Support for Women Coping with Widowhood
Widowed at a young age, Carole Brody Fleet, author of Widows Wear Stilettos, offers advice for widows of all ages.
Commitment: You were widowed at age 40. How did your own experiences lead you to write Widows Wear Stilettos?
Carole Brody Fleet: It was the glaring lack of specific support for women who are widowed at a younger age (of whom there are literally millions); as well as a desire to use my personal experiences to help ease others' pain, enhance lives and coach widows of all ages that were the driving forces behind the books, the CD and the founding of Widows Wear Stilettos. In other words, and to my way of thinking, if you can't find it, you create it.
Originally intended as a single book, Widows Wear Stilettos quickly evolved into a global support organization; helping widows everywhere find comfort, solace and community with other women in the same situation; using both sound practical advice as well as a little bit of humor.
Commitment: The title of your book is intriguing! How did you come up with it?
Carole: Thank you, I appreciate that! The title and concept of Widows Wear Stilettos actually came as the result of one of the few coherent moments that I had at my husband's funeral; though I had no idea that moment would eventually become a book title. Since he was a highly-decorated police officer, his was an extremely large and very beautiful funeral; resplendent in tradition. It was while the honor guard was preparing the American flag to present to me that the word "widow" occurred to me for the very first time since my husband's death. The very next thought that ran through my admittedly-foggy mind was, "I can't be a widow – I wear four-inch heels. I drink martinis. I listen to heavy-metal music. I have a young child." In other words, I ascribed to the same stereotype that the majority of other people think of when they hear the word "widow". I have been committed to breaking that stereotype ever since.
It's also important to note that although Widows Wear Stilettos addresses issues that are particular to chronologically younger widows, we have happily welcomed widows ranging in age from 17 years to 88 years young. We make no distinction between "young" and "old" and the bottom line is that if a widow of any age is receiving what she seeks at Widows Wear Stilettos (be it support, education, community, a sense of direction or smile or two), then she belongs at Widows Wear Stilettos; regardless of the date reflected on her birth certificate.
Commitment: What are some issues that younger widows face which older ones might not?
Carole: Foremost would be the stereotype to which I just referred – and the ensuing reactions that one receives from people who surround a younger widow; which can be unsettling at best and insulting at worst. You naturally feel isolated because of the loss and that's common among anyone who has lost a spouse – but now factor in that you also feel completely marginalized; as though you fit in nowhere. Your contemporaries are either married and raising families or divorced / single by choice…and you feel totally alone; as though no one has ever experienced what you are going through.
There are also the more practical aspects of younger widowhood, such as being left to raise adolescent or younger children or even having to give birth on your own; having lost your husband while pregnant. And what if you are a widow who never had the opportunity to have children? There may also be the matter of having to return to the workplace; either right after bereavement or perhaps after being a homemaker and out of the workplace for years.
Also quite common is that people who surround a younger widow are more likely to try and tell her what to do and how to do it – from dating again to handling finances to raising children and everything in between – and the younger the widow, the more likely this is to happen. Many if not most of our chronologically older widowed sisterhood are retired or nearing retirement and have already raised their families…and people are less likely to approach an older woman and say things such as, "It's been six months, you should be 'over it' by now" or "When are you going to start….(dating again, going through his things, getting ready to move). Comments such as these can easily cause the younger widow to start doubting her own judgment or even her sanity – and that's where Widows Wear Stilettos comes in.
Commitment: What are some of the most difficult things you faced as a young widow?
Not knowing who I was as a 40 year old widow with an adolescent daughter to raise; certainly not a place that I (or ANY of us) expected to be at that point in life. I was also completely overwhelmed with the prospect of recovering in all respects – financially, emotionally and mentally – and having no idea of where, or even HOW to start.
Commitment: Throughout Widows Wear Stilettos you include “Cry and Carry On” alerts which are meant to tell the reader that it’s ok to feel sad. Do you think most widows believe they need permission to express their sadness?
Carole: Absolutely! I receive so many letters from widows who tell me how well they "were" doing on their healing journey and then "something" happened (they heard a favorite song, smelled his cologne, celebrated an occasion), they found themselves crying and all of a sudden, they negate the entire recovery process, declare themselves to have had a "major setback" (or words to that effect) and want to know what to do about it. My job is to let them know that they have most certainly NOT suffered a "setback"; that there will ALWAYS be those times in life when you will miss your late husband and to accept those times (along with the tears). Two of my favorite
words to use with widows is, "It's OK", because generally speaking, whatever the situation, as long as you are not coping in a destructive manner - it is OK. That little voice inside all of us – the voice called "judgment" - will rarely steer us wrong.
Commitment: How important are family and friends during this difficult time in a woman’s life?
Carole: The obvious answer would be "very" – except that sadly and too often, not everyone who considers themselves "family" or "friends" are necessarily helpful or even well-meaning. Those who are loving, helpful and respectful family members and friends who truly have the widow's best interests at heart are paramount to a widow's recovery. Those who have nothing but negativity to offer or show up with a "hand out" (or what I refer to as the "What's In It For Me" crowd) are, to understate, completely detrimental…and unfortunately, I have a myriad number of stories from thousands of widows regarding "family and friends" who fit the latter description.
Commitment: When should a grieving widow seek professional help?
