widow’s guide

Time Doesn’t Heal Wounds

They say time heals all wounds, but what if it doesn’t.

What if time allows for the wounds to fester and spread?

If a wound doesn’t heal what happens? Savage wounds kill, some kill quickly because of the lack of blood, other more minor wounds can fester. Medically speaking when a wound festers it can spread to other parts of the body, like a broken? bone leading to an amputation or eventually death. This innate knowledge leads most of us to treat our physical wounds with tender care. However, even with tender care some wounds rip savagely through the body leaving unrepairable damage.

Fortunately we have medication, treatments, and educated doctors who can help heal these wounds- in most cases. But my wounds aren’t medical. They are emotional and mental.

I often tell myself I am fine, happy and healthy. In most schemes, I am. Yet I am highly dysfunctional when it comes to relationships. Relationships… Yuck. Even the word repels me. People announce their happily-ever-afters and I look at them with pity. I think in my mind, you poor souls, you have no idea what you are about to do. Is this out of bitterness? I don’t think so. I don’t feel bitter. I don’t feel angry, just weary.

As a widow, the trauma of “loved and lost” comes into effect. I have opened up my heart to have it ripped from my own chest. My mind shattered, every belief and thought down to my identity destroyed. How do you heal a gaping wound that doesn’t present itself like a cut to be bandaged? Because like a physical wound, mental and emotional wounds will fester and spread if they aren’t addressed.  

I suppose like physical wounds, the first step is to find the cut and acknowledge it. Then slowly start to sew it together.  Ironically each person is different which makes grief hard. There is no one fix fits all. We are unique in that we are human, and each human is different. Each hurt and emotion is exclusive to its owner. To carry on and find our own wounds is a challenge and some we don’t even know we have. The first trick is to know it is there. Then allow ourselves the vulnerability to accept it as a part of us to be attended to. As we attend the emotion and mental wounds by whatever means we can, therapy, counseling, working out, education, art we address the burden of what has happened. As we continue to work on our wound it the bleeding slows and eventually stops.

Sometimes we think we have sealed the wound shut and venture back into the world to find out we were wrong and weren’t really healed. This happens a lot. I think I’m over my husband and am prepared to date. Then my first date goes horrible and I come home and cry. The wound is reopened with memories, shame, hurt, guilt  and every vulnerable insecurity I have comes to the surface. This is part of healing. Just like physical wounds don’t always fully heal immediately, neither do emotional and mental ones. Just as it takes painstaking physical therapy to get the injured limbs back to full movement, it also takes exposure to vulnerable emotional and mental states to get ourselves back. We make mistakes and we keep trying.
Dressing our wounds overtime allows us to heal. Maybe not completely, but slowly and surely the bleeding with stop and leave us with scars. The mistake of our first night back won’t be the same as the second night back. Each night we come back stronger after readdressing the vulnerable state we were in and what made us feel the way we did. Dressing our wounds overtime heals.

Betrayed by the In-Laws

Edgar Allan Poe

One of most hurtful moments in my spouse’s passing, was the betrayal by his family that followed. My spouse died by suicide. This changed me. I was 23, young, and shocked. I didn’t know how to respond. My natural instinct was to be as transparent, honest and kind as I could about everything that happened. Part of being transparent was telling his family I had wanted to get divorced. The only thing I remember lying about was positive things my husband had said about his family members. I wanted them to hurt less.

