grief and timeIt’s been fifteen months since my husband died, and I have a question…

What exactly is my allotted grieving time?

Is there a prescribed time limit? Can I access a table of typical grief limits allowed per relationship type? Parent = 9.3 months? Cousin = 4 months? Aunt/uncle = 6.2 months? I can’t even begin to guess the grief time limit for losing a child, because the thought is so devastating and unbearable to me.

So where does the loss of a spouse fit into this imaginary time table? Based on some of the articles about grief I’ve read, combined with the historic mourning period when widows traditionally wore black, and noticing the typical reaction of the general public I come in contact with day to day, I’m guessing that the consensus is one year.

I think I may be going over the designated limit. I may be taking too long to “get over it.”

True, nearly all of my friends and family have been so very patient and kind and understanding about how long I’ve been grieving, but I get the feeling that that’s not true of everyone I encounter in my life.

I can see the reaction when I mention Rick’s name one time too many, or when I write yet another blog post about grief and someone asks when I’m going to start writing about something else.

…or when a person looks to see if I’m still wearing my wedding ring. (I am.)

…or when I hear a rumor that people are wondering if I’m dating yet. (I’m not.)

In fact, my grief counselor told me that one of the most difficult parts of year two is knowing that I’m still coping with my grief at a time when others think I should be done by now. She said I’ll start getting the message that widows in the first year can expect sympathy, but by year two, we should have “gotten over it.”

It’s been 15 months now, just over a year of getting used to the impact Rick’s loss has had on my daily life, my future, and most of all, my heart. And, in that time, I’ve handled all the “firsts.” I’ve processed most of his things. I’ve made new habits. I’ve found new ways to accomplish all the chores and responsibilities Rick took care of in our home and in our life and our business. I’ve learned to travel alone: I vacationed in our favorite place without him, drove alone on the long car ride without him by my side, sat alone quietly in my beach chair experiencing those beautiful Florida sunsets alone. I’ve spent a year of holidays and birthdays and special times without my life partner. I’ve started reformulating my plans for a future on my own, instead of the many plans we expected to share together.

I’ve even begun to think of myself in terms of being a single woman, and find myself saying, “we” a little less often – well, I try to catch myself, anyway.

So, here I am, working on year two. Except on rare occasions, I’m no longer even tempted to cry all day. I’m okay, just weepy two or three times a day now, no longer faking it most of the day until I can get alone to a private space to let loose with the pent up grief.

I can even listen to music again without bawling my eyes out over every other song. I love music and that was a great loss, those months when I drove in the silent car, those nights making dinner without the sounds of my favorite music playing in the background. Music was very much a part of the life Rick and I shared, and it was just too painful to feel the emotions our favorite songs stirred in the beginning stages of grief. But now, I can listen again. Music is back in my life, and I’m only moved to tears by the really obvious songs that meant so much to the both of us.

I’ve made lots of decisions on my own in the past year. It was odd, at first, not asking, “What do you think, honey?” when deciding something to do, or buy, or eat, or a place to go. Twenty years of, “What do you want for dinner? I don’t know, what do you want?” – gone in an instant! I’ll admit, at first, I probably asked others’ advice more than usual, since it was just so difficult to get used to deciding things on my own. I even had a Facebook post asking for my friends to vote on which picture to hang over my new couch. I just sometimes need a little feedback before knowing what I want, and Rick isn’t here to provide that any more.

So, now I’ve gotten used to making choices based on my likes and dislikes, and rarely consider what Rick would have wanted, which I did quite often in the first year. If he could speak to me, I know he’d say, “Get what you want, honey. I won’t be using it.” And now that the first year is over, I’m used to making decisions just for myself.

But I’m not altogether over the hump. I still wear our wedding ring. I’ve toyed with the idea of removing it, but whenever I start to, I feel that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that tells me I’m not ready to make that move just yet. I’m still married to Rick in my head.

So here I am in a sort of limbo: having mostly come to terms with Rick’s death, yet still able to fall apart at the most unexpected triggers. Most days, I jump out of bed ready to greet what lies ahead, but some weekends, I don’t want to get dressed. I want to spend a few hours reaching back into my memories undisturbed by reality, trying to envision him, trying to touch him again in my mind – just for a little while longer.

And, although it’s true I’ve been able to allow music back into my life, and most love songs just sadden me a bit, sometimes one will hit me out of the blue, and I’ll start to sob, unwilling and unable to control my grief, stunned again at the magnitude of what I have lost. My emotions may spiral out of control for a little while, but I get back on my feet quicker than I used to.

Rick – and that overwhelming sense of sadness at what I’ve lost – are no longer forefront in my mind and existence. I am alive again, no longer constantly trying to keep him present, no longer thinking about him hour by hour. His once-constant presence is fading. The memories don’t surface as often. Then, out of the blue, I can see him vividly, almost touch him, and I hang on for dear life, until reality intrudes again, and in an instant, the vision is gone and it seems like I have to suffer losing him all over again.

I’m up. I’m down. I’ve “moved on.” I’m mired in sadness. I look forward to the future. I want to hang on to the past.

But one thing’s for sure – I’m definitely not “over it,” yet.

Maybe I will be by the end of year two. Maybe year three. Maybe, I’ll be all healed by next week. Who knows how long getting used to my husband’s death will take?

But to those of you who have that definitive grief time table that you think I should adhere to, to those of you who think I’m taking too long to get over my husband’s death, I say this:

Although I’m really not sure why it matters to you, I can only offer my apologies. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed at how long I’m taking to get over losing the man I loved, the loss of the life we shared, and the destruction of the future we planned to enjoy together. I’ve never been one to be on time for anything, and I’m certainly not going to change any time soon.

About 

On August 13, 2017, I lost the love of my life. Rick Palmer and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary one month before he died at age 63 of complications from treatments for small cell lung cancer. He was my partner and soulmate, the love I had been looking for and finally found at age 40.

Rick was a talented writer and web designer and, in 2002, we began our own web and print design business. We worked together building the business and enjoyed traveling, writing, and playing together. Our dream was to spend our golden years together doing more of the same, but in the ten months from diagnosis to death, that dream shattered.

After Rick’s death, I quickly realized that the enormity of his loss was too much for me to handle on my own, so I began grief therapy. I also began writing through my grief in a journal of feelings, thoughts, memories, and poetry. As I navigate my new life alone, I share my journey and my efforts towards creating my “new normal” on my personal blog: The Writing Widow. I’m also on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I also recently published a book of my poetry, I Wanted to Grow Old With You: A Widow's First Year of Grief in Poetry, available on Amazon.com.