Under Pressure

Pressure to move on. I have two thoughts on this. Thinking back, I think there are external and internal pressures–both very real.

I felt like the world was telling me to get over it already. I was still in counseling and still navigating my new world, but I felt like they were tired of it.  People still couldn’t look at me without feeling sad. They still avoided me when they saw me, if they could. They even occasionally asked if I was okay or if I needed help.

More often, though, I was asked if I was dating yet, did I enroll in school, or where was I working. People wanted to see signs of progress. They wanted to know that I was doing more than laying around the house. I mean, it had been a year, I should be over it. As widows and widowers, we know that isn’t how it goes. We know it might not take that long to get our acts together, but for the most part, we are just getting started.

It didn’t even feel real for the first 6 or 7 months, at least. I mean, whose life was I living anyway? It sure wasn’t mine, or at least not the way I had planned my life in my head. Sometimes, out of habit, I would still think, “Oh, good. Randy will be home soo…” and catch myself mid-thought and suddenly remember that he would never come home again.

Loved ones and friends didn’t see those thoughts. They didn’t know what it felt like to go through this. I was supposed to be getting better. And, I was–just not on their timetable. I remember an instance (more than one, but I’ll spare you) specifically that has really stuck with me. I don’t hold on to it out of anger. I remember it because it is a clear example how different things are on the inside compared to those on the outside.

I had three kids under the age of 7 when Randy died. After, I was doing good to get out of bed in the morning, but I had to find a way to take care of the kids too. I couldn’t quit being a mom. You have to understand, during a normal time in my life, I am one together girl. I am on time, with supplies in hand. We don’t miss appointments or skip out on commitments. During the first year and a half after Randy died, I was a wreck.

Sometimes they were late for school, sometimes I couldn’t get their homework done, and often we skipped dance because I had just run out of energy or one of the other kids was sick. The baby took an extra nap sometimes. Luckily she was a sleeper and didn’t usually mind. Maybe some widows have their act together. Maybe some are really good at pretending, but I was very honest—I was doing good to tread water, I wasn’t going to worry about winning the race right now.

One night, Kayla had a Girl Scout meeting. They were having a dress rehearsal at their meeting that night. The leader, who was also a casual friend, took Kayla to the meeting for me. I was thankful to stay home. She (we’ll call her Candy) called me when she was almost to the meeting site. She wanted to know where the shirt was. Oh no. I had forgotten to send it. Big surprise.  Candy continued to explain to me how insensitive I was and how she was tired of Kayla not having her stuff or needing rides.

I quite honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She was right, I should have my act together, but well, my husband died and kind of put a kink in my plans. Did I tell her that? Well, yes, something close to that. It wasn’t a pretty conversation. I mean, how dare she? She continued to tell me that it was time, it had been a year. Maybe she thought I needed a wake up call, but the fact is, I was well aware. I needed no reminders or criticism.  I was doing the best I could.  She called a few days later and wanted to talk about it. I explained my side and she explained her side. We still couldn’t agree. Kayla finished her Girl Scout year because we finish commitments we start. Candy and I never talked again, besides pleasantries.

The real point of that story is everyone’s life moves on while ours stands still. We are on a journey they could never fathom, unless it happened to them. And, we wouldn’t wish that on anyone. We are also a painful reminder of their worst fears come true. That’s hard. If we manage to move forward and quit talking about it all, that fear can subside. Death is uncomfortable and if people don’t have to live it day in and day out, they would rather not. So, whether they mention it or not, chances are, they probably would like you to move on.

I also remember having that internal pull to quit talking about him. By the time a year had rolled around, I was missing companionship. I missed Randy terribly and I missed having a partner. Those ideas are separate ideas, but closely linked. I craved that relationship, that intimacy. I don’t mean sexual intimacy. I mean the physical and emotional intimacy that can only happen in spousal relationships. I felt like to move on, I had to push Randy aside. I didn’t know that I was willing to do that.

