What I’d like to tell my former (fearful) self about widowhood

We braved Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain and Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train this sunny week in a land called Florida.


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Oh, and Aladdin’s Magic Carpet. And probably at least 47 other rides. Fearlessly.


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Thirteen hours and — according to my iPhone — 10.33 miles of trekking across Disney World with brave grandkids. I was particularly proud of the 7-year-old. Brave enough to try for the first time all the “mountains” her older brother and sister wanted to ride.

We had to talk her into staying in line a couple times. Does this one have a drop? she wants to know. When is the drop? as she squeezes my arm tightly around her. Fear of the unknown.

Turns out, she enjoyed every single roller-coaster-style ride. And maybe part of the enjoyment was simply taking the plunge and conquering the fear. Yes!

Oftentimes, fear is centered around the unknown. We think we know what to expect of say, widowhood, because we’ve seen a movie or two that featured a devastated widow. Or read a book or two. Or knew a widow personally who wasn’t doing well.

And so I just knew that hiking some of our favorite trails alone would be heart-breaking. That visiting Hubby’s family, visiting our kids and grandkids without him, all the holidays, birthdays, anniversaries — these things would send me into a deep, dark hole.

But none of those scenarios played out.

Every widow handles loss in her own way, of course. And I realize that circumstances surrounding the death—how suddenly it might have happened, dwindling finances, dysfunctional families, the health of the widow—all come into play when dealing with loss.

But that aside, here’s what I’d like to tell my former (fearful) self about widowhood:

Don’t imagine the worst.

The worst, in my case, didn’t pan out. Which means I wasted a good deal of energy, awake in the middle of the night, anxiety tying my stomach into knots.

There will be joyous days.

Yes, there will be hard days, but there will be joy. And the joy will eventually override the sadness. Go ahead; throw your head back and laugh. Don’t feel guilty about being happy again.

You need people.

You’ll welcome moments of solitude, but you need people. People will be strong for you, strong with you. Cultivate healthy relationships.

Pare down. Sooner than later.

You don’t need to fear going through your spouse’s closets and drawers. It’s not disrespectful to clear things out soon after death. In my case, there were men at Shepherd’s House, the men’s shelter where Hubby volunteered, who could use flannel shirts, thick socks, winter coats, hiking boots.

Create adventure.

With the prodding of my adult children, widowhood allowed me to become untethered from the day job; allowed opportunity for risk-taking and creativity to determine if I could earn a living from writing; allowed time to travel and try new things and make new friends. I love my adult children.

Look for ways to give back.

There are scientific studies done on the topic of finding meaning out of adversity (which will be a stand-alone blog topic at some point). For now, I’ll simply say from experience: when I’m pouring my life into helping other people, it comes with deep reward and joy. And it doesn’t give me much time to sit and reflect over my loss of a husband I loved, or a way of life I loved.

* * *

Back when cancer realism finally overtook cancer optimism, I journaled about not being afraid to walk alongside Hubby as he slowly let go of life. “What I fear, though, is being without him,” I wrote. “I dread waking up to no one in the house. Coming home to no one in the house. Feeling so absolutely and irreversibly alone. I dread widowhood.”

But widowhood didn’t turn out to be something to fear to the extent I had imagined.

Maybe for me it was like having my first child. Every experienced child-bearer in my vicinity—as I waddled my way through the long months—seemed to want to outdo each other in telling childbearing horror stories. And in every movie that included childbirth, the woman is screaming and beating up on the man who did this to her.

So, armed with my horrible expectations, I went into labor. And I remember asking frantically, after hearing a squalling baby, “Is that it? Are we done?!” Because I thought it was going to be so much worse. And certainly there was pain and panic, but it wasn’t anywhere near the level I was expecting.

Maybe for me, living alone without my beloved is like this.

What about you? What things have you feared? Did they pan out to be as bad as you had imagined?

P.S. If you found this post informational or inspirational, please share, tweet or pin!


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  1. Jenn killam

    Enjoyed the articles and your brave views. Great to read. Thank you.

  2. What I dreaded most was losing touch with my husband’s kids. We had parented them together for 7 years after their mom died and before he died. In the past 14 years, they have started their own families. And their kids call me Grammy!

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