Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Are You Done Being Widowed Yet?

I am filling in for Amanda today who is swamped with school work. She will be back next week!

It has been seven years, six months, and 19 days since the word WIDOW first applied to me.

In the first moments after Phil's accident, I hoped that he would survive the impact of that car colliding with his body.

In the first few hours after I knew his accident was fatal, I hoped I was living a terrible dream from which I could eventually wake up.

The next several painful hours I just hoped I could live through having to repeat the words...Phil died, Phil died, Phil died, Phil died. Every time I had to say the words I held back the vomit that wanted to come out with them. Every time someone screamed back into the phone at me, because they could not believe the words I was saying, I felt slapped by what was now our shared reality.

I didn't really think about the fact that I was a widow until the morning after Phil died. I woke up to his alarm sounding at four thirty in the morning. For a minute I expected to hear his arm reach across and turn off the alarm clock, then the memories of the day before flooded my mind. I laid there in bed, eyes closed, hoping that I would reach over and find Phil in bed right beside me. Keeping my eyes squeezed shut, I slid my hand across to his side of the bed. My searching fingers were met by the cold sheet where his warm body should have been...demonstrating that this was not a dream, just a new and awful reality. As tears slid down my cheeks I  realized for the first time that I was a widow. The image that popped into my head at that moment didn't resemble me at all. It was like staring into a mirror and seeing a reflection that you've never seen before, then touching your face as the reflection does the same. Suddenly you know that you are looking at an altered version of yourself that you've never met, and don't particularly want to get to know, yet understanding that you have no choice.

Since that moment of dawning realization I have spent years and years and years getting to know this new version of me. The widowed version of me. The altered, never to return to the old me, version of me. At one point I hated the person I'd unwillingly become. I couldn't look her in the eye;she knew too much, hurt too much, needed too much. I felt sorry for her, and so did everyone else. That sorrow threatened to swallow me whole. I was so tempted to drown in the depth of the pain.

So, I didn't look at her. I ignored her, and kept trying to remember to breathe while I worked equally hard to forget how to love. Because the love hurt so damn much. I ached with need, I swam in self-pity, I spewed curse words or laid on the floor weeping...depending on the day. I was either repelled by or obsessed with yesterday, while doing my best to feel nothing in the present, not quite believing that tomorrow would actually come. The one thing I consistently did NOT do was try to get to know the widowed me. She revolted me, because I didn't want to be her. I didn't want to live her life.

Eventually, out of a desperate need to figure out if I was losing my mind for good, I sought out other widowed people. I started with one who 'looked' nothing like me. Our experiences were polar opposites, with the exception of the fact that both our husbands were dead. But, in a span of only two hours and twenty minutes this woman introduced me to the widowed version of myself in a new way, and for the first time I did not turn away in horror. Using her mirror I looked like a survivor, instead of an abject, tortured soul. Looking through her eyes I saw a version of myself that deserved respect, and consideration. She admired the widowed me not because I was so strong, but because I was willing to be weak. She told me that survival was possible, and I could see the truth of that statement in her experienced eyes.

Since that one powerful moment I have been determined to help other widowed people see their new widowed self in a different light. Our widowed selves have been changed by love. We have also been changed by grieving the loss of that love. Our transformation from our old self to this new widowed self is so painful that viewing this metamorphosis as beautiful seems impossible. Yet, beauty can be found in every tear, in every memory, in every determined step forward into a new and unexpected life. Our widowed selves are have been forced into a cocoon mode because of the pain of our loss. We have shrunk into ourselves in order to find the strength, the courage, and the will to recreate our lives. Breaking out of that cocoon may well be the life work of this phase of our life journey.

How can we be anything but changed by a loss that destroys the foundation we have built our lives upon? Both poets and politicians have frequently noted that there is a danger in forgetting our roots. The consensus seems to be that we must remember where we came from in order to get where we are going. Following that logic, I don't think that I should forget that I have been widowed. Being widowed created the woman I am today. The butterfly wings that eventually emerged from my grief cocoon are colored with Phil's love, and I will use these wings to fly for as long as I am able, in his honor.

Please learn to love the widowed you, and don't let anyone convince you that "the widow card" is a liability. That card with your widowhood em-blazed on the front is a survivor card. Tuck it into your back pocket and know you can count on this card when the going gets tough. Seek others who have this card in their pocket too, they will be an invaluable point of reference as you get to know your widowed self.

