Your Words to the Grieving Fell Flat – This is Why

I have been so touched by so many people who are grieving since I started sharing my writing. And in the last few weeks I have been touched by many people who have not shared this same type of deep grief but who know someone who has, or was simply touched by the reminder to be grateful. I am grateful for the stories, I am grateful to have touched the lives of people who need that connection.

There are no words that can encompass what it feels like to lose someone who plays a defining role in your life. My husband and I had plans. We were building our lives, we were growing our family. It didn’t make sense that he could die when we had so much left undone. The empty future it left me with, the blank pages of the story we were writing, I never knew exactly where life would take us, but I knew who I would be writing my story with. And then one day, the blank pages of that story we were writing burned, and I was left holding the ashes.

I always believed that life is what you make of it. We all make decisions, some good, some bad. They direct the path we walk on and they create our future. For good or bad, the life we live is the life we have chosen. But I didn’t choose this. How can my life have shattered in the middle of my story when I did nothing to create this mess?

I can give words to the emotions that I have felt through my struggles, but there are no words that will ever help a person to understand what it feels like when the thing that should never happen… happens. When your heart shatters and all you can do is watch the life you almost had burn to the ground. There are no words that can describe the pain that fills your heart and your body when all you have left is the memories. We treasure our memories, but we don’t live for our memories. So how do you live when what you were living for only lives in the past? There are no words that can describe this, because the pain doesn’t live in the body or the mind, and it doesn’t live in a time or place. The pain lives in every breath, in every memory, in every corner of every room, and in the this idea of the future itself.

I spent a lot of time feeling lost and alone. Alone because I lost my husband, and alone because it seemed no one understood. Everywhere I turned, it seemed that someone wanted me to patch up my wounds and put on a smile and tell them I’m doing alright, that it’s hard but I’m moving on. It seemed as though they wanted me to be this pillar of strength that I didn’t feel I could be. The truth is, I did often use lines that I knew people wanted to hear. I’d tell them I’m ok. I’d tell them about the parts of my day or my life that suited the picture they wanted me to paint and I’d get on with my day.

I don’t know why, but we live in a world where we don’t talk about pain or suffering. We don’t talk about our deep personal truths, the difficult ones. I think we have collectively forgotten how. We have forgotten to look outside of ourselves to acknowledge someone else’s pain. We want to get on with our day, get back to our lives, so we do our due diligence and ask, but we aren’t prepared to listen, and we aren’t prepared to feel their pain with them. Instead, we pass along tips, and talk about staying strong and moving forward.

Move forward. Move on. Don’t live in the past. Think about the future. Take in those words. Read them carefully, and then read them once more. Now throw them in the trash. Put them away forever. When a person is grieving the death of someone they love, it is the future that hurts so much. Moving forward is what paralyzes us. Holding onto the past is survival… for a while. It won’t always be like this. No one will stay paralyzed forever. These words, however, can make it feel more lonely. You have the best of intentions, but to one who is surviving a loss so deep, it can feel like you are telling that person to leave their loved one behind.

We grieve because we love. We experience pain that we can’t escape from. The pain doesn’t stop when we are strong, we just learn to endure it. It takes time. My grief is my love for my husband. I wouldn’t choose for this to hurt less if I could. I would choose this pain. He is worth this pain. His life has ended. My daughter, our daughter, and the lives we lead are his legacy. So I let it hurt. I make the choice to feel this pain completely, to let it cut me until I bleed.

It is hard to read those words. It is hard to be there for the grieving, to watch them do exactly that – bleed. But you can’t fix it. I know you would if you could. I know you would take their pain away if only there was a way. You can’t fix the un-fixable. There are some things you can never understand until you’ve walked the road yourself. It seems as though you could do more to help if you just understood, so you try. Stop trying. There is no need for that. So instead of telling them to be strong, let them bleed. There is no running away from the pain. Looking to the future is necessary and unavoidable, but it hurts so much and it’s scary. Let them know you are there through the fear. Sit with them. Be there for them. Strength comes in time, but not in your time. In theirs.

 

It will not always be like this, the bleeding will stop. So take out their trash, walk their dog, take the kids for a few hours here and there… and listen. Just listen. And if you are ever concerned that someone may be at risk, listen to that voice, not mine. I speak only from my personal experience. 

If you are concerned about the health or safety of yourself or someone else, please contact a medical or mental health professional.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sex and Dating for Widows

As a widow I have learned many things, but none more important than the things I have learned about myself. I once lived as if I had all the time in the world to get it right. I was insecure in a thousand ways and I didn’t understand what it meant to be kind to myself, to go easy on myself, and to own who I am. I have a wonderful group of young widows, they are some of my dearest friends. Most of my ladies have children and are learning to do it all. We have recently started into the discussion of dating. Some of us are dating, some of us aren’t ready yet. But all of us have agreed that there is one thing no woman, widowed or not, should have to go without… Sex.

