Since becoming a widow, I inadvertently learned a new emotional vocabulary. One of which I didn’t know even existed. Words such as survivor’s guilt, solo parenting, grief triggers, and duality would have carried zero weight in my life had I been exposed to them prior to widowhood. However, they are very real words that carry quite the emotional load.
Survivor’s Guilt- Have you ever felt guilt-ridden simply because you’re alive and breathing? If not, chances are you aren’t a widow/er. For me, this suffocating emotion took its toll early on. I struggled with wondering if the outcome could possibly have been different if I had performed CPR better, if it had not taken me a minute to realize something was gravely wrong, if, if, and more if. And after you go through all of the “ifs”, as though that isn’t tough enough, you look in the mirror and wonder “why wasn’t it me?”. Over the years, I have learned survivor’s guilt isn’t a productive emotion. Sure it’s part of the grief process, however you put yourself through a tremendous amount of self inflicted torture and, ultimately, it isn’t a place to stay.
Solo Parenting– Having been raised by a single mother, the idea of having a primary caregiver and provider wasn’t unusual. I am in no way discounting what divorced, or otherwise separated partners, experience and how hard they work to provide and balance time. Because trust me, I know just how much my mother sacrificed and struggled. However, with solo parenting there isn’t anyone else to share the load with in any capacity. No one to share child rearing decisions with or another person to tag team with when the ever tumultuous toddler rages on. One of my greatest fears has been making the wrong decisions for my son, Sawyer. Everything I do has his best interest at heart, but the weight of that being solely on me is overwhelming at times. Plus, lets face it, when they turn into teenagers and the obligatory parental hate kicks in, yep- you get all of that too! My hope is that one day Sawyer will know the depths of my love for him and respect the hard choices I have made for him.
Grief Triggers- Anyone that has experienced PTSD can relate very much to this. There are days you can go along perfectly fine in your day and WHAM! a smell, place, song, a leaf blowing in the wind, whatever it may be, trips up every visceral sense in your body. The hardest part of these grief triggers is the fact that you can’t anticipate them. After Tyler passed away, I didn’t listen to the radio for 6 months. I could not stomach the thought of a song coming on the radio and tearing my fragile state apart. My thought process was I couldn’t control what was being played, therefore it was easier to completely avoid placing myself in that situation. As I explained this to a friend, he made the perfectly logical statement “yes, but you can control changing the station”. Then he challenged me to try and begin listening to the radio on my way home from work. As I reluctantly tried his approach, I learned something about grief triggers. They are always going to be there, but you can learn to desensitize yourself in some respect. The bigger ones are a little trickier, and I still have moments when I change the radio station, but overall I do not completely lose my grasp on the day.
Duality- “Two things can be true at once- even opposing truths…And you can hold these two truths in two hands and walk forward”- that quote sums duality up the best. There is duality in everything you experience after losing your spouse. Sawyer took his first steps the day after Tyler passed away and all I could do was cry. I was so proud of him and in the same heart beat was crushed his Daddy wasn’t there cheering him on. Every milestone after that felt the exact same way and continues to do so. Watching my son grow has been one of my greatest joys and deepest heart aches because I always think “I wish his Daddy could be here for this”. To that, the duality experience doesn’t stop at our son- it is the heaviness in the holidays, the agonizing familiarity of places spent together, and the complicated thankfulness of the goodness life can eventually bring despite the absence of your loved one.
I do not necessarily have any order that each of these “rank”, but rather they have a season all of their own. Some days one is more prevalent in my heart than another, yet they can overlap, and there are times one can completely subside for a small amount of time. Grief doesn’t come with an instruction manual and no one person grieves the same as another. But one thing that holds true for grief is, it is forever. It changes over time and you learn how to weave it into the fabric of your being, but it is just that- forever a part of you.