Remember the scene near the end of Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy realizes that everything she ever needed was there all along? I think we are all like that, it’s just sometimes hard to see. So the thought of going back in time to counsel my younger self is intriguing to me. My first stop would be in December 1999 when I was 30. The world was preparing for Y2K, the millennium was coming to a close and we were all partying like it was 1999. Change was in the air. More for me than most.
When my husband passed away suddenly just after Thanksgiving in 1999, I was terrified at the thought of a life without him. I met him when I was 18, as a college freshman at the University of Michigan. Our future stretched out in front of us and possibilities were limitless.
As long as Greg was by my side, anything was doable. We had big dreams. But when I was 30, pregnant and widowed, all I saw was a blank future, except maybe for that big question mark looming over me. How could I possibly go on without the person I did everything with?
I was plagued by questions that had no answers and were too horrifying to ask out loud. Would I remember his voice? Would my daughter grow up without a father? Would I ever have more kids? Can I still be friends with his fraternity brothers if I get remarried someday? It was such a scary time in my life, trying to be an adult and a new mother while moving back in temporarily with my parents and needing to be taken care of as well.
Moving on has been a long 20-year series of baby steps, and I’m still on that journey. I gave birth to a beautiful daughter, moved back into the city, went back to work, started a foundation in my husband’s memory, started dating, moved again, got married, moved again, had a second beautiful daughter and moved again. And that was just the first 5 years.
Luckily things have slowed down a bit and I could finally put down roots. I live a regular, boring life again and I feel so blessed. Now I’m picturing the end of Goodfellas. I never thought I’d be so relieved to be an average nobody and live the rest of my life like a schnook. But I am.
With my adventures and experience comes wisdom. If I could go back 20 years and talk to my younger widowed self, I would offer these 8 pieces of advice.
You will not forget your husband. I still think of him every day. Reminders are everywhere. I can even remember how his voice sounded.
You will not always feel this way. I will always have a pocket of sadness in my heart but I am happy and at peace again. Things will get better.
You are not alone. Being a young widow is a very lonely, isolating experience. There aren’t too many of us. If you can find someone else going through this, you can help each other.
It’s ok to need help. Support groups, therapy, anti-depressants, and exercise are going to help you. Don’t wait until you hit too many lows to get help. Take care of yourself. You are strong but so is grief. It’s OK to not be OK.
Your struggle will someday help other new widows. Almost two years after I became a pregnant young widow, 9/11 happened and I suddenly became an expert. I started a website and nonprofit to help young widows and it was very successful. I made so many friends and so did everyone – there were even a few re-marriages that resulted from my vision. You will help many people.
You are stronger than you know. You know you got this, but be generous to yourself. Allow yourself to make mistakes, there is no handbook for young widows. Keep looking forward.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it helps. The amount of time differs from person to person but someday you will not be defined by your grief.
He died, you did not. Go live the best life you can. You have many more years to make a difference in others’ lives and to be happy and productive in your own.
I don’t need to go Back to the Future to know that young, grieving Lauren already knew all this. But figuring it out and looking back to connect the dots tells me I’m on the right path. And like Dorothy on the yellow brick road, I don’t know where I’m going all the time, but I do have faith that it will eventually take me back home.
Lauren Weiss is a writer & college essay advisor based in Marblehead, MA. Lauren has founded several web-based nonprofits including the Food Allergy Website, Westfield Foodie and Young Widow – Chapter Two. Lauren’s professional work experience includes VP of the Conference Group at Bear Stearns and PR Director at the JCC of Central NJ. Lauren graduated with a BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Originally a Jersey Girl, she recently moved to the North Shore of Boston with her husband, two daughters and a floppy cavechon.