“Take your time…do it right…we can do it…” S.O.S Band

“Stop pressuring me!” Michael Jackson

Not just song lyrics…these phrases should be the mantra of every widow and widower on this planet.

But in this world where everything has to happen immediately, or at least when other people think it should, it’s very hard to take your time. Our lives have become hurry up, do it now, do it fast, do it our way, just do it.  At the same time, deep in your soul, you are shattered and desperately trying to slowly put the broken pieces back together. 

See the conflict here? It’s no wonder that widows often suffer from anxiety and depression.

As of today, I have been widowed exactly 1,312 days. Yes, I know exactly how long it’s been. It is amazing that because of widow brain we can’t remember how we arrived someplace and yet, we can tell you exactly how long it has been since our loves died. Logic escapes me on that one.

Sorry. Widow brain digression. The reason I bring up the length of time is that nearly every single moment of that one thousand three twelve days has been spent under some sort of pressure relating to losing my LH.

The moment my husband was pronounced deceased was when the widow pressure began to build.  I call it that because only widows experience this unique thing. First, it was the pressure to get my sons to the hospital to see him one last time. Next, it was the rush to sign paperwork.. The nurses rushed me to  pack up his room for the last time. Hurry up, ma’am, I could feel them saying with their eyes.

Then there was the pressure to have all of his medical equipment picked up. The pressure to plan his funeral. The pressure to contact all of the appropriate people. The pressure from different family members to send him home the way they wanted, as opposed what we wanted. The pressure to keep that stupid brave smile on my face when all I wanted to do is scream at the top of my lungs.

Those screams might have forced a release I sorely needed. Instead, I held those screams in.

Keeping that brave face on, being a rock for my children, pretending my m-i-l had not offended me by refusing to speak more than ten words to me during the entire time of planning and executing the service added to the pressure. To be the hostess for an event I didn’t even want to attend. To pretend that “I am happy everything went well.” Went well? WENT WELL?

The pressure was becoming all-consuming.

After the funeral, after all of the brittle laughter and smiling, receiving of hugs and “call me if you need me’s”…after waving everyone back to their own lives, I thought the pressure was over and I could breathe. Finally, I could deal with my beloved’s death in peace. It was what I needed. 

Wrong.

“Normies” have no idea about any of those pressures, by the way.  When the funeral is over, everything becomes right in their world.

As the dust settled, a new form of widow pressure began to take hold of my life: the pressure to get my grieving started and completed within a reasonable amount of time. For example, my job expected me never to talk about it. I wasn’t able to simply cry at my desk, even if I wasn’t disturbing anyone. My favorite part? I had to attend a Christmas party on my first anniversary without my LH. Had to. Attend a Christmas. Party. On. Our. Anniversary.

In other words, stop all that grieving crap. You’re ruining our party.

How did my head not blow off right at that moment?

Some widows are told this directly. Some, like me, are dropped tons of hints. The hints are at first subtle, becoming less so the further you are away from the actual day of your loss. So by 13 hundred days and some change, everything should be GREAT.  Nope. That just adds to the pressure.

This pressure can also come from within. For me, this was mostly the case. I began feeling, after looking around me and seeing that life had continued to move on without my LH, that I needed to be moving on too. Yes, indeed. That was going to help.

As widows, we despise the phrase “moving on” because of its implication that we are supposed to leave our love for and memories of our passed on beloved ones behind. A terrible implication, but one that is perpetuated in our culture.  We pressure ourselves to do what makes everyone else comfortable.

I had a realization a couple of weeks ago while attending a conference tailored specifically for widows. There were many elements to the weekend which were enlightening and uplifting. The best part of it all, however, was finally being able to release the pressure valve, and speak about widowhood and our loved ones like it was a normal thing.

Wait…it should be a normal thing, right? We should be able to release our pain like a pressure cooker releases its steam, anytime it is necessary. We should never have to keep a lid on our feelings. It is not fair to ask that of us. Yet, it is almost expected. Required, even, especially in so-called polite society.

I have spent a lot of time reflecting on that. Widows at the conference spent time getting to know each other, but one question almost always started the conversation: “How long has it been?” When that question comes from a “normie”, more often than not the pressure valve tightens and the widow’s response is “# of years.”  Nothing else. Then the normie tilts her head and says too quickly, “Oh, I’m sorry” which is just as quickly followed by, “Thank you. It’s fine” response from a widow. (How many times have I said that and want to scream, “That is such a lie! I am not fine!”

Well, we know it isn’t fine. But instead of saying what we mean and releasing the pressure, we tighten the valve and hope that is the end of it. It usually is.

Not so among the widow posses of the world.  As soon as the “How long has it been?” question comes up, the pressure valve begins to release…and you get “It’s been two years, and I have been miserable every single day since” or “Ten years and I’m finally getting there” or something similar. The widows realize that this is a safe place and share everything: the hurts, the pain, the anxiety, the anger, all of it. I could actually hear the soft hiss of release as I finally began freely talking about everything. 

Image result for sad women talking

I realized that this, being around people who get it, is what I have needed since day one.  When the pressure gets to be too much, widows tend to retreat into themselves. For our sakes, we have got to stop doing that and find a good release. For me, it was talking with other widows. Shared experiences are the greatest salve for pain. Inhale…finally, someone understands…exhale.

I know the pain wouldn’t magically disappear and that my husband wouldn’t magically reappear after I released some pressure. It would build again and again. But now I knew how to release just enough to make it through another day. And another. And another. The pressure would no longer build until I exploded.

I should have found a way to do this a long time ago. The treatment for widow pressure is …other widows.

 

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.