Soon after the sudden death of my husband, almost 8 years ago now, I began trying to navigate my new reality and world that I never asked for or wanted.
I didnt know what the hell I was doing.
There are no guidelines or handbook for how to “widow” properly. I hadn’t even put away all of our dishes and kitchen items and gifts from a few years prior, when we got married. Things were still in boxes. We were talking about having a family, moving out of Jersey, things that married people talk about in the first few years of their marriage. I hadnt even begun to figure out the rest of our life together, and now, I was left to figure out how to cope with my husband and my world and my future being dead?
I didnt know how to do that.
Looking back now, I see that I made a lot of mistakes.
I made a lot of mistakes that I will now call “grief mistakes.”
I am probably still making them, but hopefully way less often.
Sharing a few of these mistakes and lessons with my grief community may be helpful or beneficial for some to read.
When I first lost my husband to sudden death, it was so incredibly shocking and jarring , that I think I held onto and clung to other things and other people in a way that may have been unhealthy and unfair. I was so terrified that everyone would just disappear like my husband did, that I desperately hung onto my friends and anyone that was nearby, in an effort to make sure they never disappeared also. I felt like I couldnt lose anything or anyone else. I didnt think I could take it.
When my dear friends made a decision to move out of NYC and to start over in California, I probably made them feel guilty for leaving me. I was upset that other people still got to live their life and have their dreams, and mine were gone. And if my husband was no longer here, I needed my best friends here forever, and now they wouldnt be here. It was so hard, and honestly, it still is. But I learned somewhere along the way that people have to live their own lives, and they should absolutely be able to do that. Their life shouldnt have to remain on hold , just because mine was. I think for a long time, I wanted and expected others to put aside their own stuff, so that I wouldnt be all alone. That’s not fair. I still miss my friends, and it sucks being far away from people you used to see regularly, but years later – I also moved out of NYC and back to Massachusetts, because life happened. My friends are still my friends and I love them. Things change.
My first New Years Eve after my husband died was brutal. I didnt want to have anything to do with the countdown to midnight. I didnt want to celebrate a new year that my husband didnt get to be part of or live in. I sat in my bed and cried myself to sleep that night, and when I woke up there was a text message from two good friends wishing me a Happy New Year. I was in an angry and grief-stricken place, and my heart was hurting. I texted them back asking how they could possibly be wishing me a Happy New Year when my husband was dead. Did they really think I was having a Happy New Year? At the time, I felt justified in sending that text. I was so angry and so sad and heartbroken that people were just going on about their lives and partying it up on New Years Eve, when all I could think about was that 2012 would be the first year he would never know. A few days later, I apoligized to my friends about my response to their text. My friend wrote back saying that she accepted my apology, and then she added something about how I needed to understand that my friends will help me how they can, and when they can, and that I shouldnt really criticize how they are trying to help me, because if I did, I would end up with no friends at all. At the time, I thought she was being really harsh, because I couldnt see through my own pain enough to see anything from someone else’s point of view. Now I know that she was right. People will help how they can, when they can. They wont always do it correctly, or in the way that you might want. You can thank them anyway, or you can let them know gently what might be more helpful in the future. But you probably shouldnt yell at them for wishing you a Happy New Year because they care.
After my husband died, I wanted so much to have all the pieces of him that I could collect. We never had kids, and his family was quite dysfunctional, so they werent super close. I didnt have in-laws, because they were already dead too. His sisters coped with his death very differently than I did. Talking with me only hurt them and reminded them that their brother was gone. For me, connecting with the people that loved Don, made me feel closer to him. It still does. I still want those people in my life. Some of them want to be in my life. Most of them dont. That still hurts, but I cant force relationships with people that dont want them with me. I learned that relationships of any kind have to happen naturally, and just because I want to be close with Don’s sisters or some of his close friends, doesnt mean they are obligated to be close with me or check up on me.
I had this vision in my mind after Don died, about how we would all come together in our grief and sorrow to honor him, to remember him. How my family would gather on his death anniversary, and tell stories about him and eat his favorite foods and say how much they miss him too. That never really happened. It sometimes happens in pieces, where one or two people will show me they miss him or reach out at random to share a memory with me or something. But the great grief circle of love that I pictured never really happened. When I honor my husband each July 13th with “Pay it Forward for Don Day”, it is mostly other widowed people who didnt even know Don, who participate and do something kind in his honor and share it with me. This used to make me so sad. It still does sometimes, but now I understand that only other widowed people know how important it is to me that he be remembered and never forgotten. If you havent been through it, its tough to really comprehend the importance of keeping them alive somehow, always. My family and friends have been there in many ways, and ways I didnt expect. I have learned to appreciate the support I do get, and try not to focus on things being a certain way. Grief sucks for everyone, and the truth is, not everyone is equipped to handle it and not everyone wants to. Just because I am open with my grief, doesnt mean everyone else will be.
Eight years later, I have learned a lot, and have a lot to learn.
I know that love never dies, and people live on through the legacy they leave behind, and through us, when we tell their stories.
I know that when people are in tremendous pain, they often do things to hurt other people. Not on purpose, but because they are bad at living with pain.
I know that everyone handles life and death and grief differently. I try to remind myself of this daily.
I know that whatever I do or dont do in this widowed life, someone will judge me for it. So Im going to keep living my truth, and try to always keep learning.
I know that love grows more love, and that we are here on this earth and in this life, to learn from and love each other. Nothing else really matter.
These are some things I now know.
So far ……..