Things I’ve learnt being a young widow

My official cocktail glass from Fishs Eddy, NYC

My official cocktail glass from Fishs Eddy, NYC

Having crossed the year and a half line, it’s amazing to look back and see the way my life has changed. I’ve welcomed new friends, opened myself up to new experiences and visited locales I never thought I would. But as I’ve mentioned before, every now and again the deep wound that was carved into me the day of Sean’s passing suddenly seems to open up and weep.  I often give in and ride out the wave of sadness. However, sometimes I like to think about what I’ve learnt from this whole life changing event. Concentrating on the positive isn’t my forte, but I like to think that I’ve made it through the roughest part of being a widow. AND have lived to tell the tale. Here are some things I’ve learnt while on this extremely bumpy ride:

It’s okay to smile. And even make jokes.
Even today, 20 months later,  I’m a little perturbed when someone learns about my status and responds with, “But, you’re always smiling.” You know what? Being a widow is a bitch in itself. I don’t need to look the way it really feels. (Apparently I’m not doing a very good job because some people think I have bitchy resting face).  And besides, Sean was always smiling. Putting on a brave front is something I’ve learnt from him. I haven’t lost my sense of humour. Laughter is honestly all I have.

You’re allowed to say you don’t want to talk about it.
It’s inevitable for conversation to steer towards what transpired and it usually happens when meeting a friend after a long time or someone new. This leads to a lot of uncomfortable questions, some of which are extremely personal. At no point do you need to answer any of them. I just politely decline discussing the subject. Most of the time the person will back off. If they don’t, excuse yourself and walk away. Or in my case, hang up on them (Sorry Liz).

Don’t have that drink.
Sleep did not come easily to me the first couple of months. And there were a couple of days when I just lay on my bed at stared at the ceiling. A nice glass of Merlot may seem like the answer, but it won’t be long before you’re dependent on that little nightcap. One glass turns into two, then three and suddenly a whole bottle. Add to that listening to songs you both loved, watching home videos or playing back his voice mail message and you have disaster on your hands. A big, weepy, upsetting disaster. I used to go the gym later in the evening so I tired myself with a run, relaxed with a nice shower and then slept like a baby. My runs have now been replaced by Muay Thai thrice a week (see below).

Be open to healing.
I really wish healing came in the form of a pill that you can take twice a day and hope for the best. Part of the process has been opening myself to new experiences and making new friends. Basically getting out of the house and being active socially so you’re not home alone and getting yourself down. I had always wanted to try yoga and so I signed up for a couple of classes with a colleague. Since I have a small interest in MMA (and was fascinated by their training) I decided to sign up for Muay Thai. Although I’m shy and reserved, I now take the opportunity to hang out with people who are outside of my close friend circle. That feeling of vulnerability doesn’t disappear overnight, but it has shown me challenging my old self in a small way is often more beneficial than not.

Try a peer support group.
I didn’t know what to expect when trying out my local young widow’s group. I just wanted to be among like-minded people who understood why I talked to inanimate pictures of Sean and refer to him in the present tense. I left upset and sad. I cried, drank heavily that night and realized (very angrily) it wasn’t for me. But the positive was I understood that grief has different stages that need to be experienced and it pans out differently for each person. Only you will understand how it unfolds for you. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. And if they try to, tell them to back off. Or ask them to call me, I’ll tell them to. In another attempt at this, I’ve been invited to attend a Widows’ Wellness Day on October 26 (which happens to be Sean’s 21st month anniversary) and am looking forward to meeting others sharing the same experience as me.

Keep your ring on for as long as you want.
It was only recently that I stopped wearing my engagement and wedding rings. Even as I type that sentence, I feel guilty. I feel like I am deserting Sean. But for me it was something I had to do to accept the reality of my situation. You’ll have many people tell you that you ‘confuse’ people by wearing your ring or that you’re holding on to the past. Please don’t pay heed to any such bullshit. Do what your heart tells you. When I first took the rings off I wore them around my neck on a chain. I still put my rings on sometimes when I’m feeling the Sean blues. They remind me that, yes, I did have the perfect life once upon a time and had my soul mate to share it with me.

11 thoughts on “Things I’ve learnt being a young widow

  1. I am one of those people that doesn’t know what to say to people going through a hard and painful experience, although I’ve had many of them myself, so it’s not like I can’t empathize. I do! That’s why it’s awkward. Then there’s the worry of saying or doing the wrong thing, because everyone is so different. I just want you to know that I’m so sorry this happened to you, and I sometimes think about you even though we don’t know each other very long or very well.

    The other night I woke up and Neil wasn’t there, he gets up for cereal in the middle of the night sometimes, and for some reason I always panic when I reach out and the bed is empty. That night I thought of you and felt so sad because I know you must wake up and feel the absence sometimes, and it kind of kills me a little for you.

    I send you thoughts and hugs Bev.

  2. Such poignant yet very practical advice for anyone grieving a loss. Thank you for sharing.

    Know that we will be there to encourage and support you at whatever stage or mood you are feeling on Widows’ Wellness Day!

  3. Ahh Bev, this is really moving…and thank you for sharing. I’ve realised its easy to feel vulnerable when the going gets tough and like you say to resort to the night cap or two.
    Remember the time I did, and you and Sean were there for me.

    Daunting as it might seem at first, to open up to strangers – you will also find strength in some of these very people. I did, with you and Sean. And I have never forgotten! So well said, be open to experiences, people and healing – time is a crucial factor.

    We all get there in the end. Lots of love.

  4. I’ve not known for the longest time (still really don’t) what to say to you which wont remind you of your loss Bev. I have never been around someone so young and so much in love who lost their husband. So forgive me for not reaching out to you. Every time I read your blog posts, I want to say something but I end up just reading and leave. I am still not going to say anything, just that I love reading your posts. It lifts me up and makes me do good things and be a better person. So thank you. Lots of love, Janice

  5. Pingback: Month 21: Bonding with other widows | Table for One

  6. Thank you for your sharing Beverley. I’m a recent widow (almost a year), with three young kids aged 14, 11 and 7. It hurts like hell to lose the one you dreamed dreams with and built a world with! And you think it’s going to be impossible to survive the tsunami…

    I guess we do survive in the end because we have to….After a year the wound is still pretty raw, just a tad more bearable…

    Unlike you, I do talk about it often and think about the way things were, all the time…

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