[OPINION] Moving into the Widowhood
Since being relocated from my ordinary text bookish life, my predictable future and my girlhood goals into an unknown undesirable location called Widowhood, I have learnt how to live. This month marks 21 years since I was thrown into that dark, dirty pool with my hands and feet tied. Involuntary exile are two words that feel right. No comfort anywhere. No light. No breath.
At 4 in the morning two friends rang the doorbell and I couldn’t let them in. I insisted they state their business over the intercom. I knew. They told me there had been a car accident. My husband and four business partners decided to take a road trip to Namibia for a business negotiation. A few hours away from their destination, they had an accident. One of the men, a close friend of ours, passed away at the scene. They came to tell me that and that my husband was alive, talking and seriously injured.
I remember walking into our bathroom and seeing his T-shirt and used towel lying on the laundry bin. I thought of my friend who would have similar signs in her own house, except her husband had passed away and would never be back to pick up that towel and hang it. Did all that matter? I feel guilty remembering the sadness for their family and the relief for ours that I was not her. I prayed my gratitude and felt sure it was grace as I breathed in and out deliberately, loudly and slowly.
Later that morning driving home from an appointment that confirmed my pregnancy with my second son, I heard on a morning radio talk show that my husband had passed away. Denial was my first safe space as I drove home. In the movies they come to the house and let the bereaved know, I had that early morning doorbell and they assured me he was fine and they would keep in touch. At home, a phone call to the hospital confirmed that he had died of his injuries.
On my knees I felt everything. They all surfaced like nausea, disbelief, abandonment, punishment, aloneness, horror, bargaining with millions of “Please, please, please, no, no, no...”. There were flashes of unreality, reality and how could happen to me, to us. My eldest son was 21 months old and I was eight weeks pregnant with my second child. We were immediately and since surrounded by the best family and friends support imaginable. Still, it was just us, but actually it was just me. I was now in charge of two lives and out of control of my own. Twenty four hours earlier I had it all together and figured out.
I had to call my parents-in-law who were out of town. I told them, it changed their lives forever and inside me I felt closer to them and aware that they had each other. Where would my place now be?
With hindsight, there is no good, safe, best time to be widowed. There is no preparation, ever. Not a terminal illness where you have time to understand that this is palliative care and the person is slowly dying, or a sudden heart attack even if you know the person had health issues, or a ghastly car accident with nobody to blame. Blame is the easiest way to deflect the pain and trauma of being bereaved unnaturally, unfairly. Surely a simple tracheotomy could have saved his life? Surely the doctors could have done more? Definitely there was something that could have been done that wasn’t!
All of this in time comes to nil and a peaceful acceptance that no amount of anger, remorse, reasoning or blame is going to take you back to where you were. You just have you. There is not one bit of advice, offer of support, physical, material or emotional support that can fix this crisis. Time will help to make sense or grapple with your new reality, but there is no going back.
After a funeral, you go home and are surrounded by tens of talking heads. Everyone sincerely sorry for your loss, positive that things can only get better, sure that you are strong enough to handle this shattering of your normal. There are kept promises to hold and look after and out for you and your children for life. Most people mean it and honour their commitment. It does help in the long run. In the short term you have to sleep alone, comfort your baby looking around for his dad, manage phone calls of people wanting to speak to him, do the admin of letting all and sundry know that he is no longer, bank accounts, utility bills, telephone accounts, stop orders, paperwork are all part of the process bringing you back to reality every single time that you are now alone, even if supported by a large community of loved ones. Alone together is a good way to understand it.
The Carte Blanche theme music on a Sunday evening a stark reminder that a new week starts, that people get back to their lives and their normal and you have to recalculate your life, your dreams, your goals, your moment to moment. Everywhere in your house you look there are aching reminders not that you are alone, but that he is not coming back. I found a toothpick tucked in the inside of one of his jacket pockets; I sat in his cupboard and spoke to myself. I went through madness, I went to hell and it was the worst place of darkness I will ever know.
I was 27, I had a lucrative and promising corporate career, and I had my first new car, the first of four babies I dreamt of since I was seven and a planned second baby on the way. The compensation from my company for the loss of a spouse also meant I had more money than we had together and we could have done all the things we had planned to do in our lives. It was just all jumbled up. The money came in handy to cover our newly married, young family debts and a small investment in our children’s’ future.
Five years later I married the great love of my life and met my four children life goal. My mission to live happily ever after with four children met! It was met, but my goal now is to live happily. Ever after is for fairy tales, in the real world we only have today. We are not in charge. We need to always remember especially when we have a lot going for us that we are the created, not the creators of our lives. We have choices while we are here.
The lessons I learnt as a young woman pertain to any young person. You are alone, you have to love and accept yourself before others can love you, you must see your value, you must nurture independence, you must be self-reliant, have mutual and independent friendships, be humble, be aware, be loving, don’t put off until tomorrow what needs to be said now, don’t be emotionally, materially, physically dependent on one person. There are no guarantees in this beautiful life. There is always more good than bad, you have to look for it. Grief is a sad and unhappy time, it doesn’t have to be a time of suffering if you love, give, care and connect with your loved one every day like it might, and it really might, be your last day together!
Every time, and there have been many occasions over 21 years, that a friend loses a life partner I relive the horror of it. I am better tuned into what is happening over there than I was when it happened to me. I feel powerful in the knowledge that I know for sure it will get better, even though it never goes away. The uncertainty, the loss, the woundedness, the insecurity, the questions, the anger, the blame and eventually the calm acceptance that life doesn’t always give us what we want; we always get what we need.
I won’t always be a wife, but I will always be a widow. A greater and unimaginable loss for me must be to lose a child. One can’t measure grief, but I know I can measure loss. It is possible even though it might be unimaginable in the moment to recreate a life, to start from your knees and walk a new road.
The most important thing a widowed person can do is feel their pain, take her/his time to go through those pains, be vulnerable, ask questions out loud, take help, ask for help, share your story and concur with other widows, the only people on this whole earth who know how those feelings feel and what becomes possible after you accept that death and loss are as much part of life as living and gains.
I hope to never meet you in this Widowhood but should we be there, we will support each other, mostly in silence and in knowing.
Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn