Grief text books tell you that the five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Apparently everyone who’s lost someone moves through these stages of grief. Most books make it seem smooth, and seamless. Movies and devotionals make you feel like after a few months, life resumes and starts to look and feel normal. Some psychologists have even told people, “You must move on. It’s not healthy to linger over your grief,” and, “They would want you to have hope and move on.” I’ve actually heard a professional (not my counselor, but another) say this. How can you have hope, when you don’t even know what to hope for anymore?
Anyone who experiences a death will feel a bit of each of these–and may even get stuck in one of the “stages”, and some move into acceptance quickly. Some hold onto anger, and actually point their anger at a person–something for which I am experiencing at this moment, where anger is being thrust in my direction. It is hurting me immensely, and completely unfair to me nor right. Some that experience loss, lose faith in God (or blame him directly). And, for some, they are able to move through the loss quickly because the death, while tragic and deeply painful, hasn’t disrupted the very fabric of their lives. They still have their spouse or significant other. They have their job or career, their daily routines, their children (if any), and their friends and family. Their days and weekends still look the same. Nothing there changes. Maybe they go to pick up their phone and text the one they lost, only to realize they are no longer there and that is hard, painful. It’s moments where they catch themselves and remember what’s now missing.
For a young widow, the very fabric of daily living is altered beyond recognition. Daily life doesn’t continue on as normal. There is no normal. When you lose your partner, your spouse, everything about how you lived life up until now is forever changed. And, when there are no children to take up some of that space, that energy, that focus, then the space becomes a huge void. It becomes empty and lifeless. Moving through grief when this happens as a young spouse creates a chasm, you can’t just say, “Ok focus on what’s ahead, on the future.” That’s the problem. All of a sudden, there is no future, you have no idea what you are moving ahead too.
When you are young (in your 20’s) and bad things happen–those “growing pains” of life, you can look ahead and map out a plan of some degree. “I will finish my degree, I will find love and have hope for it, I want children and a family, I will buy a home and have a great career.”
When you have already started to build these things and it’s suddenly ripped away from you, trying to still “expect” these things becomes nearly impossible. You can’t hope for love–you just had it. The home is already bought and now empty. The expectation of a family was already in your grasp and now is gone. And, when other areas of life were already in flux, then trying to look “forward” to what could be ahead becomes very difficult.
Before I met Mike, I was just starting to get my footing. I had just found my way out of some “stuff”–some of it difficult (very difficult), and some of it was normal young adult growing pains. I had great friends, great family and had finally decided to pursue a Master’s degree. I had a way forward and I was strong. But I also never gave up hope on finding true love. I wanted it so much, so I held onto faith and hope. I wanted a family, someone I could have children with and share my life with; my whole life. A couple years later I met Mike, I was 24.5 years old. Mike knew my struggles to that point, he knew my hopes, my fears, my greatest passions, my desires. From that point on, it wasn’t about me, it was about we. Every step we took, every growth, every challenge, struggle, joy, and dream was together. Our lives had been woven into one life.
When you lose someone later in life, after retirement age, you are still faced with extreme grief, walking through some of the golden years without “your person”/your partner. But, you are able to look back and see all you created together. You have children (for many at least) to lean on and to carry your loved one forward and have children of their own so the line continues. You are able to say, “We made it to retirement, we got to start to grow old together,” (or maybe even a little longer). At least that is the hope. Not that it is easy to deal with this at any age, however, what I am speaking to is young loss–losing your person at a really young age before your life together has even had a chance to truly unfold.
As a young widow, that life together is cut very short. You have to ask yourself, “What am I supposed to do now?” “I don’t even know how to see the road ahead,” “I don’t know how to take a step,” “What future is there, other than getting by.” These are very real thoughts.
Mike and I were so close to having children. Three miscarriages in, and we assumed we had time to get pregnant and we knew we would. But, we also had an adoption on the way, we were weeks away. Our family was in our grasp.
