It’s the first Wednesday of the month, so please join us and read what the widows and widowers have to say in the Blog Hop!
It’s the first Wednesday of the month, so please join us and read what the widows and widowers have to say in the Blog Hop!
We are all in different places in our journey, but have taken a step forward in our life story without our spouse. The support you get from someone who has been down your path or some variation of it is irreplaceable.
I want to commend all of the men and women that take the time to give us a glimpse of their reality. The words they share can bring a whole realm of emotions and that is when you know it is written honestly from the heart.
If you Google the term grief, you will find that there are anywhere from 5 to 8 stages of grief. I can only talk about the stages that I went through. I do not believe that I went through them in any sort of order, but I can confirm that I revisited several of the stages more than once. When I thought I got through something like the anger, it came back in another form and I was forced to go through it again. We never know what might spark the feelings that are associated with a stage. This is why I believe we need to educate ourselves on grief and what we might expect. It allows us to recognize what we are feeling and why. This will help us get through and feel more control over our behaviors.
The very first thing, I believe everyone feels is shock. I think back to the moment that those words came out of the agent’s mouth…you’re husband is dead. A feeling shot through my body that is hard to describe, but it started in my heart and spread like wild fire to the bottoms of my feet to the top of my head. I only cried for a few moments. I believe my body was not ready to handle all the pain that was coming with my husband’s death. I adapted into a project manager to make sure I had taken care of all that came with his death until his funeral. I still cried a lot…every time I spoke with someone of his death, when I laid in bed, spoke with my children, discussed the funeral and many other moments.
I saw my children go through shock. Moments after I told my son, his father was dead, he stopped himself from crying and wanted to watch Sponge Bob Square Pants. It was his way to save himself from the life changing news I shared with him.
In the mornings, I would sit on my patio saying to myself, I cannot believe he is dead. I wanted to deny any knowledge of his death. Not one ounce of me wanted to believe that he died. There was no way my husband would have died. He was too strong to die. For so long, I believed I would hear the garage door swing open, hear the deep clump of his boots and see him walk into the kitchen. He would give me a hug, telling me to smell his stinky arm pits and laugh (it sounded like crusty the clown’s laugh), take his duty belt off and I would watch him in his green uniform walk up the stairs to put his gun in the safe. I NEVER wanted to believe that this would not happen again.
I wanted to see him after he was killed, but no one would let me. They thought I could not handle it; that I did not want to see him like that. It was easy to deny his death, because I did not see his dead body until I went to the funeral home. There I did not see his injuries; I saw his lifeless body with a lot of makeup covering his face. It reminded me of the picture I saw of him when he was sleeping on the floor and a few people thought it was funny to put makeup on his face. I reached to grab his hand and it was hard and cold. Those were not the hands that I held so many times before.
It was not until I asked the investigator to show me all the pictures of the crash, which included the pictures of Mike. Reading the autopsy report and EMT report did not provide the proof to me that he sustained the extent of injuries that would have taken his life. Those were only words on a piece of paper. I needed to see if for myself.
Recently a friend asked me why I would want to look at those pictures. I told her that I needed to see if I would have been able to go to him and hold his hand. That I would have seen him no matter what, embraced him and kissed his forehead. I was able to validate that I would have gone, that it did not matter what he looked like. I needed to tell Mike goodbye when there was some resemblance of life, not after he was embalmed. I thought that was the only reason until I began to write this blog. Now I know that I also needed to understand and see his injuries with my eyes.
My husband’s sister lived with us for a while after Mike’s death. My two year old would ask his aunt to bring his daddy home to him every time she left for work. He would see her uniform and he knew where she was going. I know you may believe that a two year old may not understand what happened completely, but denial happens to all of us. He turns five soon and he still asks me where his dad is. I tell him heaven. Other times he asks, “Daddy, is dead, right?” I tell him yes, every time. I wish I could say no just once to see him smile, but it is not our reality.
