This is a club no one wants to ever be in. The desperate heartache that rips through a new widow can not ever be explained or measured. The depth of this pain instantly draws compassion from all other wives while they try to imagine their worst nightmare and all other husbands as they imagine their worst fear over leaving a young family. As a young widow, I can now say there is hope for the new widow.
There is a new, young widow in my community. I do not know her well but our kids go to school together. I have cried many tears for her since hearing the news; and many tears for me. My kids and I have gathered together and prayed for this young mom through our tears. We know their next steps all to well and these next steps are terrible.
I will reach out to this fellow widow sister now that she has joined our sacred club of a few who understand just how bad it is. I will begin by telling her that I am so so sorry that she has had to experience such gut-wrenching pain and unfortunately there is more still to come. I will also tell her that there is hope!
In the beginning I didn’t even feel human anymore. I felt like a hollow shell, just walking around. I couldn’t understand any emotion beyond utter sorrow. It would surprise me when I had to enter the world to buy groceries or run errands and people didn’t seem to notice I wasn’t actually there. I felt so detached from my body I was sure others would notice the separation between my spirit and physical form. They didn’t seem to notice that, but they did notice my changed mental state. I couldn’t hold thoughts in place and lost all short-term memory. Widow brain is an actual condition.
I found I often couldn’t understand simple concepts that I somehow knew I use to know but didn’t care enough to try to figure out again. I would get “triggered” and my thoughts would then hijack me, leaving me speechless and sometimes physically lost.
There were times my life would require me to do something very similar to what I had to do while my husband was in cancer treatment. It was during these times I didn’t feel like I was in my body. It felt like I was almost hovering above myself. I found out later from my psychologist that this is a symptom of PTSD. I was diagnosed with PTSD from living in the hospital with my husband while he was suffering in palliative care for three months, seeing things that continue to terrorize me. These out of body experiences are called disassociation. You can’t watch someone you love more than yourself suffer in such a horrendous way without some big consequences.
Everything about my world and life changed. I felt like only half of me. My husband I were complete partners in everything. We made all decisions together. We deeply respected and loved each other. He was my soul mate. Without him here I couldn’t understand who I was or how I could possibly “move forward”. Yet it is almost 3 years and I am not only surviving but many days even thriving.
What Worked for Me
How can I explain to a new widow that despite how bad it is right now and how bad it is yet to get, there is hope? How did I get to the place where I am now; enjoying life and filled with purpose almost every day?
People prayed for me. “In the same way the Spirit comes to us and helps us in our weakness. We do not know what prayer to offer or how to offer it as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes on our behalf with sighs and groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26
My prayer was consistently sobbed, “Jesus please help me!” as that was all I could manage to express. People showed up and connected with me. They lavished gifts, meals and baking on my children and I showing us such a gift of love. They showed up with wine, cheezies and amaretto, prepared to drink with me for as long as it took to help me laugh and feel loved again.
I held my children close and began to try to parent them again. Planning my daughter’s 7th birthday, a month after her daddy died. Then we needed to plan Halloween where I decided to write my husbands name on the wagon he lovingly built to pull our kids around in just for this one day a year. I slowly started getting through each day by simply putting one foot in front of the other. Doing the next right thing as best I could.
I started regularly seeing a grief and trauma psychologist. I began reading any story I could find of others overcoming huge tragedies, especially widows. I clung to the promises in my bible and would read it for hours at a time. It was recommended that I start journaling my thoughts. I hated this idea but was desperate to heal. I decided maybe I would just begin by writing memories of my husband that I didn’t want to ever forget. Memories I wanted to make sure to tell the kids to help them remember their dad. Soon I was journaling about my emotions, life complexities, and lamenting in it about how much I miss Chad. I still inconsistently write in this journal but most often now I am writing in my gratitude journal; making a list of everything I have to be grateful for.
I started planning fun things for the kids and I to do that we could look forward to. I then began planning adventures for myself with my best friend and a couple other friends started joining in with us. I signed up for my favourite half marathon again and began training.
Two months later I returned to work part time and a month after that full time. Work was a great distraction for me, however, it also added a lot of stress to our lives. I have three busy kids who love sports and youth group. Juggling their schedule while working is another super natural feat that I am never sure how I manage to get it all done.
The best thing I have done is be intentional with my healing. I had a sad/mad angry period but I didn’t get “stuck” there. Self care and lots of grace for everyone who is hurting are so very important. If mom is okay the kids will be okay. Everyone grieves differently and no matter how a new widow chooses to go through this, it is okay.
I still have not cleaned out my husbands’ closet. I don’t need the space and it’s nice for the kids and I to see his clothes so why not just leave them there? Regardless of the timeline it is okay. Someone else may need to clean out closets right away. During my angry stage my wedding ring made me feel fraudulent. Like I couldn’t be displayed as married when God clearly had other plans for me, so I had it resized around 2 months out to fit on the ring finger of my right hand where I still wear it. Sometimes I put it back on my left hand because that feels nice but now have to be careful not to have it fall off. I hear many widows asking about when they should take their rings off and the answer is, “whenever it feels right to you”.
It will be three years on the 19th of this month that my husband went home to live with our Lord. I am no longer a “new widow” but that new pain can still be recalled at a moments notice. I am however also thriving and feeling joy again. I am able to honestly say that I am happy that I am still alive. I look forward to the fun adventures I know my kids and I will have in the future. I am making big decisions all by myself and can often get through an entire week without crying; some months even longer!
There is hope for the new widow. It is so hard and healing takes intentional work but it is definitely possible. I am the proof!