Our relationships with our spouses are largely about sharing a vision for the future and working together to make those dreams a reality. If you’re a young widow, your spouse’s death is so much more than losing the person you love—it’s also a loss of the future you were building together. These shattered dreams are a major part of the experience of widowhood, and something that makes losing a spouse very different from losing any other family member.
Deciding how much of that imagined future to hold on to is an important part of the widowhood journey—though in all likelihood, you will only be able to control a portion of the choices about how much of your plans to let go of.
Freedom from Compromise
Marriage is built on compromise—about what to have for dinner, where to send your children to school and whether or not to go on vacation. There are no couples that have exactly the same preferences for every choice, large or small, that we face in life. But successful marriages happen when two people work together to make plans that work for both partners.
When your spouse dies, the ability to make decisions without consulting anyone can be freeing—but it can also feel overwhelming. You don’t have to compromise anymore, but you also don’t have someone to provide input when you’re unsure, and often you don’t know when to follow your late spouse’s wishes and when to ignore them.
As you’re thinking about new dreams for the future, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions:
- What parts of our joint vision for the future were things that I wanted, and what was important to my late spouse?
- Are there parts of our joint vision that weren’t mine, but that I want to hang on to as a way to maintain a connection with the life I had with my spouse?
- Are there wishes my spouse had that I feel responsible for honoring? This especially comes into play when you have children and want to honor some of your spouse’s preferences for raising them.
- Is there anything in our joint vision that I’m not ready to let go of yet but might abandon in the future?
- Lastly and most important, what does my vision for the future look like if I don’t have to compromise with anyone?
Plans for the future are dynamic—they change regularly and it’s rare that our current life actually matches the vision we had for ourselves in the past. Reimagining your future without your spouse is a living process, one that can change from week to week or month to month.
However, it is important to regain a feeling of working towards some type of future. In the early days and months post-loss, you’ll likely feel like you just need to get through the day or week, but working towards long-term goals will help you establish a sense of meaning in your life—and satisfaction when you meet your goals.
Working with a counselor can help you recognize how grief over your lost dreams is contributing to your grief after your spouse’s death. Counselors can also guide you through creating short, medium and long-term goals that are yours and yours alone. Together, we will work on creating a new future that is different but just as good as the one you had envisioned with your spouse.