I stayed up really late the night before the anniversary of my husband’s death, maybe subconsciously to avoid waking up to the next day. One year ago on the day I wrote this, I lost my husband. I hate that sentence. I hate the part before the comma and I certainly hate the part after the comma. I hate that day. I hate the memories of a year ago that day.
As I slept the night before this dreaded anniversary, I reached for his hand, and it wasn’t there to hold. It startled me awake. It perfectly summarizes the shocking realizations that have come at the beginning of my second year of widowhood. The start of year two has caused me to pause and reflect back on my first year as a widow. I desperately needed to identify any progress I made in order to figure out how I was going to deal with my sophomore year in grief. So here it is boiled down to ten things I learned my first year as a widow.
The first days and weeks after losing my husband I wasn’t sure how I’d survive, or if I even wanted to. Losing my spouse crumbled my foundation and the pain was unbearable at times. I look back now and see that although it wasn’t pretty, it serves as proof that I can do hard things. I came, I saw, and I….got through it? This is mostly because I HAD to, not because of some phenomenal strength of character. But nevertheless, I survived.
2. My inner circle has changed.
I really struggled with disappointment and hurt over the loss of what I thought I somehow deserved from my friends. When they fell short, I felt abandoned. I’m looking back today with a little more “extra grace.” Instead of clinging to hurt, I’m recognizing with gratitude the new people that have emerged in my life. The people who are genuinely concerned about me…the people who are sincerely praying for me and selflessly wrapping me in their love, support and friendship have risen to the top like rich cream. So instead of dwelling in the hurt of relationships lost, I’m focusing on the new, beautiful people God has put on my path. I’m getting better at letting go of hurt, disappointment and negativity. I’m trying to be less selfish about the shake-up of my inner circle.
3. The pain doesn’t lessen.
Although it’s true that maybe I cry softer and maybe even less frequently, the pain hasn’t really lessened. In many ways, it’s intensified. It’s not gone, just changed. There’s been a little bit of getting used to pain in this first year, although my heart is far from calloused. My wound still bleeds, but there aren’t as many new cuts.
4. I will never be the same person again.
At the one-year mark, I’ve realized the old me is gone. She died with my husband. In her place there is emerging a new, changed person that begs to be discovered. She’s slightly familiar but not quite the fully recognizable me from the past. Year two is going to be about finding her and giving her what she needs.
5. I miss him more now.
In many ways, I miss my husband more today than I did early on. Looking in the face of year two, I see more reality than year one revealed. I see a long road ahead without him. This new truth is a very lonely one. I guess year one knew I couldn’t handle all the revelations at once so it saved plenty for year two.
6. Memories sometimes fade.
I knew this might happen, but it’s still so difficult. I write about my husband, talk to my kids about their Dad, and yet lately it’s harder to remember certain things about him. When one of the kids asks to hear a story, my mind finds fewer stories to share. I’m sure memories will resurface at different times in life, but I want to have access to every single one at any given time. When I can’t recall something like the smell on his shirt, the sound of his voice or his laugh, it hurts. I don’t want to lose those memories, and yet, sometimes they fade.
7. Other people’s grief, loss and pain affects me greater than before.
Losing my husband has given me new lenses. I am now keener to the pain of other grievers. When I hear of someone who has lost their child, their spouse, their parent, etc. my heart isn’t just heavy, it’s shattered for them. My pre-widow self wasn’t able to sympathize in the same ways. The brand-new grievers with raw, fresh pain stay on my heart and in my prayers for months and months. Before, I would’ve paused, maybe attended a funeral, brought a casserole or sent a card and then life would’ve swept me forward. Now, I think of them daily.
8. Depression is a real thing and faith is still a choice.
Other widows have warned me about year two. They’ve told me it’s worse than year one. I don’t know yet if that will be true for me, but I can tell you that my depression really set in the closer I got to the one year anniversary. It’s real and it’s a suppressive joy-stealing demon. I don’t like that I need help with this, but I do. I refuse to be stifled by its grip on me, so I’ll fight it every way I know how. Depression isn’t about not having enough faith. It isn’t about choosing joy over sadness. It isn’t about digging deeper. It isn’t mind over matter. It’s a real thing, no matter how much faith you have. There’s no shame in getting help for it.
And speaking of faith, it has been tested this year. I haven’t lost it, but there have been many times where I’ve disengaged from God because sometimes I can’t feel Him with me anymore. Sometimes I can’t feel His comfort and I’m left with a decision to trust His promises and follow Him anyway. I’ve chosen to do that, but I want to admit it hasn’t always been easy. At times I’ve been very lonely, angry and desperate for His answers. I’ve longed for a glimpse of His plan for me now, and I don’t have it yet. I continue to seek Him, but I wanted to confess this year has been a faith-tester, for sure.
9. There are still moments that come out of nowhere and take my breath away.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and it doesn’t make the heart and mind any smarter. There’s evidence of this almost every day. Maybe it’s something the kids say or do that make me happy or proud, or maybe it’s something I’m afraid of and need help working through, and for a millisecond I think about talking to him or calling or texting my husband to share the moment with him or to seek his help. These swift moments are the mind trickery that continues to steal my breath away. It’s cruel how at my core I still can’t always remember that he’s gone. I’m living proof that grief amnesia is a real thing.
10. There’s no more time for BS.
When loss cracks you wide open and leaves you raw and exposed, you quickly learn what’s worth hard work and emotional energy and what’s not. Year one has revealed there’s no room for BS and drama in my life anymore. It has taught me the importance of focusing on things that really, truly matter. I really know now how fleeting our time on earth is and I am determined to make it count. I still don’t know what the future holds for me, but I am determined to make my life matter. I want to love more, laugh more, help more, stand up for the weak more, hold the hands of the hurting more and appreciate the small moments more. It’s still a long road ahead, one I can’t look down for very long periods of time. Heading into year two, it’s still a very one-day at a time scenario. It will be at my own pace. Sometimes that pace will be slow and painful and sometimes I’ll surge ahead with speed. But I’ll keep moving forward, one step at a time.
Thanks for being with me for the second half of my first year. Will you stay with me for year two? I hope you will. We’re stronger together.
Originally published at extragracerequired.com on March 26, 2017.