Walking through the construction dust and garbage bags filled with clothes, I pause to reflect on my journey after the loss of my husband.
It’s been a little over three years since that life changing event happened to me and my children. The horrific details of that night I have forced myself not to dwell on and trained my brain, for my own sanity, to redirect my thoughts and keep moving forward. I have done that pretty well.
Surprisingly, I still have moments of melancholy and stabs of aching pain in my heart. It just doesn’t happen as often as it used to and I lead a pretty normal and good life most of the time.
Year 1 was really a blur. I lived through it. I cried. I dealt with paperwork. I walked around in a FOG. I clung to family and friends and familiar situations. I tried to escape. I dealt with more paperwork. I started a lawsuit for a wrongful death.
Year 2 can sometimes be worse for many people. The reality of the loss sets in, the financial strain may force many widows to move or begin a job in a new field to support their family as a solo parent.
The second year the widow fog starts to wear off. It is a protective shield that surrounds you and helps you move through the days without feeling too much. For me I was diagnosed with complicated grief and PTSD. I went to weekly grief therapy sessions to work through my emotions. I did yoga and practiced daily meditations. Exercises to train my brain by redirecting my sadness and grief to focusing on being grateful for the positives in my life made a big difference. My new puppy at home helped with loneliness as did my friends and neighbors who checked in with me often and invited me to join them in activities ranging from book and bridge clubs to movies and dinners.
Fortunately, I have a good job. I have been teaching for 19 years in the same school and was able to stay in my home. My sons continued their higher educations at college and we all embraced my runaway widow philosophy of traveling to expand our horizons and find joy in visiting new places.
During my second year as a widow I planned a few trips. It started with my solo trip to Thailand for the one year anniversary of my husband’s death. It was a challenge and an adventure and the best thing I could do for me.
Toward the end of year 2 I had some fun outings with girlfriends, several who had entered the dating scene due to divorce. The idea of meeting a new special someone sounded interesting and I peeked at the dating sites. Thinking I would never, I tried it out. I got really lucky and met the most amazing fellow. I wanted someone who lived nearby – I didn’t need a pen pal. I wanted someone to eat dinner with and hang out with on the weekends. The fact that he is quite handsome and enjoys traveling is such a bonus!
Year 3 started and I was now officially dating someone. My two sons, my mom and sibling and friends had all met him and seemed happy for me. Introducing him to my in-laws was a bit awkward but they assured me that they know I loved their son and want me to have love again in this life.
I continued to clean out the house to the best of my ability during year 3. I made room for the kids to have an apartment in one part of the house. Stuff was tossed or relocated. My trips and and the job continued. Things pretty much stayed the same.
Currently I am at 3 and 1/2 years a widow. At night I have dreams where my late husband Mike is a character. In fact, he often appears with my dad who has been gone 18 years now. He will always be such an important part of my life.
But this is the year that some changes are happening. Both my sons are graduating in May and who knows what they will be doing after graduation. Hoping for only wonderful opportunities and adventures and love for them in the future.
I have planned some amazing trips for this year. I plan to live life to the fullest and part of that is embracing my sense of adventure and traveling. The thrill of seeing new places, appreciating the culture of foreign countries and all the diverse moments that could not happen at home keep me living in the moment and bring me joy.
Raising our family, we never seemed to have the money or the guts to make any changes to our home. It certainly needed it, but after we added new siding and windows to the house 13 years ago, we never did anything to the inside. Well, we did paint the rooms ourselves but that was it.
So, this past year I started to make some inquiries about home renovations. I’ve watched enough HGTV shows to know this could be awesome! I have ideas but needed some input from the experts. After getting a few quotes, I pulled the trigger and started a project. Well, I hired people to start a project. It started as a bathroom renovation that has now extended into a laundry room that attaches to my master bedroom on the third floor instead of the garage. I also had my small closet and slanted ceiling transformed into a huge walk in closet.
Starting in the kitchen would have been a smart economic decision. Renovating my master bedroom, as a widow who is recently engaged to be married, was a good idea for me. I had to move everything from the closets and the shelves to make room for construction.
My room is large, and hidden away in the vast corners of my space were memories of my late husband. I still had some of his clothes. I had a little space on my dresser with our wedding photo, some cards he had written and some mementos. In his closet, I had 6 poster boards we displayed at the wake with all the photos I hastily pulled from my old photo albums with his picture on them. I had never put them back. Sometimes we need to renovate a room to get that kick in the butt and do what we have been putting off indefinitely. The pictures are back in the albums now.
I was always impressed and a bit judgy about the widows who could quickly eliminate the remnants of their husband’s stuff in the house. And then I was saddened by people who can not change anything after the death of a loved one. Maybe I am somewhere in the middle.
So my bedroom, bath, closet and laundry room will all be new as we welcome my future. I am planning on having a good one and may even renovate the kitchen.
It’s true that after such a tragic life changing event you can start to live again and be empowered to be the best you. You can make the changes that are important. You make the decisions and the buck stops with you. You just have to decide what it is you really want next.
What do you want next?