I received an email the other day from a widow who is in a support group of other widows, all fairly recent. She asked me what words of wisdom I could give her and her group, as someone who is 7 years out, and thus not "freshly" grieving. I thought my reply might help others as well [note: my response has been altered a little to make sense here]:
Probably, the toughest lesson is that grief is still very present, even 7 years on. Its not the cry-everyday-in-the car kind of grief, but something with a subtle sheen. The highs of life aren't quite as high and the lows are still there. I think the trick, and something I am constantly battling, is trying to enjoy those little moments of accomplishment. Really taking the time to pat yourself on the back when things go right and not beat yourself up too badly when they don't.
I think its also important to ride the lows. Realize when you are in them, observe how you feel, be curious about the low and really try hard to figure out where its coming from and what its about. I think I used to fear the lows, but now I just ride them, knowing they won't last. Nothing ever seems to stay the same for long.
I am learning to enjoy the small pleasures in life. My joys now are in getting emails from people who my book has helped, knowing it has comforted someone, or being inspired by someone I meet randomly, like on a plane. I love seeing my daughter kick a ball or my son laugh. There is a subtly to life now. I don't get quite as excited about things the way I used to, but I also notice many things that I never noticed before.
I know how hard all those decisions are that you now have to make on your own. I found I did best with those when I followed my gut (some would say heart). It made no sense that I should move to Seattle, (rather than Toronto where my family still lives), but it felt right. It all fell into place easily. Its hard telling people what "feeling your gut" actually feels like, but it has to do with feeling happy about a decision vs. feeling anxious about it. Go with the happy feeling every time and you will be amazed that all those decisions will turn out to be good ones.
I also am a huge proponent of taking care of your body. Eating right, getting enough sleep and exercise and for me, getting body work once a month. There is something about the power of touch in the healing process that is unprecedented. Vitally important.
A community of support is also a huge asset. Just being able to continue to talk about your grief and loss, with people who don't care how far along you are or think that you should be over it, is very beneficial.
Overall, I have to say, I am far more self aware now than I ever was before Arron died. I wonder now, if I was even awake then. I truly like the person I am now, but also accept that with that realization comes a certain amount of survivor guilt. (eg, Arron had to die for me to be this person). I know that guilt is a useless emotion and that Arron would be proud of me now, but that little thought nags me. The good news is that with each new gut decision, that somehow turned out to be the right thing to do, the guilt diminishes and is replaced with pride.
In the end, grief just becomes a part of who you are. It gives a person depth, understanding, compassion, empathy, vision, and a whole lot more. All qualities I wouldn't give up for the world.