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How do we come to terms with our new “normal” as we attempt to navigate the great unknown?

Like a new piece of clothing, everyone is trying it on and wondering how it will fit.

Without a cure for Covid-19, life will be in constant flux as we live according to ever-changing societal rules. But, there are ways to navigate through this, and even ways to find some positive outcomes.

Six years ago, my world was completely uprooted when I became a 53-year-old widow. I believe that my sudden, life-altering experience can help others during this time.

For widows, many of the emotions that the world is now experiencing are not new. We have had to navigate a new world of emotions; the loss of a loved one, financial worry, panic, anxiety, rapid change, stress and loneliness. And, like you, we will never be able to go back to “normal”.

Widows have had to accept that life is forever changed. In fact, accepting this new reality is the first giant step forward. As with every challenge, it is how we handle the setbacks, confusion and stress that will determine our outcome.

So, here’s some advice from a widow who has been forced to throw out her entire “wardrobe” and put on the new clothes life chose for me.

We are all navigating through the same storm, yet our boats are very different.

Although we are all faced with the same pandemic, we each have our own set of distinctive circumstances – before and during – that determine how to best move forward. There is no shortage of “expert” opinions, but only you can determine your best course.

When I became a widow, everyone wanted to help and provide guidance. Friends, family and fellow widows all believed that they knew what was best for me. Although I appreciated the input, and attempted to follow much of the advice provided, it was best when I accepted that only I could captain my boat.

Similarly, although we are all experiencing Covid-19 together, we have our own exclusive waters to navigate. The ongoing input from news reports, friends and social media can be overwhelming.

The truth is that what works for others may not work for you. And, given that this is novel for us all, there is no set plan.

Do what feels right for you. If it isn’t working, turn your ship around and maneuver differently. The goal is to find the route that best suits you, while abiding by the law.

You are not in control, and that’s ok.

Much will remain out of our control as we face the reality of our new lives. Uncertainty is the new norm.

As we begin to get comfortable, chances are that things will continue to change. New information regarding the virus will continue to throw us in new directions. It’s vital to accept that life may never be as it was, and that it will continue to spiral for some time to come.

As a new widow, my life veered very far off course. I had never planned for this, and there was nothing I could do to maintain the life and future I had envisioned.

Fighting to control my life only set me on a spinning downward spiral filled with negative emotions and regret.

It takes time and practise to accept that our situation has changed, and that it is very much beyond our control. News flash! It’s time to accept the harsh reality that some things are going to continue to change.

Let’s be honest. Back in March, did you really think that you would be mandated to live in isolation and keep 6 feet apart from others for many months?

You accepted it, and you survived! As we continue to tiptoe out of this pandemic, there will be many new rules that we will have to endure. It’s ok. Take baby steps, and accept.

Take control

Even the simple things that you can control help keep you sane in a world that has changed beyond your grasp.

Hold onto what you can of a time you once cherished.

For example, you might not be able to choose your meals as you did in the past, but can you chose what time to eat, and where to sit. It will feel much better and you will be happier for this small shift in your perspective.

When my husband passed, I was confronted with all of his personal belongings. What should I do with them? Many people told me to keep them in our closet. This did not sit well with me. So I gathered them up, gave many items to friends and family, and donated most of the remainder. This felt best to me.

Appreciate the “new” you

You are no longer the same person that you were a few months ago. All difficult challenges naturally create change, and provide an opportunity for growth. Every new experience brings change.

Surprisingly, navigating life as a widow has been life-changing for my inner growth. I became a better version of me, once I accepted that I must grow to survive. I’ve had to dig down deep, and although I am still a work in progress, I am proud of who I have become.

Accept change

During Covid-19, we have had to carry on with our lives amidst great uncertainty and anxiety. Many have volunteered time, money, or served in potentially dangerous work environments. Some have had to learn to survive alone. Others have lost employment or even loved ones. These challenges have changed us.

Take time to discover the new you. What are some new or better pieces you can incorporate into your old self?

Look to tomorrow

No matter how awful and uncomfortable today is, tomorrow will get a little easier as we accept the “new normal”.

Some days are really hard. Things are spinning and changing, and we don’t want this.

It’s okay. Breathe. Tomorrow will be better. You can do this.

So here’s a secret: some days are so challenging for widows that we put the blankets over our head, and hope no one will realize we can’t get out of bed. We don’t want to accept our new life. We want it to go away. The hard reality is that our lives have changed, and there is nothing we can do to get it back to the old way.

