Grief does not define me

Who am I? When I think about this question, the first words that come to mind are: mother, wife, career-woman, widow, friend, and now blogger. But those are just words, titles, I cannot say that anyone of those things define me, and they certainly are not the essence of who I am. Just like widow does not define me, GRIEF does not define me either. Am I someone destined to grieve a loss, certainly, and perhaps everyone will experience grief at some point in their lives. But does grief define you? Most certainly not!

I think for a little while, or a long while (depending on the individual), grief and loss are what comes to mind first. For both the griever, and perhaps those around them. But grief can only define you if you let it, or better yet, if you CHOOSE it.

Today would have been my 20th wedding anniversary. A momentous milestone in a marriage. One I see my friends celebrating for themselves. While I was not blessed to be in those shoes, and their destiny is not mine, I am not going to fret or mourn or grieve for what could have been. That would be a waste of time. I have a different path to follow. I have new marriage, a family, a career, and many things to be thankful for each day. I choose not to go down the path of self-pity, because that is what it is, a choice. I do not forget, nor do I ignore, but I also do not wallow in the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve opportunities. I am grateful for my blessings. There is no point in making myself, or letting myself be miserable about life. I need to play the hand I was dealt, appreciatively, and move forward. That is the best way to honor my late husband, and celebrate the anniversary that would have been.

Flashbacks, anxiety, and missing time

I have not really told much of the story behind the death of my husband. It is a hard story to tell. But now, my father is ill, he is suffering from some of the very same symptoms that my husband experienced, and it is unnerving to say the least. Who am I kidding, it is freaking me out! It is bringing back so much anxiety that I am literally shaking as type this.

About a year before my husband passed away, he had an episode where his heart started racing. Not just fast, but erratically. Like you could not possibly count how many beats in a minute because there was no perceivable rhythm. He had to be excused from class (he was completing his student teaching) to go to Urgent Care, where he was sent via ambulance to the nearby hospital. This is where it all began. He was diagnosed with A-fib (Atrial Fibrillation), and he was hospitalized for two days to bring his heart back in to rhythm. There were many follow ups and medication, and even a monitor that would alarm if his heart went out of rhythm, the phone would ring, and monitoring service would be on the other end with questions and concerns. Once he was considered stable (after a week or so), the monitor was removed and he was maintained on medication. Did I mention he was 41 at the time?

A-fib (Atrial Fibrillation) – An irregular, often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow. The heart’s upper changers (atria) beat out of coordination with the lower changers (ventricles). * Mayo Clinic

Approximately six months later, a friend of my husband had passed away. It was a scary time because my husband seemed to be having another bout with his A-fib. He was insistent on attending the services, and I was uncomfortable with him driving alone for five hours. So he hopped on a train and off he went. I am told from his best friend, he suffered through the services, sweating and shaking, and was devoid of color in his face. Upon his return, we made another trip to the hospital to stabilize.

We managed to make it through the holidays, and through my daughter’s 8th birthday, but he was not feeling well. In fact, he was having trouble breathing, his lungs sounded horrible, making a crackling sound, and his heart kept losing rhythm. The doctor diagnosed him with cardiomyopathy and he had fluid in his lungs, the doctor’s office scheduled an appointment for cardioversion.

Cardiomyopathy – An acquired or hereditary disease of heart muscle, this condition makes it hard for the heart to deliver blood to the body, and can lead to heart failure. * Mayo Clinic

Cardioversion – A procedure used to return an irregular heart rhythm to normal through an electric shock or drugs. * WebMD

This is where the story gets a little weird… Before his appointment, which was about a week away, a strange occurrence took place that prevented my husband from making his heart appointment. Our Border Collie, a very hyper and excitable dog named Marley, ran up to my husband to greet him as he came in the door from school. The dog, or the husband, miscalculated, and somehow the dogs head barreled full force into my husband’s groin. Laughable, I know, we all made many jokes about the injury, as well as the “broken” appendage and consequent swelling that took place. In fact, as a man might do, he bumped his heart appointment, instead to be replaced with a urology appointment to address the swelling of his manhood. Only to figure out, long after the fact, that the swelling probably took place BECAUSE of the poor heart function and medication, and probably not because of the dogs hard head. Hind sight is always 20/20, and I wish I had had more say or influence with him at the time.