Carole: If a widow finds herself unable to function in her daily life (work, raising children, etc); if she is coping in a destructive manner (which manifests in many ways other than just the abuse of alcohol and drugs); if she is feeling as though life is no longer worth living, she MUST seek professional attention immediately. I recommend this in every interview that I conduct as well as in all coaching sessions, the books that I've written and on the CD. A very important part of my job is to remind the widowed that it is not a sign of strength to try and get through this experience alone; nor is it a sign of weakness to say, "You know what – I need help".
Commitment: Widows Wear Stilettos is, in part, a journal for women to answer questions and make lists to help them confront difficult feelings and situations. Is this an important part of moving on?
Carole: Journaling – writing down the feelings that you are having "in the moment" can be incredibly important in a number of respects. First, it always helps to simply "get it out and onto
paper"; to just mentally and emotionally "unload" without the fear of the opinions of others. Secondly and perhaps even more importantly, it later allows a widow to stop and
"look back" to see how far she has progressed along on her healing journey. There's an immense satisfaction in being able to actually "see" your healing in progress; to actually "see
yourself" getting better day by day.
Commitment: You refer to the “Business of Widowhood.” What do you mean by that?
Carole: The "business" of widowhood is the "one thing we hate and the one thing that can't wait" - the financial and legal transitioning from married to widowed. Why do we hate it so
much? The paperwork; the fact that most of us are not financial planners, estate planners or legal experts; the "where do I begin" of it all (with a brain that is already completely clouded
with grief). Every bank, every credit card company, every insurance organization wants something different…where do you find it? What if you don't have it? What if you can't get
it…whatever "it" is!
Though it's the subject that everyone hates and the subject that I like teaching and writing about the least, it is without a doubt, the most important. A widow needs to know how to
immediately generate income to her family and then needs to have other matters prioritized for resolution – in other words, what needs attention first. For example, selling or refinancing a
home with a deceased spouse's name on title is complicated at best and in some areas of the country, impossible at worst. The book teaches what to do about that and many other
situations. There are also checklists and suggestions on how to organize paperwork, telephone calling and the vital following up, which are all designed not only for efficiency but for peace of
mind as well.
Commitment: How do her children affect the way a woman handles widowhood?
Carole: On the one hand, children "compel" the widow to get out of bed and "get on with it" – school still needs to be attended, lunches need to be made, dental appointments kept, activities pursued and so forth. However, I also teach that moving forward "because of the children" is not reason enough for moving forward with life. Children eventually "grow up and go away" – that's their "job". We need to make a life for ourselves that is satisfying and independent of our children and their activities.
Also vitally important is to realize that children do indeed take their "cues" from us. I realized very early on in my recovery processes that my daughter was watching how I was coping and the attitude that I had toward our situation in general. I wanted her to see an overall example of strength - that we could get completely knocked down by life, go through the worst that life had to throw at us and that we could eventually get back up and move forward into a new life.
Commitment: What advice do you have for other young widows?
Carole: Understand that although you may feel like it right now, this minute – you are NOT alone! There is help, there is hope and there are millions of women just like you; thousands of whom you can meet at www.widowswearstilettos.com. Make the choice right now – TODAY – that you are going to recover; that you are going to surround yourselves with the tools and the expertise that you need to help you move forward. Realize that there will be good days and "challenging days" but that ANY step forward…is a STEP FORWARD! Most of all, realize that just by being here, you have a very basic entitlement. You are entitled to live a life that includes abundance, happiness and yes, love ( if you choose it) – let NO ONE tell you otherwise.
Carole Brody Fleet is the award-winning author of “Widows Wear Stilettos: A Practical and Emotional Guide for the Young Widow” (New Horizon Press); as well as the author and executive producer of her CD, entitled, “Widows Wear Stilettos: What Now?” She is the founder of Widows Wear Stilettos and www.WidowsWearStilettos.com, the first website of its kind; allowing actual interactivity between its visitors, as well as a place where widows of all ages find support and encouragement; helpful tips, education and resources for themselves and for their children.
Using a fresh approach and putting a unique “twist” on her topics, Ms. Fleet is a popular motivational speaker and coach to those who have been touched by the pain and challenge of widowhood; regardless of age. With her own inimitable message of “What Now and What Next”, Ms. Fleet educates, motivates, inspires, enlightens and offers practical, emotional and even humorous guidance to the millions who have experienced loss, tragedy or a challenge in their lives.
Ms. Fleet also speaks to general audiences of all ages; addressing such issues as goal-setting and achievement; overcoming obstacles; time management; stress management; work and life balance; “leadership or “leaner-ship”; giving back / effecting change and “finding the powerful voice within” – and does so in an uplifting, witty manner.
Ms. Fleet has made guest appearances on national, regional and local television; appears as a regular guest on numerous radio programs in the United States, Canada and Mexico and is a featured expert in many well-known international and national magazines, newspapers and websites in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. She addresses a wide variety of topics; including, but not limited to: caregiving, illness and loss / post-loss issues; as well as matters relating to financial transition after loss or divorce; raising children who have lost a parent; re-entering the world of dating and love and most importantly, making a return to a fulfilling and abundant life after the loss of a spouse; as well as after any kind of loss, tragedy, challenge or life difficulty.
To purchase Widows Wear Stilettos, click here.