Have you ever been asked what your story is? How your husband died? How you’ve made it this far?
Of course you have!
I’m sure, like me, you’ve lost count of how many times you’ve been asked & how many times you’ve answered.
Not long ago, I sat in a group of new friends. We began by talking about how long we’d lived in the area, what we did for work, and about our kids. Inevitably when people learn I am originally from California they ask me, “What brought you to Nashville?” It’s an honest enough question with a completely loaded answer.
I still pause before answering this question.
I still struggle with answering it.
Of course, I want to be honest but I also don’t want to change the mood of the conversation. This part of my life story is heavy! Can you relate?
Sometime my reluctance is that I also don’t want to initiate what I know comes next: how long it’s been, how did my husband die, how am I able to do it all (meaning raise three kids on my own)… While those are all understandable inquiries, it’s not always the time or place to delve into them.
While I chose long ago that I would share my story, it still makes me feel sad and triggers feelings of loneliness (amongst others!) when I do. So over the years, I have abided by two rules when sharing that part of my life with others.
The first rule for sharing my story: I will share only when and what I feel like sharing.
This means that I must feel like it is beneficial in some way as to have transparency in a relationship or to help someone else in their grief.
Sometimes I share because I need to. Sharing has and continues to help me accept the reality of it all. It also is healing to talk about my husband. He is still and always will be important in the lives of me and my children. Needless to say, those in relationship with us should get to know about him too.
I also give myself permission to say no politely if I do not feel like sharing. Why? Because some days are not good days.
And sometimes, the people asking are doing more as voyeurs and my intuition guides me in that.
And yes, I have told many people (people I would consider strangers, to have just met, or do not know well) when they ask me how my husband died that it is rude to ask! Sometimes, I do not feel like sharing that part and I let them know! It is not wrong to let someone know they’ve crossed your boundaries! They don’t know unless you tell them. I hope you give yourself permission to say no, like I have, if you need to. It’s so life giving!
Then there are some days, I just don’t feel like it or want to. That’s okay. Again, it’s called boundaries. Boundaries are healthy and important in preserving the pieces of you trying to survive it all. No reason must be given.
The second rule for sharing my story: I will be honest and transparent.
If you’re gonna ask – and I’m going to share – be prepared for me to tell you the heavy and the light, the frustrations and the gifts.
If you ask me a specific question – and trust me, there isn’t one I haven’t been asked – I will be transparent in my answer.
What I tell you isn’t going to be all doom and gloom because that’s not how I am. What you can count on is that I will be honest about the despair, loneliness, anger and ugliness that can loom as well as all the good stuff too.
So here we go. Here are some things I often share. Let me know if any of these resonate with you.
I still really struggle. Yep, that’s right. It is pushing on 7 years and I am STILL NOT OVER IT! I am okay with that. Part of me never wants to or expects to be over it because Mike was my love and a solid man in my life and I miss him every single day.
I am left raising our three children on my own. They are a gift that he gave me. But hear me when I say that being left to raise them alone and fulfill the dreams (and let go of others) that Mike and I planned together, is a daily heartache and struggle. It is painful and sometimes downright depressing.
Loosing a spouse so young makes you feel cheated of all the time you dared to believe you had with them and daunted by what seems like an eternity ahead of you. An eternity to try to rebuild and live without them. There is no way to sugar coat the struggle in that!
Even in my lowest of depths, I have never lost hope that brighter days are ahead. As time has passed, I have seen those brighter days. The glimpses, joys, laughter and friendships that have been light in darkness.
From the beginning, I have never stopped believing that God is good. There have been too many things I have counted as blessings in my life before (and after) Mike died. Those blessings don’t go away or cancel out because something really horrible and unjust happened.
My kids and I have also endured so much heartbreak and unexpected disappointment in relationships with family and friends after Mike died. With that, it became glaringly clear that without God, we truly would be totally alone. No person, thing, or experience can be the salve on your wounds, the peace that binds up your broken heart, provisioner, or comforter quite like our Heavenly Father. Can I get a Yes and Amen?
Sometimes I am asked advice on whether or not a widow or survivor of trauma should share their story.
My response is this: We all have to do what we feel is best for us. I hold no judgement, condemnation, expectation or disappointment when fellow widows choose not to share part or all of their stories. One should not feel bad, guilty or obligatory. Sharing is intensely personal and an individual decision that can change (or not) as needed. Maybe you’re just not ready yet. Maybe you will never be ready or want to. The choice is yours. I hope you stand confidently in that.
What I do encourage women in is to write (video, record) and rewrite their story for themselves – even if they choose not to share it with others. There is something intensely honoring, raw and healing that comes when we explore our own thoughts, feelings and actions. Something is so inspiring and redemptive about going back and seeing how far we’ve come in some areas and how we’ve needed to go back and revisit others. Mark the dark days. Acknowledge little glimmers however faint they may be. Express those who hurt and disappointed you. Highlight those that surprised you or stood solid. Do it for you. If you decide at some point to share, take note of what you choose not to say as much as what you choose to say.
Sharing is how I’ve made it to this point and that’s how I plan to continue making it until my time is up.
These two rules have given me the boundaries in which to survive and thrive in this part of my widow journey. Now before you are triggered by the words “rules” and “boundaries” in the last sentence, let me say this. The rules I have for sharing my story have allowed for me to take a really horrific and life-changing situation and give it (and me!) purpose all within the boundaries of love for myself and for others.
So the long story short is yes, I survived! But I’ve also learned to thrive through the process of sharing my story.