Four Years and Counting

I became a widow four years and 61 days ago. But who’s counting?

You are and I am.

Oh please, I know you are.

Every time I say his name or talk about him, I see it. You get that look. I’m pretty familiar with it now. The look that says, “Here we go again. He’s been dead how long and she still brings him up?”

I’ve been seeing that look since the first month so I recognize it well.


I listen to your stories about your living and breathing husband. I listen to you complain about his dirty socks and his weekend football vigils.  I listen to all of your complaints and to all of the Wonder things you do together. I think it’s only fair that you listen to me talk about my beloved. He’s still my husband. He just lives and breathes elsewhere.

Then there’s the look that says, “Is she crazy talking about him in the present tense like he’s still alive or something?”

Well, yes, I do still talk about him in the present tense because he’s still my husband, still the father of my boys. He still exists for me.

Then there are these two questions. My personal favorites. It actually comes right after this question:

“So have you and the boys been?”

Followed almost immediately by:

“Have you moved on yet?”

Oh. My. Gawd.

I despise those two questions. Want to know why?

Because you don’t want the really honest answers. Because I’ve learned to recognize the averted eyes, the change in your posture and “Oh Lord here she goes again” attitude, I’ve gotten great at the easy-for-the-audience answers, which are:

“We’re fine. Malcolm’s doing this, Miles is doing that and I’m doing the other.”

“It’s been difficult but yes we are doing just GREAT.”

Inside my head: Exasperated sigh.

After four years of those questions, I’m so tired of giving the answers that make others comfortable. It’s frankly exhausting keeping the “everything’s okay” face on.

So brace yourself. These are answers I want to give you…

“How are the boys and I? Well, my sons both miss the hell out of their father. Malcolm has gone through so many firsts without his dad that it is starting to get to him. He tries to hide his pain but I’m his mama…I can see into his soul. But he’s trying to be strong because he promised Tony that he would take care of us. I kind of wish he hadn’t said that to Tony.  It’s too tall an order for him and it’s another source of pain for him and me.

“Miles has had his struggles too. If Tony had been here, he would have recognized Miles’ issues and known what to do. Instead, Miles had me and I didn’t know jack. Malcolm is his male role model and that’s too much for both of them.

“Me? Many days I feel great. Some days I feel as though I’m walking under water, with the sound muffled and people looking strangely at me. I am doing the best I can and I don’t feel that’s good enough. Worse, I feel that I’m failing my boys and at life because it’s been nothing but struggle and anxiety since the minute Tony left this Earth.”

How’s that for honesty?

Life has settled down quite a bit but it still isn’t easy. No matter how hard I try, I am still haunted by his illness and having to watch him die. I’m still not sleeping that well and I still forget things.The longer he’s gone, the more I miss him. No, I don’t cry every day anymore, but yes I miss him. Worse yet, I’m afraid I’ll lose my memories of him.

In other words, I am still a widowed parent. That hasn’t changed at all.

Does this answer your question?

If I sound a bit resentful or a bit pissed off, it’s because I am.  

In the course of the four years since Tony died, I’ve also lost my polite filter when it comes to talking about my life now.

As in:

No, I don’t want to talk about how he died, AGAIN.

As hard as I try, life sucks without him.

I’m tired of watching couples hold hands, hug and kiss in public. I hate being jealous of older couples. I hate being jealous of you, for that matter.

Yes, life sucks without him. But in this four plus years I have learned so much:

If I want to feel sad, I can and I will. No restraints.

If I want to feel happy, I can and I will.  Again, no restraints. 

I have a bigger appreciation of the kindnesses of the world…and my eyes are wide open to the injustices of the world.

I love more.  Trust less.

My happiness depends on me and not what other people do or say now.

I take nothing for granted anymore. Nothing. I thought Tony wouldn’t die. That’s the very last thing I took for granted.

I spend a lot of time thinking and staring and trying to figure things out.

Sometimes you just have to say what you need to. Or I simply say nothing.

Filling space and air with nothing is completely meaningless to me now.

That is what the past four years has done to me.

It’s been four years plus, and some things have gotten better. But not everything…he’s still gone and the hole in my heart is still there.

I don’t care if you think if it’s been long enough. I think it’s been long enough too, but there isn’t a thing I can do about it. The only solution for both of us is having my husband back.

Asking me if I’m “over it yet” or acting like I should be “over it” diminishes my loss and discounts my pain.

So just don’t.



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.