What I Didn’t Know About Grief Before My Husband Died

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Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

owe an apology to everyone whose pain and suffering came before my pain and suffering. I’m so sorry.

Before my husband died, I didn’t understand your grief. I couldn’t comprehend your loss.

I didn’t know before.

I’m sorry that in my discomfort I avoided you or changed the subject when you craved an acknowledgment of your loss. I wish I had the courage back then to say your loved one’s name after his death. I would’ve shared more stories about the mark he left on the world.

I thought it made you sad to remember. I wasn’t aware of how much it hurts when people forget.

I didn’t know before.

Platitudes Made Me Feel Better, Not You

I wish I could take back all the times I said, “everything happens for a reason.” I didn’t understand those stupid platitudes filling an awkward silence only made me feel better, not you. I didn’t know a simple, “I don’t know what to say” meant more to you than trite cliches like, “time heals all wounds.”

If I could do it all over again, I would listen to your heartache without trying to solve your problems. I thought I was helping you find solutions. I hadn’t learned yet that grief offers no quick fixes.

I didn’t know before.

Grief Doesn’t Discriminate

Please forgive me for thinking you were strong enough to handle the pain. As if being strong meant you somehow suffered less than the weak. I assumed preparing for death lessened your devastation. I thought you were ready. Now I know it’s impossible to prepare for death under any circumstances.

I didn’t know before.

Now I do.

Now I endure the same unbearable grief that keeps you up at night. I understand why you lie in your closet in a fetal position moaning like a wounded animal. I know why you hide in the laundry room next to the thumping washing machine to mask your gut-wrenching sobs.

Before, I couldn't empathize with your paralyzing fear of facing an uncertain future. Now I can. When the terror of raising my sons without their father envelopes me like a boa constrictor’s suffocating squeeze, I understand how hard it was for you to breathe, too.

I didn’t know before.

Now I do.

Moving On Isn’t Realistic — Only Moving Through

When I assure people I’m doing okay but I secretly don’t know what I’m doing at all, I wish I wasn’t so quick to dismiss you. I wish I knew then that grief never ends instead of assuming you were ready to “move on.”

I wish I listened more because now I know all you really needed was someone to say, “it’s OK if you’re not OK.” All you really needed was reassurance from someone who wouldn’t run away from your unrelenting pain.

Before my husband died, I lived my life without thinking too much about other people’s grief. I mean, I felt bad. I sent a card. But I moved ahead with my life.

I wish now that I didn’t move ahead so fast. I wish I knew back then that you never moved on from your grief. You only moved through it. I’m sorry I didn’t move through it with you.

I didn’t know before.

Now I do.

Grief Takes Fear to a Whole New Level

Please forgive me for masking my fear of saying the wrong thing by spewing what I thought were profound and witty things. I should have said, “There are no good words for this” instead.

I wish I knew then that my fear of not knowing what to say was nothing compared to your fear of…everything. I only knew a simple fear before. Not the tyrannical companion whose constant presence makes one second-guess every decision and life event. The debilitating, never-surrendering fear that halts your breathing and twists your guts.

I didn’t know before how intensely fear controlled your life.

Now I do.

What I Know About Grief Now

Today, when connecting with other grievers, I say, “I’m so sorry” and ask if I can give them a hug. Or sit with them in their pain. Or cry. Just cry.

I stop making excuses and send a card on the death anniversary. I’ve retired the pitiful platitudes. I know everything doesn’t happen for a reason.

Today, I say their loved one’s name out loud. Several times.

I listen.

I don’t try to solve problems. But, I do reassure them they won’t be afraid forever. I tell them that it’s going to be OK. But not because I'm trying to minimize their feelings. I tell them it’s going to be OK because now I know how fear loosens its white-knuckle grip once you acknowledge its place in the grieving process.

I apologize to everyone whose pain and suffering came before my own. I didn’t understand your grief.

Now I do.

A widow on a quest to make widowhood suck a little less. Offering practical tips and resources for widows managing grief and loss at www.widow411.com.

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