Updated: Nov 16, 2019
It's been five years since I lost my Tony. All that time, I've done a great deal of reflecting. These are my thoughts about those years.
It took me two years before hearing the word widow didn’t give me a chill up my spine. Widows are married to dead husbands. Even though I was there at his side when he left, I still couldn't wrap my head around the fact that he was gone. Gone forever.
I have heard over the years that many women don't like being called a widow. "It's not who I am." "Don't call me that." "It's not my identity." Comments like that. As I said, I hated being called a widow in the beginning. The very word made my blood run cold and my face feel hot. My hands shook and my eyes welled up. Widows mean someone died. I didn't want to have to think about that, let alone be identified with it. Yes I was there when he died...that doesn't mean I wanted to be okay with it.
Why is that word such a problem? When I married him, I was his "wife." That's what they pronounced me. It met I was his and he was mine. That meant alot to me. When he was pronounced, my title changed to widow. Being a widow, his widow, should mean just as much, and it does, at least to me. But the problem makes sense. One occasion is happy, and one clearly is not.
In my experience, there is also some disagreement about how long you show your feelings about being a widow. To me, being Tony's widow means in addition to still considering myself his wife, I am allowed to mourn him the rest of my life if I choose. I am allowed to talk to and about him. I am allowed to keep his memory alive as I see fit. He was mine and I was his. That didn't end when he died and it doesn't end if I find a new someone to love.
I get told to "shut it off" because someone thinks I should. With five years under my belt, that is what I am hearing (or not hearing directly to my face) now.
"You're so strong. How can you not be over this?"
Because I'm not. You don't get over it. No such thing.
Also...don't call me strong. Being strong is what I have to be. I have no choice in the matter. It's just plain exhausting and I don't want to hear it anymore.
Grief is a curiously odd thing. You don't really understand it until you experience it. Yet people who haven't experienced it act like experts on how long it should be. Others who have been through it act like experts on everyone else's grief and tell you that "should be over it. Look at me...I'm dating, enjoying life...etc." And my most favorite thing to be told: "You're just stuck. Wallowing in your grief."
These words were actually said to me by someone I respect a great deal, and a fellow widow.
Hold up. Because "after all of this time", I still want to talk about him, so that means there is something wrong with me? That I'm STUCK?
You have got to be kidding me!
Yes, it has been five years. I no longer cry every single day. I no longer avoid going places we went together. I can look in the direction of the hospital he died in and not start sobbing. I can even say the words "died", "dead", and "widow" without cringing.
Now, on some days, it just kind of feels...awful.
But because I don't cry or feel pained all of the time doesn't mean I'm over it. I am not and never will be. It just means I have made it a part of who I am now. There is an ache deep in my soul which never really leaves, no matter how much I'm smiling or laughing. I am continually working through it and with it.
So it's okay to identify as a widow. It's simply another piece that makes you, you.
This is my life now. I wish I didn't have to, but I've accepted it. I have learned to ignore the cringing and the quick changes of subject whenever I bring him up. Early on, it used to anger me that people could be so insensitive. I learned...that they just don't know. They just don't. They will never understand my path, even when grief happens to them.
I did some research on the term "stuck." I discovered that there is no such thing as being stuck in grief. True, there is complicated grief, and that is an entirely different thing. But the only people who get called stuck are those who are not grieving according to everyone else's timeline. The individual is grieving how she needs to. Besides, who really wants to be stuck in grief? I certainly don’t.
I also understood that the world keeps spinning and people continue to live their lives...while mine came to a complete halt and moved in a completely different direction. Change is tough, but this change seemed insurmountable. It wasn't. It just caught me completely by surprise and almost killed my heart and soul.
I’m here to tell you it didn’t, and it won’t.
Something else I’ve understood: healing comes when you and your pain are acknowledged. People shy away from you when you talk about him and the pain washes over you. Find those people who SEE you and acknowledge you and your loss. It took me some time, but I did. Healing came slowly, but healing is happening.
But the final reality is this: grief never goes away. You can and will heal but it's always there. Showing itself when you least expect it. Pushing you back to the place you thought you had left. Knocking the wind out of you. Just breathe deep, and ride the wave. After five years, I’ve learned to do this.
This is my path. My journey. I wish it wasn't so, but there it is. It's made me who I am now and who I plan to be in the future.
These are some of the things I have learned in five years as a widow. Yes, you can call me that. It's what I am and I have learned to make it part of my life now.