One of the greatest things about relationships and marriage is that you get to share it with someone you love. As your relationship/marriage evolves, a foundation for life is built between the two of you. Together, the people in the relationship decide what life means to them, be it having children, buying a home, starting a business – things like that. You trust your entire lives to each other and to meeting the goals that will fulfill your lives together.

But then, life, or rather, death, happens.

When my husband was diagnosed, our lives halted while we worked to figure out what Tony’s illness really meant to and for us. Eventually, we decided it was a test and only a test, and that we would not only pass but be better for it. Not only that, we would still be able to do the things we planned. It was just a bump in the road, that’s all.

As time passed, we realized that, well, no, it wasn’t simply a bump in the road. It was a huge, thick wall that we would have to keep trying to climb over together to get to the things we wanted.

With the passing of my husband, everything went up in smoke. There go our dreams of having a honeymoon on our 25th anniversary – he died just short of our 23rd. We never bought that house we talked about getting, with a room for each kid and a playroom for each of us. Bye-bye to traveling the world to see things we had never seen. Boom! There went the plan to retire to a beach town, live in a house facing the beach so that we could hold hands and watch our children’s children play in the ocean.

Like the swing of a giant wrecking ball, our lives were demolished. Everything we were trying to build, except our boys, was destroyed. Hopes and dreams, just like that, gone.

When he died and the dust settled, I wondered: “What in the hell do I do now?”

I think this is where I and many other widows get lost: Since the day I laid eyes on him, my brain filled itself with plans for our future together. Plans I shared with him until our separate sets of plans became one. The moment we were married was the moment the plans and goals we had were set in motion.

With that swing of the wrecking ball, it was all over.

Or was it?

For a time after my husband passed away, I felt as though I were flailing and trudging through life.  I was simply doing what the wind told me to. When it was time to go to work, I went. When it was time to go get groceries, I shopped. If the kids needed something made, bought or cooked, I did it.  I did just enough to keep us alive and warm.

Without my husband and our future destroyed, I had no idea what to do.

Life began to take on a droning sort of rhythm. I did nothing that wasn’t necessary. My lack of direction was also aggravating my already deep depression.

I realized that this was making me profoundly unhappy. I needed to do something. I couldn’t let my life remain in the tatters it had become. But what was I going to do, I asked myself again?

I believe that this is a common issue with most windows. A life that had already felt meaningless without our loves becomes more and more so as we begin to realize that we lack a purpose.

I lacked a purpose. I was holding on to life with my fingertips. I felt like nothing.

At one point-okay, several points-I found myself screaming, “I want my old life back!” I understood my old life. I didn’t understand this new life forced on me.

One of our boys is preparing to join the military and the other is a teenager. They really don’t need me anymore.  Tony definitely didn’t need me now.

I just kept asking myself: “What do I do? What about me?”

I had to do something.

I think the beginning of reconstructing you and your future is to say, “I want my life back.”  Notice I didn’t say “old life” because that isn’t happening. 

Coming up with a plan and executing the reconstruction of your life takes strength and a force of will that many of us widows forget we have. It’s still within us; we just have to dig a little deeper to find it. But find it you must and find it you will.

Once you have, the true reconstruction begins and there are plenty of choices. I realized that it was just me now, and I could do whatever I wanted to! On one hand I was sad about that but on the other hand, it was exciting. To coin a phrase, the world was my oyster.

You may decide to pick up the pieces of your future with your husband and put them together to form a modified version of your future. For example, if you both wanted to travel after retirement, draw on your strength and make those travel plans. Go alone if it suits you. Perhaps find a travel buddy to go with you.

You can also decide, like I did, to take up where your husband left off. My husband earned a Master’s degree in Social Work in 2002 and wanted to work with at-risk children.  He was just starting to do really great things when he became too sick to work. Even as he got sicker, he talked to me about how he wanted to get out of his bed and go back to helping people. We started planning for that. I have a love for helping people too.  I decided to copy Tony and get my Master’s degree in Social Work too. It may take longer, but I am making that a part of my future.

Also, you may find something that is unique and pleasing to you and decide to follow that path. I have a widow friend who, in her grief at losing her beloved Frank, has decided her life’s goal is to record her family history through extensive research, writing, scanning old pictures and putting all together for the next generations of their families. The task began as a way to distract herself from grief, but now it fills her days and gives her purpose. She and Frank will never be forgotten because of her research. She is excited to see what each day will bring and I am so proud of her. Knowing that Frank would approve makes her the happiest.

Speaking of happy loved ones, many widows find new purpose by believing that what they are doing will make their loved ones happy. If that is your motivation, you aren’t alone…run with it. I am!

If you need to, involve your widow tribe.  They can be the ones who push you just enough to start rebuilding your foundation. In fact, you can help each other with the rebuilding process. There’s nothing like trying to do something new with women who are doing the same thing.

Remember, just because your husband died before you could complete your future together, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a future anymore. You do. It’s just under construction again.

When you’re done with the reconstruction, your future will be as beautiful as you can make it.

About 

Cheryl Barnes was born in Atlanta, Georgia and after several moves with her family, settled in Indianapolis, Indiana. She attended college at Indiana University Bloomington, majoring in Public and Environmental Affairs Management. While she attended college, she laid eyes on Martin “Tony” Barnes and was completely lost. They became inseparable and were married on December 24th, 1991. After five years of marriage, their first son, Malcolm, was born on New Year’s Eve, 1991. After Tony obtained his Master’s Degree in Social Work, the family moved to Orlando, Florida. Tony worked as a counselor, while Cheryl got her dream job working at Walt Disney World. Two years later, their second son, Miles, was born in July 2004. Cheryl left Disney and took a job in accounting at a property management company. Everything seemed to be going well for the family and Cheryl made plans to attend nursing school. However, in July 2011, Tony was diagnosed with end stage renal failure caused by lupus. For the next three years, Cheryl cared for her husband while taking care of the boys and working. Tony’s health deteriorated as a result of several complications until he passed away on August 29, 2014. Thus began her new journey as a widow and single parent.
Cheryl was devastated at the loss of her beloved Tony, but continued to work and care for their sons as she had before. As a way to work through her grief, she started writing, at first, only for herself. But, being encouraged by others, she began publishing her blog, “Widowness and Light.” Along with writing and being involved with several widows groups on Facebook while raising her boys, she works as a training bookkeeper at an association management company. She is also a member of the board for Black Women Widows Empowered (BWWE).
She plans to go back to school and obtain a Master’s in Social Work so that she can help other widowed persons cope with their losses. She is also working on a book about her grief journey.
Her hobbies are reading, attending Orlando Magic games, yoga, going to the beach, and just chilling with her boys.
Additionally, she is also the founder of Black and Widowed: A Unique Journey, a Private Facebook group and a contributing author of the book, Widowed But Not Wounded: The Hustle and Flow of 13 Resilient Black Widowed Women.
You can also reach Cheryl through her public Facebook page, Widowness and Light, which is based on her widowed journey.