The months following my husband’s death I felt more alone than I ever knew was possible. Weeks would go by where I hardly left my bed. I would sit in it and cry and punch the living crap out of it, screaming to the sky…Why? Why him? Why me?
My view of the world had changed with one phone call. In those first months I probably could’ve used a padded cell and because of that some of my friendships were demolished, mostly because of me. I wasn’t much of a friend. I had nothing to give. At the same time, other friendships grew much stronger. I always heard that the hardest of times show you who your real friends are – it’s true.
Most people didn’t know what to do with me. They would say, “I’m here if you need me”, and, “You’re so strong. God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle”, but people just say that because –what else can they say?? Thing is, as much as I appreciated their gestures, they meant nothing to me. What do I need? I need my husband back. And if not that, I need to be shot – but I can’t say this to you. And if that thing about God is true, I didn’t like him very much for it. THIS was a bit much, if you ask me.
I ended up disconnecting mentally from everything to deal. I clung to what I knew – my closest friends and family (as much as I could), Mother Nature, music – and I wrote a lot. Those things pulled me through the worst times. Still, I felt lost. I felt guilty. I felt like I wasn’t doing this “widow thing” correctly. I pushed away the idea that I was even a widow. I hated telling new people my “story” and the word widow freaked me out – how negative and depressing.
After a while, I avoided living life like a widow at all. What I mean by that is I just went on with my life. I avoided pictures of my husband, I moved to a new place, I started working out, and started to build a new life. I told as few people about my situation as possible and just tried to blend in. Still, I felt like I was living a double life because no matter how much I avoided it, there is a massive hole in my chest. And I still cry at night, and talk to him on his Facebook, and think about him every second of the day.
Finally, and I don’t remember how, I found out about The American Widow Project. It’s a non-profit organization that another military widow started a few years after her husband was killed at war. She, too, felt alone and did something about it. She created this amazing way for military widows to get together and be a support for one another. Soon after, I heard about a “give back retreat” they were doing in New Orleans. Fifteen military widows would go to New Orleans and help themselves by helping build a home for someone that lost theirs in Katrina.
For me, this was perfect. I get more by helping others than I do from anything else. I signed up. A month or so later, I was driving out to New Orleans. The trip changed my life. Ok, that needs to be reworded – the women on the trip changed my life. I was blessed enough to find out that two – not one, but TWO – widows lived within an hour of me. Not only did I make new friends who, for the first time, truly got me, but they were right down the street! I came back from the trip feeling refreshed. The guilt was gone and finally, I felt somewhat normal.
Everyone’s stories were so different and so were the ways they were grieving. I needed the reassurance. I am now able to embrace being a widow. I can tell my story without feeling guilty that I’m making someone feel bad or feeling like I’m being a “downer”. I know I can love someone who died but move on with my life, too, and that’s ok. I feel so blessed for the experience and I’m so thankful for Taryn Davis and her gift of AWP.
Still, my non-widow friends sometimes don’t know what to do with us. They wonder, “What do they need? How can I be a support to them?” Well, here’s the thing. Most of us know it’s awkward for you. We don’t expect you to have something spectacular to say because, honestly, there is nothing you can say. And we don’t expect you to know what to do because WE don’t even know what to do. Regardless, here are a few do's and don’ts.
Actually, I feel I should write a little disclaimer first: In reality, there is nothing you can REALLY do to make us feel any better. Grieving is a time thing and it’s something we kind of have to process on our own. These things would make our lives a little easier, though, which is all we can really ask for.
- Hold off on the puppy dog eyes. If we open up to you and you get upset, we feel bad. Every widow I’ve talked to hates this. The result is us shelling up and not talking anymore. We don’t want to make people feel bad because it makes us feel guilty. We already have enough guilt. I know it’s hard but just listening without getting too emotional is really nice.
- Realize our minds are all over the place. No matter what we’re actually doing, our minds are somewhere else most of the time. We forget to pay bills, we forget appointments, and we may be a little messier than normal. Don’t get onto us about it – again, guilt. We know we suck right now, and we’re doing our best. If our flakiness is affecting you, cut us a little slack. Maybe take note of where the issues are and try to help. Offer to help clean up, go with us to pay off our bills to make sure it gets done – offer a place to stay when our power gets shut off (Ha! This has happened three times to me. Sigh.) It sounds ridiculous but seriously the help that I’ve gotten from others, even them just reminding me to plug in my phone, is priceless, because I’m a hot mess right now.
- Now, here is one that is hard, but I’ve had this discussion with a few widows and it really is something that is an issue for us. In the end, we have experienced something that most people fear more than anything – losing someone you love dearly. When this happens, the little everyday issues that people have seem insignificant. So here’s the thing – if ya know your friend just buried her husband, don’t go to them complaining about your husband not doing the dishes last night. You might get slapped – Just sayin’. Seriously though, people just need to be sensitive to what they complain about. We really do understand that life goes on and that daily issues are still issues even if they aren’t the worst thing that could ever happened, but we just can’t process it right now. We’re too exhausted. Eventually it gets better. This is really for widows in the first year or so.
- That being said, being a widow is a time of rediscovering yourself. Most likely we will be kind of selfish. Truth is, we need to be right now. Allow us to be selfish for a while.
- When we are first widowed, make sure we are fed healthy meals. We don’t want to cook so one of two things will happen – either we will starve to death, or we will be a regular at the local KFC and turn into whales. We might feel a little guilty at first, but I promise you we’ll take it and will appreciate it later.
- Be a positive force in our lives. We probably think life is the worst thing ever. Ask us out to do something fun, point out the gorgeous weather, introduce us to happy music. And — it’s ok to laugh and crack jokes. In fact, please do.
- Don’t tell us we are young and will eventually move on. We will figure this one out on our own. Other people telling us this is infuriating.
- Remember that just because we are young, it doesn’t make widowhood easier.
- Don’t give us “widow rules”. People think they know how they would act in this situation. They think that widows should act a certain way and sometimes put us on this timeline – “You must hide in closet for X amount of time. You must not date until X date. You must cry at least this many hours a day. After one year, you must get over it.” Please don’t do this. Everybody is SO different and grief is SO bipolar. NOBODY knows how they will act and nobody should be held to any one set of standards. It just doesn’t work that way.
- If you are a complete stranger but know what happened and you cross our path, don’t avoid us because you don’t know what to say. You can tell us you’re sorry for our loss. We’d rather that than feel like the plague. This especially goes to military wives. I think sometimes they think we are contagious. Well, we aren’t. Remember this COULD happen to you. How would you want to be treated if it did?
Now, I know I have a lot of “don’ts” on this. It’s just easier to point those out because, more than anything, the only thing we REALLY need you to do is put yourself in our shoes as much as you can and be there for us in whatever way we need in that moment – whether it’s just listening to us when we need to talk about our husbands, feeding us, just plain ole being patient, or giving us a shoulder to cry on. We’re all over the place and we’re all different. We’ll need different things at different times. Just be there and love us unconditionally. We need love more than ever and THAT is what is going to get us through.
If you would like to learn more about Karie, visit her blog. When asked to describe herself, Karie says she is “Learning to live with the sudden death of my husband. Sharing my story.”