Navigating Loss: A Widow’s First Year Journey Through Grief and Healing

Apr 28, 2024 | 0 comments

First Death Anniversary Grief

David Bleicher grief

David Bleicher in 2023

When my husband David Bleicher died on April 28, 2023, I knew I’d be in for a year of grief, change and emotional turmoil. His sudden departure due to medical complications after what should have been a routine surgery left me grappling with a range of emotions and uncertainties. But in the midst of grief, I found ways to navigate the journey towards healing and resilience. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over the past year.

Widow’s Fog Brain is Real

In the aftermath of Dave’s death, I experienced what many refer to as “widow’s brain” or “fog brain.” It’s a state of mental fogginess, confusion, and forgetfulness that often accompanies profound grief. Simple tasks became challenging. My mind felt clouded and I moved slowly through the first month or two after the funeral. I’m glad that Jewish mourning traditions provide the support of community and encourage a retreat from the pressures of the everyday world for a month after the funeral. Seeking support from grief counselors and connecting with other widows provided validation and reassurance that I wasn’t alone in this experience.

Distractions Help Lessen Grief

Distractions can help address overwhelming grief. A month after the funeral, I became concerned about living alone. The Universe sent me a housemate for six months. He’s the son of a friend of mine, a young man who needed a place to live while finishing his pharmacy degree at the University of New Mexico.

He was upbeat and funny, but he kept odd hours and used up most of my monthly internet gigabyte allocation playing video games and streaming films. He spoke fluent Japanese, and I would hear him chatting with a girlfriend in Japan in the middle of the night. He was focused on weight training in addition to finishing his degree, and would scientifically calculate his daily caloric intake of protein and carbs in some very strange food combinations. He abused my nonstick wok cooking with sharp forks. By the time he graduated in mid-December, I was glad to have the house back to myself.

Grief Causes Physical Pain

Within a month of Dave’s death, I developed tingling in my right leg and soreness in my left jaw. My physician ordered an MRI of my brain (all normal) and my dentist prescribed steroids, which helped temporarily. It wasn’t until I went to an acupuncturist that I found true relief. She pressed on a point on my upper arms and asked, “Does that hurt?” Yes! “Those are grief points. The tenderness is a reflection of the grief you are feeling,” she said. It took a number of visits, but eventually all of the symptoms resolved.

Travel Can Help

You can find grief healing through travel. Leaving your usual surroundings can provide perspective and  escape the familiar reminders of loss. Trips included Kansas City, MO for the ICCFA convention, Delray Beach, FL for my parents’ 69th anniversary, Portland, OR and San Luis Obispo, CA to visit friends, Las Vegas, NV for the NFDA convention, and Little Rock, AR and Atlantic City, NJ to speak at funeral industry events.

Hospice Heart of Shells

Heart of shells in California.

Travel became a therapeutic tool, allowing me to process my emotions in new surroundings. I looked for hearts as a message from Dave and found them. I found solace in the embrace of friends and in the beauty of the world around me.

The Experience Helped Me Help Others

As I navigated my own journey of grief and healing, I discovered a newfound sense of purpose in supporting others facing similar challenges. Drawing from my own experiences, I speak about the experience of not only Dave’s death, but my father’s as well. Dad died in August of 2023, four months after Dave. They both died on in-patient hospice care. By sharing my story and offering guidance to those in need, I find healing in helping others find hope.

In the wake of this year of profound loss, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and transformation. Through the fog of grief, I found moments of clarity and strength that guided me towards healing and resilience. While the pain of loss persists, I’ve learned to embrace the beauty of life’s journey, finding solace in the memories of love shared and the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

About Gail Rubin, CT

Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist and the Doyenne of Death on grief

Gail Rubin, CT, pioneering death educator.

Pioneering death educator Gail Rubin, CT, was recognized by the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) with their prestigious Community Educator Award at the organization’s 2024 annual conference. She has has created and facilitated numerous community death education events and materials, including Before I Die Festivals, books and games for end-of-life planning, The Doyenne of Death Podcast, and talks illustrated with film clips.

A Good Goodbye