First Lessons in Widowhood, or How Shit Gets Real in the First Five Months

*originally published online 9.18.16

From the time you stop counting the minutes between your spouse’s last breaths of earthly oxygen (I stopped at 7 minutes and 23 seconds before I called my dad to my husband’s hospice bed in the dining room to help me count), shit gets real…real fast. The rhythms and routines you have built your (married) life upon generally go rolling out the front door on the same green-velvet covered gurney with your spouse’s body after the funeral home comes to collect the still-warm, human shell of the person who used to be your other half for longer than you knew you had another half.

When I say ‘shit gets real’, I mean ‘real’ in a way that no other life event can come close to mirroring. Yes, we lose parents. Yes, we lose children. Yes, we lose brothers and sisters, pets and friends, family and work colleagues. But when you lose that person who, after 25 years (8 months and 20 days), whom you absorbed into yourself and had become intertwined in your own DNA, navigating the world as a newly single strand is about more than just learning to wake up in a bed and pay bills by yourself.

It’s about relearning to function in a world that talks a big talk but walks a different walk, now that you’ve changed (even when you’re still the same person). It’s watching people’s lips move to say what they want to have said, yet whispering from the other side of their mouths when they’re a safe distance away from your uncertain widow self, as though performing a cruel ventriloquist act. It’s about doing the things that need done, knowing every choice will anger someone, and that you will irrevocably anger others by doing absolutely nothing.

Mostly, it’s about learning to categorize yourself in a world where identities are defined by checkboxes, and the choices offered have shifted, or worse, fail to exist. Mrs? Ms.? Miss? Single? Married? Divorced? Single filing jointly? Married filing individual? Instead of worrying about what I was, am, or might be in the future, I’d rather share ten lessons I’ve learned over the last one hundred and fifty days.

10 Basic Lessons Every Widow(er) Learns

  1. You will lose friends at the time when you need them most.
  2. Stupid things will make you cry.
  3. All tears are not from the same emotion.
  4. You will hate the question, “How are you?” and the accompanying inflection of pity/sorrow/sympathy/curiosity/obligation with every atom of your existence, mostly because no one wants to hear anything except “Fine.” You will also grow to hate every mention of your strength, your bravery and how much you’re admired for these two qualities, neither of which you feel.
  5. Whatever the lens from which you viewed the world as a married will immediately default into “couple”.
  6. Listening to friends complain about their spouse, their kids, their minor trivial issues, their general whining about life will piss you off. Seriously.
  7. You will be unable to face doing things you and your spouse loved to do together, and some people will not be able to comprehend this, which will lead to judgments.
  8. People will classify you based on their level of comfort with a label, not the reality of your self and your existence.
  9. You will be surprised with relationships that offer you comfort in weird ways, that allow you to be yourself without question, that make you realize how much you are loved in ways you didn’t expect.
  10. Every day will be both a blessing and a curse, an eternity and an instant all in one, and you alone make the choice on the emotional presence you bring to the present.