Widowhood: 5 mistakes I’ll never make again

Too bad it sometimes takes losing something of unspeakable value to appreciate what we had; that it takes mistakes to teach us some of life’s most critical lessons.

Photo credit: Kattaryna Stiles

Here are 5 mistakes I made before Hubby’s cancer and widowhood, that I hope to never repeat:

Taking things for granted.

Although I never meant to, there are several things I took for granted, among them:

A faithful husband who never wandered

An arm to companionably loop my arm through as we crossed a parking lot to a ballgame, concert, movie

Someone who watched chick flicks with me without complaint

Someone who made me laugh with his ridiculously dry sense of humor

A considerate man who kept my gas tank filled (which caused me to nearly run out of gas a couple times as a widow, but that’s beside the point)

An amateur plumber who kept all drains unclogged

Someone who enjoyed breaking trail in snowshoes, and sitting on tops of mountains, and taking road trips with me

A warm body to sleep next to

And that’s the short list. There were so many benefits from being married to this man that I didn’t mean to take for granted, but oftentimes did.

Having too much stuff.

There were three significant paring-down stages in our marriage. The first was devastating at the time. In the middle of what would be a two-year period of unemployment, we sold our home and cashed out our 401(k). We started over in our middle years, having lost everything we had worked for against retirement. Followed by these words: You have cancer.

The second paring down was more heart-wrenching than devastating. My mother, needing more care, moved from our home and we downsized to an 800-square-foot duplex. Not wanting to pay storage fees, we gave away years of furniture and accumulation, including the beautiful old upright grand piano that my parents bought when I was five years old, that I later taught our kids on, that our preschool-aged grandkids pounded on. That piano.

The third paring down was neither devastating nor heart-wrenching. After Hubby died, friends offered to move me back east closer to my daughter and her family, which was where I thought I’d end up. The catch: Everything needed to fit into their 10-foot cargo trailer. And what I kept, fit. Much like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle.

Plans changed. And while most of my earthly possessions are still in my friends’ cargo trailer, I’ve managed to survive these past couple years without all that stuff.

Living with less is rather liberating.

Living too frugally.

Living frugally and within your means is a very good thing; living too frugally and not making memories or taking adventures with the people you love the most: not such a good thing.

Hubby and I had saved enough to take an Alaskan cruise on our 25th wedding anniversary. When it was time to book the cruise, we almost didn’t. I mentioned to daughter Summer, away at college, that we were thinking about getting a new computer instead. In a very stern voice, she said, “Mom …” as if she were the parent and I the child “… you’re. going. on. the. cruise.” Well, OK, then.

The too-frugal option would have been to buy a new computer — which, by the way, would be in some landfill at present. But, oh, do I have some fabulous memories with Hubby in that astonishing land called Alaska.

Complaining about things that don’t really matter.

Trivial things like, Hubby leaving all the lights on in the house. A kitchen sink that magically refilled itself with dirty dishes just minutes after the dishes were done.

But do you know how many women in the world would love to have a husband to turn lights on? How many would love to have electricity and light switches? Dishes and sinks and indoor running water?

You get the point.

Not chasing joy.

This thought from David Steindl-Rast:

The root of joy is gratefulness.

As bad news piled on top of bad news, Gary and I did our fair share of complaining. Eventually, though, we learned to look for things to be grateful for. And in time, I started a gratitude journal inspired by Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. A few recent entries, as my list continues to grow:

#660. Writing in a log-cabin-turned-coffee-shop — fire crackling, fluffy white stuff falling outdoors

#663. Sugar-frosted tree limbs hanging over my balcony

#674. Safe travel on trains and planes in inclement weather

#681. One-on-one dates with each grandchild — that my grandkids still like to hang with me

#696. Simple pleasure of being snowed in with fireplace flickering, knitting project, books arrived from Amazon

#706. Cradling mug of steaming Chai latte, looking across a beautiful white-blanketed valley

And with gratefulness comes joy. (Notice, also, how snow figures prominently in joy.)

This thought from G.K. Chesterton always speaks to me:

Here lies another day during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world round me. And with tomorrow begins another. Why am I allowed two?

As life continues, I’ll make more mistakes. But for now, this starter list of five I hope to never repeat.

What lessons have you learned from loss? 

P.S. If you found this post inspiring or helpful, please share, tweet or pin!


Cancer and counter-culture courage


Is this how death should be?


  1. Nasus

    I love you, Marlys! Thank you for the eye-and-heart-opener reminder message which I need to be hit with regularly! With much gratitude for you and for this insight!

    • Nasus! Love your new word: “eye-and-heart-opener”!

    • Julia Steuart

      I love your article, many of your thoughts have been my thoughts about my beautiful son who left us suddenly and too soon at only 27 years young, 31/2 years ago???????? He suffered from a Traumatic Brain Injury for 10 years. He had severe symptoms on and off, he was resilient and brace to overcome and endure as he believed God to heal him. He gave up hope on December 17, 2013. We are still in shock over his choice, trusting Jesus to restore our hearts ♥️ and heal our minds as we receive His love and peace to choose life and pursue his will for our destiny’s. We were reassured by Afsheen Aghili, 31/2 hours after his s death that he is alive and with Jesus in heaven as he changed his profile picture on his Facebook page at 8:13 a.m. After his Facebook notification alert sound went off. And we all heard it in our living room as my kids and granddaughter were just gathered together at our home, as the fire dept. and police were checking our son’s body and taking him from our driveway. ???????????? Their is more to this story which I have shared on my Facebook page; julia.steuart

  2. Mary

    Dear marlys
    Your writings are so heartfelt
    And thank u for sharing your

  3. Anne

    Thank you for sharing so candidly what so many of us widows feel but can’t put into words. I, too, feel guilt from taking my late husband for granted–the things he did for me on a day to day basis are too numerable to mention. I wish I’d showed more gratitude more often. If I’m fortunate to find someone to love again, I vow to not make that mistake.

    • Thank you for your comments, Anne. I suspect that yes, if and when you find someone to love again, you will never take that love for granted!

  4. Thank you for the beautiful post full of challenges. I have had such great losses in my life over the course of decades and have learned to be grateful for what I have learned through each one. Each loss makes you grow in ways you did not know was possible. And one of the greatest things is learning to be empathic for those who have gone through something similar.

    • Wisdom: “Each loss makes you grow in ways you did not know was possible.” And then there are the gifts of empathy and compassion and understanding. Well said, Carol.

  5. Darrell Lake

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could learn from the mistakes of others without having to go through such traumatic experiences ourselves. This is so true in so many areas of our lives. It certainly would be better for all of us if we come to realize sooner how important our relationships, family and friends are over our things. Marlys, once again you have reminded us so clearly on those things that should be most important… As I am writing this we have a family member fighting for her life from lung cancer having never smoked in her life and so much younger than myself. So hard to understand these things. They had so many plans, so many dreams and all that has changed so fast… Blessing to you always and we are looking forward to your book….

    • Good wisdom, Darrell: “It certainly would be better for all of us if we come to realize sooner how important our relationships, family and friends are over our things.” Thank you.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your family member. Stupid cancer.

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