank and change the names on the accounts, but if you're feeling too raw, it is not necessary to do this right now.

4. Open your mail. If you are unsure of what to do with it, just save it. Don't shred anything until you can review it later. If mail is piling up and you can't face it, ask a friend or family member to sort it for you and show you only the items that are important.

5. Locate your spouse's will and notify your attorney (if you haven't already). The will may designate an executor, and you should discuss this with your attorney. In most states, a will must be admitted to probate before your partner's property can be distributed to you or other heirs. Probate is the court process by which the will is proved to be valid. The person in possession of the will, be it the wife, attorney, or someone else, must produce it. No one has the right to suppress a will. Statutes impose penalties for concealing or destroying a will or for failing to produce it within a specified time.

It is best to consult an attorney to handle this, but you can contact your county's probate court to ask questions. Just keep in mind that a will has no legal effect until it is probated. Filing the will should occur as soon as possible, or at least within thirty days of your spouse's death. In many states, the allowed amount of time is one month from the death of the individual. If you know that the person in possession of the will has not filed it, you may notify the court so that the court can compel the filing. Then the probate process can begin. If for some reason you are unable to file your spouse's will within thirty days, you must notify the probate court. Most courts give you some leeway, but don't assume anything — find out for certain if your court will. If you fail to file the will within thirty days, you can be compelled by the court to file the will or you can be cited by the court with the possibility of criminal penalties. If there is no will, see Chapter Three for an explanation of what to do.

6. Contact your children's teachers and/or schools. Call, email, or visit the school principal and your child's teacher (if your child is in elementary school) or the teachers or counselor (if your child is in middle or high school). You could also send a letter or email to people you think should have information about your child, such as a counselor, coach, or tutor. The purpose in contacting these people is to let them know how you want them to handle your child. Certainly, someone at school needs to know that your child has suffered a significant loss and that his or her behavior will probably reflect that. Unusual behaviors could include withdrawal, lack of attention, crying, emotional outbursts, or being more clingy than usual with a teacher. In Chapter Four, you can read more about how to help your child cope with grief.

7. Order death certificates. The easiest way to get certified copies of your spouses's death certificate is to order them through the funeral home or mortuary within thirty days of the death. You should ask for at least ten copies because you will need one each time you change bank accounts, close out credit cards, or claim property or benefits that belonged to your spouse (which may include life insurance proceeds, Social Security benefits, and veterans' benefits). If you didn't do this within thirty days of the death of your partner, contact your county or state vital records office, where the death certificate should be on file.

8. File for life insurance benefits. Carefully check all the life and casualty insurance policies your partner had and apply for those that include death benefits. You will need copies of the death certificate to file for insurance benefits. If your partner was still working, you may need to talk to his employer or the human resources department to learn more about applying for death benefits.

Keep in mind that if you are the beneficiary of your spouse's life insurance policy, you must file a claim to receive your benefits — the payout is not automatic. Usually, it is a simple matter of calling your insurance agent or the insurance company, and then filling out the paperwork. Be sure to have a certified copy of the death certificate for each insurance company. As you look over the assets and important papers, you may find insurance benefits of which you were unaware, but to which you are entitled. These could include individually owned policies (which may be filed away in a safe deposit box or a file cabinet), group life insurance policies, which may have been issued through an employer, bank, or credit union; or accidental death and dismemberment policies, which may have been offered as part of a loan package or issued as a free benefit by a bank or credit union, or as a rider to an employer-issued insurance policy.

If you have an attorney, he or she may be helpful in this process, but your life insurance agent — the person who sold or serviced the insurance policy — may provide the most assistance in processing a life insurance claim. You also can contact the company's policyholder service department directly, but your agent (if you have one) may offer more support. For instance, you may be receiving a steady stream of bills at this time. The funeral expenses, hospital bills, and your spouse's outstanding debts can add up to a substantial sum — on top of all the regular household bills. Even if you expect money from one or more insurance policies or the estate settlement, it may not come in time to pay this month's bills. Your insurance agent can help you arrange for an advance or loan against the life insurance benefit due. If not, you may be able to borrow cash from a credit card account or open a home equity line of credit. If you have a financial professional, ask about your options and which fits best, given your investments and assets.

9. File for Social Security Survivor Benefits for you and your children if they are under eighteen. If your spouse was receiving Social Security, you must notify both the bank (if the Social Security checks are deposited directly into a checking or savings account) and the Social Security Administration. Social Security Form SSA-721, which might be available from the funeral home, must be filed with the Social Security Administration. You can go to the Social Security website ( for more information. If you need to sign your children up as dependents to receive Survivor Benefits, be sure to have a copy of the death certificate and their birth certificates. Widows are entitled to Survivor Benefits if they make less than a specific annual income. Go to for the most current information.

Week Three: Medical Bills, Unneeded Insurance Policies, Social Media, and Phone Calls

1. Organize hospital, doctor, and other medical bills. These are often totally confusing and indecipherable. You'll get multiple versions of medical bills, month after month, if you don't pay them within thirty days (and it is common to ignore the bills while dealing with a spouse's medical crisis or terminal illness). The bills are frequently incorrect; insurance companies generally will not notice or contest inaccurate bills. In our opinion, widows need some sort of professional help dealing with these bills. There are a few nonprofit organizations that will take a second look at medical bills and negotiate a lower rate. Personally, I remember a very costly scan being rejected by my insurance. I asked the doctor to write a letter to appeal it. Not only did he appeal it, he called the insurance company on my behalf. The bill was paid in full by the insurance company.


Excerpted from A Widow's Guide to Healing by Kristin Meekhof, James Windell. Copyright © 2015 Kristin Meekhof and James Windell. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Feeling Less Alone,
CHAPTER 1. The 411 on Surviving the First Month,
CHAPTER 2. Living on Empty: Coping With Your Feelings and Getting Support in the First Years,
CHAPTER 3. Navigating the Legal System: Wills, Estates, and the Probate Court,
CHAPTER 4. The Widow's Guide to Solo Parenting,
CHAPTER 5. Friends and Family: The Good, Bad, and Ugly,
CHAPTER 6. Facing Finances without Fear,
CHAPTER 7. Widow in the Workplace,
CHAPTER 8. The Best Advice I Never Got: Things Widows Know,
CHAPTER 9. Your Game Plan,
Appendix: Resources for Widows,
About the Authors,

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