In the early days of my loss my only hope was to survive the pain of losing Phil for just one more minute. Over the past seven years I have become willing (and able) to hope for more than minute to minute survival. Today I live a full life that honors my past, makes the most of my present, and never assumes that tomorrow is guaranteed. I actively hope for that kind of life for every one of my cocooned widowed friends. My widowed self found a way to embrace and nurture the glimmer of hope provided by those that walked this road before me as I struggled day by day to break out of my cocoon. Hope fueled by widowhood?
 Believe it or not that is one powerful combination. Hope matters.


  1. I needed that. thank you.

  2. Michele, thank you for a gut wrenching, tear jerking post that is so beautiful and inspirational! Thank you also for everything you have done in regards to your widow support. I would be terribly lost without reading these daily blogs.

    You rock!!!!

  3. Thank you Michele.

    For everything!

  4. this was so exactly where i've been this week- realizing i'm emerging from the cocoon- which is exactly how it felt- and afraid of who is emerging- thanks for writing this. in doing so, you accomplish just what you are writing about...

  5. Wow, Michele, this is beautiful. I've been pondering the "widow" word lately, and how it seems to be a label that many widows don't feel comfortable with.

    Thank you for reclaiming it....

    And thank you for the beautiful butterfly metaphore. It reminds me: Recently I had a group of people testing a new course called "Loving Yourself Loving Your Life". In preparing the course a logo came to me that surprised me at the time: a golden butterfly. It has become very meaningful since - including in the way you describe the process above.

    Many warm greetings -


  6. I really need to read this - I have been doing so good but with my mothers recent death it all seems to be coming back and I just want to go be in a cocoon but since my son is now older I just don't have that option.

  7. Thank you. I just recently started reading this blog. Your words give me encouragement, as I am just starting out in this widowhood journey.

  8. Here is my answer to that person who dares to ask that question:
    I will be done being widowed when he will be done being dead. It's just a game we play, really .

  9. Can someone tell me what people are talking about when they say don't you have to wait for a year for all those firsts. Apparently I did not get the memo about dating etc. I am living each day just like they are. Seriously has anyone ever heard about this one year rule. Is it just where I live. Where did they get their ideas from? How come if I'm the widow I don't know about it. In closing wtf, wth

  10. I stumbled on this post while I was having a bad day. Not sure what caused it or where it came from. It's just a bad one. I don't try to explain them anymore. But the title of this post interested me because last week I was told by a religious leader (another widow) that she was concerned I wasn't "getting over it and moving on". I often say that I will stop grieving Ron when he stops being dead. That doesn't mean I haven't moved on. He has only been gone 15 months. I take care of my elderly father who had a stroke 3 months after Ron left. I work full time, volunteer extensively for 2 local organizations, teach Sunday School, spend time with my children & grandchildren, go out to dinner with a group of friends a couple times a month and am "dating" about once a month. How am I not going on? I'm not sure, her only complaint is that I talk about my grief too much on Facebook. Thank you for validating me with this post.

    Another thing that struck me about this post was the comment "She revolted me, because I didn't want to be her. I didn't want to live her life." That's what I've said about almost every moment of my life except the time I was with Ron. He made me see the good aspects of me. He saw in me things I could never see in myself. He was my biggest cheerleader and my biggest defender. Now I have to do those things myself. I'm not sure how but I know I have to figure it out, if for no other reason than to honor him.

    1. I never can understand why so few people understand how short a time 15 months is...especially when grieving a loss of this magnitude. I do know how hard it was for me, and I can imagine how hard it must be for you. Just know that regaining a joy for life takes time, as much time as it takes. And I love hat you know that your husband was your biggest cheerleader, he must have been so special. I just want to remind you that all the cheering he has done for your is still so true. Hear his words when you can't think of any to say to yourself. He believed in you for a good reason, you will find your way. And in the meantime, know that you are not alone...and that his love belongs to you forever.

  11. Beautifully written. Thank you for your deep words that console many, especially me. They are words that I do not have, but say exactly how I feel and want to say.

  12. My son is in a mental institute, I was downsized, so have no job and my husband died...all in a two year period. I really can't crawl out of this hole anymore...I am just tired.

    1. Anonymous, I am so, so sorry that you have experienced so many losses. Living through so much is exhausting, and I can see why you'd be tired. Just know that each day you make your way through is another day to gain the tools to keep going tomorrow. I hope you keep coming back here for confirmation that you are not alone, and for some additional inspiration to keep showing up for life.