One Tough Cookie

Reflections of Surviving Widowhood

Photo by Kayla Harris on Unsplash

Once, there was an online bulletin board for those widowed young and I participated by writing about my battered soul. After I had done a lot of healing I poured out my heart less and less. That board went kaput several years ago. There is a new iteration but I’ve rarely joined the dialog because it is more a place for those who are actively grieving than where I find myself at year sixteen. Which is where I find myself this week.

Any widow will tell you that the anniversary date of your late spouse’s death will give your soul a stir. These days it is far less about pain than you might imagine. It is more a sharing of the journey and personal notes about survival. And still, if I think too hard or too long the worst of the worst will rise to the surface and I might flash back to what it was I went through sixteen years ago during the week before he died.

Today sixteen years ago was two days before he died. That was the last day he spoke. His best friend had come to visit, a long planned visit with no knowledge when he decided to come that he was coming to say goodbye forever. His friend helped me try to get my husband to the toilet so we wouldn’t have to ask him to wear a diaper. (yeah, this is going to suck so you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph but I promise- if you read on you will find out a thing or two about humor and my husband’s incredible sense of comedic timing) As my husband’s friend and I were trying, albeit clumsily, to help him we almost let him fall. He caught himself with our help but either twisted his ankle or broke it- there was no point in finding out as he would be dead in two days. After we righted him and took another few steps he turned his head left and then right to look each of us square in the eyes and announced,

“Y’all are killing me.”

I’ve written plenty about the process of coming to grips with becoming a widow. I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words about healing and continuing on. I’ve waxed angrily poetic about the loss of dreams and futures and how ripped off that made me feel. I’ve talked about how much I miss him. I used to miss him so much I could hardly stand it. It was very, very hard. Now, I’ve filled my life with a bunch of really great stuff and missing him is like opening a beautiful box and finding a cherished memory inside. Sometimes I cry. Mostly I don’t.

There are poignant moments. When I write about those times I get quiet and reflect on how much life has had to offer. I identify with optimism. I can’t feel too bad for myself because I’ve been incredibly lucky. He died and that just plain sucked. But that is simply, truly how life works. I don’t know how it is that there are people who seem to move through life unscathed by loss and sorrow and trauma. There are those who seem to get way more than their fair share of struggle. Some make it through in spite of it. And some folks are brought to their knees by almost nothing. Go figure.

I had a marriage of 24 years to a man I met when I was a teenager. We grew up together and defined our lives by revolving around each other while still maintaining our own identities. I had an enviable marriage. We were best friends. We made a family together. And it hurt like none other when it was over. I woke up to it the day after his death and wondered how How HOW was I going to keep going. It wasn’t easy.

In living those early days I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I have abundant empathy for others. Having my heart ripped out opened me to the ability to recognize the suffering of others and afforded me valuable kinship and an ability to mentor. I learned about accomplishment through daily effort. Sometimes the effort was so small all it included was making a pot of coffee. And sometimes the effort was Herculean. I won’t bore you with the details but if I mention owing IRS a sum of money that was so large I could hardly wrap my mind around it and in the same breath tell you I don’t owe them anything anymore will you get some small idea of the things I faced?

The dichotomy of my widowhood was such that cleaning out his closet was pretty much a struggle that equaled dealing with IRS. Purchasing a Christmas tree ten days after he died was equal to picking up his ashes from the funeral home. Putting our daughter through college equal to telling my brother I was down to my last $8.43 and staying quiet and grateful as he wrote me a check to save me from starving for a week.

Where my pride was stomped on I gained other things and came out of it so freaking proud of myself.

I am one tough cookie.

I learned to throw caution to the wind and to take on all comers. I learned how to take a leap into nothingness with faith that I would land intact. I learned how to lick wounds, to forgive, to forget, to write people out of my life and to welcome new folks in. I figured out how to be single and then I fell in love again.

I was 46 when my husband died. Now I’m 62 and this morning woke up to my husband who does not resemble my first in any way. Turns out that what I wanted and needed at 19 was really different from what I wanted at 48 when I met my new guy. Through it all I found something incredible.

I found me.