Finding ways to fill my time after Dave died was a huge challenge. I needed to stay busy and connected to others, but I wasn't any good for social situations, especially early on.
I was zombie-like and had difficulty relating to anyone else who hadn't experienced widowhood. I couldn't talk about what I used to talk about. Gossip, work-related issues, griping (especially about spouses!) were nearly physically impossible for me to sit through. I'd have to escape for fear I'd scream at people.
Also, I'd always hung out with other married couples and suddenly felt completely wretched hanging out as a single with all those paired up people.
So, my life suddenly narrowed down to this small, lonely existence. I had to fill it with something. I had to break away from the old and start building the new. I decided I had to find new friends.
That's when I turned to the internet. After a few fevered "young widow" searches, I found, with huge relief, Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation and registered for Camp Widow. I figured that I'd find my people there and that's all I cared about. I had tunnel vision. Nothing mattered but finding a place where I felt like I belonged. I wanted to ask other widowed people how they did it, how they survived.
I wanted proof that I'd survive too. I wanted hope.
I got all of that and more. And when I returned home and had to go back to spending my nights alone on that couch I used to share with my husband, I had new widowed friends to call and text. They were my lifelines.
It was the most important part of my healing. I also used the internet to find a local young widow support group where I made other important connections.
The hope, support and love these people gave me helped propel me into a new life.
When I did still have lonely nights at home, I began to find ways to make the most of it. I found that comedy helped heal me. I watched the entirety of 30 Rock two times through. I watched How I Met Your Mother, every funny movie I could find, and stand up comedy. I hunkered down and allowed myself to be completely lazy and anesthetize myself with funny TV. It was not a time for broadening my mind or learning new things.
I also wrote. A lot. I wrote every single day for months. I'd wake up and write before I did anything else. It helped to process my thoughts and feelings and made the alone time feel a little less empty. After I'd write for a while, it would feel almost as good as having had a conversation with someone else.
The other way I filled my time was by joining a gym. I began taking crossfit classes several mornings a week. The exercises were so challenging and exhausting that for the hour of class, the only thing I could think of was staying upright and not throwing up, so my mind got a rest from all the grieving.
It also allowed me to be around other people, people who didn't know me before. Plus, it seemed to help me sleep at night.
I was also lucky enough to move to an area overflowing with things to do and people to meet. I went on hikes, went to meetup groups, wandered around my new neighborhood, joined another gym, tried new restaurants and museums and traveled whenever possible.
However, the lonely nights and weekends were still a regular part of my life. I could spend time with new friends, explore my new town, stay busy all day and STILL come home to an agonizingly lonely, dark house. The silence of it was the loudest thing I'd ever heard.
They felt impossible to survive, those nights, piling up on each other in the days ahead of me. But I did survive them. Sometimes I just suffered through them, crying for hours on end. Sometimes, I numbed myself. Sometimes I'd obsessively check my phone for invites that never appeared. Eventually, though, something happened to me that changed everything.
Somewhere along the way I began to find a quiet peace and contentment in my nights alone. I didn't love them or long for them, but I made friends with them. They didn't feel so intolerable anymore. I began to imagine how things could be worse.
I began to see the beauty in my quiet little life. I began to feel loved and a part of everything even when I was alone. It's not always that way, but now it's more often that way than not.
It can happen.
Just hold on until then. Fill your nights with whatever comforts you. Make connections with others. Reach out. You are not alone even when you think you are. There are millions of us out here, living this, too. It won't always feel so excruciating. There is life after this.
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