Then everything changed. Now that he’s gone, I am left wondering if that will ever happen for me and how can I even imagine it without him. At 44 (only just), it’s very hard to see becoming a parent now. On top of having to face this, I struggle with not knowing what is next. I had all my hopes and dreams, there was a path. Now there’s not. And, the things I might normally (there’s that word again) lean on to help, don’t apply because there is also a pandemic. When I was younger and felt lost, I would volunteer, get involved in my community, give back. Even after I moved to Buffalo for Mike, I volunteered almost immediately. It’s what I knew. But, with a pandemic, that looks different right now and it’s not as easy to get involved in the community.
The entire fabric of my life is gone, it’s unrecognizable. The stage I grapple with right now is one of not feeling safe anywhere, not feeling comfortable. Doing the normal things I used to do when Mike was alive, don’t work anymore. Those things don’t feel the same because the security of knowing what my life was is gone. I can’t just go out and socialize for a bit and come home and everything is great. No. For a start, going out is not the same right now in general. Secondly, I have no one to come home too, so that security of walking in the door and telling Mike how it went is gone. I can’t go out and think if anything ever happens, Mike’s got my back, he’ll be here. If I get sick, I can’t lean on him to take care of me or run and get me some soup. I have to do it all myself. The house has become frozen, silent, joyless. Three months–the length of time he’s been gone, is NOT long. It has just begun for me. Where, for others, they can start to move through this and get on with their lives while still remembering and having “moments.” For young widows, that scenario doesn’t apply. For me, for many a young widow, there is no moving through it. Life doesn’t return to normal. We have to begin all over again–find a new normal. At 44, what does that even look like? Somewhere in the dense fog of my rotating thoughts, there will be more than 40 or more years I will have to live without him, that’s a very long time. I can’t just work, and go out, and do what I used to do, because the very fabric of that life is no more, so the “old normal” doesn’t apply. It is a very real and scary struggle to exist alone. And, yes there are family and friends to surround me (and hopefully many young widows), but it’s still not the same. They can’t replace the day-to-day, the life you had started to build. And, with no children to turn the focus too, well it adds another layer to the grieving.
Not feeling safe, not knowing how to feel, and not knowing what security there is emotionally is a scary place to be. But it’s a real part of the grief journey for young widows. Even though I have my faith, and readings teach not to worry about the future, only to focus on the day at hand, to be present with God. When moving through grief, it’s hard to try and heal when you don’t know what your healing towards. And, while God and my faith are a comfort at times, he is not a physical presence here in the home. I can’t put my head on his shoulder, hold his hand, and walk through this life. I have to pray that he will guide me, but I don’t know how or when. So, I am left struggling with that very real question, “What am I healing towards?”
Many young widows wonder, “While some of life will go on, will I ever feel whole again? Will I ever be able to have a family, or love?” Aspects of life will return in time, but moving through life with someone by your side becomes a very real question, especially when you already had your true love. (Lightening doesn’t usually strike the same place twice.)
Moving through grief as a young widow is not easy or seamless, or even short term. Doing it in the middle of a pandemic is almost impossible. I’m left thinking that the grieving stages should be revamped. Denial shouldn’t be the first stage, shock should be. Then it should be guilt/regret. For me denial and bargaining make no sense. I’ve never denied what’s no longer in existence. And, there’s nothing to bargain–they/he can’t be brought back from the dead. But, I have regret–I regret not having his child sooner–trying sooner, giving his parents and mine a grandchild to carry on his DNA. I regret that I can’t look at a child of ours and know he is in said child in some way. I am in shock that I will never hold his hand again, that I will never hear his voice again, that I will never kiss him or lay next to him at night. I’m in shock that I am alone, that I have to cook for one (not just occasionally, but always), that I have to make decisions on important matters without him, that I have to walk forward somehow without him by my side.
These dizzying, sensational, gutting feelings define grief that young widows feel. There is no play book, no manual. And, in the middle of a pandemic when isolation is already high, walking through this as a young widow and not knowing what the future may be makes the grief even harder to navigate.
If you are a young widow, you are not alone and what you feel is ok to feel, no matter how long you feel it. Your grief is your own. You’ve lost your person, your one. Walk as slowly as you need to.
May grace, guidance, and gratitude help you find your way–but if you don’t know what that “way” is yet, that’s ok. Love yourself, and let others love you, and know that I am holding your hand too.