Life Lessons of a Young Widow

05/16/2016 04:35 pm ET Updated May 16, 2016
Kerry prepares to marry the love of her life.
Inta G Photography
Kerry prepares to marry the love of her life.

The call came in while I was sitting in the church parking lot. My father-in-law told me four words that would forever change my life: Your husband has died.

Who expects to be a widow at 32? Our entire lives were ahead of us. There were dreams to accomplish, plans to achieve and a lifetime of love to exchange.

I emotionally unplugged myself from the world and tried to shut everyone out. I demanded answers from God. Why did this awful tragedy happen? How was I supposed to keep living without my husband, my lover, my best friend, my soul mate, the person who made me better just by his mere presence?

Looking back, I realized that although God never directly answered my questions, He sent (and continues to send) people and circumstances to heal my heart’s pain. From the widower at the cemetery who reassured me that my wound would heal over time, to the unexpected messages of reassurance my hubby reveals to me from his heavenly home.

It’s been four years and the scab over my heart, though thin and delicate, continues to heal. At times, I feel tempted to pick at it and some days I do. I recently found myself wondering if I should stay in bed on the anniversary of his death and mourn all over again. On March 11th instead, I celebrated his passion for life and fully embraced the day.

In reflecting on my four years of being a young widow, I’ve learned (and am learning):

On Grieving:

There is no “right” way to grieve

I’ve always been a “never let them see you sweat” type of person. I look for the silver lining in all situations and put on a happy front. Losing the love of your life has no silver lining. While my family and friends were extremely supportive, I chose to grieve privately. There were no late night calls to my best friend as I cried on the phone or breakdown at the funeral. Instead, I preferred to be alone with my sadness and tears. I know widows/widowers often feel abandoned by friends who aren’t quite sure how to handle the situation and so their visits become less frequent. I welcomed the solitude. When I felt overwhelmed, I turned to an online support group. It was a tremendous blessing and helped me get through the rocky patches.

Grieving is like a roller-coaster ride

“It will get better with time” everyone said. What they forgot to mention is that YEAR TWO is a beast! I was numb during the first year of being a widow. From making funeral arrangements to fielding countless phone calls from family, friends and acquaintances, I was in a delicate bubble that shielded me from the harsh realities that where ahead. Around the end of YEAR ONE, the bubble popped and I had to face the truth. All our dreams and plans had gone down in flames. There would be no growing old together. The numbness had worn off and the sting of death left me writhing in pain. AS YEAR THREE rolled around, I was able to see the sun’s rays beaming down through the clouds that constantly seemed to be overhead. To this day though, there are times when his death hits me out of nowhere and the pain is all too real. Thankfully, however, I have longer stretches of sunshine.

On Life

Relax, it’s not that serious

Sure, we all know you can’t take life for granted but there’s something about losing your perfectly healthy soulmate to make you truly understand the fragility of life. The little things that used to ruffle my feathers no longer have an effect on me. A flat tire? It can be fixed. Burned dinner? Order pizza. I no longer allow mundane, insignificant issues to dictate the flow of my day. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed so I strive to live the best possible life each day.

Judge not

Before becoming a widow, the only other widows/widowers I’d ever met were the older adults I encountered through my work with senior living communities. Through an online support group that I’ve started for young people who have lost a spouse and want to venture back into the dating world, I’ve learned that many in the widowed community feel judged. From how they handled their spouse’s estate to raising children and even how soon – or how long ­­– it took them to “move on”. Nothing prepares you for losing a spouse. There is no manual and many of us are just taking it day by day. Offer compassion, not judgement.

On Dating Again

This is my journey and mine alone

While I love stories of widows—young and old alike—falling madly in love and riding off into the proverbial sunset, it’s not a route every widow wants to take and it is ultimately up to her to decide if and when she starts dating. I believe it was about a year in when I started hearing the whispers of “it’s time to start thinking about dating again”. I wasn’t ready at the time and now 38 months later, I’m just now beginning to be open to the possibility of a new relationship. I needed to make sure I was emotionally, mentally and spiritually prepared to welcome the love of a potential suitor.

Comparison is indeed the thief of joy

I vividly recall the first guy who flirted with me after my husband’s passing. He wasn’t as tall as my hubby. His eyes didn’t light up when he smiled. His haircut was different. The list went on and on. Had I known then what I know now, I would have quickly discouraged this line of thought. As I ventured into the online dating world, I found myself continuing to compare physical characteristics: he’s too big; too thin; too hairy, etc. I’ve come to realize that while my hubby was physically attractive, it was his personality that drew me in. Among the things I loved about him was how generous, supportive, loving and understanding he was—traits I ultimately desire in a new relationship.

Part of healing is being open to be healed; to accept that life will test and challenge you, but you ultimately have the power to decide what type of scar will remain. Will it be a battle wound that screams “I survived!” or a scar that limits your ability to connect, to love, to grow. I choose to not only survive, but thrive! It’s ultimately what my hubby would have wanted too.

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