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Short and Sweet Summary: It’s impossible for people who’ve never experienced a traumatic loss to imagine the aftermath. This is what I didn’t know about widowhood until I became a widow.

I think you’ll agree with me when I say that it’s impossible for people who’ve never experienced a traumatic loss to imagine the aftermath.

They can sympathize, feel bad, and say prayers but they’ll never know the depths of grief until they’ve walked in your grief shoes. What I didn’t know before about widowhood is that grievers’ shoes feel like they’re tied to cement blocks because even the slightest move forward seems like an insurmountable task.

Grief Consumes You

As a young widow, I’m overwhelmed with grief.

I didn’t know before widowhood that grief sucks the oxygen out of every room so you can’t breathe. Like, you take short, shallow breaths but don’t even realize you’re hungry for air until your chest tightens. Panic ensues because you can’t take a deep breath. And then, all you can think about is not breathing. Which morphs into an irrational fear of dying. That keeps you up at night, so now sleep becomes an issue.

Grief is everywhere.

In the air, in your chest, in your mind.

If uneven breathing, fear of dying and not sleeping wasn’t bad enough, grief’s tornadic storm leaves fragments of your former life in its wake and you’re left to sweep up the debris like its trash that’s no longer useful or necessary.

What I didn’t know about widowhood was how devastating it was.

Now I know.

Platitudes Don’t Help the Griever

I didn’t know before becoming a widow that the pitiful platitudes everyone circulates do nothing to help the griever.

Cowards who’ve never looked death in the eye recount the tired “time heals all wounds” and “everything happens for a reason” phrases. Liars who don’t have the guts to tell you, “this royally sucks and I don’t even know what to say” repeat tired cliches.

They say what everyone else says until those words become so trite and meaningless they slowly dissipate into the atmosphere.

Vaporous.

Inaudible. 

What I didn’t know about widowhood was how cliches and platitudes were useless.

Now I know.

Friendships Fail

I didn’t know before becoming a widow that some friendships aren’t meant to last.

Grief steals so much lifeblood from the griever that she’s forced to take more from her friendships than she’s able to give.

Grief makes us bloodsuckers. Buzzkills. Rehashers of the worst kind.

Some friendships bleed out because the hemorrhage of mortality, longing, and despair can’t be accommodated.

What I didn’t know about widowhood was how far away friends could recoil from sadness and frustration.

Now I know.

Who the Real Heroes Are

I didn’t know before becoming a widow who the real heroes are.

Those who show up for you and keep showing up despite your inane neediness. Those who implore you to expel your heartache for as long as you want. The new guy who says, “tell me about your husband” and reminds you often that he sounds like a “pretty amazing man.”

The selfless friends who say, “I don’t know how to help you, but I’m willing to listen” over and over again.

And again.

The coworkers who don’t judge you for your repeated outbursts but instead say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. Do you want to talk about it?”

A reward exists for those courageous souls willing to share the sacred space of a griever’s pain. An opportunity to see real life.

Raw and uncut.

What I didn’t know about widowhood was how cruel grief could be. Or how humane our heroes are.

Now I know.

A Solo Parent’s Exhaustion

I didn’t know before becoming a widow how hard it is to be a solo parent. Not a single parent who gets every other weekend off, but a solo parent who’s on deck around the clock.

Every day. Week. Month.

With few, if any, breaks.

A parent who guides her children through their grief even though she doesn’t understand her own. A parent who juggles more things in one day than most people do in one week. 

I didn’t know before the solo parent who posts happy pictures on social media and says she’s “fine” struggles with crushing anxiety and intense fear. I didn’t know she’s balancing her family’s framework on a new foundation that’s fraught with small fissures and gaping holes that could swallow them whole at any minute.

The responsibility for every decision weighs heavy on her already weak frame and the enormous pressure to get it right is exhausting. 

She’s overworked. And tired.

What I didn’t know about widowhood was how weary a solo parent is.

Now I know.

How Undeveloped I Was

I didn’t know before becoming a widow how undeveloped I was.

I never embraced vulnerability and avoided discomfort at all costs. But grief doesn’t like to be ignored or avoided. My defense mechanisms and diversions were no match for grief. The pain kept knocking on the door. Unwilling to go away.

And my whole world turned upside down –  again –  when I finally opened grief’s door.

I learned it’s OK to not be OK. Some questions don’t have answers. I’m not a better widow for staying sadder longer.

Joy and pain have coexisted since the dawn of time and I learned to be joyful even though I continually ache. I didn’t know I could have both. Grief taught me to face my pain, feel it and then release. It always returns, but not as fiercely as it did in the beginning.

Grief coached me to peel back my protected layers and expose the brave, passionate, and spiritual person hiding underneath. 

What I didn’t know before widowhood was that grief was a teacher.

Now I know.

Awkward is the New Normal

I didn’t know before becoming a widow how awkward death is. 

When people ask questions about your husband and you tell them he’s dead, the stuttering and pity glances are uncomfortable.

When someone says, “but you’re too young to be a widow” you know she pictures an 80-year-old draped over her husband’s coffin reminiscing about their 60-year marriage.  They can’t imagine you, a young mom with young kids, burying your husband after 12 short years.

Widowhood isn’t reserved for the elderly. 

What I didn’t know before widowhood was how unpleasant the shaking heads and tsk, tsks are.

Now I know.

Love is Infinite

I didn’t know before becoming a widow that love is infinite.

I didn’t know you get more than one chance to fall in love. More than one soulmate exists. Or that you can be happy again despite tragic circumstances.

Most people assume you only get one shot at a remarkable love. How sad to assume we’re only allowed one story.

Most people get it wrong. Love doesn’t believe in limits. Love recommends unlimited chapters, countless characters, and several settings.

What I didn’t know before widowhood is that love is always available if you believe you’re worthy and tap into its never-ending well of possibilities.

Now I know.

What have you learned about widowhood that you didn’t know before? Please share in the comments!