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Advice for Military Widows

Tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery, July 2006Memorial Day weekend has become a time for the first barbeques, outdoor pool celebrations, and huge sales at nearly every department store. For those who have lost a loved one in the armed forces, however, Memorial Day can be a difficult time.  And with thousands of young men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are, in turn, thousands of young widows and widowers looking for support and resources.

Losing a loved one in combat is probably the most difficult and painful time in your life. When facing this crisis, it’s important to remember to give yourself time to grieve your loss and accept any feelings that may arise, including sadness, guilt, anger, isolation, loneliness, or depression.  All these feelings, and any others, are OK: you’ll have good days and bad days, days when your grief is more triggered than others, days when you laugh, and days when you cry.  But if you give yourself time to grieve, life will eventually stabilize.

If you have children, it’s important to be honest with them about your spouse’s death.  Children know when adults are skewing the truth, so explain to them what it means for someone to be physically dead; don’t use euphemisms such as “lost,” “gone away,” or “sleeping.”  Give your children permission—just like you gave yourself—to feel grief or any other feelings, and don’t hide your own feelings from them.  Explain your family’s and the army’s death rituals to your children, and prepare them for all activities including the funeral itself, any viewings, the burial, and any post-funeral gatherings.  If the children are willing, let them be active participants in the funeral and surrounding activities, such as picking out the casket, writing a note to your spouse, selecting what clothes they will wear.

When you are ready, it’s extremely important to evaluate your finances after the death of a spouse.  As a military widow, you will receive a $100,000 death benefit from the government and professional financial advice to help you manage this money and your other funds.  You’ll need to use your death benefit and your other money wisely, to be sure you can pay your mortgage or rent, have health and life insurance as well as any other insurance, and provide for your children.  Be organized about your finances, know where everything is, and have a plan for surviving the worst possible financial situations.

Finally, many of your family and friends may encourage you to start dating.  Don’t let anyone push you into a relationship or dating; only do so when you are ready and feel confident about yourself.  If you feel ready to date, many military widows have a hard time dating because they feel that men are trying to take advantage of them or compare themselves to your late husband.  So when you’re ready to get back into the dating scene, don’t go searching immediately for your life partner (after all, were you searching for your husband before you were married?), have fun, and be confident about your self worth.

There is a great resource for military widows, The American Widow Project, with links to blogs, books, and podcasts.  Be sure to take a look at this website for fantastic online support!

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