It can be very hard to navigate the waters of the family when grief is involved. It is hard enough when the person missing from your family functions is a cousin, aunt, parent, or any other loved one. The reality of this for a widow is very different. It is very hard to connect with the people you love about what you are going through because most of it you don’t understand yourself, especially in the beginning.
In the beginning, it’s a lot to process, or at least it was for me. The year of firsts, I hear, is the hardest and things change after that. It is hard to know what to expect the first time you join your family after you have lost your spouse. How are they going to treat me, will anyone bring them up, will they talk to me like normal? These are all things that went through my mind as I prepared to go to the first family function without Richie. I had seen my family a little here and there but we hadn’t had a big family dinner. If you know me in real life then you know I have a large family and we like to get together and eat. If you are part of my family and reading this, you know it’s true!
It was very surreal getting ready to go and not all of us leaving the house. By the time we had our first family get-together Richie had been gone for a couple of weeks. I was still very much living in my own fog and nothing had really hit me yet. I knew he was gone but what that meant hadn’t had time to set in. Life was very much in auto-pilot mode and I was just trying to survive. I was treading water but my arms were getting so tired. As I felt my arms giving out I tried to lean on the support of my family, both blood and non.
I put on a brave face and showed up to the function like everything was just fine. Like I wasn’t completely falling apart on the inside, exhausted, and ready to just stop treading for a min. Now, please know that had I said anything my family would have been there for me in an instant. I have no doubt that they would have carried me when I needed it. Instead, I tried to pretend like I was ok and everything else was ok. I was surviving and so were my kids. I was doing the only thing I knew how to do and that was taken care of the three of us.
As I sit at the table eating surrounded by people that I know love me, yet I was so alone. Things just weren’t quite right. I kept looking across the room for Richie to see if he was ok or needed anything. I caught myself putting our stuff by the door so he could load it only to realize I had to load it myself. This new normal for me was and still is, taking some getting used to. Things would never be the same again and I don’t know that I was ready for that epiphany. I would never catch his glance from across the room and know what each other was thinking without saying a word. I would never feel him run his hand across my shoulders again if I was sitting somewhere and he walked past me.
My family tried to make it as normal a family function as we can have. Everyone has a crazy family so I know I don’t have to explain that! We all made small talk and caught up on each other’s lives. The kids played and swam. Everything seemed to be going fine but I still couldn’t feel like I was at peace there. I felt as though I was being looked at with pity and that they struggled to talk to me for more than the obligatory how’s work and life in general since we last saw each other. Small talk was all they could do and I felt like I was going through this by myself.
Then one day it hit me. Yes, I had lost my husband, but they were all grieving in their own ways as well. This was not only the first family function for him to not be there for me but it was for all of them as well. I know that they love him dearly and miss him as well. At that moment I didn’t see that because I was focused on my grief. It is hard to navigate the waters with family after a loved one has passed. It’s ok to be a little fragile, or a lot when you see the people you love. That is what they are supposed to be there for. It is hard as a widow to express your need for their compassion, not their distance. It is hard to express because it is very overwhelming and scary. It is also very hard to explain to someone else how you are feeling when you don’t even understand it yourself. How do you say I need you when you don’t know how you need them?
As the months have gone on it has gotten better. There have been times that I have had to ask for my space and they have been understanding. It is ok for me to say I need a minute and take time out for myself. That doesn’t mean I’m not coming or I won’t do my best to have a good time. It just means I need a minute to gather myself and I will be there when I can. A few of them have talked with me about Richie some and I appreciate the memories that they share more than they know. One thing about Richie is if he called you family he meant it and he made sure you knew just how much he loved you. I know they were all just trying to make sure I was ok and not bring up anything that was painful for me to talk about. The more I started bringing him up the more everyone talks about him.
They have also gotten a lot better at acknowledging that this is hard for me but I keep trying. That’s what is important for me and them to remember. I keep showing up and I keep trying to figure out what my new family dynamic is. When you have such a supportive family as I do, it can be overwhelming as well. The good thing about family is they are the ones you can turn to and say I need your love and support but I don’t always know what way I need it. Let me figure out what I need and come to you instead of you trying to help in the way you think is best. Even with the best of intentions, the love and support of family can be overwhelming and hard to manage.
Amy Sasser is a 37-year-old solo mom of two. She started her journey as a widow on March 26, 2021. Her husband, Richie, and was married 15 years when he passed. She lives and works for a local florist in Northwest Arkansas.