Just remind yourself that you must get through today, and tomorrow will be a little bit easier.

Day by day, moment by moment, we learn to adjust and adapt. And, we can also take time out and hide under the covers (or in a closet) if privacy is impossible.

Reach out

Listen to your inner voice. It’s ok to admit that you need help.

We are living through very challenging times, and it’s no surprise if you need to call a friend. We all need to feel connected and sometimes that means a hug (even if it’s a cyber-hug).

Initially, help came to me from those who were in my inner circle of friends and family. But I quickly realized that these wonderful people could not fully grasp what I was going through, regardless of how much they tried.

So, I developed a valuable support network of recent widows, who proved helpful for that moment in time. As the years passed, I have collected a network of people who I can reach out to for support. Mostly, I turn to my dog for unconditional love.

These are not normal times and none of us have travelled this path before. So, reach out to others for support. Find a friend, colleague, neighbour, work buddy, online group… whatever works for you.

There are many organizations available to provide guidance during the pandemic if you feel you could use more professional support. Don’t be embarrassed; asking for support is the greatest gift you can give yourself.

Keep busy

The most counterproductive behaviour during difficult times is to sit and stew in your situation.

Try to find an outlet. Read a book, take an online course, make some bread, or go for a safe walk.

For me, I found volunteering was very helpful during the initial stages of widowhood, and again while I isolated in solitude during Covid-19. Volunteering keeps me focused and healthy instead of dwelling on my worries. It also provides a new narrative to talk about, so you don’t stew in sadness and anxiety.

But, don’t be too busy…

Be still

Being overly busy is a coping mechanism many of us use to run away from our problems.

In order to process this frightening new world, it is healthy to allow yourself some self-love and reflection. Take time for you. Bathe, meditate, or sit by a fire… do whatever you need to do to soak in the new reality and prepare to conquer.

After I lost my husband, sleep became a challenge for me. I did not want to quiet my brain and give it the opportunity to confront my grief. I now understand that we need stillness to move ourselves forward. Being stuck is not an option.

Balance

There is much talk regarding Covid-19 weight gain. It is challenging to stay home and not make the fridge your new best friend.

It’s okay to eat, but the comfort food that you’re craving is really not going to be beneficial. The excessive stress caused by the pandemic is depleting us of the balance we require for our brains and bodies. This balance is necessary so we are able to stay healthy.

This is the time for healthy eating and daily exercise to keep you energized and able to face whatever is coming.

I’ve never met a widow who has not lost weight during mourning. It’s hard to remember to take care of one’s body when your world is upside down.

After my husband died I was constantly getting sick, because I was not attending to my physical needs. It is vital that we stay healthy, so if we do become infected by the coronavirus we have the strength to combat it.

In addition, eating well and exercising will help ward off depression and additional mental health complications that are so common in a society filled with confusion and stress.

Create rituals

We are all in a state of sorrow, mourning a lost life we had taken for granted a few months ago.

Creating a ritual is nothing new. Cultural and religious rituals are everywhere. There is actually scientific proof that these rites can help fend off some of the sadness.

Perhaps it’s a photo of a loved one that you kiss each morning, or a favourite vacation destination recreated in your home.

The ritual can be as silly or emotional as you decide. The goal is to complete the ritual and allow it to add some positivity into your life.

My family and I have created many rituals to honour my late husband. These include eating some of his favourite foods, and sitting in his seat during family celebrations. It helps us to keep his memory alive and replace the sadness with joy.

You are more resilient than you may have thought. Look at yourself. Look at all the stresses you have endured in just a few short months. You’ve got this!

Never did I imagine that my husband would pass, or that I would have the strength to pull it all together. I still mourn the loss of him, and live with sadness and loneliness.

But I am proud that I have also survived and grown to become a better person.

Due to the coronavirus, the world has changed. It continues to spin out of control. As a survivor of change, I recognize the difficulties we all face in an uncertain and scary world.

I also realize that even when we find a vaccine or a cure, and the masks and gloves are no longer needed, my life will still have challenges unique to widowhood. This makes me anxious, so I’ll need to be sure that I’m following all of the advice I have shared, and remain forward-facing.

One thing I can guarantee is that life does not go according to plan.

Only you have the power to decide how you will handle uncertainty. I hope you choose to find joy, stay healthy, and continue positive growth during times of unrest.

You are resourceful, creative and whole – you can do this!

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Love,
Judy