Four months after my husband died, I took the biggest trip I’d ever taken. From the outside people might have seen a woman trying to enjoy life during grief. Maybe they perceived a woman who, in the midst of tragedy, embraced her simple dream of seeing more of the country.
What they didn’t see was me hesitating for days to actually purchase those airline tickets, my computer mouse hovering over that “confirm purchase” button. What they didn’t see was me crumpling to the bathroom floor and weeping after I finally clicked that button.
The decision to step out into the opportunities of life was wrapped in nothing but fear. It wasn’t joy and excitement I felt. It was an absurd amount of terror.
So, though others may have perceived a widow taking a trip to have fun, what it really was, was me stepping out of my comfort zone. It was me facing my fears to travel alone. It was me doing something big on my own for the first time. It was me tackling a first. It was me doing something that WE always talked about doing and doing it WITHOUT HIM. It was me stepping into the unknown. It was me being willing to embrace excitement and confronting the lie that I was betraying my grief by doing that.
It represented……. Independence. Not the soul-ringing-in-freedom kind of independence – but the soul-crying-because-it’s-taking-a-step-on-its-own independence.
And yes, it was me looking for a piece of happiness and embracing life. And, if you see a widow who has taken hold of some little piece of joy or following a dream, realize how brave that is. Realize their tears have probably flowed in the midst of grasping that.
Fear is a constant companion when becoming widowed. Fear is an evil weed that invades every facet of our life. From the big things, like how to handle the parenting and debt on my own, to small things like handling a flat tire. The biggest fear is that now life will never be more than a grief-fest I am trying to survive for the rest of my years on this earth.
I was terrified of walking into a crowd of people on my own. Not because I never had to do that before. Of course during my married life I had to walk amongst a roomful of strangers. It was nothing new. But, as a widow, it now felt so different. My grief felt like a badge everyone could see. I feared questions that could cause a breakdown. It was terrifying because I couldn’t look forward to venting my experience to him at the end of the day or the comfort of his arms when I got back home because home was just another reminder of being alone.
Handling the maintenance of life didn’t scare me before. I had a safety net. Him. When he was gone, dealing with air conditioning vents, oil changes, water softeners, lawn mowers, plumbing, etc., felt like a looming giant I didn’t know how to conquer.
I was scared of my bedroom. I was scared of the mail. I was scared of triggers in movies. I was scared of being alone with my thoughts. I was scared of getting rid of his things and letting go of connections to him like his phone number. I was scared of circumstances where all I needed was just to ask him a question to solve a dilemma and I couldn’t. I was scared of breaking down in public. I was scared of dishonoring his memory. I was scared of forgetting. I was scared of tragedy striking again.
I was scared of how to be me without him. I was scared of who I WAS FORCED TO BE WITHOUT HIM. I was scared of the future and scared of the past that now overshadowed me. I was scared of facing the bazillion memories in every item of my home and life that surrounded me like a clawing nightmare. I was scared of not having another bond with someone and living a lonely life for the rest of my days. I was scared of being too happy or too sad and scared of being watched by people in the midst of the rollercoaster of emotions.
I was scared of the fragility I saw rise up in my soul. I was scared of the ugly doubts that threatened the self-image I had created for myself. I was scared of my soul-mate being only my past and not my present; being only a memory. I was scared of failing my faith, failing my kids, failing my own expectations, and failing what my husband thought me to be. I was terrified of parenting teenagers by myself. And I was definitely terrified of the reality that my life now felt like a stranger and the unsettling feeling of not recognizing myself.
And most of all, I was scared the luster of life would never return and I’d be stuck in this melancholy life forever.
Fear. It is the Siamese twin of grief, connected at the heart. And with each step I took in my widowed journey, it wasn’t just sadness I was trying to conquer, it was… All. This. Fear.
And, yet, every time I faced one of my fears I felt just a little bit stronger. A little bit more capable of surviving. A little bit more capable of even… one day… thriving.