Nineteen years ago today, I became a widow. I was 30 years old.
It's one of those things no one wants to talk about. No one wants to think about and no one wants to know about, unless they absolutely have to. Even then, they'd much rather think, talk or know about something else because in all honesty, it's just a terribly difficult, unpleasant subject.
The truth is, saying it outloud "n i n e t e e n years ago" makes it feel like 900 years ago. Partly because so much has changed since then, but partly because I was such a different person then, living such a different life then. In some ways it feels like it all happened to someone else, and I was just there.
I remarried a few years later so technically I think I'm supposed to call myself a former widow.
As the years have come and gone since that day, I never really know what's "socially" acceptable to say about the way I feel about it. Do I talk about it? Do I go about my day like it's any other day? If I don't talk about it, where are the voices out there for current widows or other former widows to connect with to find out they really aren't insane, but everything they're feeling is completely normal? If I do talk about it, will people be all bummed out?
I've discovered the older I get the less and less I care about what is considered socially acceptable or politically correct or any of those other nice phrases we use that essentially mean "don't say what you're thinking because you'll upset the apple cart". Sometimes, the apple cart needs to be tilted.
So, I write this for me, for you, for your sister, my sister, your grand-daughter, your neighbor, the lady at church, my kids, my mom, your mom, your kids and whoever needs to know someone else has been through it. We're not alone, I can assure you of that. In my family alone, in the span of just a few very short years, my grandma, myself, my sister, my step-sister and my mom, all became widows. No, we are not alone, even though we all have different circumstances.
The thing is, because I had 3 little girls and a step-son at the time, entering widow-hood for me, meant entering orphan-hood for them. At least, partially. I've never lost a parent as a child, so I have no idea what that feels like. It is a completely different dynamic for a child to process "daddy is gone" than it is for the spouse to process "your husband has passed". Both carry a lifetime of "this will change you forever" and both are a process that has to be worked through very carefully. If I could have one wish for this lifetime, it would be that my children would have never had to go through losing a parent. That their childhoods were filled with nothing but memories of giggles, junk food on Friday nights, wide-eyed awe on Christmas mornings, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, family game nights, more giggles, trips to the park, and, well... more giggles. While they had all that, they also had that dark cloud of "daddy is gone" and that changed the way they processed everything, and the way they remember everything. A lot of the good, is colored by the pain. It's just the way it works.
When I think about that time in my life, I think more about how it affected them, than how if affected me. I suppose that's only natural for a mother to feel/think that way.
Because it's been so long now, there have been a whole new generation of memories created in that span of 19 years. A new dad, a new country, new siblings, a new house, new grand-kids, trips to the park, sidewalk chalk, awesome Christmas mornings, Friday night junk food, family game nights and giggles. Nineteen years worth of priceless giggles. Baby giggles, toddler giggles, kid giggles, teenager giggles, grown up giggles.
Everyone works through it differently, and no one is ever the "same" after going through the loss of someone so close to them, and it takes a different amount of time for each person, but life does go on. You do laugh again, you do complain about stupid and petty things again (trust me, you do), you do busy yourself with mundane tasks again, you do hope again and you do love again. You're a different "you" but you do, do these things again.
That night, 19 years ago, after it got really dark I went out into the back yard and layed in the dewy grass and between crying, and praying, and taking in how amazingly awesome God and His creation is, I watched the Perseid meteor showers. I don't know how long I layed there, in awe of such an incredible light show, but eventually I got sick of laying in the wet grass (see, petty complaints) and went inside and washed the dirty dishes and had the thought "okay, this is what life is like, now". It was a jumbled up mixture of horror, anticipation, fear, guilt, nervousness and hope. As the hours turned into days and the days into weeks, and then into years, the crying is less and the grief begins to fade. It never goes away completely, and the tears I briefly shed this morning sitting in the car in the Wal-Mart parking lot, 19 years later, is proof enough of that.
There will always be a heaviness in my heart for what my kids had to deal with and how it changed them, and for all the horrible mistakes I made in those first couple of years after the fact. Thankfully, there are some awesome materials out there these days that caution you against making all the wrong decisions that new widows are prone to making. I didn't know those materials existed then, but I'm sure glad they do now.
Those tears I shed this morning were for so many things. The pain my kids went through, the sorrow I saw in the faces of my former father-in-law and uncle-in-law that day, remember my late husband's last coherent words to me with tears running down his face "I'm so sorry for everything, my brain isn't working right anymore", and the young mother who was suddenly left with no clear direction on what to do next.
Only by the grace and strength and power of God, did we get through it. I still hang on to that to this very day. And when we're all together, for birthdays or holidays or baby showers, etc., there are always priceless giggles.