The Challenge of Living At All

Sometimes I wonder, is life harder because I have been widowed or would have been just as hard in different ways if I had never been widowed? It’s a question I think on when I have long talks with friends who aren’t widowed, who are going through their own complex lives… complete with blended, divorced families and step kids or uncertainty in their current relationship, or loneliness and feeling unsure about their career or life purpose.

Our thirties and forties have taken us places I think none of us imagined. We used to all live across town from one another, and the most complicated stuff we really dealt with was the dating scene and fighting traffic across town to meet up together at our favorite bar every Tuesday night. We still look back at those days now with such nostalgia… it was a few good years where things were easy, good friends were plentiful, and there were no major catastrophes. For a short time we all were able to relax into the present moment of our lives.

Drew’s death changed everything. It was the beginning of life becoming far more complex… and it happened to occur when I was turning 30. I feel like it’s so easy sometimes to blame the grief. To feel like all the complexity and extra difficulty and all the changes that have been hard are the fault of grief and being widowed. But I don’t really think that’s true at all.

Had Drew not died, I would have been married within a year likely… and moved out of Dallas anyway - as was our plan. I would have then followed his career as a pilot wherever it took us around the country… likely living somewhere new every few years or so. Had we adopted a child by now, which was our eventual plan, I would be going through the same fears and doubts and struggles with learning how to be a mother as I am with my new partner Mike’s child now. And I would have been doing it a bit more alone, while Drew was likely gone a lot for flying gigs that would have him on contracts for weeks or months.

Death or not, my life was going to change drastically. And many of the complex things that happened in my friends’ lives were not because of grief either. The complicated stuff they now deal with in their lives is just a part of growing up into our thirties and forties and beginning new phases of their lives. Phases none of us were especially prepared for, it seems...

I guess sometimes it makes me feel better to know that my totally crazy, complicated, messy, challenging new life is actually not all that different from a lot of unwidowed people’s crazy, complicated, messy challenging lives. Yes, it was in the beginning. Those first years I would say were drastically different, because the pain and my heart were still so raw. So in no way am I trying to minimize anyone’s initial, horrific, traumatic experience of being widowed. But now… 6 years later, with some healing and growth, I can say that my life maybe isn’t any harder just because of being widowed.

I know single parents who are at their wits end with challenging children, just trying their hardest to hold it all together. I know blended, divorced families doing the same. I know newly dating couples who are struggling with taking steps forward in their relationships because of fears of repeating past mistakes. I know friends who have been single for so long that they have a real fear in their heart that they may never find someone.

I’m not even sure where I’m going with this one today… except to say that, at this stage in my grief and life, I feel just like everyone else again - and it feels good. I finally don’t feel like there is a huge target on my back with a sign above my head blinking “widowed!!!”. I feel like someone who’s had to go through a lot of shit in her life at a young age… but I also feel like the rest of the world is catching up to me. I no longer am feeling like my widow card is some badge of honor or something I can use as an excuse… because I’m starting to see that everyone else has it pretty tough too. Everyone I know is struggling in some way, and the more we begin to talk openly, the more I begin to realize... my struggles and theirs may differ circumstantially, but they probably have a very similar root: - Feelings of a lack of love and belonging, feelings of a lack of purpose, or feelings of fear - usually about reliving something in the past. That really seems to be what everyone’s struggles boil down to.

I think sometimes it helps me to remember… Had I not been widowed, my life may have been easier… but it’s also possible that it would have been harder. And that, I really cannot know and shouldn’t speculate. In that life, maybe Drew and I would have fallen apart, gotten a divorce, because of our own life stresses and struggles. Maybe someone else important in my life would have died instead, like one of my siblings, or a best friend. Maybe I’d have a child and be a single mom, and be on a whole other journey I never expected. And even IF none of that happened, it would have still been pretty damn challenging.

My life would have been more complex by age 35 whether I was widowed or not… because I am a human being who is growing and developing into new life stages all the time. I am pushing myself and working on myself always… trying to be the best version of me. And by default, life will continue to become more challenging.

Somehow, this idea helps me when times get tough. It helps not to blame my widowhood and my grief. It helps me to know that all of it is part of our human experience. The good, the bad, the challenging, the scary, the painful. We were never guaranteed an easy, joyful, life. Having a life at all isn’t, in my eyes, about joy - it’s about learning and growing and loving. And sometimes love isn’t joy. Sometimes it’s pain. But it still teaches us and helps us grow, so long as we remember that first and foremost we are here to learn and to love. I think when I’m able to remember this, the joy actually finds me much more easily, all on it’s own.

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  • Antonella Totino
    commented 2018-07-18 11:43:44 -0700
    I haven’t thought about this in months! 8 months to be exact.
    When my husband was I’ll, I was told that his life and my life would be difficult bc of the level of care which he would require if he survived. GOD understood this too. Well, he didn’t survive. But it was only within a month. 1 month. I didn’t have a chance to think about it. It happened so fast. What if….
    I am enveloped in grief but is it harder to be widowed or would it have been harder to deal with the consequences. I don’t know but in my seconds of clarity I have to believe that God chose the more " bearable" of the two paths, for both of us. His pain would continue and that in itself would have been unbearable for him and for us.
    I am thinking out loud bc the heartbreak is overwhelming.
    But praying is what is “saving” me right now.
  • Linda Tevebaugh Keeling
    commented 2018-07-16 20:35:39 -0700
    I never thought along these lines… it makes perfect sense!