I bargained with my own life, just to have my husband back. I was willing to replace his death with my own. If I could have turned back time and needed him to stay home, then it would not have happened. Talking to the life insurance company made me sick. I thought that if I did not accept the money, there may be a chance he would come back to his children, back to me. But I would look at my children and it would bring the reality that I alone was now financially responsible for them. I bargained for days, weeks, months, except there was no one that could bring Mike back.
The pain that came with his death was unbearable. There were moments I could not breathe. The pain gnaws away at you. It over powers your body, your brain and even your heart. It takes away all the control you had. I thought that the pain may take my own life way. My children’s whimpers, in the middle of the night, were even more painful to hear then my own. There was a decision that I had to make. I had to decide that I wanted to push through the pain and live.
The guilt that I felt when Mike died was for anything that I might have done in my life that could have been deemed as “bad”. I thought that maybe if I hadn’t done this or that, then I would not have been punished. Fortunately, I did not carry too much guilt or ponder it for very long. What I felt were the many regrets. The heartache that came with we could, should or would have done this sooner if we knew what was going to happen. The hardest regret to overcome is the little baby girl that we planned. We had two amazing sons and all we needed was a little girl. She would have had Mike wrapped around her little finger (just as his two sons did), I often told him. He would laugh and I would say your little princess.
The anger that I felt towards anything and everything was the most negative stage that I experienced. I was mad at Mike for dying. I was angry at the lady that killed him. I was angry at my children for not grieving properly (so I thought until I educated myself on the ways a child grieves). I was angry at the cashier, at anyone that would smile and laugh, that was living their life when I was lost.
A story I shared in Crazy Courage, was about this cashier that I did not treat so well. I refer to it as an episode. I was in the grocery line, paying for groceries and I was using several gift cards I had received. As I was taking them out and swiping each one, the cashier started to giggle. When she did this I literally wanted to slap the giggle out of her. I could not understand what was so funny. She said “wow did you just get married?” I looked up and gave her the ugliest glare I could give and said with a snarl, “No, my husband just died!” The look on that woman’s face turned from smile to a look of humility and she was horrified and unsure what to say. I actually felt better for making her feel bad for saying that to me.
Anger is so hard to control and has a way of consuming you. I punched my pillow many nights. It’s a good thing my pillow’s bruises did not show. My son would beat our red punching bag, sometimes with a plastic bat. When he left the exercise room, he usually left the anger there. With rips on the bag to mark where he had released it.
Depression and loneliness hovered over me like a plague. It was hard to recognize but my behavior was a tell-all sign of it. I did things that I would not normally do and just wanted to have someone with me. I did not want to be alone, because it would remind me that Mike was gone. I wanted to interact with people and feel the loneliness drift away. Only at night I would find, lying in my bed, the loneliness would appear seeping into my pores and filling my body. I would look over and see the empty space. It would force me out of my bed to the corner of my room to cry. To curl up in the fetal position, just wanting this all to end. For all of it to be over!
There were moments when I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was having an upward turn. I thought that I was getting passed all the pain, denial, guilt, regret, bargaining, anger, depression and loneliness. I would feel “good”. But I would continue to experience the feelings over and over again. I thought they would never go away. Although the period of time that I would have “good” days would increase compared to the other days. I believe we can all expect to relive the feelings more than once.
Accepting Mike’s death was hard. So many times, I believed I had accepted it, but I had not. I spent time not wanting to accept it. I refused to accept it. I did not want to lose any part of Mike. I thought all the memories, the way he smelled and the look on his face when he found out I was pregnant would fade away. I was scared. I had no hope, I thought that I would just have to “deal” with it all of my life. When I say deal with it, I do not mean in a positive way.
