Yesterday marked four years since Chris died, which simultaneously feels like forever ago and no time at all. Parents often talk about the passage of time in relation to their children’s growth. Blink once and they are all grown up. We don’t really think that way in terms of grief, do we? Every day seems torturous and never-ending without our love beside us. The thought of surviving four weeks let alone four years without Chris seemed unbearable to me when he died. Now that I have arrived at this point in my journey, I can reflect on those early days and consider some things that I wish someone had told me. I share them not as an “expert” but as an unwilling veteran who gained experience over time. I share them not just for the many newly widowed people who I know are part of our community but also for those other seasoned vets who might have their own lessons to add. Feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments section.
Your body will feel every inch of your grief so be kind to it. Whether you aren’t physically able to keep food down or you drown your sorrows in it, or you drink to forget, or you become an insomniac, your body will suffer. It may suffer only temporarily while you learn to live within your new life or it may be hard-hit with new ailments. You may also unwittingly set up unhealthy habits as you and others make excuses. “You’re grieving! So what if you have an extra cocktail (or donut or sleeping pill)?” These habits will be very difficult to break later on down the road. This is the number one sentiment I wish people had shared with me. Four years later, I feel like I have aged thirty mainly due to unhealthy habits I developed during the early stages of my grief. I’ll be working on breaking those habits for a good, long time.
Your loss will transform your relationships. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yes, some relationships that you thought were strong may not survive. People’s own fears about death or their judgments about the way you are dealing with your grief can rip a permanent hole into a relationship. These additional losses can add salt to your wound but you will also be pleasantly surprised by incredibly meaningful relationships that develop. Some friendships that once consisted of a wave and a nod at church or the school drop-off will grow into invaluable connections. And you will meet new people, like I have even four years out, who instantly “get it” and become like soul mates. The long and the short of it? Your relationships will never be the same.
You are not alone…not by any stretch of the imagination. Do you see what happened when you went to your computer and looked for others like you? Or when someone told you that they knew just one other person who was widowed young and you reached out to him/her? If I had understood the powerful, loving community that was waiting for me with arms outstretched the night that Chris died, I would have felt a little less scared, a little less alone and a little less hopeless.
You will actually feel like getting out of bed one day and be happy that the sun is shining and the birds are singing. I promise. I promise. I really do promise. Lots of widowed people say that it doesn’t get better, it just gets different. Actually, it does get better. Of course, you are never going to be happy that your life was rewritten for you without one of your favorite characters. But it will get better. It may happen slowly as you realize the value of this thing called life even more now that you have seen it ripped away from someone you love. Or it may hit you like a bolt of lightning like it did for me when it dawned on me that I wanted to enjoy life for myself AND for Chris. Either way, I promise that one day--unfortunately, I can’t tell you when-- it will hurt less to face each new day and you will begin to experience joy and happiness again.
You will live with your grief forever but grief will not be your life forever. You will learn ways to walk hand-in-hand with your grief instead of you being dragged behind it. You will learn how to share space with your grief during the holidays and special occasions without it taking over. You will honor your grief by honoring your spouse/partner in both small and big ways for the rest of your life. But grief will start to consume less of your precious time and energy and the business of living a beautiful life will ensue. Before you know it, you will have blinked and four years will have passed. And you will be able to look back and appreciate what you have overcome and what you have become.