The Middle Years
Once again, I was honored this summer to present to campers at Camp Widow in San Diego, my nineteenth camp over the last eleven years. I am always humbled by the fortitude and perseverance the campers demonstrate while trying to make sense of their new lives following the loss of a partner. This is truly an amazing group of widows who travel from all over the world to connect with other widows who are on a similar journey.
New to camp this year was the addition of program tracks correlating to the amount of time that had passed since the date of their loved one’s death – allowing campers to connect with others whose loss occurred within the same general timeframe. Soaring Spirits International, the premier organization researching and supporting widows, defined four distinct groups: Newly Widowed, Recently Widowed, Middle Widowed and Seasoned Widowed. The care for each grouping focuses on the perceived emotional and physical state of each widow population, based on research and experience supporting each other. I was honored to be assigned the Middle Widowed group, those widowed for 3-5 years.
As I prepared for the session, I was energized to be facilitating this group since I could remember those years as the most formative time in my own grief journey following Rod’s untimely death. I was eager to share what I had personally learned and to provide true insights of the personal growth and transition that occurs from the earlier years of raw emotional pain, eventually finding the will and determination to experience a fulfilling future.
The overflowing room included widows of all ages, embracing each other while sharing answers to the customary three questions: What is your partners name? When did they pass? and What were the circumstances of their death? The opportunity to be together provided a genuine bonding moment for those who had experienced a similar loss. As I introduced myself and the objectives of the session, I saw expressions of confidence, courage and hopefulness across the audience.
Whether the loss is of a spouse/partner, parent, child, sibling or friend, the “middle years” often represent the pivotal timeframe of discovery and healing. I referred to the group as my “toddlers,” since they were a point in their grief journey that represents boundless emotional, cognitive and social development – the notion of “toddling,” walking unsteadily or with a waddle. The campers were so eager to absorb and learn from one another, preparing themselves to advance beyond being a toddler.
These middle years represent a time when you begin to rebuild your life as the tender days turn to finding joyfulness and enjoyment. When you realize your relationships with others might be changing, you begin to understand that your “new normal” is becoming a reality. These soul-searching and self-discovery years allow you to move forward and grow while keeping your loved one right there with you.
The discoveries we discussed in the session included:
Time softens the pain; however, it will always be present.
The people around us will never truly understand the magnitude of emotions felt when you lose someone special. Nor should they.
As much as peer support provides relatability and a connection, each journey will be different. We will never really know what happens behind someone’s front door or what support they have from others.
Self-doubt when refocusing on the future is common. The notion of change is often perceived as negative before it becomes positive.
An individual experiencing a loss will never be exactly the same. The loss will transform you, finding strength you were unaware you had.
The merging of your old and new life offers security that your loved one will be with you in the future.
Remain confident that you are making the right decisions based on what you know at the time. These decisions may not be any different than the ones you made before the loss.
The only person who should be judging your decisions is you. Remain self-assured that you are responsible for who you are rather than the opinion of others.
The thought of longing for your loved one will be on-going. While we cannot turn back time, we can continue a relationship filled with memories and possessions.
These self-introspections provided campers with a greater appreciation that while each of their journeys is different, they are not alone in thoughts, insecurities, pain, growth, self-evolution, and advancement. They understood that each challenge they face and each new decision they are confronted with would become clearer and more powerful. The middle years are just that – the time when pain softens and the future begins to reveal itself.
No different than toddlers who are eager to learn, accomplish tasks on their own and find their footing, widows or anyone who has experienced a substantial loss strive to stand up straight, walk forward and always keep those they love close to them. The middle years will prove to be that crucial transition.
Rachel Kodanaz is a heart-minded professional helping her audiences to embrace life’s challenges. Rachel has been speaking passionately to national audiences of all sizes for over 20 years, addressing all aspects of change, growth, and acceptance that comes with embracing life’s challenges – those expected and unexpected.
Rachel has published numerous articles and has appeared on Good Morning America. Her books, Finding Peace, One Piece at a Time: What to do with yours or a loved one’s personal possessions, best-selling Living with Loss One Day at a Time, and Grief in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide for Being Prepared have received international acclaim.