10 things I learned about surviving winter as a widow

Maine winters are a challenge. They used to be a challenge because of the amount of snow we received. Now they are a challenge because the type of precipitation is unpredictable.


Eight inches of snow one day; two inches of rain the next. Ice on the driveway and in the dog fence, which turns to mud a few days later. Snow over it all and then a little warming and freezing and back to ice again.

Good grief.

I have lived my life in Maine thus far, minus a few months, and I’ve grown into its weather peculiarities. I found it a pain to deal with winter’s special needs when my husband Jim was alive, but now that he’s gone, I’ve had to develop some methods for dealing with winter’s challenges as a widow.

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Here are 10 things I‘ve learned, mostly the hard way:

  1. If you have to get on your roof to shovel anything off, let someone know. I call or text my neighbor when I go up on the roof and then when I get back down. That way I don’t feel alone, and I have a safety net of sorts. My instructions to my friend? If you don’t hear from me in an hour and you can’t see me, either call me or come see if I’m splatted on the ground, and to have her phone ready to call 9-1-1. She has drilled it into my head that I must check in.
  2. Do the difficult work in short bursts. Don’t try to chip all of the ice off all of the steps in one session. Do a little. Salt/sand it and do a little more later. It will get done. My experience has been that once it is done, we just get more ice and I have to start all over again anyway. Why mess up my back the first time around?
  3. Use the sun to your advantage. I would have to get up on the roof a lot more to clean off my satellite dish if I didn’t just let the sun do its job. I watch TV less and less these days anyway. But the sun also can help with those stubborn icy steps.
  4. Take your cell phone with you when you are outside. You never know when you might hit an icy patch, fall and break something — or collapse a lung, like I did a few years ago. If you fall in an area where no one could see you very easily, you could call for help if you have your phone. The idea that I could freeze to death before anyone found me is one of my greatest fears.
  5. When the driveway is icy, be sure to wear ice thingies — grippers — on your boots or shoes to either grip or dig into the ice, making it less likely you will slip and fall. You also might consider using a walking stick that has a rubber shoe on the bottom of it, or a cane with an ice pick attachment.
  6. If your mailbox is at the end of your driveway, get your mail when you are coming or going in your vehicle so you don’t have to walk across your icy driveway to get to the mailbox. Minimizing your encounters with ice — unless you intend to ice skate — may keep you uninjured.
  7. Find yourself a really reliable plow guy or gal. I’ve lived in the same old farmhouse for so long, mine is third generation. A reliable plow person can ease your mind about being able to get out of your yard to make it to your job, which you need to pay your bills. He or she also minimizes the amount of actual shoveling you have to do.
  8. If you have to get the snow off your flat roof — like my garage I didn’t build — be sure to use a safe method. I have a snow scoop, which I don’t have to lift when it’s full. I can just push it along the roof, dump its contents off the edge and go back for the next scoop. Follow instructions in Tip No. 1 about notifying someone of your whereabouts.
  9. If you like to hike, snowshoe or cross country ski by yourself, make sure you let someone know your whereabouts, your approximate route, and your approximate schedule. That’s good advice for anyone, not just widows and people who live alone. Be safe.
  10. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all have friends and family who are more than willing to lend us a hand. Sometimes the necessities of maintaining a home, yard or vehicle during the winter months is really overwhelming, especially if you are widowed and are having to learn how to deal with such responsibilities without a mate. I’ve learned to swallow my pride, to put aside the fear of being “that widow” who is always bugging people to do something for me, and to just ask.

It hasn’t killed me yet.

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Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.