All of us have found ourselves in a precarious situation. We were all married (whether by formal title or otherwise) and we had all been quite happy to leave the dating world behind. None of us expected to find ourselves back here, but here we are. A group of widows talking about dating and sex. This is, by the way, a conversation that I would not have expected myself to talk about publicly. Despite my writings, I am a fairly private person. But this is important. So I am talking about it. We are all human, we were all married, and all of us love our husbands and wives more than I can express right here. But we also need to live, and to our collective dismay, this means dating.

I met my husband 8 years ago, which means it has been 8 years since I have dated a new person. I am not looking forward to starting this whole thing again. The last time I dated I was 23, single, and I was just looking for a good time. Now I’m 31 and raising a small child alone. Eventually, this will complicate the dating scene when I am looking for a serious connection with someone that I want to allow my child to meet. But right now, the complication is a pretty simple one – getting a night out!

A night out without my child is not as easy as it sounds. I need to find and secure a babysitter, then I need to pay the babysitter. Nights out are not cheap! And I have only one babysitter; and she has a job, other families she sits for, and a life of her own. This means when I go out, I make sure it is worth it! It is absolutely worth going out with my girls, we have a fabulous night each time. But now I’m thinking about dating again. Dating means taking the risk that the one rare night out this month may end up a complete dud, and the babysitter costs the same no matter how my night turns out. On top of that, I don’t actually know what I’m really looking for, or what the hell I’m doing! Do I want a relationship or just a good time? Am I ok with getting hurt if I put more on the line than I should have? Can I manage to keep my expectations reasonable? Am I looking for my husband in places that I won’t find him? And what about sex? I have been married since I last had sex with a new person. I donated a kidney and had a child. I have stretch marks and scars, and I am not as small and fit as I was the last time I was out dating. And, as if that weren’t enough, I have a small child and that alone narrows the market.

I don’t have any answers about this topic. (If you do please, for the love of all that is good in the world, please share them!) I am just starting to think about all of this. I imagine that dating is hard for any single parent, but for a young widow it seems like such a big and complicated part of life. And yet, that is what it is… part of life. It is part of learning to live again. Our loves want us to be happy, and yet it feels so lonely without the ones we 0nce married and loved and dedicated our lives to. Life is for the living, so I intend to live, and play, and have fun, and be happy. I won’t be happy without my husband. Instead, I will be happy with him in my life and in my heart. But he is not in my bed anymore, and I am just as human as anyone else. So after a year and a half, I think I am ready to go out and have some fun. If I am lucky, I will eventually find someone that I will introduce to my daughter. But in the meantime; I intend to be human, have fun, and start to live again.

I Went to a Funeral, and I Never Went Home

I recently read an article that hit me from the very title, You went to a funeral and then you went home. I hadn’t even finished reading it before I started typing away…

When my husband died, I was so grateful for the love and support that I received from friends, family, coworkers… Everyone. I have never felt anything but love and gratitude, and even a little bit of peace, from all of it. So many people came to the funeral, and it was beautiful. They spoke, told stories, made fun of his flip flops and terrible golf game. We laughed and cried, it was perfect.

And then everyone went home. Everyone except me.

I never felt as though I went home from that funeral. He was my home, I felt homeless. I was a wife without a husband, a left without a right. I will never forget how strange my house suddenly felt without him. It went from a home to a house. My life was upside down and backwards, and it felt oddly like a prosthetic life. It was mine, I knew it was mine because when I opened my eyes there it was. But it didn’t feel like mine, it didn’t look like mine, it didn’t move when I told it to move. It wasn’t mine, but it is what I was left with after mine was ripped away.

I never went home from my husband’s funeral. Not to the home that I once knew. Instead I had to learn how to build a whole new home from the scraps of the old. I’m still building, I’m still scraping, but now I have a home again. It is a smaller home, a more humble home, but within the walls of this home I now live in is an echo of the home I once knew. And though it is not the same, there is something warm and comforting within these walls that comes from knowing what I had within the old walls of that home that I once had. The home that I lost the day my husband died.

The life I had started with him ended before I had the chance to settle into it. I miss what was, but more than that I miss what could have been. I miss the life that I was supposed to have. I miss the anniversaries that I will never have with him. I miss the children we will never have. I miss the years of bickering, compromising, laughing, playing. I miss arguing about his ridiculous drive to his barber every two weeks when he could be helping me with the baby. I miss the inside jokes about the cat that will fall flat with any other audience. I miss hearing about his day at work. I miss texting him all day long about every little thing in my day. I miss his jokes. I miss his laugh. I miss the sound of his voice when he’d tell me he loves me. I miss him.

So to everyone who came to his funeral and then went home, I am glad you came. I am glad you were there for me. I am glad you were there for him. I am grateful for all of it. I struggle to find the words to tell you how much you have done for me by being there for him, and then me. And I hope that you never stand in my shoes. What I want is for you to be grateful for what you have. Honor what I have lost by being grateful for what you have. Love completely, fight less often, find more opportunities to show compassion and love to someone who needs it. Look at your families and know that there is someone out there who is missing theirs. You went to a funeral and then you went home. Don’t take that for granted.

