During these unprecedented times due to the pandemic, unfortunately, I am quite familiar with drastic life changes.  As a new widow almost 3 years ago, and sometimes even now, people interact with me differently.  Many people keep their distance and avoid conversation altogether or keep conversations short.  Perhaps they fear they will ‘catch’ what I have.  It is scary to think that what has happened to me could happen to them.  Maybe it is because I am not the same person they once knew.

Acquaintances and friends seem afraid to say the wrong thing or mention John as if it will upset me.  I get it, but I always welcome the mention of John because that tells me you are remembering him.  Remembering someone is honoring them, so it is OK to mention John.  If you miss him too, I want to hear it.  From my perspective, a widow feels relieved when you mention their spouse.

For anyone who is not grieving, please don’t try to change the subject or ignore the mention of a late spouse in a conversation.  I know it might make you uncomfortable, but please remember at one time, that person was their everything.  In a nutshell, ‘social distancing’ is not difficult for me after being widowed.  Friends and acquaintances were doing just that already.  Please check on your friends and family, especially those grieving during this time.  Further social isolation can be devastating to those with little or no family.

Staying Positive in the Face of Fear, Panic, and Anxiety

My life was turned upside down on March 11th when John suffered a sudden hemorrhagic brain stroke and then again when he died on March 29th.  Fear, panic, and anxiety set in after he died.  I am all too familiar with trying to remain calm while feeling fearful, panicky, and anxious.  During the pandemic, we are being told by authorities to remain calm.  Yet, many people are fearful, panicky, and anxious in such uncertain times on so many levels.  I know from my experience how exhausting it is to try to stay positive when everything seems to be falling apart.  Personally, I have leaned on family, friends and prayers, but managing grief and moving forward with everyday life has always been difficult to navigate.

My anxiety about my future was high after John’s death.  Widows with children understand all too well what is like to be there for your children, but at the same time remain a strong positive role model for them.  Other widows could probably talk for hours about all the unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends and family on how to stay positive.  I am not sure if other cultures are as insistent that everyone put on a smile as America is, but it is exhausting… the pretending.  Nobody can handle it if you tell them you are sad.  They almost always want to fix you.

Unless you have been through the death of a spouse, you cannot understand the difficulty and complexity that widowhood brings.  Honestly, staying positive is not possible sometimes.  When you are sad, in pain, have no energy, and little ability to focus, sometimes it is best to take a break, and lean into all of it without putting on a happy face.  Cry, scream, yell, or whatever helps so you can make it to the next thing.  Our society does not accept talk of death, which adds another layer to the many, many challenges for survivors.

My advice for staying positive in these unprecedented times due to COVID-19 is to take one day at a time, one step at a time, just like the grieving process.  Try to make it to the next thing.  You took a shower today.  You go girl.  Don’t pretend that everything is fine.  Tell your kids that yes this is not ideal for any of us and we don’t have all the answers for certain, but we will get through it… because we will.  Maybe society will build resilience like widows do.


Northern Virginia has been Jennifer Carstens’ home since she was a teenager. She met John when she was working at the D.E.A. Headquarters in Arlington, VA, during the summer when she was in college. Honestly, it was love at first sight for both of them. He had a way about him that made her feel like everything was going to be okay. They were married 4 years later and lived happily for the next 21 years. While their lives were not
flawless, they were close to perfection. Their daughter had just turned 16 when tragedy struck on March
11, 2017. John was healthy and happy, but suffered a massive brain stem hemorrhagic stroke. Much to
their horror, he slipped into a coma, and would never wake again. He was 49-years young. Their daughter
is now 18 and they are still piecing together their ‘new normal.

Jennifer believes he would be proud of the ways they are moving forward. They continue to seek peace and healing through humor, love, and sometimes tears.