At any rate, it was a Sunday night, my husband was having trouble sleeping because he was having trouble breathing, he felt like he was congested. We actually fought before bed. My husband wanted to take medication for sleep, and I would not allow it. I was concerned about his breathing and his heart. He had scheduled his heart appointment for a later date and it was still two days away. In the very early morning, around 1 am, my husband sat up in bed stating he did not feel right. He then proceeded to fall over onto the floor.

The follow events are seared into my brain. I jumped out of bed, grabbing the phone from the night stand. I dialed 911 and proceeded to straddle my husband, trying to shake him back into consciousness. It had been many years since I had last been certified in CPR and did not want to have to go there, but would if I needed to. He was not breathing, although he did have a pulse. I was on the phone with emergency services and they were sending help. I explained to the women on the other end that his lips were turning blue. Out of fear and frustration and anger that he had put me in this scary place, I slapped my husband. I slapped him hard, trying to get him to take a breath. And it worked!!! He gasped, I jumped off of him as he rolled over and threw up on the carpet in our bedroom.

I ran downstairs, per the 911 operator’s instructions, I unlocked the front door so the EMTs could get in when they arrived, and I put the dogs in the basement to prevent incident, before returning to my husband who was conscious, but breathing with difficulty. By the time (which I think was only maybe 5 minutes) the EMTs arrived, with the police and firefighters (I had maybe 10 people in my house), my husband was sitting, conscious, and oriented. He sat himself on the gurney and we both decided that he would head to the hospital and I would stay to put my daughter on the bus to school in the morning before going to the hospital to meet him. Neither of us wanted to disrupt her schedule and drag her out of bed in the wee hours of the night. Meanwhile, I made early morning calls to my parents and his father to inform them of the new situation. They began their long distance drives to reach us. (They live 6-7 hours away, we have no family here)

Upon arrival at the hospital, I was asked to wait in the waiting room in the CICU. I was not sure why the wait, but dutifully did as I was told. A man, not in hospital attire, came out to speak with me. He introduced himself as a chaplain and began his next sentence with, “when your husband coded…” That was all I heard. I interrupted him…”I’m sorry, when he WHAT?” The man’s face dropped. That was when he realized that no one had told me, right as I arrived, my husband went into cardiac arrest, they had to resuscitate him, and he was now unconscious and on a ventilator. (I apologize, I do not recall his name, not his name, not the doctor’s names, the nurses names, nothing…) He brought me back to my husband’s room. So many tubes, so many medicines, and the sound of the vent…all burned into my brain. By this time, the work day was starting, I reached out to my boss to fill her in. And thankfully, she sent one of my closest friends and colleagues to sit with me at the hospital.

I was a wreck, but somehow my brain was moving forward, frantic with activity. I made arrangements for my daughter to go home with her friend after school and spend the night. I made arrangements for someone to look in on and feed the dogs. I reached out to my church for prayers and visit from our clergy. I somehow managed to respond to work emails, even after setting my out of office. I needed to be busy. I made calls to family and friends, and reached out to the school and my daughter’s teacher. My brain was buzzing, in spite of the lack of sleep and lack of food.

My husband’s heart was weak. The doctor’s said it was functioning at less than 10%. They needed to implant a heart pump right away, and they wheeled him off.

By the time he returned from the procedure, my parents had arrived and my friend had left. Time really starts to get away from me here. I cannot honestly say, but I believe nighttime set in. I know that my parents and my father-in-law helped with the dogs and the house, I know that I ran home at some point to change and gather some clothes for my daughter for the next day and gave them to her friends’s mother. I remember trying to catch a little sleep on the couch in the waiting room, and a random family giving me an extra biscuit when they noticed I had been there all night. I am certain it was morning when they doctors told me that even with the heart pump and the ventilator, he was not doing well and his organs were beginning to shut down. The vent and the pump were not working well together, he was in distress several times during the night. His heart was too weak to sustain a trip to another hospital and for a transplant, if that was even an option. They needed me to make a decision.

I know I have stated this before, they brought me the paperwork I had only hoped to see on a television drama. I signed the forms. It wasn’t long after that, they turned the volume off on the monitors. I sat with my husband, I held his hand, and every time I spoke to him, his heart rate increased for just a moment. But ultimately, his strength was leaving. I stood up and whispered into his ear, “I’ve got this.” And then slowly, and quietly, he left.

Time was still elusive, I know by looking back at documentation, that he left us at 10:32am on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2012, approximately 33 hours after he fell to the floor in our bedroom. He was 42 years old.