Widowed Parenting: Struggle is not a strong enough word

In many ways I have been struggling as a single parent and as a widow. Lately, however, it has seemed to be exceptionally difficult. My daughter, our daughter, is two and a half years old now. My husband, Matt, and I always joked about the fact that, as two of the most hard-headed people we knew, we were in for it! I am so glad I knew it was coming. I don’t know if it helps, I don’t know if I am handling anything better than I would have if this were a complete shock to me, but I did know what was coming. 

Rather, I thought I knew what was coming. 

This is hard, and there is no handbook. No cheat sheet sheet. No guide to parenting at all. And while I struggle to get this parenting thing right, as we all do, I also struggle to do it all myself. Dishes need cleaning, laundry needs folding. Elsa Barbie is missing (the toddler will just die if not found in the next 240 seconds!). Shop for groceries, cook the dinner, change the lightbulbs, feed the cats, walk the dog, clean the house! It’s just so much, and it’s never ending. This is parenting. Parenting is hard no matter your circumstances. But there is something different about widowed parenting. There is a loneliness and longing that makes every decision hurt to the bones, and in ways I had never imagined I could hurt. And every time my two-year-old has a tantrum over something that I struggle to  handle, I am suddenly utterly aware that I  have no husband to turn to. Because he is gone. Her daddy, my husband, is gone. And it is so hard to do this without him. Wondering what am I doing? Am I doing this right? What would he say right now about how I am handling myself? What would he suggest to me if I could tell him about my struggles and hear him talk back? 

Losing my husband is the hardest thing I have ever gone through, and the hardest thing that I hope I will ever have to handle. There is only one thing more unimaginable, and I dare not say it. When I married my husband we had our whole lives ahead of us, to make plans, to make babies, to settle into our life together. We had a lifetime to figure everything out. And if I could go back, knowing what I know now, I would do it all again. Time and time again. But I am glad that I didn’t know, because who knows what decisions we would have made. I am glad I didn’t know. The idea that I once lived my life with him as if we had an endless road together… I miss that. How perfect it would be to go back to a moment where our time together was just beginning. 

We were married less than three years when I lost him. We had been through so much in such a short period of time. He had been through dialysis, I had given him one of my kidneys, we had a beautiful baby girl, and we were trying for another. And then one night he went out to pick up dinner and never made it home. I was widowed at 29. My daughter lost her daddy at 13 months old. She will never have a memory of her own. She will never dance with him at the father/daughter dance, he will never coach her soccer team or help her with her homework, he will never walk her down the aisle when she is lucky enough to find the kind of love that I found with him. 

I have struggled with WHY for a year and a half now. I will continue to ask, and I know that I will never have an answer. But I have recently decided that maybe it is possible that I wasn’t meant to have Matt for very long. Maybe he came into my life to give me a child. Maybe it is her that I am meant to have. I know that I will never have an answer to such an unthinkable question, but sometimes it brings me comfort to think that maybe he came into my life to make me a mother. And even though the idea of losing him still brings me to my knees, still breaks me down and shatters me over and over again, I am at least able to pick myself back up each time knowing that yes it is true that I lost him, but I had him! Even if only for a fraction of a lifetime. And even though the life I had chosen is gone, in its place is a life that he will always be a part of. I’m still learning how to do all of this; how to be a single mother, how to be a widow. It’s a lot to take on, it’s a lot to handle. There is no one lonelier than a widow. 

But the sun still rises, the tides still change, the moon and the stars still find their way to me when it is dark. So I still live. And I believe now, more than ever, that the most important thing that has ever been given to me is love. So in the wake of my husbands death I did not harden, I became softer, gentler, more willing to open my heart and let others see me. Because my husband saw me, and he loved me. And I don’t want to live the rest of my life without that kind of love.

I struggle to raise a toddler on my own. I struggle knowing that I am not just caring for a child, I’m raising a young woman who will one day make a mark of her own on the world. I want her to be proud of who she is, proud of what she will have done with her life, and proud of where she came from. I want her to be proud of her daddy, because he is someone to be proud of. I can’t fail her in this regard because I can’t fail him. He was the love of my life and he matters. He will always matter, he is her dad. He is my husband. And though I will have to, in time, live a new life that is separate from the one I once knew, the one I struggle to let go of, I will never live my life without him. He gave me her. He gave me everything. He changed my world, he left his mark. And no matter how much I struggle to keep it together (or how many texts my dear friends get when I’m not sure that both my daughter and I will make it through this next tantrum alive!) I know in my heart how much I have, because I know how much I have lost.

I love my husband. I love my daughter. One day I will love the life that I live now, even though it is not the life I had chosen. I will start by being grateful for the life that I have, and for the life that I once had. He is always here in this new life with me. He is in her. There is no more perfect thing than that.