I am only in the beginning of my second year being a widow. The first year is all about the mountain of “firsts” that one has to get through, the obvious ones: first Christmas, Thanksgiving, every other holiday, birthdays, anniversaries. But really every day of the year is a first. Especially when Facebook and your phone can remind you so easily what you were doing the year before, the last year you were a whole, physical family.
This July I am definitely more aware of things than I was last July. I was in a deep shock for many months. Just trying to make it through the days which lead into trying to get through the nights. My days were full of being a mom and trying to figure everything out while my nights were a never ending painful cycle of being alone in the dark, missing his snoring and fighting for more blankets, and looking at the clock at 3:30 every night to realize I was alone.
This year, I am more cognizant of everything. Trying to find my way to the “new normal” everyone keeps telling me I will find. I hate this this term. Is it really normal to be 42 years old and a widow? I know it means, “my normal” but that term makes me feel defeated. I have never thought of myself as normal, or average. And I certainly think to get through the loss of a big, huge love – a deep connection in heart, spirit, life, and love – one needs to be anything but normal, in fact, I strive to be extraordinary. I am writing this blog to help others, so I need to make sure my disclaimer is understood here. It’s not about being better than everyone else, or a perfectionist, or a go-getter. It is about getting up every day and saying I will find my way. I will become what I was sent here to become, the purpose of my life post being his wife. That is extraordinary really isn’t it? To continue on and become something entirely different after suffering a soul shattering loss?
So, now I am just 14 months into this journey where the first 12 months were just trying to keep my head above water. Looking at the timeline on paper makes me feel more proficient. Often, I feel overwhelmed and frustrated at the rate of my progress. But I am most likely being too hard on myself. One of the reasons I started writing this is because I was following so many accomplished widows, widows who had more time between that defining life moment and who they had become, I wanted to know how they got there. So I started writing, so I could remind myself how I indeed got there. Because you see I have faith that I will get there.
I often remind myself I am in the middle of the work, the middle of all the muck. It is easy to feel frustrated at the snail’s pace I feel I am often running when comparing myself to someone who has had so much more time to figure out their post widow purpose. I mean, of course I am dying to be as healthy as I was when I was young, or a successful entrepreneur, or even just the mother of two well-adjusted, well loved, whole grown adults who have been able to process the loss of their dad and have found a place to keep him in their hearts where they understand everything he was and how much he adored his family. Whew, that is a mouthful and a huge task I have given myself. But having a teenage son and young adult daughter, well that “mouthful” is going to take time. Teenage boys tend to be irritated, angry and distant. Throw in the fact that your dad was idolized by you, was your hero, was a capable, knowledgeable and fun football coach, all-around likeable and lovable man who was physically larger than life and whose personality was also larger than life, and well you have a whole new set of teenage boy moments and 21-year-old daughter moments. Sometimes it is all I can do to get the dishes washed.
One of the stories I loved to read when I was little was Hansel and Gretel. It’s sort of morbid, when you think about it as an adult. Although I did always think finding a gingerbread house in the forest would be amazing. But I loved that they thought of leaving themselves breadcrumbs. Reminding themselves where they came from and how to get there. It would be easy to allow those memories that pop up in social media and on my phone to create a deeper chasm in my heart. They are a constant reminder he is gone. But I keep trying to look at everything as a positive. What can I learn from it? How can I let it make me better?
I don’t remember exactly what day I decided I was going to choose to be capable, not a victim. In reality it was lots of moments over many different days where I caught myself creating an intention to succeed and overcome instead of allowing that darkness and pain to continue to envelope me. I think one of the things I have learned is I am not going to necessarily have one “ah-ha” moment where all the little pieces suddenly fit into place and I know where I am going. For me it is a purposeful choice made over and over, not always getting it right, but making enough small steps that I find I have suddenly righted myself on my path again.
I remember when I was young learning to play tennis. I wasn’t ever going to shock the world with my skills, but I was good enough I could play with friends. The first time you hit the sweet spot in your racket, when you can feel that your backhand is just going to sail over the net and you aren’t really sure exactly what you did that created that momentum and placement – that is what it was like when I realized I had created something new. But you have to keep practicing and then suddenly your muscle memory kicks in and you can fairly decently, although not always, repeat that movement. Think of how much practice it took to get all the correct muscle movements and responses down. Sometimes when all you do is read success stories, it’s easy to feel defeated. But I get to have these little moments through popped up memories, emails, pictures, videos, that remind me who I was. But there are also faint trails towards who I can become. Moments where I am seeing a new vision for myself, something that honors who I was, who he was, and who I want to become. I think it is so important to have patience with myself and allow the path to emerge organically – as I am ready to take on the challenges.
