So it's been 7 years since my beautiful husband left for work one morning, and never came home. Seven years since his shocking and sudden death. Seven years of living this life in the "after" of painful and life-changing loss. It's a long time, and it isn't. It's forever, and it's also ten seconds. In all of this time living with the death of my husband, I do get asked one question quite frequently. People often ask me if I feel guilty for being happy. Do I feel guilt when I experience joy or joyful moments? Do I feel guilty for falling in love again?
The answer is no.
Guilt has certainly been a big part of my grieving and healing process. I felt guilty on my first two birthdays after Don died, because he would never get to see another year or enjoy another birthday or another year older. I felt guilty on New Year's Eve for years, and I refused to do the countdown to midnight, because it felt like a countdown to more time without him on earth, and another year that he won't ever get to be part of. I felt guilty for being asleep in our bed, while my husband was collapsing on a hard floor in a Petsmart, and going into cardiac arrest. These are the types of things I felt guilt about, and the types of things I worked on for years with my grief counselor, and came to better terms with.
I have never felt guilty for feeling joy. I have never felt guilty for falling in love again. I have never felt guilty for laughing so hard my sides hurt, or for feeling euphoric about something incredibly awesome or awe-inspiring. Maybe it's because I know for a fact that the most important thing to my husband, was my joy and happiness, so I know that me being happy would give him incredible peace. Maybe it's because I so fiercely want to LIVE, because my husband does not have that choice, so I look for and cling to moments of euphoria wherever I can find them. Maybe it's because it took me FIVE years and a hell of a lot of processing and therapy, to get to a place where I was even able to find love again, so why spend one second feeling guilty about it? I don't know what the reason is, but I have never felt guilt for feelings of joy or love.
What I HAVE felt is this:Read more
I think we all feel “lost” in some way, and sometimes in all ways.
But, understand, feeling lost after the person you love dies doesn’t mean you have to lose yourself forever.
I know that outliving the person you love isn’t easy. In truth, it’s easily the hardest thing I’ve ever been forced to do.
I remember many nights I stood in front of the stove and unconsciously rocked myself, in an effort to become ‘present’, as I half-heartedly cooked dinner for my kids -all the while hoping I wouldn’t die from the aching in my Soul.
The good news is that I didn’t die from Mike’s death. However, from his death, I’ve learned that nothing in life is constant. When he died everything about my life changed - quite literally overnight. I remember feeling completely and utterly disorientated. The days following his death are a blur. I remember feeling like I was having an out of body experience. I stood for hours surveying the mess that was left of my life. All our hopes and dreams were shattered into a million pieces - scattered all around me. I wanted to “fix” my brokenness, but I didn’t know where to begin. I had no clue how to move forward; but, instinctively I knew I couldn’t stay still forever...
Death forces change.
And, these changes are usually unexpected and always unwelcomed - at least initially.
For most of us, accepting change is hard at the best of times; and while grieving change is especially challenging
- albeit unavoidable.
In the early days, grief suspends you in a type of paralysis where your mind becomes frozen; and, all decisions, both big and small, feel overwhelming. I think this happens because death shatters everything we believe about the assumptive world; and, it takes a significant amount of time for the mind to recover from this.
However, I assure you, with time, and hard work you can and will steady yourself. And, once you reestablish your bearings it is possible to slowly regain your sense of self; and, with that, your self confidence...
With hindsight, I know that there is no way I could have better prepared for what has been required of me since Mike died. Widowhood is something you have to live to fully understand. There is no way to adequately explain this life in words. It is something that has to be experienced first hand to be comprehended.
This being the case, there is a strong kinship among those in the widowed community because our hearts speak the same language. We speak in fairly simple, yet carefully chosen words. The dialect of this 'language' can not be learned or interpreted - because it is not understood unless you are one of us. The aching inside us, the emptiness within us, and the sadness in our eyes is spoken in Grief's mother tongue. Widowed people do not need an interpreter. In fact, we often have the exact same tone in our voices . We can easily recognize what is said by others who are fluent in grief. And, maybe, more importantly, we hear what is not spoken by those who have lost the one they love. In short, we understand one another without words because there really are no words to adequately explain widowhood and how gutting it is.
Grief itself has many shared characteristics no matter who you are. The feelings of grief do not discriminate by gender, race or socio-economics. I believe that the emotions of grief are somewhat universal. Yet, our own grief is unique to each of us. It's ours. No one person feels the exact same way about losing their person.
We widowed people understand one another without words or explanation because we have lived through those lonely nights that we thought would swallow us whole. We have nearly crawled out of our skin yearning for the touch of our person. We have gasped for breathe because of the permanence of our situation. Their absence is forever - for the rest of our lives - and this changes everything about our future. Hence, we have been brought to our knees. We have laid on the cold, hard floor sobbing and wishing this was not our reality. We each know exactly how these things feel because we have done these things many, many times since they died. Thankfully, grief is fluid. The rawness of grief changes with time; but surviving the initial months of grief is something that is etched into your Soul. Outliving the person you love is something that changes you forever...
As time goes on, my grief has softened around the edges; and, for the most part, I appear to be "okay" - except that I'm not. And, recently, I have accepted that this is the way life is for me right now. And, I am okay - that I'm not okay.
I think that this is part of grief - to just accept that you are changed and working towards a future that you can't yet imagine. In grief, one must just breathe and have faith that things will work out - eventually. I now know that there is nothing I can do to "heal" myself - other than just live. I have to live the best way I can, and I must learn to forgive myself when I exist poorly some moments. Ironically, whether I like it or not, Mike's death is teaching me about living. (It is what it is.)
Recently, I find that I am continuously lost in my own thoughts. I spend hours imagining the future that we wanted to live together. I spend far too much time wishing things were different. And, I also spend a lot of time convincing myself that this is actually real.
He is dead. He is dead. He is really dead.
And, nothing can change it.
I say these words to myself again and again,
Because, one year and seven months later,
Mike's death is still surreal to me.
Maybe it always will be...
I can not believe how drastically different my life is without him. All day long I ask myself "NOW WHAT?" ... What the hell am I supposed to do without him? I don't have the answer. I have more questions than answers and I think that's okay for right now. It has to be.
When my husband and I were 'new', and so full of love for each other, he would caution me that this aspect of our relationship, the euphoria and the intensity, would change. "It won't always feel like this," he would say. Extremist that I am, my heart opened and softened by his attentiveness, I did not believe it for a moment. I had found, finally, the love of my life, I thought, and the boundless love I felt for him would remain, and express itself, always, in exactly this way.
But, as with so many things, Stan was right. Our relationship shifted. We became more comfortable with each other, and able to focus on other parts of our lives. We grew to understand each other's rhythms and ways. We learned each other's triggers and soft spots. We shared past and present joys and sorrows. We learned how to live life, not gazing, constantly, into each other's eyes, but hand in hand, and facing the world. Together. Our relationship changed. It deepened. It grew, and developed, and got better, with the passage of time.
We didn't have enough time together. Only three and a half years. I so wanted to grow old with him by my side, to enrich our relationship as we aged. As the first anniversary of his death nears, I grieve, not only for him, but for us, and for all that we could have been.Read more
I've been feeling the strains of beginning anew lately. Let's face it - starting to date someone is always messy. New person, new energy, new triggers and sensitivities. But being widowed makes it even trickier. After almost 3 years without a man by my side... I am a completely different person than who I was with Drew. I am far more independent. I don't even think of it as being alone these 3 years, but that I have been in a very deeply committed relationship to myself. I'm discovering this is making it hard for me to navigate the landscape of a relationship with someone ne
I've had little time to think in the past few days. I came down for the weekend to the beach a few hours south of where I live, with a bunch of friends. Like everything in this After Life, even the most ordinary stuff - like a beach trip - has significance and can feel heavy.
I woke this morning early to write this - all my friends still dozing away from a late night of fun. As I brew up a pot of coffee in the morning quiet, I am able to finally think things over.
It's been a great trip, but I have found myself having to really try hard to put on a smile. I am just having a diffiult time getting excited about things...Read more
I am so grateful for this Widow’s Voice. And it’s not just about having the opportunity to share, but to know that each day I can check in and “hear” another widow’s voice; that I can follow and learn about the multitude of paths, thoughts and feelings that are experienced. Even if I ever stop writing here, I know I will read it every single day, as long as it is here. I will never stop being a widow, even as my life will, and indeed has, taken different turns since Mike’s death.
I think a lot about how different the grieving process is for each individual. How many factors there are that determine our reactions and decisions since our losses. How we view the world, and our lives, through such a kaleidoscope of ever-changing colors and patterns.
I struggle tonight with what to write here. Not because I have no words for my pain... but because lately, I have been... happy. And I am struggling to write about that. Lately, my new life has become one I genuinely love. It may not be the life I had with him - but it is rich and full... and to be completely honest, it is actually far richer and more full than the life I had when he was part of it. I am a deeper, healthier, more open hearted person. I have deeper relationships with everyone I am close to now and have kicked the unworthy ones to the curb. My artistic career, although very challenging and still in the fledging stages, is meaningful and fulfilling for me. While I still have my bad days and occasional triggers and there are still certain aspects of my life that I am working to change... for the most part, I have a very full and fulfilling life.Read more
Shelby needs to have an example of what a caring, devoted man, father, and husband should be. She is a mere 8 years old, but I believe most readers here will understand when I state that, well, I might not be here by the time she's 18. It's a cold, hard truth that should never be swept under the rug or glossed over, and I can unfortunately speak from experience.Read more