Being suddenly widowed, especially at a relatively young age is many peoples worst fear and some peoples most stark reality. It became my reality in 2013 and I had to quickly learn how to navigate things I never thought possible and do so whilst protecting and caring for my 4 beautiful children who were grieving just as hard as me. Here is a list of things I didn’t know were a part of being widowed until I was thrown into it suddenly aged 44.
Some you may have heard and some you may not have even thought of. These are part of every widow’s ‘every day’.
Spare a thought for the deeper unspoken world of the widow now and again and pray for her and her kids. Even better, go bake her a cake and let her know she is rocking this widow life.
1. People will say the stupidest things and you will have to resist the urge to slap them. Sometimes they just feel the need to relate and other times they have just never experienced real loss. People will compare your loss to the loss of their cat or an illness that a child or husband had but got over or still has but is doing well. One person asked me one full week after my husband died if everything was back to normal now! More than once I sat stunned wanting to run far away from a café we were sitting in together. SO what should you say? The most comforting thing to hear was “I really don’t know what it is like for you but I can imagine it is really hard. I’m here if you want to talk about it”
2. For a long time people will stare at you or go to great lengths to avoid you, backing fast out of the same supermarket aisle as they deal with their own humanity and lack of ability to say the right thing. Hot tip – its ok to just smile as you pass, no-one expects you to be the answer, but please don’t see me and turn away, I already feel alone.
3. You will lose some friends. They won't know what to say or you remind them you are living their greatest fear. Or they will say stupid things to you that hurt so deeply its best to avoid them.
On the flip side you will find a whole lot of friends in
places you never even looked.
People who you never imagined will be your closest companions. It’s a whole new world for everyone and not everyone can handle it.
4. The losses continue long after the initial loss of your husband. You haven’t just lost a husband; you have lost all future dreams you ever had together. You have lost a provider, a protector, a father to your children and the only other person as invested as you in their lives. You lost someone to take out the garbage, mow the lawns, and do half the driving on long trips. You lost someone to talk to about the struggle of your day or a big decision you have to make. You have lost the ability to take holidays or to sleep in whilst someone else does the school run. Life has changed forever and it will never ever be the same again. And it sucks. How can you help? Validate and acknowledge the losses.
Offer your services where you can and an empathetic ear
where you can’t.
5. You will have to review all of your life choices and values in light of this loss. It sucks.
6. You will never get used to seeing people only connected to him without him there. Never. It will always be a trigger no matter how much you love those people. He should be here when his mum or siblings visit or his best mate drops in.
7. His favourite song or that song that played at your wedding or whilst you took that romantic drive that time will come on the radio and you will be standing talking with your boss and suddenly have to excuse yourself to go cry. Music is a huge trigger, which is kind of ok if you are driving or alone, but at work mid conversation… its awkward, and the rest of the day doesn’t go much better.
8. You don’t get ‘over’ it. You might grow around it and move forward through it but you always feel you have lost your right arm and leg and half your head. You will turn around 5 years after the event to ask him how you are related to so and so or where exactly you got lost on the way to that holiday one time and realise there is no one to answer that question and there never will be...
You will want to share one of ‘his stories’ that he always retold in the funniest way when others are telling their stories but you bite your tongue and swallow and blink and remember it to yourself, feeling more alone than ever in a happy crowd of people.
9. Your kids are grieving every bit as you are but people expect them to pick up all the pieces that your husband once did and to ‘step up’ and care for you. Guess what, they are kids and it is not their role to ‘step up’, they are grieving and just as tired as their widowed mum, they have their own pressures and studies or work. Its easier to sit with overgrown grass than try to explain or justify why they can't mow it just like I can't mow it for lack of time, energy and other commitments.
No-one will understand this. No-one.
Most people will just see lazy kids and have no idea of all they have done already and what they are carrying.
If someone asks for help in mowing, a yard clean-up or heavy lifting, either help or don’t help, but don’t try and educate the widow
on how to better parent her grieving kids.
10. There is a freedom to not having to consult someone about if you can go out with friends or buy takeaway and you will learn you can go on long drives at opportune times all alone and not have that someone ring to demand you come home and cook… except there are kids to look after. But it comes at a cost as you know too well the reason for this freedom, and at the end of the day, you are alone and that doesn’t change.
There will be rare days where you will be so proud of what you have achieved as a widow and single mum and how you have coped and you will smile at yourself and say well done you. Do this more often.
You are rocking this widow life. And all those other days where you feel you need to rest more often and you cry more, even 4 years on, don’t beat yourself up, love comes at a cost and you reached ‘til death do us part’ – be proud you are rocking this widow life.
By Kate Lithgow