Widow is a strong word. It evokes images of helplessness, old lady, hag, crone, sadness, black clothes. It does not make you think of a young person in their prime with a career, children, or perhaps even quite young before they had a chance to even establish themselves as an adult.
That first night, lying in bed in the hospital in Cairns I said that word to myself. "I am a widow". I said it again the next day to mum when she arrived by my side. She expressed the clash between me and the connotations of that word. It didn’t seem to fit me and yet it was the exact definition of me at the same time. I was a woman whose husband had died. That is it. That is all a widow is by definition. However it is not all that it is to be a widow. To be a widow is to be in a difficult complex and challenging situation.
In those early days, I reached out and became a member of various widow groups online and on Facebook. Regular conversations with other widows, reading their blogs, hearing their points of view and seeing how widowhood both changes and stays the same over time was fundamental to my survival. I NEEDED to know I was not alone. That there were others who got it. I was stunned and horrified at how many young widows there are. I was part of a large club. Speaking to widows, young and old, male and female helped make sense of what was happening to me.
One lady who I found on Facebook who has her own business, social media and livelihood is based on her widowhood. "One Fit Widow". She was about 9 years into widowhood and had remarried and was living with her new husband and their blended family. I didn’t understand why she kept talking about widowhood and even let it define her for so long after her husbands death and especially now that she had a second husband. Surely she had moved on? Surely her widowhood was either no longer relevant OR negated by the fact she had a new husband? I decided that I would NOT let widowhood define me long term. It was going to be a temporary thing. Once it had been long enough, or if I found new love, then widowhood would no longer define me. I would not let it.!!!!!!
As more time has elapsed, I am beginning to understand that I will forever be a widow. Even if I become a wife again, I will remain Sean's widow. At first I fought that, railed against it. I think because widowhood is so painful, why would I want to hold on to it. That naivety probably came from a lack of understanding about grief as well. This is my first real grief of someone who was part of my inner circle. I didn’t know that grief doesn’t end. I have now learnt, that widowhood never ends and I am beginning to accept that.
The experience of losing a spouse is so fundamentally life altering that it cant help but be part of you going forward. Initially of course there are all the changes, all the loss of how it was and how it should have been. But then comes the realisation that you are alone. That you are now the sole parent. That decisions are yours alone. Gradually you discover a strength that you didn’t know you had. You learn to exist and live with a massive hole in your life and heart.
I remain part of some of the widow support groups. Most times I scroll past, but sometimes I linger and share my experiences and insight. I spoke to my mother-in-law who was widowed 13 months after me and felt again the depth of our losses. No matter how joyous life can become, widowhood remains. It is the reason my life shifted on it's axis. It is the reason I chose to live life with determination and love.
Our last photo together - taken days before he died.