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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

When tragedy strikes, a widow’s perspective.

What does it mean to be a "Widow"?

What happens when our world shatters? In this article, we explain the heart-ache, challenges, and lesser-known quirks of a widow's experience. Whether you are a new widow yourself or an outsider looking in, we hope this helps you come to terms with the real issues we face and maybe learn how you can be a support.

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

You don't expect your spouse/partner to die

When we enter into a new relationship, we may discuss the deal breakers we have in a partner.

We talk about our hopes and dreams, any future plans, anything, and everything. Things get serious and we talk about getting married, spending your lives together, fusing our respective plans into one plan as a couple. Marriage, children, house, and day-to-day things come up.

Once or twice we may find ourselves having a hypothetical conversation about if one of us were to die, what we want for our partner or what we would do if it was our partner to die first.

Unless there is a grim medical diagnosis, that conversation is typically not something we see as a plan, but more as a statement to our partner that we want to know that they are so loved and we want them to always be happy.

Most people never experience the death of a partner, so it isn’t a common household topic of conversation, however when tragedy strikes, it changes a surviving spouse’s entire life.

Your world is shattered in an instant and there's nothing you can do to change it

There are many ways in which a person can find out that their spouse has died. Some spouses find their loved one already dead, there are the ones who try to save their lives but to no avail, and there are cases where a terminal illness takes the life of their partner and there was time to talk and plan for such an event. No matter what the circumstances, there are major changes to the daily life, family and friend support systems, and to the psyche of the surviving spouse.

Depending on the situation, the way in which we deal with finding out that our spouse has passed can be traumatic in different ways.

Upon waking up one weekend morning, I found my partner dead in a doorway of our home. Luckily my children didn’t see him there and I am the only person with the constant memory of how he was lying on the floor. That memory lives in my mind and replays every day. The sheer panic of walking up to him and immediately knowing that he was dead. Grabbing the phone and calling 911, I could hear myself quickly telling the dispatcher our address (which by the way, I always had a hard time remembering until that phone call), telling her that “he’s dead” in a rushed panic, then falling to the ground with my face in my hands crying and repeating myself. Dispatchers don’t like to assume someone has died, so she kept telling me to check on him. I was rushing back and forth, as I touched his back and confirmed yet again, then back once more to lift his arm. I knew he had been gone for hours but she didn’t believe me and her job is to make sure I do what I can to keep him alive until emergency professionals arrive.

Then I realized… I have to call his family! I called my partner’s sister and said, “I know it’s early, but I need you to come over immediately. It’s an emergency, and tell your dad to come too.” I believe I hung up right away. I then had to call my daughter’s father and have him pick her up. “Hello?” he said. “I don’t care what you’re doing, I need you to pick Rosemary up immediately.” “On my way.” I hung up. The rest of the morning consisted of police tape, detectives, tears, disbelief.

Spouses who get a phone call or a knock at their door from an officer or friend giving them the news will never look at their phone the same way again. The ring can trigger the memory of hearing that their loved one has died suddenly, changing the way their life would be forever.

Those who have terminal illnesses will rely on their spouse to be their caregiver. Many spouses will dedicate their entire existence to the comfort of their loved one. The vast majority of these people will watch as their spouse takes their last breath. They will be sitting next to them, holding them, crying out.

The commonality amongst all of these and any other way in which we learn of our partner’s untimely death is the shock, the trauma, the soul-crushing pain and the immediate and long term changes of our entire lives. The word that most closely described how I felt was “shattered.” I’ve heard other widows use the same term in describing their pain. When you delve into the feelings more, you find that losing a spouse causes despair, loss of feelings of stability and safety. Often times, we find ourselves either wishing death upon ourselves or terrified that something similar can happen to us or our children.

Surviving the initial shock - the first year of a widows life sucks

Dealing with these thoughts and feelings requires support from family, friends and/or professionals. Ideally, we would have a vast outpouring of love and support from family and friends, and they would stick around until we are confident in our new life.

Realistically, people move on incredibly fast leaving us in the dust.

Personally, I would say that my family and friends wrapped me in their arms for about two weeks. I didn’t want to be home alone for the first week, so I asked for people to come sit with me and talk until I got tired.

After the first week, I was just mentally exhausted from never being alone. At that point, the silence was deafening. Two kids in the house and it was quiet and still and empty. I ended up finding Young Widow/Widower groups online that offered tremendous support and community for me and gave me virtual comrades who understood my pain.

Some people would call me to check in, but it wasn’t enough. I needed him back. Had anybody else on this planet died, I would have gone to him for comfort. Who do you go to when your person dies suddenly? I didn’t have a clue, because none of it felt comforting.

Nothing felt ok. I ended up limiting my communications with almost everybody for several months. Everything was hard, and I couldn’t make small talk anymore. I wasn’t able even if I tried.

Eating was almost impossible. Many people experience a lack of hunger when they lose a spouse. For the first 26 days, I didn’t feel hunger. The only way I would eat is if someone made me food or I was at a restaurant because I didn’t have the energy to so much as cook a meal. I had to have someone with me because I refused to eat alone, and one meal per day was my limit. I didn’t feel able to do more than that, and each meal was a victory and was exhausting.

At day 26, something changed. I decided that I needed to be able to eat more frequently, so I would snack instead of having one meal. It was a process, and as long as I was eating enough to maintain my energy, I was fine with that. Around the second month without him, I started eating a lot of fast food. It was a meal, I could pick it up on my drive home from work, and there were no dishes to pile into the sink afterward. Instead, I had a bag of trash on my counter.

My entire 3 bedroom 2 bathroom home was a complete disaster for the first 6 months.

At one point I had red ants inside my house. In a normal time of life, you find red ants and you deal with the situation. During grief, however, there’s a chance that you may leave the ants alone and hope that they find their way outside.

They did not. I was bitten by ants inside my home and probably two weeks after their arrival I had a burst of short term energy and I used that to find the hole they were using to enter and I found craft glue and sealed up their hole.

Grief is weird and it sucks. Grief allows the house to remain trashed, the puppy to remain un-housebroken, the toddler to remain un-potty trained, and allows us to go days or more without showering. Seeing a counselor is a great way to express your thoughts and needs, but isn’t always feasible due to the cost and severe depression.

Recovering from surviving to find a new normal - your Widowversary

As one nears the one year anniversary of the death, they are going to relive those weeks and days leading up to it. Replaying in their mind the exact series of events that lead up to the tragedy that shaped their lives forever.

At one year, we have experienced every holiday, every birthday and every event passing by without our spouse to join with us.

Parties are lonely and gifts aren’t purchased. Although, we look around and think “That’s the perfect gift for my love, but s/he’s gone.” A close family friend has an annual Christmas Eve party that we had attended the previous year together. This past year I was invited but didn’t know if I could handle being there without him. After much deliberation, I decided to go. I love that family and always have. They loved my partner for decades, and they were missing him as well. I was glad to go, but it was honestly gut-wrenching for me. I was showered with hugs and love, and I still couldn’t believe he wasn’t there.

You are not alone even though you are alone

As you go through your journey of grief, you need to remember that you will likely feel lonely and that we have been there in the trenches as well.

Those who you think may help you months after your spouse has died may tell you to move on and stop dwelling in the past. Maybe they’ll tell you to date, or they’ll tell you that you aren’t ready to date.

This life is not the one we had planned when we met our partner and fell in love. Everything has changed, and we have to change with it.

Tragedy is not something that you wake up from. Grief is the process we use to help us along the path.


Thank you for spending time with us today.

We hope this helps you either process your own grief or understand those in your life going through it. Please check out our Resources page for more articles and some links to the tools we've found helpful. For more about who we are, click About Us.

Adrianne and Darrell, fellow Widows/Widowers