Accepting his death was a slow process. It happened over time, almost like pieces of a puzzle. I started by putting it together, building the outside first, then working towards finishing, searching for the right place for the inner pieces. It was hard to figure out where they all belonged, but I did it. I began accepting my life without him, accepting that I cannot control everything. Writing helped me with this. I accepted my path and walked with one foot in front of the other. There were many days that I took far more steps backwards than I did forward. Finally, I accepted my life story was not over, but Mike’s was.
Mike and I were married in Las Vegas. We joked about it and thought it was pretty cool to be married in the Garden of Love.
There were so many people that walked down the aisle before us, but when I turned the corner our eyes met. It was as if this was our place where our intimate bond would be the first and last to have united in marriage in this room. It did not matter where we got married, what mattered were the words we shared with each other in our vows.
When I said “I, Samantha, take you, Mike, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part,” it never once crossed my mind that death would part us before we both were retired, with grey hair, barely able to see and walk with great-grandchildren running around.
Hearing his shaky voice with tears welling up in his eyes as he said, “I, Mike, take you, Samantha, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part” I never thought that he would ever leave me behind.
I took our vows to mean forever, that there would be no end to our time together. That we would die together in a bed, lying next to one another with my head on his chest holding hands. That our family would cry, not that they would be sad we were gone, because the end of our life story ended the way we did everything else in our lives…together.
On September 2nd 2010, my sense of forever changed. The part of our marriage vows “until death do us part” happened. A woman’s bad decision changed my concept of forever.
I thought our vows would last until the end of my time, not Mike’s. Just thinking about this and writing it down makes my eyes well up with tears and here comes the tightness in my throat. Why did my forever have to change? It was unfair that I had Mike taken from me and my children. I realized that I am not in control of everything and what I did with that was important.
After I watched my husband’s casket being carried away, I knew my forever ended. I needed to redefine what my forever meant. To me it was about love. I can carry love…that love with me forever. I can hold onto the look in his eyes on our wedding day and the days that followed. Love is something you cannot touch, but you can feel.
It was no longer about rolling over in bed and watching his hair turn even grayer. Yes, at 32 he had several grey hairs. It would no longer be the intimate moments, making coffee before he left for work, talking on the patio about our future and laughing when we imagined our children growing older. It was about the love we had for each other, our children and the memories we shared.
Forever is the desire that I have in my heart to write this blog, my book; to educate people about trauma, about loss and what it feels like to have your marriage ended without having a choice. It’s telling my children when they do something just like their father. It’s fulfilling the promises I made to Mike when he was alive. It is about letting go of my anger, forgiving him for dying and remembering our life together. He still holds a corner of my heart, but has a different place in my life now.
My forever is about facing my new life with courage and living again.
How are we supposed to feel as a widow? There are days when I felt angry, sad, depressed and when I was in shock. I did want others to be as angry as I was and feel what I felt. I did have breakdowns, blow ups (one happened to be at the funeral director and another at a cashier in a local grocery store) and overall depressive behavior. These are “normal” feelings that society expects. What about the days when I was smiling, I didn’t cry or feel sorry for myself. How does society react to this? It’s like people get even more confused when you laugh at a joke or smile at a neighbor after you lose your spouse. The fact is, we are human and there are days when I did not feel like crying. I was so tired of crying and being depressed. I would wake up those days and vow that I was going to have a “happy” day. I would not let the emotions control me that day. If I wanted to have some light at the end of the dark trauma tunnel, I needed to laugh.
When I became a widow, I was young. Did this change what society’s connotations of my widowhood? I believe so. There are widows that are much older than I was and they thought that since I spent much less time with my husband, Mike, I did not get the respect or carry the sorrow that they did. So even amongst the “group of widows” there were some beliefs. We both felt robbed of time with our loved one. When we took our vows of marriage, no matter how old we were or how long ago it was, we thought it was for the rest of our lives. Not once did I think it would be for the rest of my husband’s life. On the other hand, you might think that someone that becomes a widow at 70 is lucky they got to spend so much time with their significant other that they did not miss out on much, but they do. What about dating again or getting married again? There are connotations on this as well. People have expectations on how much time should go by before this happens. There are also certain expectations that come with how old you are. The expectation differs if you are a man (widower) or a woman (widow) that has lost their spouse. I believe the fact if you have children is considered by society as it relates to society’s beliefs on how you should feel or act. The fact of the matter is there is no right timeframe, age or gender that should impact beliefs. We are our own person. Life is full of unexpected events, like the passing of your loved one. Why should there be expectations on timelines on other events in life? There shouldn’t be.
As a widow I felt responsible for so much. I was responsible for Mike’s last wishes and keeping his memory alive. I put a lot of responsibility on myself. I wanted to make sure I was doing what Mike wanted me to do. I even developed a saying “What would Mike do?” It helped me get through some tough decisions that I had to make. I am not sure if it was society’s connotations that created this feeling or if it was my own doing. The community does feel a strong need to take care of the widow. This is something that needs to remain. The support those around us can get us through the day or even the next hour. I wonder if this was created by passages in the Bible or culture.
Over time, widow connotations have been developed, just as other connotations in society are developed. Words mean different things to different people. It all depends on your experiences, but society has a role in this. We can change what society believes, but what is important is that we believe in our own decisions and ourselves. There are people that do not completely understand or can’t comprehend what a widow goes through emotionally and physically unless they have become one. We make our own path in our life story from what is given to us, even if we have to make it on our own.
I encourage you to not always follow the connotations, but to muster the courage to face the unexpected, unfamiliar life to begin to heal, love and live again.
There are many contributions to what we develop as our beliefs. Society has a large impact on what we deem as “normal”. Although I am a big believer there is no normal. When I became a widow, I did not know how I was supposed to act or what I was supposed to do. As we grow up we look at people for guidance and search for mentors. I had seen my grandmother become a widow, but I was young to really understand behaviors. A famous widow that I can think of is Jacqueline Kennedy. There are pictures of her all over the internet and President Kennedy’s funeral was all over the media, as was his death. Jacqueline Kennedy is really an icon. When you picture her, you might see her black dress, dark eyes and hair. She wore a pearl necklace quite often and large sunglasses. Is this what a widow is supposed to look like? There were so many times that I could have used some validation that what I was doing was right. I even wondered if I looked like a widow. I thought I could be recognized by anyone as a widow and for some time wanted to be recognized that way. If they recognized me as a widow then all of the connotations that come with the word would not need to be said out loud by me.
But I discovered very quickly that I did not want to be associated with all of society’s beliefs about widows. Although the connotations today have changed over time, some of them remain the same. In the past, widows were to wear black for the rest of their lives to signify they were mourning. In some instances the widow wore black for the first year after their spouse’s death. People still use a year as some sort of magic number. As a widow we will mourn for the rest of our lives, but how changes through first few weeks, months or years. In certain cultures, a widow is required to marry within their late husband’s family. Could you imagine if you were required to marry someone specific after you lost the person you loved? Especially if all that was eligible was Uncle Bob. But the best idea of all that I have learned about is that the widow is to throw yourself onto the lifeless burning body of your husband at their funeral. This is called a sati. I understand that there are certain culture and religious beliefs, so to each their own. But if someone told me to jump on the fire and burn myself, I am not sure I could do it. Actually, I can guarantee I would not be able to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my late husband. I am just not willing to burn myself alive. If I did, I can only imagine what he would say to me. He might ask me if I ate my “stupid sandwich” for breakfast that day. On a serious note, there was a time when I wanted to die right along with my husband. I even pictured my own death. Thankfully I got through those feelings.
If I were to compare my own journey with others during our healing process they would vary in some way. You might have a mother that lost a son, a sister whom lost a little brother, a son that lost his father and a wife that lost her husband. Each of these people will be impacted differently. They can be impacted by what role their loved one played in their life story:
All of these individuals will have their own personal struggles, but will definitely have one thing in common and that is the loss of their loved one, the fact that they will miss the presence of them and will have a long journey of healing.
