Behind my Eyes


When I was new to grieving, I used to call my mother a lot to get advice, confirmation that I wasn’t losing my mind or just to talk.  She is a widow too. My father died nine years before Tony did, so sadly she had a few years on me on the grief road trip.

One day about three months after Tony died, I sat down at my desk, as usual, to begin work at my scheduled time. About an hour into my shift, I took a long look at my computer as the phone began its incessant ringing. Answering the phone was my job as a customer service representative. But I decided at that moment – nope,  I am not doing this today. I can’t and I won’t. I cannot talk to another man who’s afraid to kill a bug with his shoe and would rather call us to complain. (I worked for a pest control company.)

I got up from my desk, walked straight into my supervisor’s office and said, “I cannot do this today.  I am going to go home.”

I was on the verge of tears and my entire body was shaking in my attempts to hold them back. These people quit caring about my crying two months before anyway so I wasn’t about to let one tear drop.

My supervisor looked at me sympathetically and said, “Why…are you sick?”

I said, “No. I just can’t do this today. I just can’t.”

She said, rather impatiently now, “What do you mean by that?”

I said, “I just can’t. I need to leave and I need to leave right NOW!” The word “now” came out shrill and hysterical.

She finally relented and said, “Go. I hope you feel better.”

Out loud, I mumbled, “Thanks” and left her office as quickly as possible.  Not bloody likely, I thought to myself as I switched off my computer and packed up to leave.

I got in my car and just drove with no real destination in mind. I immediately decided that going home wasn’t the answer. My boys were there and I couldn’t face them either. I was in my work clothes so I didn’t feel like going to the beach. I wasn’t hungry or even sleepy. I didn’t even know what I felt. But I knew damn well I didn’t feel like being pleasant and friendly. To anyone.

So I called my mom.

She asked me how I was. I told her what I did.  She completely understood and told me a similar story:

My mom is a retired nurse but at the time of my dad’s death, she was still practicing, and she worked at the hospital my dad was treated in. He also died there. So she had a hard time going to work, especially right after he passed away.  But my mom was tough – which is where I think I get it from – and she stuck it out, going in again after perhaps a month after he died.

Anyway, one day several months later, she went into work, as usual, prepared to do her thing and like every other day, walked past the floor my dad died on.

Suddenly something took a hold of her heart and she kept walking. She didn’t speak to a soul and never broke stride as she walked right past her office, kept walking straight to the parking garage, got back into her car and drove away from the hospital. She drove to a park and just sat there all day just watching people. She may have even cried. She didn’t exactly remember. All she knew was she sat there, alone and spent the day watching and breathing.

It was what she needed to do.

She called those moments in time, where the grief takes ahold so strongly that you can’t think of anything else and you are blinded by it as moments where you go “behind your eyes.” I think that phrase is highly appropriate.

Every single widowed person knows what that means. It’s as though your mind has become overloaded with how much you miss your person, the how and why they are gone and how much your life is just not the same without them. Your mind fills with all of these thoughts and feelings. Your heart fills with the pain of it all. The outside world fades from view and you hide “behind your eyes” with all of those thoughts and feelings.

Let’s be honest, the outside world of non-grievers doesn’t get it. They don’t understand when your eyes glaze over and your face feels hot and cold at the same time. When you can’t even speak without shaking. When the tears in your eyes stop short of falling down your cheeks.  When your brain says “Nope, Not today.” It’s like you’ve lost touch with the rest of the world, even if you’re standing right in front of your best friend discussing a movie.

You’ve mentally left the building, searching for your loved one.

But the only place you can find him is…

“Behind your eyes.” Get it?

There is no cure except to stay there until you want to come out. Not before.

While you’re there:

Go watch some kids giggle and play.

Ride out to the beach and listen to the waves speak.

Take a drive and watch horses run in their fields.

Go feed some ducks at the downtown lake.

Go to a busy mall, buy some fries and people watch all day.

I’ve even been known to visit a library and hide in the research stacks with a trashy book, pretending to read it.

Finding places of solitude allows your eyes to stay unfocused for a while and be free of any sort of judgment. That is what widows need when they go behind the eyes – judgment-free zones. So go to yours and feel what you need to feel.

It’s your right. It’s the one place you can go and know for a fact you won’t be judged in any way for your grief. Grieving is hard and you acknowledge that by doing what you have to do when you have to do it.

Just remember…being behind your eyes…it’s not a place to stay.

But it is a place to go whenever you need to.


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 solo 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 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.