I didn’t see it then, but during the funeral his family didn’t acknowledge me as his wife. Instead, I was the cause of death. I became the scapegoat. In their eyes I must have known he was going to do it and even pushed him to it. I look back know and realized they wouldn’t have let me talk at my own husband’s funeral if I hadn’t pushed and my parents hadn’t been present. It wasn’t until I saw the police report openingly saying his mother blamed me and receiving a letter from his mother’s lawyer demanding I give them everything of his, that I understood how I wasn’t a part of his family. I should have known this when they didn’t even come to our wedding. Instead they slandered my name and drug me through the mud while accusing me of trying to steal his life insurance money from them- none of which I received (also if any of you know anything about SGLI this is ludicrous and completely impossible). They left me with all the primary next of kin responsibilities of closing out a life. I was left with shutting down his accounts, from social media to financial. I was left to pay off all his debt (I never fail to see the irony of this since his family received his life insurance). I paid for his funeral and fought for his legal rights after death. I informed his employers, his friends, everyone. I was left with the painful process of closing the remnants of his life while his family took all the moments of closure. They talked at his funeral and took the flag from his casket. They did his temple work (religion) without even acknowledging me or receiving my permission. They put a tombstone on his grave without my input, permission or providing the option to be next to him, to be together when I die. The hurt and deliberate infliction of it were endless. Never in my life did I realize or understand how death brings out the worst in people.

I am sure I made mistakes and wasn’t always the kindest person, but I didn’t expect the unadulterated hatred and animosity pouring from his family. I had never experienced being blamed for someone else’s actions as much as his family held me accountable for his. It made me physically ill- it still does. The accusations and slander were heartbreaking. Even to this day I won’t go to his grave because his family was so hostile and going to visit him would be going to a plot they own. I’ve considered moving his body, I have the rights to his body, but the reality is it’s not worth the hurt it would cause to me or them. Instead I’ve settled for laying flowers where he shot himself.

His family is dysfunctional. To survive they need someone to blame. They would be destroyed if they had to take responsibility for any part of his action. To acknowledge that they had some part in it- we all did, but in the end it was his choice and his alone. Understanding his family’s dysfunction helps me understand my husband’s pain and in part his decisions. It doesn’t make it hurt any less or justify any of it, it just makes it more sad. In the end blaming someone simply causes more hurt. Being angry with someone only causes more hurt. Yet, we can’t control how someone else feels and reacts. We can only control ourselves. Holding others accountable for someone’s actions doesn’t make anything or anyone better. All we truly have in this life is relationships. Spending time making them miserable isn’t worth it. Love, forgive and move on.

“You should be over it”

Brandon

“You should be over it” I can’t count the number of times someone has said this to a grieving person. There is nothing more frustrating than this comment. Whether the intent behind it is kind or not- this comment is absurd.

Grief is complex. What makes it so fascinating to me is how everyone grieves differently. There are those who cry instantly for months and others who can’t force themselves to shed a tear. Others who talk nonstop for months about the pain of their loss and others who don’t say a word. Some become manic and others stop functioning. The reactions are so spread and diverse that there is no set “this is how to grieve” or this is “normal”. Everything is normal. Grief can take years to recover from. There is no “set” time.

Another comment that seems to be commonly repeated is, don’t do anything rash, you aren’t in the right frame of mind. I have found I have never been more sound of mind than when my world came crashing in. Dealing with death provides value in life. A friend recently had a brother die and her response was she wanted to go do something with her life. She felt she needed to do more, but everyone kept telling her to stay at her job and don’t do anything rash. When I talked to her my advice was this, “If you feel the motivation to do more do more, if you want to quit your job, quit. Searching and pushing forward, helps provide closure. I am not saying quit without a back-up plan and no way to pay your bills, but listen to yourself. If your mind needs more, go out and find it. What’s the worst that will happen if you quit your job and put your focus to something new. If in a year you are still lost- the opportunity to go back and do what you were doing before will still be there. Allow death to let you live.”
I am positive  I could make a list a mile long of absurd comments people have made, but instead I’ll stick to these two. If you have any comments people have made or advice you’d like to share please put them in the comments.

Finding Out

I still remember the day I found out my spouse died. I know what I was wearing. How my hair was. My plans. The day was going ordinarily according to plan. Then it completely changed. The moment doesn’t just take your breath away. It completely knocks you off your feet. The acceptance, denial, anger, hurt, the word to describe the emotions doesn’t exist. Its a combination of so many thoughts and feelings in a split second as half your heart is ripped from your chest.

Please share how you found out and how you feel or felt in the comments.