Raising a teenage boy and young adult daughter who have suffered the loss of their dad is also a path I was never prepared to go down. I mean, I am not a single parent, I am a solo parent. Each of them has different paths to follow in dealing with the death of their father. I keep reminding them that while we all lost the same person, we each had a unique and special relationship with him. We are each mourning him differently and mourning a different version of him. As their mother and his wife, I am trying to facilitate so many facets of their loss, my loss, managing the lives of four people (because there are still things I have to do on his behalf), managing our home, you know being married with kids just without a spouse walking on Earth.
Each of our children needs a different response and different set of skills to handle their loss. And then, add the layer that as their lives progress they will recognize new losses which they weren’t equipped to realize. Grief is an emotion which will forever require that we keep one foot in the pain of loss while simultaneously living and enabling a life full of discovery, wisdom, love, and hope.
As widowed mothers of children who have lost their fathers far too young, we must try to become adept counselors for our children as well as become the architects of a new life we never dreamed we would need to tackle all while dealing with a little thing called grief. That emotional thief which can steal the joy in any moment, suck the wind out of you in the middle of a huge success, launch you back to the sorrow of losing half your heart. It seems daunting when you put it all down, right? Nothing close to normal. No “normal” human handles all that everyday day in day out, let alone by themselves. Only an extraordinary human can get through this. So ladies, and gentlemen, who are on this path of widowhood, please take a moment to remind yourself you are amazing, you are worth it, you are capable. Take a moment to be gentle with yourself. You don’t have to figure it all out in a day, a week, a month, a year, 10 years. It will be a forever process. Like your life was before, a forever process. You won’t “get over” the loss of your spouse. You will learn to let it become a part of who you are, it will create new abilities you never knew you had.
I have a new understanding of how deep love is, how it stays with us forever. How I love my friends and family has also changed. It is more “real” with all those I hold dear to my heart, not just my husband. I have a new capacity for forgiveness, but also less of a desire to deal with drama created by those instances that require forgiveness. I choose to surround myself with people who remind me I am capable, who believe in my abilities, people who understand how much I adored my husband and who see I am doing my best to find my way. I want to be around people whose lives are inspiring, who have traits I would like to emulate. There is absolute truth that those you choose to be around are a version of the person you will become. If you choose to surround yourself with people who only see the negative, then it will be harder for you to see the light. Suffering the loss of a spouse is so fracturing that it leaves you vulnerable. You are the only one who can protect you. Decide what you want and go after it, but make sure the tribe you surround yourself with has a vision you agree with.
Back to those breadcrumbs. They aren’t just to show you the way back, they are to show you who you are and who you are capable of becoming. Look for the all the versions of yourself as you have evolved. What are your strengths? What weaknesses have you overcome and how did you do that? How can you parlay those skills into living the life of a widow? What things do you wish you could do over? And what traits are you most proud of? Are you living your life in ways that reflect the things you are most proud of? If you find yourself answering some of these questions in ways that upset you, or ways you want to fix. Great! You have plenty of time and all the tools needed to fix them. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t already capable. Choose to find happiness and hope, don’t look for sorrow. And when you have moments of mourning, allow them to flow.
That is the beautiful gift of love. I don’t try to stop the tears anymore. Even if I am on a 5-hour flight to a lacrosse tournament on the East Coast and I find myself overcome with grief, I allow the tears. I find that I am very adept at turning my head away and quietly allowing the tears to stream down my face. But after those tears, I always feel a sense of peace in the memory of him. It doesn’t bring more hurt anymore, it reminds me how amazing he was and how lucky I am to get to be married to him. It reminds me that I have received an incredible gift to be someone who has learned way before age 41 what an amazing thing love is. I just want everyone I know to experience the same depth of emotion. It’s life changing. It is an incredible way to honor a man who gave so much to so many.
Lastly, one of the actions that has helped me, other than journaling, is listening to music and finding songs that resonate with me. I have made a playlist with dozens of songs that remind me of him, remind me of what we overcame to be together, remind me of how much fun we had, remind me of what we gave up, remind me of who I want to be, remind me of who he believed I could become. I find inspiration in them and use them to go on walks, to get through my daily chores, to process my feelings, to write, to motivate myself.
In my last blog I shared a song that I feel came to me to remind me I was capable. In this blog, I wanted to share a song that reminds me how much he meant to me personally and how I want to tackle this life as his widow. I listen to this song when I need motivation, in fact the image I see of myself when I listen to it is sprinting up a mountain and getting to the top. So, because I have spent so much time searching for the right songs for this playlist, I thought I would share some of these with you all through my blog in case you would like to create your own playlist.
Keep going! You are amazing!
NEEDTOBREATHE “BE HERE LONG”