Since my husband died, I’ve learned that the word “widow” can be a label, as if being a widow is a static condition. It’s deceptively simple and cloaks the fact that each widow is unique and that widowhood and grief both evolve over time. For instance, after three years, the pain of Todd’s death isn’t as sharp. It’s not even pain really anymore, but more of a space that I’m learning to live with. Some days, I hardly notice the ache in me because of all the room Todd takes up in there.
Immediately after Todd died, everything was surreal. For months, I felt both numb and then a shockwave of grief could buckle my knees, like the time I was in the school library, mindlessly flipping through a newspaper during a college rep presentation and randomly turning the page right to Todd’s obituary. The words swam in my head, the air seemed to waver, and somehow I found my feet to walk the empty hallway for a few minutes so my students wouldn’t see me cry.
Then, I floated for a year or so. I worked and made decisions, but I floated, like my feet weren’t on the ground at all, except when I would wake and remember he was dead and cry all morning. Those days I felt so heavy I thought I’d sink into the earth with him.
And, there were days when I didn’t want to lose the intensity of the pain because I feared my love for him was fading. I didn’t want to forget a single thing about him.
Now, after three years, two months, and 12 days, I recognize that Todd is simply a part of who I am. His shirts are what I sleep in. His taste in movies and music are part of my own. Our life together is a narrative that runs through my head all day, every day, so much so that I don’t even acknowledge it anymore. There are no shockwaves. He’s like an echo in my brain or the “bump” in the “buh bump” of my heart.
Memories are pieces that form the very personal narrative playing non-stop in my thoughts, like this: “Oh, Casablanca’s on TCM again; I cried the first time I watched it with Todd. Sci-fi, no he wasn’t a fan. Pinto beans and cornbread for supper tonight sound good; Todd wasn’t a fan of soup beans either. Todd would have bought his grandson a book for Christmas, so I’ll get that for him.” And on and on and on. From lotion, to songs, to dogs on the bed, recipes, oil changes…you name it, and I’ll loop him in on it somehow, mostly without tears.
And, I keep all this inside. I don’t even share memories with other people anymore. For instance, when friends discuss spouses or some aspect of marriage, I just listen and think and remember all to myself. I am no longer compelled to bring Todd to life again in speech whenever the opportunity arises because he’s rolling around in my brain.
I hadn’t even noticed that my brain had absorbed him so completely until I was watching a movie in which the main character has flashbacks to memories with her dead friend. It was a visual representation of what my brain was doing. Wow–how much I’ve changed in three years!
All of this is to say: if you are recently widowed, don’t think that the pain you’re experiencing will never change. Each widow’s experience is as unique as her fingerprint, as unique as her love for her husband, and her grief will evolve in her own time. “Widow” might be a label that society gives you, but one day you will redefine that word for yourself. You will own it because it will reflect your love for your husband and your resilience.