How to Widow

16 steps to start navigating the winding path of life with a dead partner

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It’s been nearly a decade since I first got ‘the call’, raced to the hospital wondering if my husband would be still alive or was already dead when I got there, and removed medical support one week later. Then I drove home to tell our five year old his “Papa’s body died today.”

At first, being a widow was like waking up waking up in someone else’s body, like in  “Freaky Friday”; only, it’s not funny, it’s for forever and no one told you what the rules are.

While I’m still discovering new things about my widow’s club membership each day, I’m a lot more comfortable in this constantly uncomfortable state. So I’m offering you some of my own personal rules and mantras, with an open invitation to massage them to your liking or even just inspire you to make up your own.

  1. Avoid practical shoes in public. This is the first thing they look for.
  2. Think twice about arriving first to any social event. But certainly never, ever, stay last — especially if that comes after midnight. This is when they corner you, three drinks in, to share stories of their dead cat.
  3. Prepare no fewer than three jokes to interrupt any conversation when someone panic-talks and wants to ‘go there.’ Also, locate the exits and bathrooms in advance should all jokes fail and just make a break for it. This is where you are supposed to go cry, bravely if possible.
  4. Never talk too long to anyone’s husband. Even if you’ve been friends a long time and it wasn’t weird before. It is now – just trust me.
  5. Whenever anyone asks how your doing, but then pauses with an extra, “No, I mean how’re you reeeeeeally doing?”, remember that nine times out of ten they reeeeeeally don’t want the answer.
  6. Wanting to appear helpful and being actually helpful is confusing for most people.
  7. Read something not about death, parenting or menopause.
  8. Take advantage of the fact that you may have just lost a lot of grief weight and get new clothes that fit.
  9. Accept the drink from the good-looking stranger at the bar. Sitting with them is optional.
  10. Start paying attention to whether people are wearing wedding rings again. If they are and say they are in an open relationship, ask them if their partner is aware of this. If they say, “It’s complicated”, understand this to mean, “I have poor communication skills and cheat on my spouse.”
  11. Do not feel bad about taking a break from volunteering for anything anymore.
  12. Protect your credit score like your life depends on it.
  13. Create an urgent, important and ‘fuck-it’ list. Most things aren’t actually urgent.
  14. Apply for the financial aid even if you hate doing it.
  15. Go to a spa and get all your pubic hair removed with hot, scalding wax by a stranger. (It’s a thing now.) Immediately afterwards vow to never do that again. Trust me, they will fuck you anyway.
  16. Tell yourself that you can absolutely do this.

Trust me, you can.


Chanel Reynolds is the founder Get Your Shit Together and author of What Matters Most: The Get Your Sh*t Together Guide to Wills, Money, Insurance and Life’s “What-ifs.”


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