Ouch! That hurts!

You know how you sometimes get a nasty cut, and for days after it stings, especially when it gets exposed to water, or soap, or whatever? Think of loss the same way. When someone is grieving, have a giant cut on their heart. Things you say or do may sting a little, or a lot, no matter the intent.

Think about a widow like this, a ball of nerves, sensitive to even the most minute disturbance in their surroundings. Widows are wrapped up in their own grief and live in their own little worlds, they tend to lose sight of others, with the exception of how they may be impacted by others. It is selfish, I know, but unfortunately true enough. Every bump, every movement of air, every insensitive statement stings. There are some definite things to be cautious about, and things you should probably not say to a widow/widower because they will aggravate the sensitive wound:

  1. “There are other fish in the sea.” Or any similar phase that implies they will find someone else or that love will come again. At one point, just weeks after my husband passed, I actually had someone try to set me up with a widower they knew, because we “had a lot in common.”
  2. “Your wife/husband is in a better place.” Depending on what they believe, they know this, but that doesn’t help or comfort. Remember they are consumed with themselves and their own grief and can only think that the better place is by their side.
  3. “You should keep busy, go back to work, get back to a normal routine, it will take your mind off of things.” Nope, not the case. Everyone deals with grief and loss in their own way, keeping busy does not actually take someone’s mind off a lost spouse. And putting off grieving by replacing it will not make it go away, only prolong the inevitable. You cannot escape grief.
  4. “You should move, sell the house, find a new job, …or any other life altering event.” Someone who has just lost a spouse had just experienced a life altering event, why encourage more change, which could only leave them with less stability? Please refrain from offering advice, again, you cannot escape grief.
  5. “You are lucky, divorce is so much harder because you still have to deal with the other person.” Really? I actually had someone say this to me…

Much like that cut, the sensitivity lessens as a scab develops, and you eventually a scar develops, but it never really goes away.

As someone who lost a spouse, I speak from my own experience. The early months (years), I was in pain. Not just emotional pain, but actual physical pain. Everything in my body was off. I had headaches, chills, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I had digestive problems, my body ached…I was nauseous all the time. Grief overcomes your body and mind. I know that people grieve differently, but this was my experience. I am not sure that the people around me realized what was going on, or if they did, if they could fully comprehend. I was sensitive to everything and it made me very short-sighted, and I will say it again….selfish. I could not see past my own experiences. I wanted my life to be “normal” but it wasn’t. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t, I wanted to eat, but couldn’t choke a meal down. I am certain that not only did I hear many insensitive things, I assuredly made many insensitive comments in return. Pain is a funny thing, and the pain of grief is not to be denied. The only way is to go through it, there is no side-stepping it, and as stated before, it never really goes away, you just learn ways to live with it. It is the scar that remains on your heart forever, how you choose to live with it is up to you.

“There is a difference in intentional and unintentional hurt. Sensitive and overly sensitive – with exposure to raw nerves.” ~Jennifer Warren

Parenting from beyond the grave

It is important to continue to integrate your late spouse into the lives of your children. They will and should always be a part of your lives.

One of the things that I have always been committed to was being open with my daughter about her father, who he was, his likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, I really want her to know him more than she did as an 8 year old. As she grows and matures, so should her understanding of her father. This way he can continue to contribute to the beautiful woman she is becoming.

My late husband, Bryan, was a very intelligent, well-spoken person, with more patience than most. He was an avid reader, studying classics and poetry because they gave him joy. Where math, and science, and all things rational are more my forte, he enjoyed the creativity of writing and the art of words. He, himself, wrote short stories, poems, and even a novel. He spent a majority of his working life in restaurant kitchens as a kitchen manager, a GM, an executive chef, etc. In the final couple of years he had gone back to school to follow a life long passion and complete his teaching degree. He wanted to share his passion for writing and love of literature with younger generations. (FYI – Our daughter is a healthy balance of both of us.)

In order to incorporate her fathers talents and passions into her upbringing, which are far from my strengths, I have saved key items from his past. I have saved excerpts of his writing, his favorite books, clothing, and other small items that meant something to him, and now can mean something to her.

Bryan was very outspoken, outrageous, and did not refrain from offering his opinion, without regard for offending people with his views (political, spiritual, or otherwise). He wasn’t a perfect man, husband, nor father. He certainly had his faults, and I would never canonize him, not even to our daughter. Bryan’s flaws are every bit as important as his admirable traits. There is a lesson to be learned from everything. I want our daughter to know her father. The good, the bad, the indifferent, the ambivalent, the humanity.

