Reimagining Your Future


Eventually, there is more to healing than coming to terms with the past or being satisfied with simply making it through the day. It also means grappling with what you want your life to look like moving forward: the business of reimagining your future.

Dating

You likely had not expected to go on a ‘first date’ again. Desiring companionship is natural, but the thought of being with someone new can be complicated. There is often anxiety that comes with re-entering the dating world.

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The widowed parents whom we have worked with suggest several insights when navigating the dating issue:

  • Wanting to be with someone is ok. You lost your spouse — not your desire to be intimate with another person.
  • Date when you are ready. There is no standard timeline. Some are ready to date earlier than others. Follow your own instincts rather than feel pressured by others suggesting that you “should” be dating again.
  • If you begin dating someone, tell your children. This depends on their age, of course. But if your child is old enough to notice that there is a new person in your life, it’s better to have an honest conversation about it. By telling them, you control the message and can answer their questions.
  • Your children’s reaction may surprise you. Some children view dating as an attempt to replace the parent they lost. Others are happy to have another parent figure in their lives. You know your children the best, but their reactions may still catch you by surprise. Again, the key is open communication.
  • Being ready to date doesn’t mean you are done mourning. Your family or friends may believe that dating again means that now you are “better.” That’s typically not how it works. Becoming close to another person does not mean that you are “over” your grief.

Personal Growth

No one has to tell you that grief is painful. This is not news. What may be surprising is that — over time — some people actually experience personal growth following the loss of a spouse.

The phenomenon has a name: post-traumatic growth. When this takes place, it is usually with the benefit of time and perspective. This kind of personal growth can be seen in different ways: improved relationships, better appreciation for things once taken for granted, more of a willingness to try new things, and a deeper understanding of spiritual beliefs.

Not everyone experiences post-traumatic growth, and it is not necessary in order to heal or adapt to loss. If one day you do recognize that you have become a better person, embrace it.

Getting Better

In all likelihood, your grief will lessen substantially over time and you will find your way again. We see this nearly every day in our clinical work. It can be a major struggle to imagine how life can ever feel good again, and it’s true that some wounds don’t heal completely. But, in time, and for most people, things do get better.

Our research suggests the same thing. In one study, we looked at how parents coped for two years following their spouse’s death and found that, on average, their levels of grief and depression fell considerably over that period of time.

While grief lessens for most people, some continue to struggle for prolonged periods of time. Sometimes, meeting with a trained counselor or receiving support from a member of the clergy is needed. Certainly, if you are having thoughts that life is no longer worth living or specific thoughts about suicide, please tell someone and arrange to get help immediately.

Lessons Learned

Ultimately, healthy grieving will help you adapt to a life-altering change and create a new life that feels meaningful for you and your family. Based on our experience working with widowed parents, you may cope better if you can do the following:

  • Be patient and fair with yourself. You deserve it — and it’s not possible to be perfect.
  • Find someone to talk with. Whether it’s a friend, family member, therapist, member of the clergy, or as part of a support group, having someone to share your experiences with is important.
  • Take care of your own needs. It is all too easy to place your own needs behind that of your family’s. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take center stage.

Parent to Parent

Finally, a few words of advice from those who have walked in your shoes. The real experts.

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