(This is not a comedic post. Sometimes even the darkest humor doesn’t do the trick when you’re severely depressed, alone, and haven’t had physical contact in weeks. Though… I suppose that’s not entirely true as I did have a gyno appointment yesterday- so we got REAL intimate. Ok, that’s the ONE joke I’ll throw your way before things get heavy).
Today would have been George’s 31st birthday. He passed away when he was 29. I turned 30 in December and all I can think about is how I’m not supposed to be older than him.
I’m moving in three days out of what was supposed to be a temporary, cheap, cruddy apartment in a bad neighborhood that we had moved into in order to be close to the hospital – and so I could better afford the treatment for him that our insurance didn’t cover.
While I’m beyond grateful to be moving into a gorgeous home in a beautiful neighborhood with a very good and longtime friend, this was where George and I spent his last nine months together. And while this is also the place where the trauma of finding my husband’s body happened, it’s the place where we shared some of the best moments of our marriage.
Terminal illness is physically painful and emotionally taxing on the individual as well as on their loved ones. High levels of depression and anxiety are common and everyone reacts to them differently- and often poorly. I frequently talk about the intense and passionate love George and I shared but that didn’t mean our relationship was perfect by any stretch of the imagination. However, we loved each other enough to go to therapy individually and together multiple times a week in order to better understand each other and to cope with the enormous life challenges we faced.
We didn’t give up because we wanted to be better for each other. That’s one of the reasons losing him was so heartbreaking- we had reached an amazing place in our marriage during the last months of his life. We had grown closer after everything we had been through together. Caring for someone you love who is ill is such an intimate experience and I was so happy I could do it for him.
He’s been gone since November 2019 and most days are still excruciatingly painful. I hurt just as bad as I did in the first three months after he died. It doesn’t feel like I’ve progressed since then. The isolation from the pandemic has created what I suspect is lasting and irreparable damage to my mental state. And as covid rages on, I can’t help but feel for all of the new and young widows who are also finding themselves often extremely isolated with their overwhelming grief. Some of these widows have reached out after finding my show and the prevailing sentiment has been, “I wish I had known about all the other hard stuff besides just grieving the loss of my partner (secondary loss).”
I get that.
I compare it to wanting to know when the phlebotomist is going to stick you with the needle when you’re giving blood or wanting to know all the scary stuff about your medical prognosis. There’s something to be said about wanting to get an idea of just how bad it’s going to hurt in order to mentally prepare for the pain. My husband was that way too.
So without further ado, here are the five hard truths about being a young widow
1.You may no longer be anyone’s first priority – If your only family was your spouse, you’ll soon find that you are no longer anyone’s “first.” You won’t be the first person to enter someone’s mind when they wake up in the morning. You won’t be the first person someone chooses to spend time with. You won’t be the first person anyone calls with exciting news. Out of all the people in the world, there isn’t anyone who loves you the most anymore. I’m still not entirely sure that I wouldn’t have ended my life by now if my dog would let anyone else brush her teeth. Fortunately, Babbs is likely to live at least another 7 years, which in turn gives me at least another 7 years on this planet. Suicidal ideation comes in waves and we often forget when in the midst of an episode that we don’t always want to end our lives. I highly recommend adopting an affectionate animal if you’re widowed and alone.
2. Your grief is often considered secondary – My grief has been diminished on several occasions because my husband and I were “only” together for 6.5 years. I was discouraged from having my name on his headstone and securing a double plot because, “I was so young and would get married again soon.” I was repeatedly told to prioritize and be strong for those who knew him longer than I did. Interestingly, many of these same people who “knew him longer” were the same people who hadn’t spoken to him in years, let alone visited him in the hospital when he was sick during the last 9 months of his life. These were also the same people who were the most dramatic at his funeral and on social media. And again these were the same people who didn’t reach out on the one year anniversary of his death or on any other milestones.
3. You will be judged no matter how you grieve/cope – Unless you become a complete recluse long enough for people to forget about you entirely, you will be judged. Whether you decide to date or don’t date, cry in bed or go to a movie, lose weight or gain weight, talk about your grief or don’t talk about grief, everyone and their great aunt Sue will tell you you’re being unhealthy and disrespectful. And God help you if you talk about your grief publicly. I’ve yet to go one week without being called a “sad attention whore” and receiving death threats online for “being disrespectful” towards my late husband. I’ve found these comments and threats are almost always from lonely single men who sadly have yet to experience a loving relationship.
4. A lot of people will tell you “no” when you ask for help – If you don’t already feel rejected and like a pain in the ass, buckle up. People who tell you they love you and claim to be your family will pass on taking you to the hospital or will decline to watch your dog while you’re in said hospital. People will say they’re too busy to video chat with you when you reach out. “Call me if you need ANYTHING” and “I’m here for you” are just things that many people say in the moment to make themselves feel better… so they can metaphorically tick off the, “I’m a good human box” in their head in order to sleep at night.
5. The people you were closest to may hurt you the most – One of the first things I heard when I had to tell someone George had passed was, “what did you do?” I was in the next room and didn’t get to him in time in order to resuscitate him so his death is on my hands in this person’s mind. It’s easy to blame the widow when people are grieving and need to assign some kind of meaning to their loss. One of the few family members I had cut me out of her life when I didn’t go to her second wedding to the same guy that was being hosted at the home of the people who abused me. The wedding was being held two months after I had found my husband’s body. And when I was making dark jokes in lieu of putting a Mossberg in my mouth, I was told I was being inappropriate and needed to think of others’ comfort before my own- implying that that was more important than my survival.
This wasn’t the first time in my life I had been told to be quiet, unseen, and to take up less space. Not by a long shot. The difference is now I don’t have my equally rambunctious and endlessly loving partner to support me when it’s happening. I’ve had to figure out how to mostly support myself when I’m hurting. I say “mostly” because there were some people who showed up and have continued to show up – even a year later.
They have all been podcasters and podcast listeners.
Podcasting is powerful. The ability to cast a net so far reaching in order to find your fellow freaks is something I’ll always be grateful for.
So find your fellow freaks. Join the widow groups. If you’re rejected, keep reaching out to different people until you find the ones you connect with. It’s hard and exhausting work, but you aren’t alone.