Widowhood, a new kind of country

Five years ago in May my husband became ill. Suddenly the strong man–my partner, lover, best friend–upon whom I had leaned in a myriad of ways for forty-four years, since we were both in our teens, was incapacitated. He died within two months, shattering my life to pieces.

Almost immediately following my husband’s death, my mother took a downward turn and needed constant care. There was either me or paid caregivers, sometimes around the clock, for the following three and a half years, until I moved my mother to a nursing home. This move allowed me to have more solid nights of sleep, but the responsibility required constant monitoring and much caring for another year, until her passing in February of this year. Added in during these years has also been caring for grandchildren, as well as upkeep of a house and property and lifestyle meant for two people, now on my shoulders alone.

My life had become a strange and alien country, where I didn’t speak the language and couldn’t understand.

It is said that time heals all wounds. I’m uncertain about that, but I do know time marches on, and it carries us with it.

For the past five years, I have felt stuck where I never asked to be and certainly didn’t want to be. Because I had no choice, because I kept breathing and had people who needed me, I kept putting one foot in front of the other.

All along I have wanted to write of all this. Friends encouraged me to do so. I knew the writing would help me and others, and certainly I journalled about it, but mostly I could write so little at all through these years. I was exhausted and dry. It took four years before I managed to get writing on a new book project, and that was a jumble of fits and starts.

Then, one day recently , while washing dishes and gazing out the kitchen window, I had the thought: You are on your own now, the first time in your life really on your own. You are in a brand new life.

The image that comes to me is having traveled a five-year long road through a dim and winding tunnel. I have arrived at the end of that tunnel and stepped out into a new country all sparkling in sunlight, a new land of hills and valleys waiting to be explored and experienced. Really, as I look at what I’ve written, it seems to describe birth.

Now I can look back with understanding born out of those hard years. I see me at the beginning and through those first years of widowhood. I attacked life then, as if fighting back against it. I was determined to keep the life I had–a life I loved–as much as possible. I jumped in and did every plan that my husband and I had made. I got a new roof on the house and had the second bathroom remodeled. I fixed things that broke in the manner my husband would have done. I kept thinking: What would he do? and would do that. Each time I fixed something that broke–after first wailing, “I can’t do this!”–I was inwardly shaking a fist at life. I was holding on to all I could to keep everything the same.

Gradually I moved from that place. I grew to more acceptance of living life on life’s terms. More accurately, I wore myself out and had to accept that my life had changed, and I was changing. It is the way of life.

Recently I’ve begun hiring more work done, and simply letting things go. No more beating my head against what I cannot change. I have learned that as a problem pops up, I tell it, “Get behind all the others,” and I go on calmly doing what I can.

And now I see that I truly am in a brand new place. Not only is my life totally different, I am totally different. I am stronger than I ever knew I could be, more capable at solving problems, and accepting blunders and all my weaknesses, amazingly calmer, more patient and easy-going. I know today not to battle life, and not to fear it so much. I know today that trials are a part of life, but only a part. There is much good, much laughter, much joy and beauty. I learn to count on these things.

I learn to count on God in me.

I hope these somewhat jumbled thoughts are a blessing to other widows out there. Reach out, dear hearts, and talk and encourage each other. You are going to make it.

“Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt