Everyone experiences the loss of a loved one, and the losses compound as we age. In my 63-year span on earth, I’ve lost my father and mother, and all my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The entire older generation is gone and now I’m losing my peers, too – cousins and friends, alike. I have felt the pain of every one of those losses throughout the years. But I can honestly say nothing has ever affected me like my husband’s death.
Losing Rick was unlike any other grief I have known. It was like losing a part of myself. Of course, there was tremendous pain when I lost all of those who were dear to me, especially my parents. But Rick and I had intertwined lives. He was the yin to my yang, and when he died, I felt like I was ripped in two. My entire life was upended. And all widows know this feeling. The person who is almost a part of you suddenly disappears and you’re left feeling lost and alone, with no idea how you could possibly survive the pain. But three years later, I’m here to tell you that you will survive – and can even thrive.
Now and then, I am amazed that I am in this place today – happily going about my life as a single woman – even enjoying myself dating other men. I never thought I’d see this day. Life is full of joy and worth living. I’m okay. Oh, I can go back and relive the pain in the snap of my fingers – those awful first days after his death, and the actual scene of his death, as well. I can feel it all over again – almost as if it’s still happening. The pain and despair will never be forgotten. Enduring those early throes of grief was like being in a dark hole. I was filled with anxiety and dread – thinking life was no longer worth living, and not imagining how I could possibly go on. And in the midst of that awful time, I never imagined how I’d make it to today, when all is well, when life has righted itself and I have hope, joy, and a promising future.
So, now, I’d like to encourage those of you in those early stages of grief, those of you who are currently experiencing emotional pain that you never thought possible – you will survive this incredible pain. I – and many other widows – have done it. But there are a few things that I learned on the recovery journey.
1. You have to feel it. You must experience the grief. You have to give in to the pain, and relive the memories. You can’t try to forget or ignore those feelings with distractions or alcohol or busyness or other means of avoidance. I FELT the pain of his loss over and over. Every memory that came up, I stopped what I was doing and I experienced it. I relived it. I even set aside time in my day to grieve.
And in order to handle all those feelings, I began to write. I wrote my way through the pain until it was eased. But if that doesn’t work for you, there are other ways of feeling and coping. Maybe you want to paint, or garden, or walk. Maybe you simply need to take time alone to think – or yell in anger, or wail with grief. But don’t try to ignore it. You need to go through the grief, not around it. There’s no escaping the pain. If you don’t deal with it now, you’re going to deal with it in the future.
2. Seek grief counseling. Finding a qualified therapist was the best decision of my life. A widowed coworker stopped by my cubicle a few weeks after Rick died, and advised me to seek counseling right away. In her case, she made some crazy decisions and sought all the wrong ways to try to cope with the grief that resulted from her young husband’s death, and she realized in hindsight, that she should have immediately sought support. I am thankful to her every day. My therapist walked me through the pain and the guilt that often accompanies grief.
In my case, I felt guilt because I thought I had failed him: had I not asked doctors the right questions? missed signs I should have seen earlier? not helped him emotionally cope with his impending death from cancer? I also felt guilty because he fell, broke his hip, and died from complications after I suggested a simple household chore – had I actually hastened his death? But she helped me process that pain and that guilt, and then, she went one step further… she helped me envision a future, create a vision board, learn how to live a full life, and become whole again. So I encourage any new widow to seek help if it’s available.
3. Surround yourself with support. I will never forget the night I discovered the Hope for Widows private Facebook group. My fellow widows provided a 24/7 lifeline when I was overcome with sadness and needed to talk to other women who knew just how I felt. Countless nights, I read every post from every other widow in the group, or I turned to the blogs on the H4W website that discussed various stages of grief. Through Hope for Widows, I discovered that I was not alone on the journey. Others have lived it and survived, and even thrived – and many of them reached out to support those of us who were just beginning the painful journey. My friends and family did all they could to help, but only another widow has lived the journey.
These other fantastic women lifted me when I was down, and allowed me to glimpse my future. Many of them were 6 months or 6 years ahead of me in their grief journey, and I was able to hear how they coped and how they eventually overcame that awful period of their lives. And now I’m one of those women. And I’m telling you it WILL get better.
If your husband died recently, you probably won’t believe me. You’re convinced that you’ll wake up in that dark pit of despair every single morning for the rest of your life. You won’t be able to picture life without him, or even wanting to continue to live without your other half. But get up anyway. Get dressed, even though you are in pain, or numb, even if you feel no joy, no purpose, no reason to go on. Put one foot in front of the other, and reach out to others to support you as you stumble forward, seeking a way out of that dark hole. And soon a month will pass, then six months, and then a year. And one day, you’ll realize it’s been three years. And that you’re okay. You have a life again.
And you’ll know what I know today. That your life will never be the same. Ever. That you will never stop loving that man. Ever. But that you’ll find a purpose and you’ll make a new life; you’ll start your Chapter 2. And I know Chapter 2 is often thought to be a relationship with a new man, but I don’t see it that way. To me, Chapter 2 is just the next chapter – the next part of your story – where you’ve survived and have a promising future. You cherish the memories created in the first chapter – the time you spent with an incredible man who will live in your heart the rest of your life. But you’ll realize that your life didn’t end with his death. You have much more living to do and many more chapters to write.
And be honest with yourself, wouldn’t your husband have wanted that for you?