When I was about a month away from turning 43, four days before Thanksgiving, my husband was killed in a single car accident. There is an entire book in that sentence, but that is not my mind’s path right now. That is just the fact that sparks many thoughts and feelings.
Being a younger widow is an unusual situation. For the most part, I deduced early on that practically no one has a clue how to react. It’s no one’s fault, just a terribly awkward conversation to have. First, there is the awkward apology after a usual assumption of either divorce (when they find out you aren’t married) and then the embarrassed apology when they find out you’re a widow. I don’t blame people for wanting to know why. We have an inherent curiosity about why people pass on. Truly, it’s a part of our own fears and concerns over our own demise if I look at it from a practical standpoint. I tell them the truth and then I’m done with it. How they process the information and respond is their own decision. I’m never offended (at least not yet) by people’s responses. Well, there was that one time, less than 24 hours after he died that a neighbor asked when I was going back to work. I hadn’t even told the children their father was dead yet.
Once people find out about it and a reasonable amount of time passes, you are “expected” to return to a sense of normalcy (whatever the hell that is) and get on with your life. In many cases, you will watch your friends post memes that say, “If you love your husband more than anything, post this on your wall!” I am truly happy for my friends who have joy in their life with a companion they love and cherish. You are no longer a part of the married club and except on very rare occasions, you are most often excluded. No one wants to be around the widow. It reminds them of their future, or their spouse’s future. Perhaps a far stretch, but the widow is a symbol of mortality; that their marriage will one day end. Quite a morbid analogy, but realistic I believe.
What a lot of people don’t realize about widowhood is the toll it takes on a person. Sure, people aren’t completely oblivious that it’s difficult, but when you are widowed with relatively young children, you truly don’t have an opportunity to properly grieve or figure out life. You have about a day to start to get things back to normal. Children still need to go to school, be fed, wear clean clothes, get counseling, have a roof over their heads and for me that year, have a Christmas. That old “life goes on” saying has clarity you cannot comprehend until you wake up the first day as a widow with $62 in your bank account.
What I now recognize as a form of PTSD (not self-diagnosed), depression, severe anxiety and stress consumed me for quite a long time. All these years later, I am still in therapy, weekly, to figure out the myriad of complex emotions that I deal with. I have often lashed out in anger, frustration, despair and perceived futility, only to find that there wasn’t anyone really listening. I don’t have that circle of friends who are there to whisk me off to lunch or invite me out to “paint night”. So, I exist in my own bubble, living what I’ve come to call my “Groundhog Day” existence.
Oh it all sounds so self-pitying and resentful, but it’s truly not meant to be! I do find happiness from time to time. Except for the mind-boggling relationship choices I’ve made (failed at miserably) over the past several years, I’ve pretty much been winging it on my own. Even when I was in a relationship, I pretty much still felt alone, but that’s another story.
There is a certain peace I’ve come to accept every evening when I lie down in that huge king-sized bed that used to be both his and mine. It’s strange sometimes, even all these years later, going to bed and waking up alone. I will admit that I wonder if those I know who have been married all these years and can relax in the comfort of their joined life could ever understand what being alone truly means. Sure, there are times when I relish the solitude. I still have two children at home and they are quite demanding of my time and energy. There is always something I need to do, purchase, drive for, acquire, research etc, but it’s all part of being a parent.
I’m not sure when one ceases to be a widow or if I ever will. Am I now just “single”, or will I always be the one who lost her husband? There are times when I wish that my “friends” (and I do put that in quotes because I’m not even sure what that means anymore) would not leave me behind and realize that my reactions, my temperament and general attitude are sometimes borne of loneliness, but you don’t want to say that too loudly. No one wants to be included out of pity. I’ve often thought about finding new places to go, new things to do, but it’s difficult. I do go out and eat, go to the movies, go for walks. I won’t say that I like doing those things alone, but you do get used to a certain way of life. That is the life of a widow.