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I’m at a point in my grief where I don’t want to associate too much with my status. I know that sounds strange for a widow to admit, (and maybe it doesn’t), but I’m tired of having to tell people about it. I hate how awkward it makes things. I hate how I have to gloss over things as if it’s no big deal, and go on with conversation as quickly as possible to avoid the weight of heavy pity that usually hangs around like a stench in the air.

The most obvious solution is to just not bring it up. One would think that it’s not too difficult in everyday life to avoid mentioning something so deep and heavy. I wish I could say that this is correct and that I almost never have to update even the most menial relationships to such serious business. However, this is not the case. Oddly enough, I have had to explain things to people more than I would ever want, (or expect) to. It happens a lot with other parents, in places as casual as the park, or more regularly, at my daughter’s school. Or it happens when I’m getting my oil changed on my truck. This is probably due to the fact that A. I’m a woman and stereotypes still exist regarding our knowledge of auto-mechanics in popular culture; and B. because there is a seriously high turnover rate at any of the hundreds of local service stations in my city. But it’s not just at these places or because I’m a female.

It’s the strangest thing. The more I try to avoid talking about it, the more I find myself at the dreaded crossroads of either Having To Explain That My Husband Passed Away or Just Lie and Act Like He’s Still Around.

I cannot tell you how increasingly irritating it’s becoming. It’s not something that I am faced with everyday, but at least a few times a week. As connected as I am in this town, I meet new people everyday. People who naturally pry and ask questions even in casual chat. I never knew how much information people are used to exchanging in everyday conversation. Parents talk about child rearing as easily as they talk about professional sports. Our culture has become so competitive and intrusive, that other mothers I encounter will simply ask what my situation is, or just blurt out a scenario regarding the obvious lack of a father figure at school functions, and wait for me to explain. I find myself becoming increasingly less interested in connecting with other parents, or anyone on more than a superficial level, just to avoid the inevitable awkwardness that will eventually swallow up any further conversation between us.

Sometimes, I just go along with not explaining to people that my husband is dead. I just nod my head and smile, because yes, my daughter is obviously going to be tall, and she must take after her father. And do we have anymore children? Are they all tall? Did my husband play basketball? Oh really? What does he do now?

It bothers me that I perpetuate something dishonest because it saves me from handing someone the anvil of truth that my life has become. But sometimes, I just don’t feel like reminding myself how much I’ve lost. And every time I find myself in this sort of scenario, I am truly reminded of where I wish I was, compared to where I am.

It makes it terribly difficult to “let things go” when I have to constantly identify with that part of my life. I come into society with an asterisk; a subtext of definition that sets me apart from most of society at my age. (It doesn’t help that people assume I’m a lot younger than I am, either.) And people simply don’t know what to do with it. What do you say to the woman who could easily be like anyone around her, save for one major detail. The reactions I get from people make me feel both guilty and frustrated. I have become the Queen of Changing The Subject just to maintain a pleasant atmosphere.

I don’t have a solution for this. I’m not going to pick up the defense and start swinging anytime anyone gets too nosy. I’m not going to blame someone for just talking without realizing that they’re treading on dangerous territory. But it does make my life incredibly difficult. It’s something I would have never have realized had I not been dealing with it for the past three years or so.

For now, I’m just going to keep listening, nodding and ducking the arrows while dodging the bullets. I’m going to continue the rather intimate relationship I’ve developed with my iPod, (ha), and hopefully, people will disinterest themselves in my silence, while appreciating it for its golden hue.

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Weslee woke up with me this morning, and we were silent for a minute. I did what I always do, and read through my Twitter feed to help stimulate my brain  and wake up. (Don’t judge – it works)

I read www.penmachine.com/2011/05/the-last-post and it choked me up. My favorite part was the last: “I loved you deeply, I loved you, I loved you, I loved you.”

Suddenly, after I was following some of his tags, Weslee spoke for the first time that morning.

“I miss Daddy. I wish he was here. How come he can’t come down and visit us?”

It’s so hard to explain to her what death is, and why it happens the way it does. For now, she knows that his head got sick, and the doctors couldn’t fix it. I told her that they did the best they could, but sometimes it doesn’t work. And she likes to think that he’s in Heaven, building her a castle to live in when it’s time for her to go there. I told her it won’t be for a long time, (which was as much for myself as for her), and she said she knows.

It’s funny how this type of thing happens during this time of year. Since the first year out, there’s a part of my subconscious that knows the date is coming, and reacts to it. I can be totally preoccupied with my mom’s health, or the girls or anything else, and I can feel it. I feel run down, and my mind is distracted.

More so than normal.

Aurora brought it up to me the other day, too. She misses him. And like me, she wonders where we would be right now, had Jon never died. Like her, I have no idea.

This year, the pain is less. It’s not that I don’t miss Jon, or that I’m getting over it, so to speak. It’s more that the missing him doesn’t hurt as much. I was so afraid to get to a place where it didn’t hurt as much, because I thought that it would make me miss him less. I thought it would make me lose him.

I was wrong. I miss him just as much as I ever did. And there hasn’t been a single moment where I don’t wish he was with me.

But the pain of all those wishes and the pain that usually resides in the emptiness he left is going away. I wait and wait for that ever-present kick-to-the-gut feeling I normally get when I miss him and need him at any given moment….and it’s no longer there.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t get triggered. I do, in the weirdest ways. There are still places I haven’t gone, and things I haven’t done that I know remind me far too much of how much I have lost, and how much I love him still. And sometimes, just thinking of those places produces that same gut-wrenching feeling of loss, that same painfully dry emptiness, that I have become accustomed to, and have learned to avoid like mines in a field.