As a widow, I thought as I was meeting other widows during their journey that we would have experienced our healing the same way. The fact is: we don’t! During my journey, I have met many other widows, and each widow went through her own individual process of healing. We will likely experience some of the same things, but not every thought, feeling, or experience will be the same.
There are so many factors that will affect the way a person heals. I noticed things that, I believe, have affected the way in which someone has healed or is healing. If they have children, that can impact the process. The widow/er will need to be a mother or father to the children as each of them is healing. Maybe a spouse died before the couple could have a child; then the spouse left behind must deal with the fact that they will never have a child with their spouse.
How the last moments were spent with their spouse alive, as well as the marriage overall, impacts the healing process. The couple’s financial status can have a very big impact on how a widow manages through the process. Other factors that will impact healing are how well you get along with your in-laws, friends that you have and the overall support of the people around you.
Another thing will be how the person died. You may not think that it could play that big of a role in the healing process, but it does. What if the person left one night and did not return or you might have watched your spouse suffer from an illness before dying? Maybe they were murdered or they could have taken their own life. These instances bring different questions and trauma with them.
In the end, after you watch your spouse’s casket being carried away, you realize that you are left alone; without the person you had dreams with, the person who was a part of your everyday life, the person who brought you purpose, the person you love. This is when your journey of healing begins. The one where you will meet many crossroads and where you will have to choose a path. Choosing your path is difficult; the whole healing process is difficult. There is nothing easy about it.
This trauma brings you to your most vulnerable raw state as a person. The people around you will really get to know the person you are and watch you transform as you walk the journey of healing.
Mortality is such an uncomfortable subject. It is something that is very hard to discuss seriously, so we might find ways to add humor to it to alleviate some of the discomfort. I believe it is something that we all need to get to a comfort level with.
I now believe life is a privilege and no longer a given right. My husband was killed at the age of 32 and I am still angry about that. The anger no longer consumes me, but I am angry at the situation. There are several different ways that I can deal with that anger. What I have chosen to do is deal with it in a positive manner. I feel privileged every day I wake up and in all those moments I get to enjoy with my children, family and friends. I know now that it is really possible for me to die at any moment, so I try not to take my life for granted.
It is hard for me to understand how people can feel that their life is a given right, since I no longer do. I can understand how they may feel that way, because I once felt that way. This is just one way my perception has changed since the death of my husband. People may say that their life is a privilege, but their actions can speak louder than those words.
I think we all want to make our footprint or fingerprints in this world and may struggle with the fact that when we leave…will people really remember us? The fact is that someone will. There might not be a million people that do and that is okay. As long as we touch one person in our lives I believe we are successful.
What is important is that we are doing more than breathing. We are joining society and contributing. Living life can mean so many things. I bet if you sat in a room of 100 people and flashed the word life on a screen and if those people were to say the first word that came to their head, the answers would vary tremendously. The one thing that we should all be really grateful for is having the privilege to live another day, hour or even a minute.
Another good question I received.
How do you ask them if they are going to be okay on the holidays or if they need you if its not their first but second, third, etc… year without their spouse?
That can be challenging. What it really would depend on is where they are in the grieving process. Try to really listen to them and learn about their grieving. If you listen, without judgement, they will talk to you.
When Mike died, Thanksgiving and Christmas were right around the corner. I think I was in shock when these two holidays came. Which made it feel like it wasn’t really the first holidays. It may also depend on what type of family support they have and if their family is logistically close to them. There are so many factors that effect this and I learned everyone has their own grieving process.
I would start out by asking them the month before the holiday. Start out by finding out what their plans are for the holiday. If you would like to join them on the holiday, see if you can make plans together. Then keep checking in each week with them until the holiday comes. You can offer your support, asking them if they need anything from you. Work with them on trying to make the holiday a focus on the positives of the holiday.