Message from her Dad.

I am including a video that my daughter posted on TikTok, just to give you an idea of the relationship she and her father still have today. (WARNING: grab a tisue) Even now, 8 years later, my late husband has words of wisdom to impart onto our daughter.

Don’t use a pandemic to lash out, a rant from an angry widow.

I saw a post today on social media about the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders, it went like this:

**To all of you weathering this isolation with someone else**Do NOT call a widow/widower & tell them how difficult you find this new normal & how tough it is. This is my reality & life 8 years later. So, when your life goes back to “normal” keep in mind this remains as mine forever more. ~posted on a widow/widower support page

I just want you to know, I ABSOLUTELY disagree with every part of this sentiment. This comes from our old friends, bitterness, selfishness, and jealousy. I loathe this statement and want no affiliation to it as a widow.

The world is dealing with massive amounts of change, anxiety, and fear right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown everyone, globally, into a change spiral. The “widow world” is no different, however, should know better. From my perspective, widows should be leaders, models for change. Widows have taken change that has been thrown upon them without desire or want and had to move forward in a new way. They have been through drastic life changes before, and should not use this time of mass change as a time to kick society when they are down.

We are all people, and for the most part, people HATE change, especially change that is not wanted, and may be scary. When change happens people complain, they get anxious, they are outside their comfort zones and sometimes do not handle the pressure gracefully. This is not a time to say, “now you know how I feel, or this is how my life is all the time, or to try to have a pissing contest to determine who’s life is the worst.” Honestly, if that is how you want to behave, then shame on you!

If anyone is struggling with the isolation or being cooped up with a significant other, child/children, or unruly dog, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or someone else in your life (widow or not). I can lend and ear and a soft space to vent if that is what you need. We should all be supportive towards each other and not allow the selfish green monster of jealousy rear its ugly head.

If, outside of the current pandemic, you are living and isolated miserable life, then you have no one to blame but yourself. Your spouse died, I get it, believe me, I do. You can’t tell me that I “don’t know” because I DO! But how you choose to move forward, or not move forward is completely up to you. You may not be able to control everything life gives you, but you control how you react to it and how you live your life. Sure, if I had more money I could live differently, if I didn’t have to work or worry about bills and paying for college, all on my own, things would be great, but fact of the matter is that is not the case. That doesn’t mean I have to be miserable, and bitter, and angry about it. Play the hand your are dealt to the best of your ability and be happy. Happy is a choice.

Don’t be jealous of what others have, be thankful for what you have. Stop looking at how everyone else is living and live your own life, live your best life. If you do not know how to do that, just do the next right thing. You know what the next right thing is, take that step forward, then take another, and another. Accept your life and if you want it to be different, make it different. Stop whining and complaining about others and comparing your life to theirs. I will say it again.

Happy is a choice!

Blast from the past, a new widow’s thoughts

I found this gem, something I wrote on April 4, 2012, just shy of 2 months after the passing of my husband. Just a little insight into the early days of my journey.

Who I am now

I am a recent widow.  My husband, Bryan, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 42.  I am a widow at 41 with an 8 year old little girl.  He died on Valentine’s Day, 2012.  It has been less than two months and we are struggling to find a “new normal.”  I might have a really good day, followed by a really bad day, complete with anxiety and a breakdown or two.  I would rather re-live my worst day with Bryan than go through this.  I cannot concentrate, I am no longer emotionally invested in my life. To see my daughter in pain breaks my heart. 

I have been blessed and at times overwhelmed with support from family, friends, aquaintences, etc…  Where they have truly lifted us through some of the darkest times, they have at times become a form of stress….”How are you doing?”  “I am so sorry, I do not know what to say?”  “Is there anything I can do?”

I feel bad if I vent too much, so I resort to stock answers….”I am OK.”  I still can’t bring myself to say “I am good.”  Because that is too far from the truth.

It is still hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that he is not coming back.  That I will never hear his voice.  Never see him read with our daughter.  Never have a stupid argument about nothing. 

People are always telling me about the parent or grandparent they lost.  I do not want to dismiss them or make them feel like their loss was not as great…..just different.  No one is prepared for death, not really, and to have it come suddenly at the age of 42 is earth shattering.  Your life is so intermeshed with a spouse’s.  You can get through the funeral, the legal stuff, even sorting through their belongings…all of those are hard, but tell me, how do you get through life?  There is no one else that will get your inside jokes, that can read your body language as well, or get your silent cues. 

We did not have a perfect life together, to say that would be a lie, but we had a life together…with ups and downs and struggles and successes.  We shared 17 years and for 12 of them we were married.

Everyone has to go through the stages of grief….when do I get to anger?  Anger I think I can handle…I can direct that, I am good at that…..this dispair thing….not so much.  People tell me I am so strong…I don’t feel strong, not today…

My life these days is quite different, and in some ways, very much the same. Amazing to me to re-read these words. Cathartic and uplifting in a way, because I can see the path of healing.


I look back on my past communications and there is a recurring word that pops up in emails, messenger, comments, and texts….a theme if you will….bittersweet. With every Valentine’s Day (the anniversary of my husband’s death), every year on his birthday, every one of my daughter’s milestones or accomplishments….there is that word, looming over us…bittersweet. I am just as guilty of using it as anyone.

Bittersweet (adjective) 1. both bitter and sweet to the taste: bittersweet chocolate. 2. both pleasant and painful or regretful: a bittersweet memory. ~

I don’t want this to be a continuous theme throughout my life, and I certainly do not want my daughter to be saddled with this for her eternity either. Sure, her father is going to miss out on a lot and we are going to miss him in those moments, but those facts do not DEFINE those moments, nor should we allow it. I’d rather think that he is here, he sees it, he knows. These moments should not be bittersweet. We should be allowed to enjoy them in their purity. Untarnished by an event we had no control over. I am hereby banning the word…..BITTERSWEET from these events. I do not want to ignore my late husband or my daughter’s deceased father, or pretend that nothing ever happened, but I am hereby giving us permission to enjoy the happy moments, the accomplishments, the joy in our lives, without the cloud hanging over us. We are NOT doomed to suffer, nor are we earmarked to have a dark cloud hovering around us for a lifetime.

We, especially A, deserve to have happiness and joy! Life is happy and should be treasured everyday! So go out there and live it, we certainly are!

Selfish Train Wreck

I have talked about selfishness and grief in the past, because grief is so all-consuming and overwhelming, but I have not made it a topic of conversation. I have to be completely transparent when I tell you I am just as guilty of displaying the selfishness of grief as anyone and, in hindsight, see it so clearly.

I am involved in several online support pages and groups for widows/widowers. Each of these groups has a wide variety of members from those, like me, that are more tenured in our journey to those with fresh wounds that are only a day or two past their loss. I have to tell you, it is so clear to me now how selfish I was in the beginning of this journey. And I know that even as I share my story with them, and the insights I now have, that they will not embrace what I am telling them. How do I know? Because I once was them, and didn’t really listen to, or absorb, a damn thing!

It’s like a train wreck about to happen. You can see the train coming, but you just can’t stop the train from barreling down the tracks. You can yell, and scream, and wave your arms, but the train keeps coming!!!

Let me explain from my experience…

In the early, early days, like the first week after the death of my husband, my thoughts were focused on my daughter (you will find that throughout my journey, she has been my saving grace), and how she was only 8 years old, and will never have her father there for all her big and little events. My heart broke for her pain and her loss. But the selfishness was there too. How am I supposed to raise her and do all of this by myself, how am I supposed to carry on with my life? I do not have any family closer than 6 hours from where I live, so at first, family flew in to help me get through the first days, basically holding me up through the funeral planning and services, and making sure we ate each day. For that I am grateful. Those days were a blur.

Then everyone left. They went home. Back to their own lives and responsibilities. And rightfully so. I understand that, and even at the time, a part of me understood that too. But the train wreck of selfishness left me feeling abandoned. Alone. On my own. I see this so clearly now when I read the posts others express in an online group. One that I read just today was “Does your phone ring less since your loved one passed? I can count on one hand how many have called to check up on me.” My thoughts…is it another person’s responsibility to reach out? One thing I was too selfish to admit in my own experience…the phone works two ways. Someone in the throws of selfish grief doesn’t have the capacity to think that others have their own lives and that you may not be the most important thing going on in them. I was in the “what about me?” zone. When in fact, I was not lost, nor forgotten, nor abandoned. And if I needed something I could have reached out to any number of people. I shouldn’t have expected them to take the initiative in MY life.