This is year three. And I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d be able to say how much easier it has been, but it has. Perhaps it has to do with the things I’m dealing with in my present life, or just that I have made decisions to progress, even when I didn’t feel like doing so. There have been so many times when I haven’t wanted to get up and face my life, and so many times when I had to over-caffeinated myself just to follow through with the basic stuff. I have to be honest and admit that being a parent hasn’t given me the choice to wallow, and it’s been the best excuse to keep going. But I shouldn’t need one, and I know this.

Lately, I haven’t had to use an excuse to get up and live my life. I won’t use some ridiculous platitude to explain it way, either. I don’t feel like I’m learning to “dance in the rain” or any other such nonsense. Instead, I think I’ve done the most basic, simple thing: I have accepted.

I keep saying that I’m learning to accept, or that I’m in the process of accepting…all these things were true in the past. It was a process that I had to either follow through with or continue waiting for my Prince to walk through my front door and tell me the “The truck is runnin’ woman! Lets go!”

How nice would that be?

That’s not going to happen, though. And as I continue on with my life, I realize that it’s OK to let Jon go, more and more. As I do, I have discovered something remarkable to me, that I had never expected: I can miss him, and love him and think about him as much as I want, and let him go at the same time.

Really. It sounds contradictory to those of us who never want to let go of what we had with our spouses, but it’s the truth. I still love him very much, and I still miss him always, but he is there, and I am here, and it is OK.

Really, it is.

I even notice him around still, in his daughter’s eyes or catching his scent on a passing breeze. I know he is there, and I know we are OK. I know that I can keep going, knowing I can take the best of us and what we were, into my future, whatever it brings. Being Jon’s wife was one of the best things that ever happened to me, and it has permanently adjusted who I am, guiding me into being who I want to be.

My new normal finally feels like just normal. And for the first time in three years, I can’t wait to see what my future looks like.

I’ve recently been clear-minded enough to figure out some things regarding my healing and grief recovery. For one thing, I notice that certain triggers that I used to avoid no longer affect me the same way. I’ve heard that this happens, and it’s part of the process. I agree, although I think there is an element of participation that is imperative in order for the process to work.

It came to me two ways. First, I made the choice to not look at my grief as a medical condition, as opposed to a life experience. I refused to be medicated, save for the first week or so, because I was fearful of prolonging the process that I was aware I needed to go through. I don’t know exactly why I thought this way, especially in the first weeks, but I was bound and determined to let it hurt, and it surely did.

It was painful enough that I have blocked out most of the first three months from my memory. Even now, as I look back and read what I was writing, here and in my personal journal, I have a hard time reading and absorbing the overwhelming emotional trauma I was experiencing. It’s almost as if I experience it again, and it still hurts.

But I also notice that it hurts less. Much less than it has in the past year.

Secondly, I noticed that the more I listened to painful songs that reminded me of my marriage and husband, the easier they were to listen to. They still hurt, and they still triggered a grief release, but that has significantly lessened with time. This is also true with pictures, movies and any other signifiers that I’ve connected with my marriage.

I made a playlist last year, specifically designed to trigger a release. I wanted to hang on to what I was experiencing, and I think I was afraid to forget and have it sneak up on me. That has happened quite often and I hate it. I hate when grief just shows up out of nowhere, and decides to ruin an afternoon, or keep me up for a night.

I suppose it was my way of controlling my grief, because I’m a serious control freak, but I also felt that if I was going to feel it, I may as well face it and get it over with.

Amazingly, I’ve found healing through this method. I had to face down what hurt, and why it hurt. I had to tear it apart, and dissect it, in order to absorb and accept it. By doing so, I’ve found that only the good memories are left. And yes, they sometimes still hurt, but I am not crippled with grief in a supermarket, or bawling my eyes out on the freeway.

I’ve built something of an immunity to a lot of my random grief attacks, and it’s given me a measure of core strength. Something that I haven’t experienced since before my husband died. It’s that solid secure feeling of facing down the enemy, or weathering a storm.

I don’t think I’m out of the woods yet, however. There are new things that I find, buried deep beneath the surface. Perhaps I will always find something that will spring up like a green stem, despite my efforts to purge it all out. I am ok with this. If there’s anything I’ve learned (although I don’t always practice the theory), it’s that I can only control myself and how I react. Sometimes, that’s too difficult, and I have to allow grief to have its moment. It’s all about picking ones battles.

But I’m getting much better at navigating this journey – and yes, I do believe it’s a journey. I do believe that someday, I will be healed enough to love my husband’s memory and not still try to cling to him as a living person. I know I will see him again, but other than that promise, I know that I am on my own. The pain of that statement still stings. I am not yet ready to say I have accepted this life, but I am definitely in the process of accepting it.

The measure of peace I’ve felt in the past few months has been astounding in comparison to what I’ve felt in nearly three years. It has been enough to keep me focused on my plans for this year. I no longer feel that the life I want is out of my reach. I just don’t l know the distance it is from my grasp.

It feels good to write that I am progressing. I’m not just riding out the bumps in the road, either. I’m actually enjoying the ride. A little. 🙂

 

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that “time will heal,” or “time will make it better,” I’d have a lot of nickels and no where to put them.

But I am want for nickels and I know from experience that time itself will not heal anything.

Between today and where I was in May of 2008, there has been a lot of laughter, and a million tears. I have cried in anguish, and I have relished accomplishments. I have felt lonelier than I ever have, and I have been grateful for the support of my many friends that never seems to cease. I have lived enough, in these 29 months, to believe that despite the invalidation that such a phrase can conjure in a newly grieving person, it does come from a very profound truth. However, it’s not a truth that can be explained away by an insensitive platitude. It must be experienced.

I now think of time like a vessel. Life and all it’s inhabitants are on a journey, and whether we participate in it or not, that vessel keeps moving, ever forward. You cannot stop it, and you cannot put your hand over your mouth and wave to get off. There have been many times that I have wanted to do so, and despite my retching and desparate waving, I am still along for the ride. Eventually, I chose to participate, and in doing so, I found my first real moments of healing.

The problem with trying to explain my thinking now, to someone who is where I was then, is that newly widowed people are so saturated with Death. It is everywhere we go: in our clothes, in our hair, on our walls, and in our hearts. Like a black hole, it swallows the life we wanted to live completely, and we are left numb and confused, while people struggle to comfort us. It tells only of an unknown future, and that can be completely overwhelming. It scares us into believing that we have no reason to continue, and we feel completely vulnerable. How, then, can a future, that brings us there via time, be of any comfort at all?

The answer is simple, but it stings. And Death wants us to hate it. 

We have to live. That is what time holds in it’s mechanical fingers: life, and the time we have here on Earth. And to most people, that means two of the worst words ever said to the bereaved: Move On.

I totally disagree with this, and call it an outright lie. People have no idea what it means to “move on.” I think that phrase is nothing but an indirect way of saying, “I don’t want to deal with it anymore.”

No. Living doesn’t not mean “Moving On,” and I would never suggest anyone try to do that. No one really moves on from anything, in my opinion. Just ask anyone about things they dealt with in their past. Most of them will tell you ever ready sob stories about their difficult childhoods and prior experiences. And if they don’t, they will tell you about the great ones. Either way, they haven’t moved on from those things. They have simply learned to live with them.

We’ve all heard the adage about diamonds, and how they are forged from carbon, ugly and uncut. We all know that a jeweler will work with their many facets, cutting and polishing them until they are worthy to be sold for a large price. We all know that what it takes to end up who we are, whether we are delicate and diplomatic, or stoic and steadfast. Whatever areas we are of strong character, we all know what it has taken to get there.

Like those experiences, this one will cut us a new facet to catch a new light. And it is not necessarily time that will take us there, but a life lived, in pain or in pleasure, between the past and the future. It is a multitude of experiences and lessons that will elevate us to understand that time is irrelevant. What matters is how we lived.

“Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo” – H.G. Wells

If there was ever a result of widowhood that I did not expect, it is the casualties of relationships that lie tattered in the roads behind me.

It’s hard to believe that something so harsh can be so inevitable, but the truth is; that is what it has become. If I had my choices, I don’t think I’d lose a single friend; but the word friend has become refined and redefined. And some people no longer fall under my own definition.

In all fairness, I no longer fall under theirs.

I once wrote that it is incredibly hard to live with a grieving person. This is a cardinal truth. The reason is because while we are in our OWN state of grief, be it active grieving or beyond, it is OUR OWN. It is not measured by someone else’s ideal of what a widow should be, or any person grieving someone they loved. Unless someone is resolved to accept a person’s grief journey with out prejudice, they will find it very difficult to interact and stay connected to an actively grieving person at many times during a relationship. There is not much to be done about it, other than to support them.

Death is so incredibly final. Up until this past Spring, I could not bring myself to admit that my Jonathan was gone. He’s never coming back to me. It hurts so much to say this and I know I’ve said it before, but it’s true.  Yes, I believe in a Judeo-Christian Afterlife, which ensures that we will meet again in a different realm, dimension, universe, etc., and we will be happy there. And yes, I am aware that I am HERE. I am not where Jon is, and that is precisely why this has been so hard, and is so hard for those grieving. Until you have lost someone you loved so deeply, no matter who they are, you cannot know what that is like. I could never have known. And I don’t expect outsiders to understand this. Those that haven’t deal with Death’s powerful grip on their lives cannot understand why it takes someone so long to let go of a lost loved one. They have moved on. Why cant the grieving? Why can’t a widow get over it already? Why is she still grieving? Why is he still single? Why do they idolize their spouses??

I don’t expect to have to keep up appearances and live up to impossible standards. No one has the right to tell anyone grieving that they cannot feel the way they feel, or react the way they react. Grief IS about the GRIEVER. It is not a sabbatical, or a retreat. It is not a picnic and it sure isn’t a vacation. It is an alternate state of being, where everything that once was is no longer quite the same. AND IT STAYS THAT WAY. It’s never going to go back. It’s never going to be the way it was. And I hate to disappoint people, but that takes awhile to get used to. Like it or not.

And in the same way, no one can expect a widow/er or grieving person to go back to who they were. I am no longer who I was. I used to be (in my opinion), very arrogant and forthright. I reveled in my false intellectualism and my pride as a wife and mother. Do I think those things are wrong, now? No. But I do think that the emphasis put on a projected facade, and then used to destroy someone else’s character, in the guise of offering opinions or “advice,” is a serious personality flaw. And like all things in life, I have learned a very harsh lesson.

I am no longer concerned with the petty, useless lifestyle I once lived. I don’t think my husband would even recognize me, anymore. But I do think he’d like the improvement. I do think he’d appreciate the new-found ability to recognize a defect that I no longer wish to be a part of.

Unfortunately, this is a cause for many losses on this journey. Mentalities that I no longer share with people have caused many riffs and odds, where there is no longer any common ground.

I’ve lost friends and even family members, because we cannot see eye to eye, and our lives are too different to connect. It’s a very sad thing, to realize that people I once counted on for support are tapped out. I don’t blame them for being who they are and wanting what they want. I only wish they didn’t feel the need to judge or slander instead of just saying: “I’m done with this.”

But I, too,  have drawn my own line in the sand. I no longer want certain people in MY life. Most grieving people don’t realize that we have the power to exclude those that are not supportive to our lives, and we are not obligated to continue friendships and relationships that are detrimental to our progress. It sucks to say it, but there are those we simply don’t need to be around anymore. It’s really just a part of life, and at what stage you are at in it. In my entire life, I have learned one valuable lesson: Nothing lasts forever. At one point, in almost all things, we will all have to say goodbye.

I recently came across a quote on Facebook that read something like: “Giving up doesn’t always mean you are weak. Sometimes, it just means you are strong enough to let go.”

I feel strong enough to let go of the things that hinder me. I feel strong enough to move on with my healing process. I know that I have true friends and I am so much more grateful for their friendship, because I see how rare and real it can be. I will heal, and everything else will happen as it will.

Another tragedy has struck my neighborhood and social circle. Tonight, I pray for a family who has been victim to the tragedy of losing a son, a husband and a father. It’s close enough to home to keep me up. I can’t stop thinking about them.

I didn’t realize it would be so hard to watch someone else go through the pain of loss and widowhood. Most of the time, my peers are widows who are either around my time line or farther out. Some are earlier widows, but they are mostly faceless names on a computer screen. They are not someone I know, who is going through something very similar to what I went through two years ago.

It’s bringing a lot of stuff out from under the ground, that I thought I had gotten passed.

Right now, I’m just trying to find the right words to say, if the opportunity arises. What DO you say to a sudden widow? What do you say to a care-giving widow? And the people in between? All I can do is tell them what I know.

I realize that there are a lot of newly widowed people who stumble across this blog. By the keyword searches people are using, there are a lot of broken, confused and hurting people, looking for answers and maybe a little comfort.

In retrospect, there are two major things I learned: Don’t rush to the finish line, especially if you can’t even see it, and All forward motion counts.

I will not tell you that this goes away with time or that you’ll be better within a year. Instead, I’ll tell you to think OUTSIDE of time. Your life is going to go on, as long as you live it. That’s just how it goes. But your grief will go with you. You don’t have to think about time in a sense of having to keep up appointments and stages. You’ll be depressed when you’re depressed. And you’ll be angry when you’re angry. You’ll be lonely when you’re lonely, and you’ll be in denial for as long as you are in denial. I don’t believe there’s a set strategy to the process of grieving. It’s a process that we have very little control over. When we try to control it, it waits for us to exhaust ourselves, and then starts all over again.

This is true for the amount of time that one grieves. For some people, it may only take a year or two to accept their new sense of normalcy and continue on with their lives. I’ll put those people in a very small percentage, however. I think the majority of young widow/ers find themselves at a year, and cannot believe that it’s gone by so fast. They suffered through an entire year of Firsts, where they had to endure holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, accomplishments, hardships and everything else without their spouses. While the loneliness can make it seem long and painful; most widow/ers find themselves at a year and think, “Already??!!”

Then the second year of Reality hits, and the grieving can find themselves more alone, and more aware of what has happened. The second year was a little harder for me, because people surrounding me were passed their period of grieving for my husband. But I wasn’t. I spent a year hiding the fact that I missed him so much, as much as ever, and that I was no where near being “over it” as some people expected, (and wanted) me to be. It hurt to lose impatient and clueless friends, whom I thought I could count on to comfort me still. But for them, my time was up, and Reality began its harsh lesson.

I had to teach myself not to put too much into the far off future. I don’t really care what happens when I’m an old lady anymore. That will happen if and when it happens.

It’s kind of silly, since I planned on growing old with my husband, and he didn’t even make it to 30 years old. How do I even know I’ll make it to my birthday in six months? I don’t. While I understand that planning and preparation are important, they don’t rule my life anymore. I make a goal, and if I reach it, I’m ok. If not, there are other goals and other ways to live my life.

I also had to accept that I am walking at a totally different speed than just about everyone on this journey, and everyone outside of it. And that is just fine. I know that I will make it to the other side of this, because I’m going forward. Sometimes, it may feel like I’m going backwards, but I’ve learned that a moment with the monster known as Grief does not mean I’m regressing. It does not mean I’m losing progress. It just means that I’m still working through the debris from what happened to me. It’s a process, and as long as I keep pushing forward, it counts and I continue. There is no real time line, and I’ve read from numerous sources that most people accept their new sense of “normal” anywhere from 3 to 5 years out. And that’s a rough estimate.

There is no order of stages that one must follow. Most people feel a mixture of all the stages at any point in time,  especially in the first year. This is normal. It is also normal to not feel anything at times. Numbness and denial are the body’s way of coping. They buffer the reality that our conscious selves are not ready to face.

Some people remark on this as some kind of supernatural inner strength. I don’t know about other people, but that bothered me a little bit. I did not feel “strong” despite arguments to the contrary. I was simply trying to live through what I consider to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to face in my life.  It’s very much like being chased by a train, speeding on a bridge that’s suspended above a giant ravine, thousands of miles up, without a shoulder to avoid.  What do you do? YOU RUN. And when your life as you know it turns upside down,  you don’t get a time out to freeze everything and breathe. You just deal. Some people call that strength, and that’s ok. But when it’s either sink or swim, most of us make the choice to swim. I will say that this kind of thing does MAKE one stronger, in that they are now aware of what they can survive. It turns one into a “thriver”, regardless of their situation. And that’s what it’s supposed to do.

There are tons of books about widowhood, grieving and how to gently and quietly get over it and live a new life with actual joy and happiness. I can even recommend a few, because some are actually good. But the past two years have taught me to bite my tongue, unless asked. Joy and happiness seem very far off for the recently widowed, and it’s not something they can identify with.

Instead, I’ll close with this: Drink water, because dehydration only makes things worse. (crying can make you dehydrated) Try not to get so drunk that you wake up still a widow AND regretting last night. That’s a terrible feeling. Talk to your doctor if you’re feeling suicidal or think you need more help – DON’T BE ASHAMED! And finally: take it slow. If  you think you can’t survive, try surviving just 5 minutes. Then try 10. After that 20, then 30, then an hour, then a day, then a week, and so on and so forth. For me, I paused at a week for a while, and then it was “month to month.” Now, I can handle whole seasons knowing I’ll make it to the next unless The Almighty has a different agenda.

At two years out, I am able to focus on the task at hand, which is just learning how to live in this new reality, and make the best of it. Coming from a place where I couldn’t even breathe, knowing that my husband wouldn’t be there to breathe with me, I think I’ve come a long way. And eventually, so will you.

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, (both good and bad), in regards to the conversation I had with a woman regarding her widowed friend.

A lot of fellow widows and widowers have been grateful that I’ve posted it, and a few haven’t. Most of my negative feedback comes from people who aren’t widowed, and feel frustrated that they are looked at as people who “don’t get it” or DGI’s.

Here’s the deal, so that we can all go back to healing and learning: I posted the best parts of the conversation, because most of it was rather confrontational and pretty harsh. I was told that someone wanted to meet me, after reading my blog, and talk about my widowhood. I was led to believe it was someone who needed information regarding grieving. When I met this person, they were ready to argue about what I write, and how I am promoting, (for lack of a better term), “a self-pitying mentality instead of a healing one.”

This was said to me after we had much of the dialogue I wrote about. I did ask permission to share the conversation, on the condition that I would not reveal her identity, and that I would not make her look bad. I tried not to do that. I don’t know if I succeeded, but to date, she has no regrets and does not feel offended by my post. I did let her read it before posting it.

It’s hard to hear words like that, and not react to them. My biggest issue has been frustration at the people who think I should have been over this already. I can’t imagine why they would think so, but I have heard a PLETHORA of reasons why my grieving should be at an end, and really, it’s about how sick and tired people are of hearing about it.

Duly noted. I get that people are done hearing about how much it hurts that my husband died and I miss him. I get that they know that I love him still, and that I am not interested in dating, or that it still depresses me in ways I can’t explain. There have been many people who have politely excused themselves from my company, and at this point in my life, I am ok with that. And I’m ok with the people who simply say: I have no idea what to say, but I’m sorry.

But the people who have chastised me for having a pity party, or ridiculed me for using it as a means for gaining attention needed a serious wake up call. I used parts of that conversation to do it in a way that maybe they can understand. I was hoping the outcome would show them that this isn’t an easy road to walk, and even though they aren’t walking it, it’s not something I can turn off to make other people feel better. I thought that by sharing it, I’d be able to direct those who argue such points, to it, and not have to engage into another explanation about why I’m still not ready to go back to their idea of “normal.”

And after plenty of thought, and plenty of false-start responses in the past week, I’ve learned a few things.

For instance, when people get frustrated with the grief over another, it’s usually due to their lack of understanding. This does NOT mean these people are jerks, or should be treated with hostility, no matter how frustrating they can be for the widowed or grieving. But accepting that they’re not going to understand how a widow/er feels ahead of time is essential. They’re just not going to get it. Do you really want them to? I know that I don’t, if it means that they only way they WILL understand is by losing a spouse or a child themselves. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, least of all, my friends and family. As long as we agree to not be able to connect on that level, everything else is ok. (And for the record, I DO NOT believe a non-grieving person can identify on any level. I simply don’t. And I’m not going to change that perspective.)

Which brings me to another point: When a friend or family member is frustrated, it’s usually motivated from two different places of self-involvement. The first one is more acceptable than the second. Empathy is common and comes from love. If someone loves someone enough to start to worry and fret about their well-being, we’re going to be more understanding of that person. With my own family, I’ve had to realize that they simply love me and seeing me hurt this way is very hard for them. They can’t reach me, nor can they fix me. It’s awful to feel such helplessness, and sometimes, it brings out the awful in people. Subconsciously, they’re reacting to the feeling that they cannot help in a way that they think would make a difference. A bad reaction would be to blame the hurting. A good reaction would be to accept it, and help in ways that DO make a difference.

The other motivation for this type of thing would be control issues. Most people have them, even if they aren’t willing to admit it. I know that I have them, and when I’m faced with a situation that I cannot control, and I feel powerless, I get angry. I get frustrated and I sometimes have to whine and vent in order to release that frustration.

However, from an outsider’s perspective, this can cause a person with major control issues to blame the victim, so to speak. In other words: “Your grief is bothering me. It makes me feel bad for you, but I cannot do anything about it. I do not like feeling this way. Stop making me feel this way. This is your fault, since it happened to you, and I don’t want it in my life. Change it. I want things to go back to normal.

