Losing my husband so young, at least younger than most, I imagine that there are questions people, might like to ask of me. After all, many of us will lose a spouse one day to death, or we will leave a spouse behind. I just happened to do it about 30 years ahead of the curve. Precociously widowed. Harbinger of baby boomer grief to come. The most obvious question is this: "How did you survive it?" Don't we all wonder how we would survive a personal catastrophe? And, oh, what is the answer to that one?
It can take a long, long time to get better. It can take a long time to realize the magnitude of the loss: years. And it can take years to allow your new life to meet you and for you to willingly take it in. When you find your new life, your loss comes included with it, as though it is the omniscient narrator that lives in your present, your past and your future. Don't be afraid of leaving the dead behind; they come with you. They change with you as you change. They will color your days like a pencil rubbing on a gravestone.
Letting yourself become wiser through loss is a great gig, if you can manage it. There is so much to be gained from having a giant piece of yourself removed, but you have to be willing to accept what arrives to fill the void. You could choose the route of bitterness and pity, but I wouldn't recommend it. Me? I am more appreciative of everything and now know the difference between a minor problem and a majorly unhappy happening. To me this is the greatest gift of loss: to understand that all is finite and to love what you love and fully appreciate it because nothing lasts. It's a gift just to be here. Most troubles are minor. Hold on to what you love, but not too tightly.
Meeting and talking with others who have had the same type of loss is very helpful. Those who try to understand, the ones who haven't gone through it, they are wonderful, and I am so lucky to have had so many people like that in my life...but those who really know the depth of losing what you love most: their understanding is palpable and can make you feel part of a community of the like-minded, of the like-lost. They judge the least. They can be the hardest to find. They require the fewest explanations.
What about loving again? Well, if you were really lucky the first time around, it may be unimaginable or even unwanted to love again. "I could never be as happy as I was with my husband. It will never be the same." I felt this way, and I've talked to many, many widows who express these same feelings. Yeah, well, that's exactly right. You can never be happy in the same way again. It will never be the same. But you can count on the fact that new love will be different. I thought that marrying Ken was forever and I looked up to him and felt safe. That sense of safety and permanence may be an element of love that I cannot feel again. For me, it feels unwise and almost ignorant to once again believe that another human being can protect me from the worst of all pain. A man is just a man. The idol I made of Ken turned out to be mortal. I loved him so much; he made me feel that everything would be OK; he calmed my worries. He was my sea of contentment.
Now with my love I don't idolize as much or count on days of relentless tranquil and complete safety; but I am more grateful than I ever was to be loved, this time understanding that love isn't a guarantee, it's a gift to accept with as much grace as I can muster. The safest sea just might be the calm and peace that I can find within myself. But love is love. And I am lucky again to know it.
- Jill Schacter
- My wonderful husband died when I was 44 years old. Being widowed this young happens to less than 3% of married people. Writing through this loss one word at time helps me understand what I've lost and helps me continue to grow. It is how I have gradually recovered from such a severe loss. Research shows that you can benefit from taking just 15 minutes a day to write out your deepest feelings as a way of healing. On the right side of this blog, you'll see a tag for Exercises to Try. If you need some help knowing how to use writing to help heal yourself, I suggest you start there.