You’d think that the worst part of becoming a widow is, well, the obvious: losing your husband. If and when you actually become one, though, you are forced to learn that the physical loss of the man you exchanged vows with is just the tip of the iceberg. All the really hard crap lies underneath the surface. I wish I could tell you that it can only get better from here, but I want you to hear the truth. I want to tell you the things that nobody told me on the day my husband died.
- People will break their promises to you.
Right now, the loss of your husband is still fresh for all who cared about him. Many friends and family members are likely telling you that you can count on them at any hour of the day. They are sending you food and flowers and gifts. They may even be coming over to do your laundry, help with dishes, or offer to spend the night to fill the silent void in your empty home. This may even go on for months, but it will gradually stop, as they settle back into their daily routines and continue to move forward with their own plans for the future. Their lives will mostly go back to normal while you are still trying to figure out what the hell “normal” even means without him.
Now don’t get me wrong – I am not saying these people don’t genuinely care and want to help you through your difficult time. There’s a good chance they wholeheartedly believe in the promises they are making to you and really plan to keep them, and are completely unaware of how unrealistic they actually are. While other people lost the person they worked with, saw at family gatherings, or maybe even spoke to everyday on the phone, none of their daily routines have been as directly affected as yours. You lost the person you made every decision with – from grocery lists to what to eat for dinner to career moves. It’s only natural that you will feel the effects of his absence in a way that most others won’t be able to relate to or understand.
The most important promise in the aftermath of your husband’s death can only be made by you, to yourself: KEEP GOING. Anyone who stays along for the ride to help and support you is a bonus, but the hard work has to come from you.
- You will be judged – by others and by yourself.
So many opinions and unsolicited advice will be thrown at you. You’ll be told you’re crying too much or not enough, that you need to express your feelings and yet need to keep it together, that you should sell your house because it’s too much to manage on your own, but that you shouldn’t let it go because it holds so many memories and you may regret it. Like the saying goes, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” You will feel this way a lot at first. Again, most of these judgments will be what I like to call “innocently ignorant” because most people can’t even begin to understand what you’re going through. You will hopefully learn to tell the difference between good and bad intentions and lean on the people who have your best interest at heart.
The most important thing to remember is not to judge yourself too harshly. You didn’t ask for this, you don’t know what you’re doing, you will make mistakes, and you will change your mind about things.
Be patient. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Learn to practice forgiveness early.
- Your relationships with people will change drastically, and some may end altogether.
Some bonds will be strengthened immensely. Others, though, will fade. It’s not because anyone stopped caring. The dynamics of your relationships with people will be altered forever, and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s simply because a piece of the puzzle is now missing and the remaining pieces may not fit together the way they once did.
- You may feel angry with your husband at times.
I know. This sounds really harsh and completely unreasonable, right? Unless he took his own life, you may be thinking, “He didn’t choose this, how on Earth could I be angry with him?” I’ll tell you how – because grief can be insanely irrational at times.
You might feel angry that he left you.
You might feel angry that you have to deal with all the secondary losses that his death caused.
You might feel angry that you have to go through all his hoarded crap and organize all his paperwork, when you’d been nagging him about it for months before you even knew he was sick.
When you feel this way, I want you to try to remember something. You are not a terrible person and you are neither the first nor the last widow that will experience this. More importantly – I’m willing to bet you aren’t actually angry at him, but rather, angry that you have to live without him.
- Time won’t “heal” this wound.
Shortly after Ralf passed away, I had a counselor tell me that it would probably take me 3 to 5 years to “fully” grieve my husband (ha!). I’m not a mental health professional or a grief specialist, and I don’t have data or statistics to back my argument, but I have to tell you that I completely disagree with this statement. I’m almost 3 years out and my grief has no end in sight.
Time isn’t healing my wound; it’s just showing me how to live with it. Most importantly, I am still grieving even though I’ve also found new love and have rebuilt my life. Yes, you can do both simultaneously – don’t let anyone try to convince you that moving forward and grief must be mutually exclusive of each other.
These are the things nobody warned me about on the day I lost Ralf, and I had to learn them on my own.
On the other hand, there was one thing that I was told repeatedly and had difficulty believing. Now, I can tell you that it is absolutely true, as long as you don’t give up….
You are going to be okay.