When I first became widowed, I remember asking someone who had been a widow much longer than me, if the pain would ever get easier.
Her response was: "Not easier, but softer. It gets softer. "
I didnt really understand what she meant.
It has been almost 8 years since my husband Don's sudden death.
In the beginning, and for a very long time, one of my hardest things was the reality that I would never be a mom, Don would never be a dad, and we would never get to have our family that we both dreamt about. There would never be a first house, babies, kids, family vacations, school systems, dealing with teens, on and on and on. For a long time, it hurt like hell to see other couples with their young kids or babies. It hurt to see pregnant women. It hurt to hear older couples talking about being grandparents, showing off their grandkids pictures and stories, and knowing I would never be a mom, never mind a grandmother. All of that hurt like hell. I literally could not be in the same room whenever that topic would come up, which is often. Sometimes I couldnt even be around my own niece and nephew, because I was so hurt and upset that MY kids should have been here, and Don should have been playing with them like my brother was playing with his kids. It just stung so bad to be a witness to all of that.
Today, almost 8 years later, I was in the weekly widowed group I belong to. The group is mostly much older widowed people, in their 60s, 70s, and a few even in their 80s and 90s. You would think I wouldnt have anything in common with these people, because they all had 40 or 50 or more years with their spouses, and they have grandchildren and even great grandchildren. Almost all of them are widowed through a long-term illness, whereas mine was a sudden death. Our worlds are totally different, and yet, I find comfort in being with them, and they with me. They tease me about how young I am. I tease them about going out for dinner at 4pm, instead of 6pm like normal people. I remind them of their younger selves. Being with them feels like being in a room filled with grandpas and Nanas, and all my actual grandparents are no longer with us, and I miss them. I feel loved by these people. They feel loved by me. We have become friends.
Today, at a certain point during the support group, they all started talking about their grandkids and great grandkids. It started because someone in the group had announced that his daughter was pregnant, and that he would once again become s grandfather. Everyone congratulated him, and then the conversation turned into all of them talking about various grandkid things. I sat there, like usual, with nothing at all to add. I was silent. My eyes went back and forth to follow the dialogue about this one having a baby, and that one going to college, and this one getting married, and that one doing something awesome that my much older friends were proud of. Usually, at this point, I would be trying to hide a panic attack, and/or massive tears, and I would have to sit there and fake a smile while all of this unfolded.
But this time, something was different. I noticed that while it still hurt hearing about all of these things that I will never get to experience, all of these things that will never be a part of my life - it didnt feel like someone was stabbing me. It didnt feel like I had swallowed a nail. I also observed that my breathing was a lot more calm than usual. I was able to sit in my seat and not want to sprint the hell out of there , run somewhere and cry. I sat there, I was silent, and I was able to breathe normally and not in a panic. Lastly, as I listened to them tell their stories about becoming grandparents for the first or second or fourth time, or about their grandson getting into a good school, or whatever else - I felt genuinsely happy for them. I didnt have to fake a smile, because I was almost actually smiling. I was still very sad for myself, and I felt inner sadness and melancholy, but at the exact same time, I was able to seperate my thoughts of "this will never be me", and focus on them, and their joy. It took almost 8 years for me to feel this way, and its a tiny thing, because its not dramatic and its not something anyone on the outside would ever notice.
But I noticed. I felt it. It was not any easier that I would not be a mom, Don was dead forever and would never be a dad like he dreamed of, and we would never have our family. That will never be an easy thing to live with.
But it was softer. Eight years later, it gets softer.