I mean, Randy and I didn’t separate, we weren’t divorced. He died. We were in a very committed, loving, and deeply intimate relationship until he died. How do you hold on to him and find someone new. It just doesn’t seem to work. I wasn’t sure how to move forward. I knew I couldn’t forget him and I knew I didn’t want to. I struggled for a long time with the idea of how to make it happen. I finally decided I just didn’t know how to do it, and set the question off to the side. I just kept talking about him and loving him.

I even dreamed about it. After Tim and I started dating, I had dream after dream after dream about Randy and Tim. Every dream was about Tim and I dating and then Randy would just show back up. It was as if Randy had been on a long vacation and I had cheated on him with Tim and I had to figure out who I was going to stay with. Each dream left me feeling like Randy was okay and he was going to let me do what I wanted to do.

After a while, I gave up trying to separate my relationship with Randy from my love for him. He was part of who I was. We made a life and kids. I never wanted to forget him. I did have to find a way for him to fit in my life. Tim, my current husband, helped. He told me that he understood Randy was part of my history and he was the kids’ history, too. He knew that my life with Randy helped make me who I am today and he was okay with that.

You are not crazy, there is definitely an indirect pressure to quit talking about him and move on. You need to walk your path and do what you need to do to be whole. If that makes someone uncomfortable, then that is their problem to work through. You have enough to deal with. And, as far as I am concerned, your husband will always be part of you.

If you have an internal pressure, like I did, you will find a way to dismiss it. I had to give myself permission to move on and stay true to who I know I am. I could live a happy life and not forget Randy. I knew I had to find a way to re-direct that internal pressure. Re-categorize where or how Randy fit into my life.  I don’t think I set out to do it, I think it just happened. As I healed and worked through issues, Randy slowly moved into the spot he is now. He is very much a part of our lives, as is the experience itself. I could never live happily if that weren’t true. Tim had it right. He is our history and we should never forget where we came from.

Letter to My Younger, Newly Widowed Self

Dear Sara,

Life is a blur. It doesn’t feel real. I know you don’t care about eating or even getting out of bed. It’s hard for anyone to imagine what you are going through, yet their lives go on. It goes on until they see your face. Then, it becomes all too real how quickly life can change. You are a constant reminder of everyone’s worst fear.

To make themselves feel a little better, to ease their discomfort, they offer you encouraging words. “It’ll get better. I promise,” they say. “Time heals all wounds,” they reassure. “Everything happens for a reason,” they add. You listen nicely and move on. Afterall, you do realize they mean well. And they do. To be honest, these comments are not about you. It’s about easing their own discomfort. It’s about wiping this particular nightmare from their sleep. It isn’t that they don’t know what it’s like or they can’t see the pain. They might know how it feels. Believe me, they can see the pain.

They know nothing can make you feel better. Nothing can ease that pain. There are no words to fix what you are going through. None. If they could do something to fix it, they probably would. So, put away the negative thoughts. Quit the banter going through your head. Cut them a break. Besides, they might just be right, or at least on the right track.

You can’t see it now, there is too much pain. You can’t even manage to get through a whole thought. Your world is spinning. Oh, believe me, I remember.

You are doing the right things. The time spent with the kids does matter. It’s okay to stay on the couch. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay not to return phone calls. And it’s even okay to give up on ever being happy. At some point, you will get out of bed, shower, and leave the house–all in one day, even. Eventually, you will smile. When you think of him, you might even chuckle. And, one day, you will miss companionship so badly that you will consider meeting someone new.

If I could pass on one thing to my younger, newly widowed self, it would be this: You will live again–and happily.

I don’t want to seem apathetic or idealistic. You work hard. You put in long hours. You worry and cry. There are good days and bad. It does get better. Eventually, time does help you put things into perspective. And, everything is going to be okay.

As I sit here, happy, looking back, I can tell you that much of what those do-gooders said was true.

Please, don’t be afraid. That is the one thing you don’t have to be. Be kind to yourself. Take time for yourself once in awhile; wrap yourself around the kids the rest of the time.

It’s a journey you didn’t ask for, but it’s one worth taking. Just hold on.


Your older, wiser, happy self.