People who have mourned someone who wasn’t their spouse or child, (and I’ll add parent here, because that can be incredibly devastating. Ok, anyone whom they felt VERY bonded to), tend to accept the death a lot quicker, and go back to their lives. It’s easier for them to do so, because the only thing that changed for them is that the deceased is no longer around. But their lives can go on without much interruption, or constant reminder. They don’t live with it everyday, regardless of how they think they do. Widows, grieving parents, children etc. live with the loss every single day, if not every single moment. It’s profound effect changes nearly everything in their lives. In my opinion, a widowed person is never the same. I think the same goes for a grieving parent and child. It’s absolutely life-changing.

No wonder those on the outside get frustrated. They did not change. They grieved, but it was a detached grieving. It was a loss they could accept more readily, in varying levels. It was not something that halted the future they expected to have, and changed it forever. Seeing us change makes things seem insecure. Will we still be friends? Can we still joke about things? Can I still include this grieving person in my life? Should I exclude them from things that I might feel would hurt them?

It’s become very clear to me how hard it is to maintain a relationship with a grieving person. Often, I only look at how hard it is to live day-to-day, but for the people living with me and around me, I can see how much it hurts them.

I’ve concluded that it all comes down to what you want to accept, and what you want to handle. As a widow, I have to learn to accept and live with the fact that my husband, whom I still love as much as I ever have, will never be with me again. And for the people who are around me, and choose to keep me around, they have to accept that I’ll always miss him, and it’s going to take a while for me to get used to it. A while can mean years, and none of us can change that to make life easier for anyone. That’s just the way it is.

Life is harsh. That is the truth. It is not easy, and I do not lie to my children, telling them that it will be. I don’t believe that I am entitled to the good things in life, simply because I was born. But I am grateful for them, however long they last. No matter how much it hurts, I choose to be grateful. That is something I can control. I just have to handle everything else the best way I can. That’s all anyone can do.

I hope that this clears up some things. I do not regret my perspective, and I am grateful that it has expanded. Maybe things will be smoother and easier to handle from now on, because I’m learning to change my thought-process. I certainly hope so.

She greeted me with a bright smile. Whether it was truly sincere, I’ll never know. But it was the smile I’ve seen a million times. The one that said “You’re the widow.”

“Hi. Thank you SO much for meeting me!” She started. I took a seat next to her.

“Of course!” was the only answer I had. What did she want? I assumed it was something like an interview, but I had no idea whether it was for her benefit or someone else’s.

“I wanted to talk to you…because…” And now she’s searching for the right words. We’re sitting at a shady table, and the temperature is starting to rise. She wanted to talk to me about being a widow, but she had no idea how to say it.

“Are you caring for a spouse that’s terminally ill?” I asked her, quietly.

“No! Oh, I’m not married. But my friend…her spou-husband died.” And that’s how easy it is to get to the point.

“I’d like to help her. I’d like to know what to say to her. I’ve been reading your blog, and I need to know what to do. She needs my help.” She says this very seriously. Her smile is still there, but her eyes are hard. This is hard for her.

“Is she suicidal? Is she trying to hurt herself? Does she have family?”

“She has family, and I don’t think she’s suicidal. But it’s been four months. She doesn’t eat very much and she doesn’t sleep. I’ve tried to get her to a doctor, but she doesn’t want to go. I’m worried that she might be overdoing this. I’m worried that she’s going to get very depressed and hurt herself.” I can hear the honest-to-goodness concern in her voice. And the confidence. She wants her old friend back, and it’s been four months. Something must be wrong if it’s been this long.

“I see.” And this is all I can say, in order to buy myself some time. Maybe I wasn’t the right widow to talk to about this. My mind wanders. I notice the sunlight moving toward my feet, and anticipate the warmth it will bring.

Customers come in and out of the coffeehouse with purpose and coffee. Cars are driving past, with their systems blasting rock and top forty. It’s been five minutes, and I still don’t know how to give her an answer that she doesn’t want to hear.

“Let me start by saying this…” I begin. I don’t look at her until I am ready. “It sounds to me like your friend doesn’t need the help you think she does.”

She looks at me blankly, and I get the feeling that she’s heard this before.

“In our world, where marriages dissolve more often to divorce than death, it’s hard to imagine that a widow in her 20’s wouldn’t want to get out and restart her life after a few months. But that’s only because you haven’t even experienced marriage, let alone losing a spouse to early death.  Marriage is an entire life change. Death is another. Aside from having children, nothing else changes us in ways that Marriage and Death can. These are all things one has to experience in order to understand. We can read books or watch other people go through these life experiences all day long, but until we experience them for ourselves, we really have no clue about them.”  I’ve said a lot and I wait for it to sink it. She doesn’t.

“So your saying that because I have never been married, I can’t understand how she feels? Because I know that. I’m not trying to tell her to not feel this.  I know that I don’t know what it’s like! But don’t you think that being sad for this long is excessive?” She’s already arguing.

“The average (and this is a WIDE scale), is approximately three to five years. That’s a rough estimate on how long it takes a widow or widower to accept a death and learn to live with it. There are those who don’t take as long. There are some who are so convinced that they’re over their grieving, that they remarry prematurely, and cause further damage. And there are those that don’t. I’m careful to tell people what to do with their grief, as much as I’m careful with the term: ‘move on’ because I don’t believe that people really do that. I believe they learn to live with the loss, but I don’t believe they move on from it as if it never was, or is just something in their past. Especially not a parent, or a spouse.” Once again, I try to let these words sink in. Once again, she doesn’t.