There is so much anger, and negativity wrapped up in the selfishness. In my experience, I hated my new normal, I was easily frustrated and perhaps acted a bit childish when things did not go the way I wanted or expected. Three months after my husband passed away, I discovered that my roof needed to be replaced. It was the first in a line of upgrades that needed to be taken care of as my house was reaching the 15 year mark. You would have thought the world was coming to an end. It is good thing no one was home, because I was pacing the floor, ranting and raving out loud to myself like some kind of lunatic. Good thing, once the burst of craziness dissipated, I was able to approach it in a calmer more rational fashion, but it took me a minute to get there. That became a selfish pattern, me becoming a mad-person, stomping my feet, and losing my mind in no time flat. Angry at the world for putting me in this situation. Somehow, all of this was not my fault.

And there you have it, folks. Blame! At the heart of selfishness there is an abundance of blame. Blame is useless, an excuse, a way to somehow not take responsibility for your life. It is true that I did not create a situation where I would be living without my husband, but I needed to own my situation. What does blame get you….NOTHING! It is a waste of time and energy, it actually solves nothing. I once worked with someone who used to say, “In leadership, it may not always be my fault, but it is always my problem.” Wise words. I am the leader in my life, and I have solve my own problems, regardless if I created them or not. Grief blocked my view for a while, but my vision gets clearer and clearer as I move through my journey. Don’t get me wrong, the grief never really goes away, but you learn to work with it and not against it.

I am the leader in my life, and I have to solve my own problems, regardless if I created them or not. You actually have the ability to stop the train, because you are, in fact, the conductor.

Red Tape and a “Black Binder of Death”

There are many things associated to the death of a loved one that many don’t think about or are never told, let’s tackle the morbid topic of red tape.

When my husband died, before I even left the hospital (in a state of utter shock), I had to decide where to send his body. My husband was only 42 when he passed away, and this was something for which I was not prepared. Something I had never thought about, and something I had not researched. (If you know me, you know that I research EVERYTHING) I had made no calls, run no internet searches, and hadn’t even contacted funeral homes. I was immediately put on the spot, at least that is how I felt. What to do with the body? Well, I just blurted out the name of a local funeral home that I had driven passed on many occasions. I guessed I would call them to warn them once I arrived at home. That was the first of many decisions I had to make in the after death process.

I am not certain how long it was before I reached out to the funeral home that first day, but when I called they had already been notified by the hospital and were arranging transport to their location. Things began to move really quickly, at least that is how I felt. My heart goes out to those in the funeral industry. They have to deal with people who are sometimes at their worst. I am sure I was a wreck on Day 2 when I walked in for my appointment. Thankfully I had family there to assist me because I was in a daze for sure. The first thing the funeral director did, after introducing himself and escorting us to an office, was hand me a black leather binder. From here on out, this will forever be affectionately know as “The Black Binder of Death.” (I tend to deal with most stressful circumstances with a healthy dose of sarcasm.) This binder became my guidebook to funeral and postmortem planning. There were checklists, resources, suggestions for the funeral, etc. Some things to think about:

  1. How many death certificates will you need, you will invariably need more that the county provides, ordering through the funeral home is easier and saves you time an money later. We settled on 28 in total, how we came up with that number is beyond me.
  2. What church/pastor and type of service would you be having and where? We settled on no visitation/viewing. A church service, held at the church, a catered luncheon to be held in my HOA clubhouse, and a small family-only interment.
  3. There are of course the obvious funeral decisions, burial or cremation? Casket or urn? Where will the interment take place? This was an easier decision for me, as it was the one thing my husband and I had previously discussed, years prior. He expressed that whenever it came down to it, he wanted to be cremated. So there was one decision I didn’t have to make. I, however, needed to decide on the simple urn and where it would be placed. We chose an outside mausoleum on the top of a hill in the cemetery adjacent to the funeral home, in the town in which we lived.

All of these things seem not so difficult on the surface, right? But then they get more detailed, minute, and complicated from here on out.

