A friend recently posted an article titled ‘What you lose when you gain a spouse.’ Given my recent widow status and gravitational pull toward articles relating to grief and loss, it was no surprise that I read the title to be ‘What you gain when you lose a spouse’ and clicked on it with curiosity. Once there, I quickly realized the error of my ways and that my emotional state should be nowhere near that topic. I exited from the article, commented about my ‘oops’ and went on my way.
Later, that misinterpreted title was stuck in my head and I realized that maybe, there should be an article about what you gain when you lose a spouse. It got me thinking.
So, here goes…
- A lot of responsibility. Taking on full duties for the parenting, the house, the dog, the everything. Whether it’s just taking out the garbage or making major life decisions, it’s all on you.
- Guilt. In the event that all of the responsibility leaves you feeling overwhelmed, you may reach out for help. In this case, you gain guilt for asking your friends and relatives for help and for expecting your kids, who are also grieving, to help pick up the slack around the house. And yes, even though you know people are happy to help and yes, they will do anything you ask, you still hesitate before sending the text or making the call. You try to figure out a way to do it yourself to make things happen. You understand more than ever how precious time is and you don’t want to take anyone away from their spouse or family if you don’t have to. Why? Because you’d give anything to have yours back together like theirs is.
- Exhaustion. You’re always tired…either from not being able to sleep from your mind running or because you are just so tired from all the responsibilities and the feeling like you can never fully rest or catch up.
- Loneliness. No matter how many people tell you that you are not alone, you have an emptiness like no other inside of you. It can be something as simple as bumping into someone at the store or seeing something funny on TV…when all you want to do is tell your person and he’s not there, you feel it. You may even reach out to someone else just to get it off your chest, but it won’t feel the same. It may, in fact, make you feel worse.
- The ability to make all your own decisions. This can be both liberating and devastating all at the same time. Whatever things you used to run by each other…it’s all you now. No need to ask if the petunias should be purple, pink or an assortment this year. No one to talk through getting rid of cable and switching to streaming tv. No one to ask what they’d like for dinner (well, you could ask the kids but that never ends well…)
- A fear of grief triggers. Never knowing when they might strike or how hard they will hit. No matter how much you convince yourself you want to have a good day or that you want to focus on something else, grief finds a way to grab you when you least expect it. Some days you sit in fear of those triggers and on others you embrace them and look at them as a warm hug. As a parent, you fear your children’s triggers, which often come when you are least expecting it, or when you are struggling to get through the day yourself.
I know, it’s a lot. And they are heavy things. But it’s not all bad.
- Love. Not only do you feel love from your family, friends, and even strangers in ways you couldn’t imagine, you gain an appreciation for the love you shared with your spouse like you couldn’t imagine. Because in all the little things you miss about him – that he always filled the cars with gas and kept them clean, his phenomenal cooking, his ability to know when it was time to take the kids out for a few hours so you could regain your sanity – what you will miss the most is just him. Being with him. Doing nothing or anything. You realize that the love you have is far beyond the physicality of this earth and that it continues to grow stronger in each day that passes since his death. And you look at couples now and see things you didn’t notice before – it may bring tears to your eyes as it reminds you of what you had.
- Appreciation. You come to appreciate the moments in which your heart feels light, where you can be silly with the kids or crack a joke or two. These moments are hard to come by and are often followed up with a wave of guilt, though – you wonder how you can feel so happy for a fleeting moment when your life is forever changed and your heart broken.
- Spidey Senses. While you feel numb and like you are living in a twilight zone, you get stronger at reading people. You become acutely aware of who you can trust and rely on, who is sincere in their words and actions, and conversely, who you need to stay away from to protect your sanity.
- Hurt. Unfortunately, you do gain a sense of hurt from those who haven’t reached out or been there like you hoped they would. You also understand that maybe they just can’t deal with what you’re dealing with or, that they have things going on in their lives that make them unavailable. This is actually a good thing – you are better off not having them around right now. Why? Because what they have to give at this time probably won’t be helpful. Recognize that this is a long journey and that some people will come and go as you need them. It’s okay. Hold out hope that those you are missing the most now will jump back in down the road.
- Compassion (or lack thereof). This one comes in waves. Some days, you will have a bleeding heart for anything and everything. Other days, you will be so numb to the world that even the most devastating news may just make you shrug your shoulders and say ‘huh.’ And when it’s the latter, expect more guilt for not feeling the way you think you should.
- Space. Whether it’s an extra drawer in the bathroom, the ability to pull the car in the middle of the garage, or sleeping on whatever side of the bed you feel like, you find it easy to occupy some of the spaces your loved one left behind. Other spaces you set up as memorials – a note in his office, his cologne in the bathroom, his favorite ‘Dad’ coffee mug in the cupboard.
- Confidence (or lack thereof). A never-ending circle. You waffle between a constant state of ‘I’ve got this’ to ‘I can’t do this’. But you know that regardless of how you feel about it at the moment, you have to trust yourself to do what is best for you and your family.
- Strength. This may be a word you get tired of hearing, because many tell you how strong you are. Your reply may be that you don’t really have a choice in the matter and that the last thing you are feeling is strength…but, if you looked at yourself from the outside, you see what people mean. They see in you something they don’t know how they could face. Heck, think about it…do you even know how you’re doing it? Give yourself some credit. It sucks and you’re doing the best you can. Not giving up or in is strength.
Of course, there are so many other things gained in loss as well…I know as time moves along I will find things that change or that there are things to add to this list.Read More In Loss
Jen Santelli is a newly widowed, new blogger who lives in Wisconsin with her two kids (12 and 10) and two dogs. You can find her blog at livinggoodgrief.com and on Instagram at @livinggoodgrief.