I gave myself permission to not post anything in regards to Jesse’s “death anniversary” this year. In my own healing I’ve had to learn that I’m actually allowed to do this because the world will keep spinning either way. (WILD) Some days I just can’t be this person for people, and that’s ok. BUT after a big sigh of relief for the fact that it’s not my job to save the world, I decided I did actually want to do something for the ladies who are new to this walk of hell mixed with flames, tidal waves, sadness, rage, tears and snot bubbles. (Grief and widowhood for those who are new here)
I won’t give “advice,” because grief is like a fingerprint, completely unique to the person experiencing it. (Quote credits to my first grief counselor Carol!) This is also true for each of our stories. My marriage was not a fairy tale. I did not watch my husband go through chemo or have a cop show up to my house to tell me he had died in an accident. After years of extreme ups and downs and wondering every day if today was the day he was going to do something he couldn’t come back from…I lost my husband to suicide. So even though you too may have lost your person, the way you process it and heal is probably going to be much different from me. I can’t tell you how to do this, but I can share my own experience and maybe something will resonate with you, give you even just a tiny bit of hope, and help you feel less alone.
I wrestled for awhile with how exactly I wanted to go about this post, and I came up with the perfect idea…I’m gonna use it as my opportunity to introduce you all to my new friend, Jan. For the record, she is not on social media but gave me full permission to do this.
I met Jan probably about two months ago while I was doing one of my favorite things, bellying up to a bar to people watch. This isn’t something I ever did prior to Jesse’s passing, but I’ve discovered a lot of new things I love in the past 3 years. She walked in alone, sat a couple chairs down from me and ordered a glass of Merlot. I can’t explain it, but my gut told me she was also in the dead husband club.
My next favorite thing to do is force strangers to talk to me. Not small talk, I wanna know your whole damn life story, the good, the bad..what’s made you the person you are sitting next to me right now. I think the human experience is fascinating. There’s soooo many Jan stories I’d love to tell you about, like her bird named Bud who was along for many of her adventures and had to be renamed Budette after Jan found out he was a she. Or the time she decided to move to Hawaii and live in her 1974 Traditional Orange Blazer for 4 months, just because. (She’s bringing me pics to our next happy hour date)
For the purpose of this post though, I’m gonna focus on our conversations about the hard things, because it turns out my gut was right, Jan lost her husband earlier this year to a terrible brain disorder called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. It’s an illness that affects everything from movement to your thinking and behavior, and it basically turned Darwin into someone Jan didn’t even recognize. As I listened to her tell me the heartbreaking details of his final days, I flashed back to those times that depression and PTSD did the same thing to Jesse. Each of our guys were both GOOD humans who suffered from something that brought out the darkest sides of them. Of course we also had the argument of “Your situation is worse! NO YOUR SITUATION IS WORSE!” as always happens when people exchange stories of loss. But in the end, they are both equally tragic, and honestly if this is some sort of competition I’m winning the prize really fucking sucks!
Since that first conversation Jan and I have talked about a lot of things grief. Sometimes it’s things that make us sad, like how many times we’ve asked ourselves whether we could have been better wives, and sometimes it’s things that make us laugh, like how we both hate the word “widow” (ew) and love having someone to talk to who is ok with using the very direct words DIED and DEAD versus the sugar coated “passed away.” It’s taken a lot of work on my part, but I’ve learned to give myself the grace necessary to accept that I loved Jesse as best and as much as I could, and I hope one day Jan gets there too.
Another fun topic we talk about almost every time we meet is men and dating. If there is any one part of your life people like to nose their way into after your spouse dies, it’s this one. I can remember when I was about 9 months in, some photos were shared on social media of me at a concert with a guy and people said “She can’t possibly be ready to date can she!? It’s too soon!” and now 3 years in, I’m asked all the time, “Why are still single?? You’re a pretty girl. You should be able to find someone!” (I GUESS MAYBE MY PERSONALITY SUCKS KAREN, I DON’T KNOW) You feel like you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
What I am 100% certain of though is none of these people in either scenario have any idea how hard this is. They don’t have a clue as to how terrifying it is to be open to getting attached to someone, knowing in the back of your mind you could lose again. They don’t know how intense the loneliness is, or that I’ve had to heal from not just the loss, but things that happened during our marriage. I did tell myself in the beginning I wasn’t going to settle out of loneliness, and I’m so glad I never did. But I’ve also spent the last 3 years working through a lot of unrealistic fears to get myself to a place where my brain believes even “somewhat” that love can be safe. Most people mean well, and they just want you to be happy again, but there really is no right or wrong, and that’s exactly what I told Jan when she said she just isn’t ready and doesn’t know if she ever will be.
During our first conversation there was a moment when Jan looked me square in the eye and asked, “Does it really get easier?” This is a hard question to answer, and I don’t know if “easier” is the right word. In the beginning it hurts so bad you can feel it all the way down to your bones…I didn’t know that emotional pain could make my entire body physically hurt. Over time it did lessen, and I mostly only feel that now when I see the pain in the eyes of my kids or mother-in-law or sometimes even Jesse’s friends.
One person died, but we all lost someone different, so things tend to hit us all so differently.
The holidays sting a little less with each passing year, and I don’t find myself being blindsided as often by all those little things, like the first time you realize you have half the amount of laundry to do or twice the amount of leftovers. (I’ll never forget crying crocodile sized tears into that pot of spaghetti) The sights and smells of Autumn still tend to send me into an anxious frenzy, especially the closer this date gets, but I’ve learned to manage it better. And after 3 years, I finally don’t find myself needing to change the channel when one of our old favorite TV shows comes on.
There’s a calmness in my life that didn’t exist before and relief in not having to walk on eggshells every day. There’s also a lot of guilt for that relief. I still have to intentionally remind my brain that this wasn’t my fault and probably will for a really long time.
That awful feeling deep in the pit of my stomach wasn’t there forever, even though I was certain it would be.
I’ve learned it is possible to both miss what you had and love what you have.
I’m still sometimes tempted to throw things at the elderly couples holding hands in public places.
My support system is the bomb. Life took away my person, but it also strengthened old relationships and gave me so many new, meaningful ones. I love all those assholes more than I could ever fully express.
I’ve found a new lifelong friend in Jan, and I look forward to many more of her stories in the months to come. “You have to believe my stories because they’re TRUE!” she always says giggling. She is easily becoming one of my favorite humans, and I’m sure she will have way more to teach me about life than I will her.
That awful October day changed me forever, and I will never be the same, but I have a new appreciation for life and the precious minutes we’re given here. We’re all responsible for how we show up in the world, and I truly believe that human connection is what keeps us going when we don’t think we have the strength to make it through one more day. That’s why while I watch our world become more divided than ever, I’m gonna continue to belly up to bars and say hi to strangers.