We widows* do not give ourselves enough credit.
It’s not surprising really, we have so much going on in our lives and in our heads that it can be difficult to stop and take stock. Occasionally something happens that forces us to pause and realise just how far we have come.
I joined a health related facebook group in August. I had just passed the 2 year anniversary of Chris’s death and I felt it was time to start looking after myself a bit better. Then dad died at the end of August, my Gran died earlier this month and each of those bereavements seemed to take me straight back to the feelings I’d had after Chris died. I have been feeling low and while I’ve been doing my best to follow the programme, I’m not seeing the results I want. Then over the last week or so, I identified a specific practical obstacle to my progress, and found a possible way around it. I posted the details of this story in the the group for accountability to make sure I followed through.
I was quite shocked at the response I got! Comment after comment told me that I was amazing, brave, fierce, strong, that I had faced all this loss... and yet... I was still trying, still coping, still moving forward.
Having surrounded myself with other young widows, who really just “get it”, new widows and people who have been walking this path for longer than me, it is easy to lose sight of my normality being abnormal to people who haven’t experienced it.
Part of the astonishment I felt came from the underlying feeling of - well, what else am I supposed to do, when this is the hand I’m dealt? But I think more of it was that I don’t feel amazing, brave, fierce or strong! My confidence is low and my anxiety is high. Insomnia returns regularly. (I am writing this at 2am because having tried a magnesium supplement with dinner, a mug of pukka night-time tea, meditation, two Calm app sleep stories and a deep sleep music playlist, I am still wide awake!). I still miss Chris every day. I am sad about my Dad and my Gran, I’m scared of losing anyone else. I’m just muddling through, because what other option is there?
However, what the reaction to my post showed me was that from the outside looking in, we widows are superheroes. (Fair enough, we might sometimes feel the way superheroes look at the end of the movie, clothes torn, body bloodied and bruised… but we thought we were counted out - and yet here we are, unbelievably crawling out from the rubble, still going, never defeated!)
Look how far we have come...
I remember those early days, when getting out of bed and having a shower was a win! Everything was dark and bleak. I did not know how I was going to do this. People would tell me how strong I was and that they couldn't imagine how they would manage, and I would ask them what the other option was.
Then I became my own evil twin - I resented anyone who was less clever, or funny, or deserving than Chris, simply for being alive, and inwardly, the severity of any problem I heard about (whether work or personal) was judged by whether anybody had died or was likely to die, and if the answer was no, then it wasn't important!
I remember panic attacks in the supermarket and sobbing fits in the car. And while I was never suicidal, there was a period when I really didn’t mind whether I would wake up the next day.
To look back at that from where I am now is quite revelatory, and I begin to see why people think we are superheroes!
There are still occasional duvet days, but they are less often; I have regained my kindness and generosity (and you can all be alive, it’s fine with me!). I am rebuilding a life out of the wreckage and, while I don’t have a roadmap, I believe I have a future and more importantly - I want one! I am learning that this grief and Chris will always be a part of me, and that I have to build a life around it - to somehow be true to myself and live a full life while accepting that this has happened and can’t be undone; it is part of my story. I'm sad and there are days when I struggle, but I have come a really long way.
I don’t think I am stronger or better for this awful thing having happened. In the context of a society that insists that we must grow from any adversity widowhood can seem very lonely and isolating. The idea that even from this we should rise like a phoenix, experiencing growth and "blossoming" feels unrealistic and sometimes even offensive. I think there are many things to which “what if the worst thing that ever happened to you is the best thing that ever happened to you?” can apply, but I don’t think being widowed is one of them. There is honestly not one good thing in my life of after that I wouldn’t trade to have Chris back - even for just a day.
Yes, we are just survivors, and no, we didn’t really have another option.
But credit where it’s due: we have survived one of the worst things imaginable and we are surviving it daily. If that doesn’t make us heroes, I don’t know what does.
*when I refer to widows I include all people whose life partner has died. Young widows are those to whom this has happened before their 51st birthday.