The Young Widows Club is an exclusive group that no one ever wants to join. Unfortunately, I know all about it. I was widowed at the age of 26 when my husband, who was also 26, died of a heart attack.
In a cruel twist of fate, my husband's death coincided with the three-year anniversary of my mother's death. She died from a brain aneurysm at the age of 51.
Before most of my friends were married, I was already widowed -- not to mention, partially orphaned. So while my pals were busy planning weddings or preparing to have kids, I was setting up a scholarship fund in my husband's memory and trying to figure out what to do with his clothes.
I'd occasionally meet elderly widows -- my grandmother's friends mostly. Many of them would offer condolences and words of empathy like, "I know just what you're going through." And while I'm sure losing a spouse after 50-plus years of marriage is heart-wrenching, I'd secretly feel envious that they got to grow old together.
While all widows experience a tremendous amount of grief, young widows encounter social complications that make the experience particularly isolating.
Well-meaning people would say things like, "Well, you don't look like a widow." Even friends that I saw on a regular basis, would say things like, "Oh, I expected you to look different." It was as if people thought widowhood would transform me into an old hag.
But the discomfort didn't end there.
I wore my wedding ring for years -- partially because I didn't want potential suitors to think I was back on the market, but mostly because it just felt right.
But that ring on my finger led to plenty of awkward conversations. At large social gatherings people asked questions like, "What does your husband do for work?" or "Where is your husband tonight?" I dreaded the look on their face when I explained I was a widow.
They'd always apologize profusely, while I reassured them it was okay. But, they'd usually kindly excuse themselves moments later.
Friends and family never knew what to say to me. Some tried to cheer me up. Others avoided mentioning my husband's name. And some, avoided me altogether. I couldn't blame them. I knew none of them wanted to see me suffer and they couldn't do anything to lessen the pain.
Sometimes -- plenty of times -- people said the "wrong" thing. They'd unintentionally offer words that hurt more than they helped. My favorite was when people would say things like, "You'll marry again someday," as if finding another husband was just like replacing an old car.
Dating of course, is another subject entirely. After a few years, people tried to set me up on dates. While it was kind of them to do so, I wasn't all that interested. Besides, I just couldn't figure out the etiquette. Do I blurt out "I'm Amy and I'm a widow" right up front to see if they're still interested in dating me? Or do I wait until the third date to give them the big reveal?
I knew not everyone was interested in dating a widow. Especially since my husband's family had basically adopted me. Bringing a date to meet my family meant he wouldn't just be meeting my biological family, he'd also need to be prepared to meet my in-laws.
And did I mention I still spend holidays with my in-laws? Sitting down to Christmas dinner asking your girlfriend's late husband's mother-in-law to pass the peas isn't a Christmas tradition most men would welcome.
Fortunately, I found a man who graciously accepted all the complications that accompanied dating -- and eventually marrying -- a young widow. I recognize however, that men like this are a rare breed.
It's been nine years since I was widowed, and I have created a new life for myself. I had to survive plenty of dark days and hard times to get here but life is good again.
But I'd like to tell other young widows to stay strong. Your complicated social life will grow less awkward with time. And although it feels like no one understands, there are other young widows out there who know what you're going through.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a bestselling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages.
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