“That’s not healthy. You HAVE to move on. You can’t live in the past. The past is over with. She has to let him go! She can’t go on mourning him forever. He wouldn’t want that.” And she says this with a certain authority. I’ve heard that line so many times, I can’t count. People always know what the Dead would want, as if they are sitting there, right next to them and whispering in their ears.

“I don’t believe people go on actively mourning someone forever. I’ve known some who have a harder time with the release and the re-living part. And I know many who don’t. But the time line is relative. She’s not breaking up with a boyfriend. She’s lost a husband. I don’t even know how he died, but I can tell you it doesn’t matter. Even if she watched it happen for a year or more, it is as devastating as if he left her house one morning and just never came back. Death is final, and incredibly hard for the living. We don’t get a choice in the matter. No matter how inevitable it is, the loss of control over what happens is tragic for us.” I pause. She doesn’t argue this time.

So I continue, “You have to understand something very important. No matter how she ends up handling her grief, she will never be the same person you once knew. This is a life-changing event that has taken her far beyond your level of experience and understanding. I’m sure you’ve lost someone, or more than one someone in your life. I am sorry for your loss. But this goes beyond that. I’ve learned not to compare to other losses, but I’ve heard enough from grieving parents that the process is very similar. I believe only the loss of a child would be more painful, but I don’t know how much more.”

“So you’re saying… you don’t think she’s going to get over this?” She asks me, finally. Her face has lost all trace of the bright friendly smile that was once there. Instead, she is statue-hard, a frown etched in marble. I can’t tell if she’s relented or if she’s already closed me off.

“I’m saying that she’s a different person now. I’m saying that she needs you to love her as she is, no matter what she goes through. I’m saying that you have no control over how long her period of active grieving lasts, and the most you can do is not put pressure on her to jump back into the fast lane of life. And I’m saying that you need to give her a break. Four months is like a day in Widow Country, and she probably doesn’t even remember most of it.”

“Widow Country? Really? You look at it that way?” I’m not even angry at her arrogance. I understand that it comes from a place of complete lack of understanding. She’s on the outside, looking in, and realizing it’s uglier than she thought it was.

“I can’t wake up and have my life go back to the way it was. I LIVE here. I live in grief and healing. I live in a new reality, where my late husband is not included. I can’t change that, and I have to live with it everyday. Yes – I call it Widow Country. I live there. Every single day.”

She doesn’t say that she never realized how hard it could be, or that she’s sorry for my loss. In some ways, I am grateful for that. I wonder why she picked me, out of all the widows that are in my city, and then I realize that I only know two others. Maybe I’m the only other widow people know of, out here.

She does thank me for my time and patience. I can’t tell if I’ve really gotten through to her, or if she’s going to find someone to agree with her crusade to save her friend from further depression. Part of me wants to know who this person is, but a bigger part of me doesn’t.

I still leave my number, letting her know that I am available if they need to talk. I’m not a professional, but I’ve learned to listen. And I know what not to say. She leaves, and I stay, because the sun is going to warm my feet, and no amount of death can stop that from happening right then. I’ve learned to live in the small moments. I’ve learned to be grateful for what I can.

The secret is that it DOES get better. But only after it’s been really really bad for a long time. Only after it hurts so much we become numb to it. It gets better only after the worst. I don’t tell people this, especially in the beginning. They’re in so much pain that it doesn’t soothe them; instead only confuses them.  Because time is relative, and only time will get them there. But they will feel the warmth of the sun again. No matter how long it takes.

You have been with me so long, it’s hard to believe you aren’t really here. When I needed you, I felt you. When I missed you, I knew you saw me. And when I remembered you, I knew you were there. Two years, Jonathan. Two years and all I have to show for it is that I can survive anything. But you knew that, didn’t you. Somewhere else, where I can’t be, you are patiently waiting. Not because you don’t need to think of me anymore, or because you no longer care – but because you already know the ending. You already understand how it’s going to be. It must be good. You wouldn’t have left me behind if you didn’t think it was worth it. And I still love you. Somehow I believe you must have known I would, and that I’d still be ok.

Today marks the second anniversary of my dear husband’s death.  He’s been gone approximately 105 weeks, 731 days, 17532 hours, 1,051898 minutes and 63, 113 852 seconds. It may be hard to believe it, but I have counted them all. I have missed him every moment of these last two years, most of the time with constant ferocity. Lately, with a growing ebb and flow of aching need.

There have been moments, in the past six months especially, when I haven’t thought of him constantly. Someone told me this would happen. That one day, I’ll realize I didn’t think of him the first thing as I woke up, and that I didn’t think of him all day long, and then went to sleep not thinking of him. So far, it has only been moments.

But I always think of him first, everyday.

I think of him when my daughter gets A’s on her report cards, and her book reports. She got an “A” on her science project, and he would have been extremely proud of her, considering how hard she worked on it.

I think of him when my youngest and I have conversations. She tells me about her favorite Disney princess or that she wants to have an elephant when she grows up.

I think of him when I have conversations with certain friends, and they say things he might have said, in the way he used to say them. It used to scare me, but now I am grateful for the small glimpses I have to see his face, or remember the way he was.

I think of him when I’m driving down the freeway and I turn my head to tell him something I thought was clever, or interesting. I still expect him to be there.

He’s comfortable in my thoughts. I don’t mind him there, as a memory away. His voice, his words, and his reactions are very easy for me to draw upon. I can still have a whole conversation with him in my head, or by myself in our truck, and I know what he would say.