  1. I was blessed to have a friend and colleague that led the marketing department where I worked. She was gracious enough to help write the obituary and set up a memorial page with the American Heart Association in lieu of flowers. This was a tremendous burden lifted. (A.E., I owe you big time! And please don’t correct my punctuation and grammar on this blog.)
  2. I still had to collect photos for a memorial slideshow, choose a menu for the luncheon, shop for funeral clothes because neither I nor my daughter had anything suitable, make calls to family and friends to communicate the news and deliver the details for the service. (This is one time I appreciate social media) Do you know how hard it is to tell your story of loss over and over again, multiple times a day? I am thankful my family members helped me with that phone tree.
  3. Then there were the details of the service:
    • Who would play music, would there be a singer, and what songs would we choose?
    • What bible readings would we select? Since it was the church I was a member of at the time, we held a full Catholic mass. We needed something from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Gospel. And who would we chose to read them?
    • There was a questionnaire for the church to assist the pastor in developing a personal homily/sermon. What were my husband’s passions, what were his favorite bible passages or books, what was important for people to know about him?
    • And lastly, a letter from my 8 y.o. daughter to her father, that would be read at the service.

All of this, and we really haven’t even touched on the actual RED TAPE yet.

  1. Follow-up with Social Security office to be certain the death was reported and what benefits you are entitled to (if any).
  2. Transfer bill/services to your name if applicable (utilities for example)
  3. Notify husbands creditors, and any other services that will need to be canceled. (cell phone, credit cards, gym memberships, etc)
  4. Determine if you have insurance death claims to be filed, notify health insurance, mortgage company, university (my husband was finishing up his degree), and any other shared property.
  5. If there is no will, you must petition the probate court system to be the administrator of any estate.
  6. Sell his car, as there is no use having two vehicles.
  7. Establish a new will for myself.

All of these tasks can be stressful on a good day, now let’s lump them all together and work through them while grieving through an incomprehensible loss. I am not sure how I managed to get through all of the tasks, but I sure am thankful for the “Black Binder of Death”, it made me think about things I would have not thought about otherwise. Even with my binder, things popped up for many years after his death. In fact, I have since moved, and to this day, still receive mail for my late husband.

**I know this post may seem morbid and less personal than some of my others, however, the topic is one I think people should be prepared for, something to give thought to. Don’t be caught off-guard like I was, have some idea of what will be required BEFORE you someone puts a Black Binder of Death in your hands.

The Bad, the Ugly, and the Good

I cannot speak for every widow, or everyone that has ever grieved a big loss, but what I can do is tell my story and hope that my truth provides some insight into the mind of a young widowed mother.

The Bad:

The bad is pretty obvious. My husband was dead. He left and things just went to hell in my life. I was struggling to find a “new normal”, a normal that I despised, loathed, hated… I was putting one foot in front of the other each day to take care of my 8 year old daughter. I had to work, and while the work kept me busy, and sometimes kept my thoughts from whirling around inside my head, it was one of the last things I wanted to be doing. I had insomnia, I never slept, I had no energy, and I rarely ate. I had a large burden. Everything in my world was now squarely on my shoulders, and mine alone. The bills, the mortgage, all the responsibilities of household, a child, everything. There would be no reprieve. I had to keep moving forward. My motivation each day was my daughter, and keeping her life as “normal” as humanly possible. Some days it took all my strength just to put food on the table at dinner time. Some days, while she was at school, I didn’t leave the couch, curled up in a fetal position, answering work calls and emails as necessary from my phone, doing the bare minimum to get through the day, it sometimes took all day to mentally prepare myself for my little girl to get off the bus from school, because that’s when the real movement had to begin.

The Ugly:

The ugly is something no one wants to see or admit. As a widow, I felt selfish and didn’t care. I wanted to be alone, I wanted to feel sorry for myself. I wanted to blame others for how I felt. I wanted to be angry and lash out irrationally at people. There were a couple of times I actually blurted, “my husband is dead.” Not for sympathy, but for shock factor. I know that is probably weird, and hard to understand, but I wanted people to feel as awkward as I did. In short, I could not see beyond myself and my own grief. I am ashamed now to admit, I did not think much about others, their lives, what they were going through. I think this is a natural reaction to grief, I think grief is all-consuming, and very selfish. In those early days, you could tell me your husband lost his job, and all I could think about was…at least you have a husband, mine is dead. I am not proud to make these admissions, I guess that is what makes them ugly. And just goes to show you the head-space I was in at the time. Just ugly.

The Good:

I saved the best for last. Because hindsight is 20/20 and because I believe growth comes from every experience. I have to admit that there was indeed good from this experience. I can say, without a doubt, that I am a stronger person. I am more decisive, I am strong-willed, I am resilient, I am less insecure, I am more self-sufficient, I am who I am and make no apologies! And Lord help the people who love me and have to put up with me.

(And yes, I know the title of the actual movie is The Good, the bad, and the Ugly.)

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