A Widowed Parents' Voice

By Donna Rowe-Woodlands

I’d like to offer you a few words of wisdom. Or should I say knowledge that I have gained first hand. I am not a therapist and I don't pretend to be an expert. I can only tell you what I have experienced. I hope you find comfort in my words. I write them from where I sit, some four years and a bit after my husband passed away suddenly in a car accident.  

I still miss him, but I have accepted that he is gone. Mostly my pain is for my daughter Madeline. My heart hangs heavy with the burden of his absences. She is so much like him and she will never know him the way I did.  

There are so many issues that come up when you are in early bereavement. Expect erratic behavior; let yourself off of the hook for mood swings or being tired beyond anything that you have experienced before in you life.

You may think you're doing okay and then suddenly the floodgates open and you're balling your eyes out when you least expect it.

One Saturday afternoon just a little over a year after Dale had died, Maddy was downstairs watching videos. At this time Maddy was six and a bit. I heard a familiar voice but couldn't quite make it out. So I went downstairs. Madeline was watching a home video that was taken the Christmas morning before Dale died, he died in August. I went and sat beside Maddy on the floor. Maddy was five when Dale died.

In the video, Maddy was running back and forth from the tree to Dale showing him what she had received for Christmas. She was so cute and she was saying, "Look Daddy, look." He responded in loving, cooing tones back to her. Dale was standing in his pajamas with the light from the widow illuminating the side of his body that faced me. I was struck by his bare arms. The comfort and familiarity to of seeing his body alive and vibrant sent shock wave through me. He went into the kitchen to prepare his morning coffee, he was out of the cameras view. I heard a haunting and familiar sound that I knew so well for 20 years.

He was whistling.  

That was it.  I started crying and I couldn't stop. It was a torrent of tears. The pain swallowed me whole; in the background was the eerie whistling accompanied by Maddy's feeble attempts to get me to end my crying jag.

Dale was the grounded one and I flew by the seat of my pants when it came to decision-making.

I believe it's common when your spouse is gone to have problems making decisions about issues that come up. When you are first widowed, making decisions by yourself can be hard. I have friends that I rely on and use as a sounding board. But there are still complicated decisions to be made. I always wonder if I've made the right choice. And you may end up going through a spell of grieving just because you are set off by trying to make a major decision alone. You are sent into a spiral of longing for the comfort and support of your deceased spouse yet again.

My advice is if you're not completely sure and if something doesn't feel right, then don't do it. 

This was a gut philosophy that I knew well before Dale died but had to be reminded of it by a friend after his passing. In the early days of bereavement there is always a little voice in your head saying," What would my partner think of this?"

I remember I had to buy a car not long after Dale died. Do you think I could? I turned myself inside out trying to make a decision. In the end I felt like maybe I had done the wrong thing because it wasn't how he would have done it.  

I don’t have as many struggles now. 

Now I could by a car with my eyes closed. But because I was so accustomed to the rhythm of making a decision as a couple, and I had not yet acclimatized myself to functioning as an only parent and sole adult household member, I was shaken by my decision.  

In my mind I was still married.

Let practical issues guide you in making major decisions.

Perhaps you have some good friends around that you trust and you can rely on to give you an unbiased opinion.  

Remember your friends and family are grieving as well and they may not always respond to you from a position of great expansion. Don't forget you're still pretty prickly in the early stages and they may be trying to dance around you trying not to upset you or get involved.

Professional help is sometimes advisable. An objective someone who is focused solely on you and your grief.

If you are in early bereavement you will not be even remotely thinking of getting a new partner. But you may get people pushing the issue. It can be aggravating. You will know when you are ready. If you have any doubts you're probably not ready.

Also if you are in early bereavement you may find that when someone asks you how long ago it was that you lost your spouse and you reply with an answer that is anything under a year or two, the response might come back to you..."oh that's still early."

I used to wince every time someone said that to me.

When you think of a year it is supposed to be a long time right? What the heck are they trying to say? I felt like I had the pox on me or something. Do I have widow written all over my face?

We all went through it. You have to go through all of the stages until you come to peace with your plight. Dare I say acceptance. Don't worry there is light at the end of the tunnel.

People say that the second year is harder.

It's not hard in the same way as the first year is hard. The first year the pain is out of this world. But there's an element of shock that goes with it so you're a little numb.

You're expecting it to get better in the second year. After all a year is a long time right? Not when you were married for 20-odd years. After all, this was the person that you were going to spend the rest of your life with.

The second year can be a period of getting your bearings. You’re still not sure how this raising your kids on your own thing is supposed to go, but you're feeling your way through it. What the hecky darn is the right way when you have zero experience? When I was in university my vision of the future did not include running a house, working, and raising any number of children on my own with my one true love obliterated from this earth.

I was still yelling and screaming a lot to myself in the second year but then I tend to be a bit of a ruffian. 

Don't expect that everything that you hear is going to happen to you. Rely on people that you know will come through for you. Don't be surprised when people that you thought would be there for you are not a part of your life anymore. People who are not afraid of loss will be your best allies. Your pain may just be too much for the DGI’s to handle. (DGI by the way is a term used on widownet.com. Another good reference for the middle of the night. It means: Doesn't Get It.) 

People that were a big part of your life but are not anymore are called, "Secondary Losses." I had a few of those. It's downright crappy to feel like someone you held in high esteem has turned away from you. It doesn't happen to everyone.  

Viewing the video of Madeline and Dale at Xmas reminded me of how Dale's death stole a part of my daughter’s childhood away from her – and from me.  I wasn't spending my life celebrating and enjoying our family life anymore.  After Dale died I was so angry and so enveloped with my own grief that the happiness that I was blessed to have had by virtue of the fact that his beautiful child was in my life, was stolen from me. I was no longer a happy mother and I must admit sheepishly, that there were times when I saw blessed out families and or women with their children in their strollers and under my voice I would say, “Man, you are oblivious; you have no idea what could happen to you and your family”. I was jealous of their happiness and rip roaring mad at my circumstances.  

At this point in my bereavement I look at my life as privileged. That probably sounds outrageous to most of you. But if Dale had never passed away I would never have met many of the wonderful people that I now call friends. It's not a silver lining by any means. I look at it as an alternative path. A good choice and a rewarding one. One that I know my husband would be happy that we are on. Death is always certain. It's just that it came way to early for our families and so as a result we continually ask,

“Why me?" 

Your pain will abate. Create new memories. Get out and hang out with kindred sprits and you will find your path once again.