Death brings about an abundance of things. Loss of life, lifestyle, income, homes, family, friends… the list is endless.
For a while, our minds try to protect us by going numb. We are in shock, they say. And this phase lasts for different lengths of time for each person and for each type of loss.
However, when the fog clears, some of us are left to face a reality that we wish did not exist. We must come to terms with facts that we weren’t afforded the privilege of knowing prior to our loss.
I’ve seen many widowed individuals, myself included, who have uncovered countless truths about their late loved one just prior to and after their death. And since that person is no longer here, we are left to try to come to terms with and make sense of it all… completely alone.
While my husband was still alive, I found out about his substance abuse and criminal charges he was facing as a direct result of his addiction. I stood by his side during his rehab and post-inpatient treatments. I drove him to all of his court dates. I stayed awake way too late enduring a barrage of messages attacking me about how I wasn’t doing enough and how I didn’t care about him because I hadn’t completed xyz task yet. I did everything I could to decrease the stress in his life – job applications, school applications, communication with family and friends, etc. I enabled the shit out of him, allowing him to continue living a lifestyle that was detrimental to his wellbeing.
Now, I’m not saying that his death or continued issues with substance abuse and mental health problems were my fault. They weren’t at all. But I sacrificed myself, my mental and physical health, and nothing that I did helped him get better. It merely kept him and his sickness alive a little longer than he might have survived if I weren’t around.
And then, after he died, I had the great displeasure of learning the truth about his history of substance abuse (though I’m sure that I’m still missing pieces), lies that he told about his professional life and secrets that he kept about his personal life and relationships.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride trying to process all of the information I was given. Trying to figure out the truth and how to forgive someone who could never say that they were sorry.
I’ve learned to accept much of what I was faced with, but I would be remiss to say that I didn’t now question every single interaction he and I ever had.
On top of the secrets that I discovered, I was also faced with the reality of how dysfunctional our relationship was.
It makes me so sad to see these men and women who are mourning the loss of their greatest loves and the happiest and healthiest relationships.
I didn’t get that.
I got a lot of pain. Dysfunction. Emotional abuse.
I got a wedding, but not a marriage. I was a wife, but I never got a husband.
I was told I was too emotional. I was told that I needed to be more confident while simultaneously having my every move criticized.
I was given the silent treatment. A lot. I walked on eggshells for most of our time together. For every happy and positive occasion, I can distinctly recall a huge (one-sided) fight that preceded or followed it. Heck, he was barely speaking to me for several days before our wedding and even then it was short and full of attitude.
When he was in one of “his moods”, I was told to get out of the house because it was his house. I stayed awake late many nights waiting for him to get home and then cooking dinner only for it to be thrown away because it wasn’t what he wanted or he was tired of eating *insert food here*. I was asked what I did all day if the house wasn’t clean, but had to endure huffing and puffing if everything I cleaned wasn’t put back exactly where it was before I touched it.
I was expected to bend to his every whim while he refused to attend any event with my family or friends. And if he did show up, everyone knew he didn’t really want to be there.
As the months passed after he died, I began to become more and more clear on just how much I endured. And I know that I am not the only one.
He never learned to manage the stresses of life – all the while adding to them by making poor decisions. All of the inner pain and turmoil that he was experiencing had to be directed somewhere. He had an image to maintain, so privately I became the bearer of the brunt of the fallout from his mental health issues, past traumas and secrets.
He was not a terrible person, he helped many people throughout his life… but he was holding on to so many secrets, I often wonder if anyone really knew him.
When you think of a grieving widow, you probably think of an older woman who spent most of her life in a very loving and happy relationship with her husband.
But remember, there are other kinds of widowed people out there.
We are the survivors of traumatic relationships. We are grieving, too, just in a different way and most likely over different things.
If you are a widow of addiction or other mental health disorders, if you had a complicated relationship, if you weren’t living the life you dreamed of when you were little… please just know, you are not alone.