Widow. The word sounds dark. I googled the word. The official definition is “a woman who has lost her husband to death and has not remarried.” I am remarried so why did this title or empty feeling not leave me on my wedding day? I wish that it was something that I could just logistically discard, but its not. But, on the other hand if I was able to just give the title away so easily then what would that say about my love for Benji? Widowhood is not a logistic is a state of the heart. Being caught in the chasm between grief and new life. Being a widow is a conundrum. I have spent many hours on the couch in my therapist’s office trying to untangle my grief, finally having come to the conclusion that I won’t “figure it out” I won’t “be done”. It is not finished and it never will be. Its senselessness that will never end and i’m learning to be ok with that.
As I scrolled through google, you know the part where you can see all the other questions that others had asked, one stood out to me profoundly “ are widows considered married?” The answer surprised me. Legally, if you have been widowed for more than two years and you have not gotten remarried that you can only file your taxes under “single.” So the government can take such a devastating title and use it as they please? Discard it when it suits them? It is a technical term for logistical use. But what about the actual widow? The one who did watch her husband die? The woman who is suddenly a single parent without getting a say so? The woman who wears this title around her neck and will for the rest. of. her. life no matter what the government says? The woman who now stands alone in a crowd because no one dares talk to her? What if she cries? There have been times when I’ve tried to take off the title. I have taken it off and hung it up, but somehow it still lingers around my neck. It is a perpetual title. A title that not one woman would ever choose. It is a membership to a club that no one ever signed up for and there are no cancellations.
As I continued to scroll I recognized that all the questions and answers about widowhood pertained to legalities and taxes. But what about a widow’s heart? Where are those questions and more importantly, where are those answers? How can a woman be married one day and not the next? In a breath, I was married to Benji, and a heartbeat later …I was not. The people surrounding me next to his death bed were “family” and then …they were not? This is a layer of widowhood that runs deep. Talk about senselessness. Thankfully, those people will be my forever family, and they have learned to love me and I them, with or without Benji. Our hearts aren’t made to lose a spouse. There is no rule book or “widowhood for dummies” and everyone involved is utterly confused. What do we do with all the titles that we give each other? What do we do with the senselessness? Well, we don’t do anything. We sit it in. This is grief at its core.
The first months and years of untangling these hard questions were brutal. I was stubborn at times to resist any relation to his family because of the pain, I was selfish as I eagerly sought out a new life, a new identity. I was married to Benji for 13 years. High school sweethearts. Benji was part of my soul and then he was gone. Senselessness. I remember all the logistical expectations of becoming “unmarried”. This felt like a divorce in some ways. Taking his name off of legal documents, off our mortgage, off our insurance. It was a job in itself to reestablish myself as a “widow”. Although his death was expected I did not expect so much paperwork. Really? A woman loses her husband and in her deep, winding, twisted knot of grief you expect her to stand in line at social security and try to have a decent human conversation without forgetting her own name?
This is year 6 for me. Well, September 7th, will be 6 years. This is a two week span of time every year where the grief is at the forefront of my mind. Along with the death anniversary, is Jonah’s birthday on the 8th and our wedding anniversary on the 15th. This year would be 19 years. Needless to say, this is the worst two weeks of the year. Each year I feel it coming on as fall approaches and I start to reminisce about our last days and weeks together and reliving the moment his heart stopped. If I think about it too long, the same feelings come back, the terror that I felt as I was no longer under the covering of my husband. I was alone. My kids were fatherless. How utterly terrifying. I often can not stand the thought without a shiver running down my spine. How did I do it? Well, our bodies do so many things automatically, without any effort from us. One of them is breathing. I did breathe but if it had been my choice at the time, I wouldn’t have taken another breath and let my soul go with him, but my body was in charge. His lungs stopped pulling in air but mine kept going. From the hospital bed, out the door and out into the world. And still, today, they are breathing. Breathing. I got through it. But the woman that has emerged on this side of year 6 is unrecognizable.
The tragedy of loosing a husband changes you. It tears at everything you thought you knew about yourself, about others but its not satisfied to just tear it up, it scatters it. Then as a woman grieves, laying alone in the dark with the anxiety hovering, she’s required to breath, to sit up in the morning and try to slowly find those pieces and begin to make sense of them and put them back together. But the pieces are crazy shapes and discolored so they don’t fit back the way they were, it’s a new puzzle and new masterpiece. We are supposed to figure out how to fit them all together with everyone watching, judging, whispering. It is exhausting and impossible. We have to come to terms with the fact that it won’t ever be the same and wait for everyone to follow suite. Then brutal day after brutal day… the clock ticking every second, time passes and the pieces finally start to take shape, maybe even one corner is finished or you can make out one element of the puzzle when a couple pieces finally slide together.
This is when we are allowing God to create something new. In us. In our life. God promises to bring beauty from ashes. He promises to provide streams in deserts. He doesn’t promise to take our pain but He does promise to sit in it with us… giving us peace despite our circumstances. He did this for me. He promises that we are not alone and just because our old life is gone doesn’t mean He doesn’t have something beautiful waiting for us on the other side.
My life after 6 years has taken on a new shape, pieces are still missing or discolored and won’t fit but it’s starting to look like life again. It’s almost as if the huge missing puzzle piece of Benji has somehow started to fit. I almost know how to make the jagged pieces slide together, sometimes I give up trying and set it aside to try again later but I can slowly see how he fits. Its not complete. I am not sure if it will ever be complete but the chaos that churns in my heart dissipates and gives me moments of relief. I am not spinning in grief, in my widowhood, anymore, well not all the time anyway. September comes back every year to throw me for a loop, but i’m sure just like everything else, one day, in the far future, even this will not feel so chaotic. So I am sitting in the senselessness, the chaos, the conundrum of widowhood and recognize it for what it is, senseless chaos that I wear beautifully around my neck.
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.