But those moments aren’t as frequent as they used to be. And I have made some very significant changes throughout the year.

For one thing, I’ve begun to follow through with the plans he asked me to complete should anything happen to him. Where I was once terrified of doing what needed to be done, I am no longer afraid. I finally took the steering wheel, so to speak, and realized that I’ve been on autopilot for far too long.

Doing this has given me a new zest for life. It’s not a huge “zest.” I don’t feel like jumping up down Toyota-style, and rallying the crowd for Team Maria.

But I have a want and an interest in carving out a future, not just for my daughters, but for myself.

That’s an interesting concept for me. To think of ME. What I want, and MY hopes and dreams. They always included Jon, and when he died, I had no idea what to hope and dream for. I tried to fake it, and pretend that I could just pick up where we left off, but that never felt right.

It wasn’t until I accepted that Jon’s agenda was no longer valid on this planet, that I realized how much I could do with the time I had left. And I know this is exactly how he would want it.

He always had a way of encouraging me to take the lead and live my life. He always believed I had such a promising future, in any of the specific careers I was interested in. Sometimes, we would debate over them, whether they were good or bad for me and us. But most of the time, I was the always for the cons, and he was always for the pros.

Basically, he thought I could do anything if I wanted to. He praised my abilities as a mother, and as a wife. He never forgot to thank me for simple things, like dinner or his laundry. And if I needed a break, he was always willing to help me out. He once talked about how many of his coworkers complained about their wives and husbands, and how he felt sorry for them, but happy for us. I remember that conversation well. It impacted me more than I let on because he was really saying that he had no complaints. As a wife and mother, he was happy with my contribution. But he always felt I had more to do, and more to give the world.

And the place where I am now, as opposed to where I was two years ago, is much better. While I will ALWAYS wish that Jon never had to die and leave us behind, I am grateful for what I have learned thus far. I am grateful that I no longer consider myself a lost and confused bride, but a full-grown woman, sovereign and capable of living on her own terms.

I will always be Jon’s one and only wife. I am proud to carry his last name into the future, even if I don’t know exactly what that future holds. I am no longer anticipating every bad thing around the next corner, whether there actually are more things I need to survive and learn from. I am just doing what I need to do, and I am enjoying it.

This is my new year. For most, that day comes in January, when the western calendar restarts and everyone gets a second chance. But this is MY restart. This is where I count the old year coming to an end, and look back on it with introspection. This is the time for me to make my resolutions.

For Jon, I will honor his memory by living a good life and bringing our children to the threshold of adulthood with as much knowledge, common sense and wisdom as I can give them.

For me, I will accept that I can be happy again, even if it isn’t because I’m in love with someone. I will once again see the joy in happy things, and not darken them with the wish for his company. And I will happily and openly miss him, every day, for as long as I wish. I will smile at his memory and laugh when I make new ones. I will cry if I need to, and I will rest when I’m weary. I will create my own legacy, to match his, and I will make sure that our future generations will know what we wanted them to know and what we left behind for them to see.

I still have more healing to complete, and I know that takes time. But if that’s all I got, until we meet again, I am content to know that it will happen. I am confident that I will see the light at the end of this tunnel. Already, it’s getting brighter every day.

I love you, Jonathan. I love you, still.

When I left the last post, I had just explained how much I deeply missed my husband, and how that had barely changed since he passed. I think that somewhere along the way, I had made the choice to hang on to us, quite by instinct.

I realize that a lot of widow/ers do this, mostly because we don’t want to disrespect not only the deceased, but what we had with them.

I felt, for a long time, that it was my duty to live out our lives as if he was just on vacation, and keep up his legacy as if it was my own. In certain ways, his legacy IS my own. The things about him that made him such an amazing friend and husband are things I have tried to adopt and apply to my own life.

But I know, even if I hate it, that I cannot keep living for him as if I was the one who died. It’s as if I’m trying to keep writing the story that I know should end. But letting it end seems just as devastating to me as losing him in the first place. Bottom line: I can’t let him go, even though I realize I need to do this. In fact, I need to do this soon. The idea scares me, and every time I get close to it, I lose my head. I procrastinate. I talk myself into saturating myself with his memory to make up for the idea that I might just have to move on.

Which brings me to a very odd place.

I can no longer placate or lie to myself. I can no longer pretend that this isn’t an issue. Why I defended it before, and cannot do it now is beyond me. Maybe this is a newer step in my grieving process. I have no idea. I’ve tried to document each one, to find some sort of pattern, but all I have discovered is that it’s so very subjective to each person that there can be no real pattern. Only that there are stages. And only that each person usually goes through each one, at a different and at different times.

That being said, I’d like to admit that I’m toying with the idea of…someone else.

It’s hard to admit, but for the sake of growth, I need to.

I’m honestly tired of trying to do it on my own, but I also don’t want to go into something blindly, being needy and looking for something to fulfill my life, instead of adding to it. I’m of the belief that loving to get emotional satisfaction isn’t real love. And frankly, I don’t have time for it.

I wish I had more answers.

In any case, as I gain momentum towards my second year in Widow Country, I’m starting to see significant changes. The fog I was in, the emotional confusion, the dislocation of reality – all these things which kept me incubating in a womb of denial,  are fading away. Things are becoming very obvious to me. I know I need to leave a certain part of my life behind me, in order to move forward. The concept feels powerful, and terrifying. I’m not sure I even know how to do it.

It’s almost like a rebirth. I used to think that was horribly cliche, but now, I prefer irony.