This is how I found out. Hopefully it gives you something to relate to.

It was Saturday, July 17, 2010. I was cleaning the house and getting ready to go out for the night when I got a phone call. It was from my First Sergeant (1SG) (for those of you not in the military and have no idea what military rank or terms mean I’ll put a civilian term of equal status next to it for you. A First Sergeant is a manager). I answered and he ask if I was going to be around for a bit because there was an issue with a soldier. I said yeah and didn’t think much about it when I hung up. This was not out of the ordinary. I was a Platoon Leader (supervisor) and had approximately 30 soldiers (employees) under me. I was use to getting phone calls about personal issues at least once or twice a week. I went about doing my thing and getting ready to go out with friends later that day.

I was halfway through curling my hair when I heard a knock on my door. It was about an hour after I had received the phone call from my 1SG. I went to answer the door and saw my Commander (boss), 1SG, XO (work peer) and Chaplain. I was really confused at why they would show up at my house. It didn’t click. I had a dog with two puppies at the time so I asked them to give me a minute to put them away before I let them in. I put the dogs away completely clueless as to what was to come. When I let them in. They ask me to sit down. I knew something was wrong then. I didn’t sit, I told them I was fine. Then My commander said “They found a body.”

I didn’t need him to say anything else. I knew it was my spouse and I knew he had killed himself. I was shocked, but not surprised. I knew him. I loved him. He was my best friend and he was gone. I felt the tears come. I took a deep breath. I was in the military I had been to training about informing someone if their spouse died. I was suppose to be on the other end of this conversation. At the same time because I had been to training I had thought about how I would react. The thought came back to me and I followed them. I didn’t know what else to do, but I knew there was stuff I needed to do. I looked at the four men around me and asked what I needed to do.

My spouse had died in Utah. He was there to finish school. I had to call the detective. He told me what happened and what would happen. He told me they had a friend identify the decayed body. I gave him contact information for my spouses family. Then I sat helplessly while my command took care of finding the first flight possible for me to go home.

Again please share your experiences by linking what you have already wrote in the comments or leave a comment.

Feeling Lonely

Gustav Vigeland created a beautiful life art series in Vigeland Park, Oslo, Norway

Gustav Vigeland created a beautiful life art series in Vigeland Park, Oslo, Norway

Feeling lonely is very common for Widows and Widowers. Even with family, children, and friends around, it is common to feel lonely. Why? Why, when there are so many loving people around us, do we feel so lonely?

There is a difference between an intimate relationship and any other relationship. A child can not fulfill the same role as a spouse, neither can a parent, nor a friend. Each relationship is important and has value. However, a spouse fulfills us in a way that other’s can’t. In intimate relationships there is a physical, mental, and emotional connection. There has been compromise and respect, fights and hurt, love and sex. Your spouse made you feel safe and provided for you whether that was fixing the car or doing the dishes. You have become accustomed to being able to rely, or not rely in some cases (which isn’t a bad thing), on the person you love. Now that person is gone. Regardless, of how many people are around it is lonely.

I wish there was a quick fix to this loneliness. There isn’t. It is going to take time to adjust to being alone. People deal with this in many different ways. Some people drown in the emptiness, others fill it with people, others focus on rebuilding themselves. It is up to you. Which is the larger point I want to make. How you respond is up to you. When you respond is up to you.

There is no proper waiting period to let new people in your life. It is acceptable to ask someone to give you a hug or hold you because you need physical contact. It is acceptable to ask someone to spend the night or stay over at someone else’s simply because you want to know someone else is in the house. It is acceptable to have sex, simply to feel. It is acceptable to all of these things or none of them and it’s nobody else’s business. It is not scandalous to reach out for emotional or physical support. Taking care of yourself is the utmost importance. To do this you need to create your own timeline and simply do things when you are ready. Don’t wait for others approval or disapproval. This is about you and what you need.
For those that have felt this way. Please share in the comments how you have dealt with the feelings. What worked and what didn’t. The goal is to give ideas to others who are going through this now.