They say not to make big life decisions while grieving. But I moved to Madrid right after my husband's funeral — and it was the right decision.

  • Margarita Gokun Silver lost her home after her husband of 27 years died unexpectedly.

  • Her family had lived as expats in six countries and raised their teenage daughter in Spain.

  • Madrid supported her when she felt lonely back then, so she relocated there again.

If there's one rule grief counselors and bereavement support groups agree on, it's that making a big decision following a loss is not a good idea. Whether it's changing jobs, discarding keepsakes, or selling your home and moving, the general advice is to wait from six months to a year before embarking on a path that could be life-altering.

When my husband of 27 years died, I completely disregarded that advice.

He died in Massachusetts, having been diagnosed with a rare lymphoma 14 months earlier and then medically evacuated from an assignment in Greece. We spent that year of his treatment living out of suitcases in a temporary apartment and dreaming of returning to post once the nightmare was over.

When his cancer relapsed for the third time, he decided to discontinue the treatment. His death, a mere three weeks later, didn't only leave me a widow at an age I never imagined possible; it also meant that, in addition to losing a loved one, I lost my home.

Widowhood and no place to call home

A globe-trotting family for 25 years and never in one place for long enough to sprout roots, home meant wherever my husband, daughter, and I were together. But, now that he was gone and my daughter was grown, I was faced with a realization that in addition to planning a funeral, I also had to make a major decision. Where was I going to live?

During our expat career, we lived and worked in six countries and traveled to over 40 more. Yet one country — and particularly one city — had always captured our affections enough to discuss returning there to retire. For me, though, Madrid wasn't only a wonderfully livable city with cultural activities galore, excellent public transport, and amounts of sunshine to rival Florida. The last time we'd lived there, the city had helped pull me out of desperation so deep it seemed unsurmountable.

A perfect city for the lonely and sad

Two women seated at a yellow table in Madrid
Margarita Gokun Silver celebrated her birthday with her daughter in Madrid.Margarita Gokun Silver

Our 2012 to 2017 stint in Madrid coincided with our daughter's rising adolescence. Several months shy of her 13th birthday, she wasn't officially a teen, yet, unofficially, she exhibited all the signs. She slammed doors, screamed her way through arguments, and smeared ketchup on pads to impersonate a period so she could skip her swimming lessons.

We fought every day and our arguments always ended the same way: me on the kitchen floor crying and her in her room boiling with rage and messaging her friends. New in an unfamiliar city with a husband who was overwhelmed at work, I felt lonely and abandoned.

Meanwhile, outside my window, Madrid pulsed with the sounds of people having drinks with friends, chatting with vendors at the fruit stand across the street, and meeting neighbors at wine tastings in a delicatessen below. Mothers walked hand-in-hand with their teenage daughters, and whole families window-shopped as one. Togetherness defined this city, and yet I was alone.

Then, one day, after a particularly nasty fight, I was so desperate to be out of the house that I lingered at my neighborhood market. I elicited the fishmonger's advice, I asked the fruit vendor to help me choose the best tomatoes, and, at the bakery, the baker suggested I try a Galician loaf. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, I was having conversations without hostility and resentment. People treated me kinder than my own family did.

Later this pattern repeated itself in other stores, at coffee shops, and at restaurants. I started going out just to interact with people, to soak up the affection I was missing. No longer did I fight tears after stepping out onto the street: togetherness didn't bother me anymore. Instead of hating it, I sought it out.

Madrid as my new home

When my husband died, Madrid was the first place I thought of as a potential new home. Sure, I could have stayed around Boston, where my husband's family lived, or gone to Florida to join my parents. But neither option offered the emotional refuge I so desperately needed.

If Madrid had nourished me at my most lonely and despondent once before, I knew it could heal me from grief so heavy I sometimes struggled to leave my bed. To walk to bakeries and cheese shops; to claim tables at neighborhood cafés for quick writing sessions; to open my window and hear the whistle of the knife sharpener, the bustle of shops, and the conversations of strangers was exactly what I wanted.

So, a little over a month after my husband's funeral, I flew to Spain to explore (I have dual US and EU citizenship) and, eight months later, I moved to Madrid. It's now been over a year since I made Madrid my home. I'm still thrilled I flouted that rule for the recently bereaved.

Margarita Gokun Silver is the author of "I Named My Dog Pushkin (and other immigrant tales)." You can follow her adventures in Madrid on

Got a personal essay about living abroad or parenting that you want to share? Get in touch with the editor:

Read the original article on Business Insider