Wittiest Widow here, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all the great online publications of the highest journalistic integrity (I’m looking at you Buzzfeed!), it’s that people LOVE listicles! As I enter my sophomore year of widowhood, I’ve tried to reflect on the lessons I’ve been forced to learn. I won’t say there’s any meaning to what’s happened, and if one more person says “everything happens for a reason” I will promptly ask them to jump off a bridge, but I’d like to hope I’ve made some progress. So here’s a nifty list of some tidbits I’ve learned as a widow of 395 days.
- Apparently I’m “really strong”. I wish this meant that when your hubby dies, you suddenly gain hulk-like strength and can bench press 300 pounds (is that a lot? I clearly don’t work out), but in actuality it’s the “emotional strength” you gain. Bor-ing. Apparently adrenaline-car-lifting-strength is only reserved for mama bears, or tiger mothers, or whatever other maternal animal analogy people use these days. Anyhoo, not going to lie, the first days and weeks after Bryan kicked the bucket were a total blur. I didn’t know how I’d survive, and I sure as hell had no desire to. That’s just a fact. (Disclaimer: Not being on this earthly plane is something I fantasize a lot about these days, so if that makes you uncomfortable, sorry. K thanks bye). I was told just the other day by a dear friend who stayed with me that first week, that I didn’t even have the strength to eat a grape. A single grape. I mean WTF?! First, I love grapes! And second, man that’s weak. I think it was just an overall lack of will. Everything, and I mean everything seemed pointless. Why do people shower? Why do people eat? Conversation? It’s for the birds! Going to a job, who needs it?! All this to say, life was totally unbearable. I still don’t know how I progressed, except that time is the only constant and it just kept moving forward. And, I think, because I just had to. I had people counting on me, even if I wasn’t counting on myself. I still find that grating to me in my weaker moments, but for now I’m faking this whole living thing until I make it!
- My Ride or Die (get it?) Crew is different. As you can imagine, I totally go to therapy (can’t you tell how well adjusted I am?), and “Dr. F” has taught me a lot about what they in the biz call “secondary losses”. Basically, not only do you lose the love of your life, but you can lose a lot of other awesome stuff you never even imagined! For me, it was my house, my pet, my future, my sense of self worth, and some of my inner circle, just to name a few. I had heard it before and can certainly attest to it after experiencing it first hand, but you’re filled with gratitude and surprise by the people who come out of the woodwork to be supportive; and totally hurt by those you thought you could count on who come up short. Overall, I’m lucky to have such a wide and supportive network of friends, especially my sorority sisters, high school friends, Rotaractors, and great coworkers. I can never thank them enough for the notes, messages, flowers, funny care packages, offers for happy hours or manicures, and persistent phone calls I’ve received over the last year. Whenever I’m feeling particularly alone or hopeless, I’ll get a “Happy Galentine’s Day” card in the mail from a friend who I haven’t actually seen in years. The reverse of that also happens however. Sometimes those closest to you can hurt you the most. Obtuse is a word I’ve come to use a lot. I know that people’s emotional intelligence runs the gamut, but it’s still surprising when your bff would rather go to an Orange Theory class than sit with you 3 days after the funeral when you can barely eat that aforementioned grape. Or when you talk about your sudden and great pain and someone compares it to the death of their cat (insert eye roll emoji here). My goal throughout this grieving process is to be honest and let the emotions come as they come. I’m not fine, so I shouldn’t say I am, right? Well you’d be surprised (or maybe not) just how many people would prefer I say I’m fine. I can tell my grief is uncomfortable for some, and I know it’s distanced me from some friendships–these friendships being the ones you think will step up when something like this happens but in reality the exact opposite happened. I try not to feel jealous and post a nasty comment when on the 1 year anniversary of Bryan’s death, you don’t acknowledge it and instead post pictures of your latest vacation. But I digress. We’re all just out there trying to live our lives, and I know everyone else’s lives move forward, even when mine stands still. But I can’t pretend it doesn’t sting. #Truthiness
- That shitty, heart-stopping, emotional pain doesn’t really lessen. Although I shower regularly (okay semi-regularly), and only think about dying 5 times a day as opposed to constantly, the pain hasn’t really lessened. I would say it’s different, perhaps more familiar. Obviously a year has helped me get harder, better, faster, stronger, but I’m not hard AF yet. I cry less, but things still regularly set me off. Example: I partake in a unique form of emotional cutting on a daily basis by checking out my Time Hop app. I get to look at all the awesome things I was doing 1, 2, 3 etc. years ago and compare it to the hellscape that is me now. I don’t know why I do it, but I just can’t stop. The first step is admitting you have a problem right??? Things I “look forward” to are always disappointing. I used to see commercials of a woman looking sad in a board meeting and then staring sadly at her unused pottery wheel as a way to illustrate her depression. Then she got the right pills and was back to banging out bowls and mugs! While I’d never make pottery, and I’ve always looked sad in meetings, I can relate to the loss of the interest and overall apathetic attitude. On my best day, my mantra is “blerg”. On my worst days, I can’t even think of one that’s bad enough. I miss Bryan so much it hurts–yes physically hurts. In the first months my hair fell out, my skin was crazy, my body ached all over, I had heart palpations, and I felt and looked like I aged 10 years over night. I guess in a lot of ways did. Blerg.