Most holidays tend to focus on family, so there will probably always be some sadness they will carry with them during the holidays. I would suggest visiting them the days before the holiday. Those are the days that seem to be most challenging for me, not the actual day. I build up so much anxiety that the day seems less eventful than what I pictured it being.
Focusing on the positives in their life and staying upbeat for them will definitely help.
I have received my first question. Someone asked me if you know the widow but are not really close to him/her, what is an appropriate way to show support?
When I became a widow, I felt very vulnerable. It was really hard for me to allow people in my life that I really didn’t know. I became skeptical and wondered what their intentions were.
Here are a few tips…
First you should use the way that you know them to build the trust in the widow/widower. For example, maybe you are friends with a friend they are close to. Connect with that friend and find out what they are doing to provide support and help them help the widow/widower. If that person is going by to visit the widow/widower then tag along. But do not do it all the time, maybe just in the beginning to establish some trust. You can leave your contact information with the widow/widower and let them know if they need anything to let you know. Be sure to include day or night. There is a strong possibility they will not reach out to you for some time, because they will not know what they need. There is one question you should never as a widow/widower for some time and that’s how are you doing. Instead say is there anything I can do for you or how are things going. Maybe when you are visiting the widow, just start to help around the house. If you see dirty dishes or maybe the garbage needs taken out, just do those tasks.
Do not stay too long, unless the widow/widower indicates otherwise. If the widow/widower comes to the door and they do not invite you do not take offense to it. And if the visit becomes awkward know it might be time to leave. Although in the beginning all visits may be awkward, just look for nonverbal cues from them.
Maybe you do not know them through another friend and you are an acquaintance. I will give you an example, maybe your child is on the same team as their child. Do Not just sit there and stare at them. Start a conversation with them, even if it is about the weather. You should provide your condolences to them, but try not to make that the conversation unless that is something they start to talk about.
Another very important thing you can do for them is listen without interruption. If they want to speak to about the situation sit and listen to them. Try to validate their feelings about the situation. Do not try to tell them how the situation made you feel, instead focus on their feelings. Especially in the beginning. There will be plenty of time for you to share your feelings with them. This is if you are merely an acquaintance.
Think about starting a group to make meals for the family. Try to get as many people together as possible and cook dinners. It will be easiest if the meals are able to frozen. Put instructions on them on how to cook them and what it is. You cannot imagine how helpful this will be. When you become a widow/widower even the very menial tasks become exhausting. It may also remind the person to eat. I know there was a time that I couldn’t even eat or at times remember. But with the convenience of these meals makes it so much easier. Even doing the errands, like going to grocery store or driving them around.
You can also make a sympathy basket for them, with gift cards and other items that would be useful at this time.
If they have children, offer to take the children to any events they have or even to school. You can offer to take the children to the movies or to the park and this will give the widow/widower some time to themselves.
I really found that texting helped me at times. I really didn’t feel like talking to someone verbally, but wanted to just reach out to them and share what I was feeling. If they text you, text them back. I would not call them, because likely they would have called if they wanted to verbally speak with you.
Another good way to support is just sending a sympathy card with your information on it. You could even mail them resources like books to read and keep it anonymous if you would like to.
Really determine how much support you are willing to provide to a widow/widower before you start. You need to stay consistent with them. You do not want to start out strong and then disappear, because that will be hard on the widow. Before the funeral, during the funeral and a few weeks after there seems to be so much support. From my experience after this you feel more alone. This may be the best time to connect with them. I cannot stress enough that you need to determine how much support you want to provide before doing anything.
Another good time to reach out to them is the few days before a holiday or event. The hardest time for me was the days that preceded the event.
After knowing all of this, the widow/widower may not even reach out to you. Just know that by offering you are doing what you can and that is all you can really do.
I hope these tips help you provide your support. Please do not hesitate to ask anything further if you feel you need more information.