Since becoming a widow various people have contacted me and asked if a recent widow can reach out to me. I always say yes. I sincerely hope that the woman reaches out to me, but understand that she will not. I get that. When I first became a widow I did not reach out to anyone. I don't recall for certain, but I'm sure someone told me about some other widow I should call if I needed to talk to someone and I did not. It was too fresh and the shock too strong for that kind of action. The fog from which I operated did not allow the kind of rational thinking that would have guided that conversation. I didn't know what to say as I processed feelings that were so foreign. It was a pain like nothing I had ever faced and I had no idea how to carry it, let alone articulate it. But if I had, this is what I think would have been helpful to hear.
Yes, you feel broken and in a lot of ways you are. You have lost a piece of your soul and you must allow yourself to heal the way a broken bone would need. Give yourself time and tenderness. Allow yourself kindness. It will sting to see and receive tenderness when you feel so raw and ripped but if you do not let in the good, the bad will consume you. It will rob you of sleep and sanity. It will find every drop of doubt and grow it like a sequoia tree, with roots so deep you can't dig deep enough to rip them out.
You are not crazy, sadness is physically painful. Those aches you feel, especially in your core are truly there. Don't ignore them. You have suffered a blow that cannot be contained in your head. It spreads everywhere like an infection. Take care of it. Soothe it in the ways that pain is alleviated and take it seriously. The headaches, the knots in your stomach, the pounding heart and muscle spasms are not imaginary so do not treat them as such.
Write down your last moments with your husband. You may think that the clarity of that moment will never leave you but in time, details will fade. Was he wearing his brown shirt or was it olive? Was his hair combed or messy? Were you to his left or right when he took his last breath? Even if you never write in a journal or if your husband's last moments are too personal to share, write it down exactly as you remember it and don't leave out a single detail. Tears may drip onto the page, but keep writing until you have documented every last thing you can remember about that time. Put your writing in a safe place. You may not want or need to look at it for years, but when you do, you might surprise yourself with a detail or thought you recorded that over time you may not recall. That last moment you shared with your husband will always be yours. Honor it with your words that will last beyond your life.
Let others help you. I thought that I could do it all as I did before because I had always done what I needed to do. That was not the case. I couldn't even step outside my house and face a world that no longer housed the love of my life. Sleeping more than two hours at a time was an impossibility for years. I slept best when my mom slept beside me and I needed my best friend to lure me out of the house. My whole life I had taken those tasks for granted. Suddenly I had to learn how to do them all over again. I couldn't do it on my own. Asking for help was tough, as was accepting it when it was offered, but it saved me. If you have the support of others, use it. They want to help.
Some days you will feel like yourself. You will laugh and enjoy something. Don't feel guilty about that. You are still alive. As much as I wanted to be with Warren, I was left on earth and even at his wake, I remember laughing with friends and smiling genuinely at the sight of loved ones who came from all over and those I hadn't seen in years. It felt unnatural to have those feelings a few feet away from the box that held my husband. Yet there was nothing wrong with having moments of joy. Allow yourself those moments when they come and don't feel bad about them. Happiness will feel wrong for a long time, but it is not bad. Widowhood comes with enough negatives, embrace when those let up a bit and a smile spreads across your lips.
Your grief isn't about anyone else. People will judge you for so many things. Don't take it personally. Chances are that the people judging you have never faced what you are facing. Find your tribe that lets you grieve at your pace and in your way. There is no right way to do it so don't try to make it fit some description that you read or hear about. It is a rollercoaster so be prepared for highs and lows. On days you don't cry you will feel a mix of emotions from relief to guilt. That is OK. On days you can't stop crying you will feel weak, ashamed or silly. Cry anyway. You are none of those. You are hurting and surviving the best way you know how.
People are curious. People who have never even asked you how you like your coffee may ask you to tell them about the most intimate moment and most horrific day of your life. Answer as you wish. Some days I was honest, other days I told people to mind their business. I came up with a canned response that was detached yet polite. It was my go-to answer when I didn't want to deal with people's nosiness. Even though it's upsetting, they don't mean any harm, but be prepared because their curiosity may spark triggers. That is normal and expected.
Speaking of harm...some things people say when they try to comfort you will hurt. There are a few in particular that I hate.
- "God needed him more than we do." - How the hell does anyone on earth know how much I needed Warren and who are you to say that it wasn't enough?
- "He's in a better place." - What can be better than in my home, my arms and my side?
- "You have an angel watching over you and your daughter now." - We never asked for or wanted a damn angel. I need and want a husband, my daughter needs and wants a father.
- And the kicker of all: "Everything happens for a reason." - I have actually challenged people to tell me what reason could possibly justify Warren being taken from this earth. I am still waiting for an acceptable answer that makes sense.
There will be triggers. Some are obvious, like photos, songs or their belongings throughout your home. In the beginning, triggers will be everywhere. You will feel like they are haunting you. Over time they will change. Sometimes something completely unexpected will be a trigger that brings on a wave of emotions that catch you off guard. Don't fight it. I have had to excuse myself from others to have a moment when a trigger came that I had not expected, and I have been taken aback by triggers so strong that I was blown away. The world continues to spin even if you take a moment to react to the triggers so don't feel like they are setbacks. They are normal parts of the grief journey.
Lastly, when nothing makes sense and you don't know how all this pain and sadness can live inside you so healthily while you struggle to breathe air, know this: You will survive. You are strong enough to make it. Allow yourself kindness and help from those who love you, and when you are ready, reach out to me, or a support group and surround yourself with grief warriors who will listen and understand and who are as valiant as you are.