I’ve learned a great deal from the widowed community. From those whom I know personally, and those whom I’ve met only virtually. As a collective, we are many things. Below are but a few:
Antisocial – Sometimes we just want to be left alone. Grief can be a heavy burden, draining every ounce of energy we possess, and having to then put up with common social niceties is just too much effort. So we retreat. We disengage from everyone and everything in an effort to restore our sanity and recharge ourselves so we can once again show up in the real world, because we don’t really want to be alone. Sometimes we need to.
Resilient – We bounce back. We change. We are like butterflies in a cocoon, or flowers in a bulb. We are still here, in different form, simply waiting to awaken again, hopefully transformed into something extraordinary. It may take some time. It may take several advances and retreats. But when we finally get there, we are scarred and beautiful.
Strong – Most of us had no idea how strong we were. To be fair, some of us really tire of hearing it sometimes, but that’s only when we’re in our darkest hours and don’t want to be strong anymore. When we want to simply let go and let someone else carry this weight for awhile. But one thing the world should know, is that widows are strong because we have no other choice. If we didn’t buck up, lift our chins and walk determinedly into the future, we would shrivel up and waste away. We choose not to.
Angry – Sometimes we blame the universe for taking away our hearts and leaving this empty hollow space in our chests. Sometimes we are angry with those who left, raising our fists and cursing them for abandoning us. Sometimes we resent those people who are still very much here, coupled up, sleeping beside their husband each night and waking next to him the next morning to begin another day as a team. And still sometimes we are angry at ourselves, questioning what we could have possibly done to deserve such pain.
Sad – Of course we are. We went from living each day alongside the men we loved to suddenly standing there alone and dazed, wondering how it could have happened. We hear a song and cry, we smell a shirt and sob, we see our husbands reflected in the eyes of our children and silently weep for their loss, and we recall a lifetime of memories all while knowing there are no more to be made.
Darkly Humorous – We eventually learn to cope with the pain through humor, which often becomes dark. We joke about things that really aren’t funny, because it helps take the edge off the anguish. It allows us to see our suffering through the fun house mirror which distorts it into something more tolerable. We know most people won’t understand and will question how we can be so callous and uncaring. But the truth is, we turn to this dark side because we care too much and if we don’t dilute the hurt, it can consume us.
Apathetic – Sometimes we just don’t care. Everyday, ordinary life becomes meaningless. “Why are we washing dishes again today? Who cares if the laundry piles up? Do we really have to go to work again today? Because we just don’t feel like it.” Our grief casts a wide shadow over everything and nothing else seems to measure up to its incredible weight. It takes too much energy to care, and so we don’t. Chores don’t get done. Bills don’t get paid. Food doesn’t get eaten. Showers don’t get taken. This apathy is demonstrated in so many different ways, but it all boils down to the fact that sometimes we just don’t care.
Hopeful – But we also look to the future with a new pair of eyes, seeing how we can use our pain to benefit the world. Some of us give back to the communities which helped our loved ones during their fight with an illness. Some of us volunteer or start a scholarship fund or any number of other things in an effort to make someone else’s life better. And some of us write, in the hopes that our pain will somehow speak to others and let them know they are not alone.
The bottom line with all of these things that widows are is that they are all OK to be. There is no one way to grieve, and there is no one keeping track of which emotion you demonstrate at which moment. Or even if you experience all of them. This isn’t meant to be a “how-to” on being a widow.
There are so many layers to the pain of grief of which I was honestly unaware before it came to hit me in the face with its giant, ugly, charred black fist. Being open to experiencing them all, the good and bad, has been the best thing I could have done for my healing. Like putting weight on a twisted ankle, you have to push yourself a bit more each time, yet know when to ease up and allow yourself a chance to rest.
Today, I’m going to push myself a little harder. I’m going to reach for the sun. I’m going to challenge myself to stretch a bit more into my new life. And when it gets too difficult, I’m going to go into hiding until I’m ready to push again. One of these days, I’ll be my new self, changed into something else… something breathtakingly, hauntingly beautiful. Because that’s what widows really are – transformed.
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