- It’s Emily 2.0 Now. So suffering a massive and traumatic loss changes you man. It just does. Kind of like prison, or so I’ve been told. The Emily that was here for 31 1/2 years peaced out the day Bryan did. I can’t totally explain it, except to say I feel different and look at the world differently, and Dr. F has totes validated my feelings so I know it’s for real. There was a time I was angry about this. I liked who I was! I didn’t want to be different! I may not have been totally self actualized, but I generally got up every morning and felt okay about me and the decisions I made. Now I feel like I’m stumbling through life and failing left and right, or I just don’t care at all. Not a great way to be, and just like Stella, I need to get my groove back. I’ll just have to accept that it will be a different groove.
- I miss Bryan MORE now. Can you believe it?! After some of the initial shock fades and your constant babysitters are around less, you have to get down to the business of living solo. Ugh. The reality of life without him has set in. And what is life really but a long, lonely march towards death?? Maybe not for you, but I mean at least for me it is. I’m sure in a hilarious ironic twist I’ll live to be like 90 years old. That’s a looooong time without your bestie and loooong time not living the life you guys had planned together. I struggle with the “one day at a time” thing, given that I’m a planner by nature and trade. I take in the totality of life without Bryan and it gets overwhelming to think about. I think about all the inside jokes we’ll never share again. All the stupid, hilarious conversations we’ll never have. All the road trips we’ll never take. All the houses we’ll never buy and fix up. All the TV we’ll never watch together. My God, the television might really be the worst. I love Netflix. That is all.
- Misty water colored memories. I’m scared sometimes, by just how fast the memories fade. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I have widow brain (that’s real thing, Google it). I want to remember all the things that made Bryan my hubby all at once, and it’s just impossible. Sometimes I watch videos of Bryan, just to keep his voice on my mind. This summer, my stupid phone deleted all my saved voicemails one day and I had a meltdown at a Firehouse Subs. That was fun. But when a random memory does pop in my head, I’m diligent about writing it down. These are things I hope stay in my head when I no longer remember who I am or how to go to the bathroom on my own. I could just drift off to the memory of Bryan singing Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby” just because.
- I’m Like the Most Empathetic Person Ever Now. Experiencing Bryan’s death and the shit storm that’s followed has caused me to see the world in a new lens. When I hear of someone who’s lost a parent, spouse, child etc., I don’t just feel sad for them, I’m shattered all over again. My pre-widow self just wasn’t capable of this higher level of sympathy and empathy, but now it’s like a super power y’all. Not that it’s a super power I particularly wanted, but I actually feel useful sometimes when these new, raw grievers talk to me and I can honestly relate or just be there to listen. I’m acutely aware of the “well what the hell do I do now?” feeling that comes after the funeral, cards, and casseroles stop coming. So I try to keep those grieving on my mind and reach out. You’ll never know what it’s truly like unless you’re a part of this club that nobody ever wanted to join, but if you do, I hope you support the other members.
- Just cut the bullshit. Ain’t nobody got time for that! When you’re all exposed in the pit of despair, you get skilled at prioritizing what’s worth emotional energy and what’s not. Just call me Imperator Furiosa because I’m a woman on a mission and I’ve got very little patience! Since I have so little energy to begin with, I can’t waste it on the bitchy woman at the grocery store, or the dick head that cuts me off on my commute home. I just tell them to have a #blessed day and be on my way. Okay maybe I still flip the bird, but I’m not still thinking about it 10 minutes later. Baby steps. I’m still grieving! One day I”ll get there. I also put less credence into what I see on social media in terms of comparing my life and goals to other people’s highlight reel. Everybody has got shit they’re going through, and it would be nice if we could just acknowledge it and be cool with it.
So that’s that. These are just some knowledge nuggets I’ve accumulated these last 395 days. I know I’ve got more to learn, and maybe I’ll update as I stay buckled in to this vomit-inducing carnival ride of widowhood that I just can’t seem to get off of. Any of you have pearls of wisdom to share? Ideas for posts? Be sure to comment!