I think it was a week or so after my husband died when someone referred to me as “widowed.” It was my mother. She was talking to someone and she said, “She’s widowed,” while pointing in my vicinity. I can’t recall the circumstances that led her to identify me as widowed, but I do know it wasn’t done maliciously.
I remember thinking, “widowed,” what an odd word to describe me. I’m only 32 years old. Yes, my husband died, but certainly, there had to be a better word. Widowed implied senior citizen. It assumed I’d lived a lifetime with my partner. None of that was true…
I had celebrated my first wedding anniversary only six days prior to his death. We were newlyweds with the world ahead of us…or so I thought.
I knew no other person who had lost a spouse this young. It was isolating, even though I was surrounded by the love of my family, in-laws, and friends. I refused to share my story or talk about my grief outside my “circle.” And, even then, I wouldn’t allow myself to pour out my pain. I felt so broken; it was too raw.
But as a character on OWN’s “Queen Sugar” stated: “… I realized [grief] was just following me because it wasn’t done with me. It leaves when it’s done. You have to take the time to feel it all. Don’t let it chase you. Just sit with it. Listen to it. Respect it. It’s the only way to survive it.”
That was a harsh lesson to learn. I realized no amount of faking it would get me through the darkest of days. Trust me, I tried for at least two years. I attempted to mask the pain of being rocked to my core. I pretended I could just gather up all the pieces of my broken heart and carry on like I wasn’t just barely surviving.
There was a time I thought a makeover would make me hurt less. But no matter how beautiful I made the outside, my eyes – through the mascara and eyeliner – still revealed my sadness.
My grief was the unwanted guest who continued banging on my front door, demanding I let it all the way in. It was not content hanging out on the front porch or merely peeking in through the windows. It needed to be invited in. It needed to be heard.
I eventually realized my grief not only had to be welcomed in, but it needed to be given a forum. I chose writing as my outlet. I had to pour out the fears, anger, insecurities, bitterness, uncertainties, frustrations, hurt, sadness that continued to swirl through my heart and mind. It was too heavy a burden to have carried for so long.
So I wrote. I shared the guilt of not being there the moment my husband took his last breath; the anger I had towards God for allowing the man I’d just married to be taken much too soon; the fear of not loving again or being loved in return; and the heartbreak of being widowed before I was prepared to say goodbye.
On a whim, I submitted the article to HuffPost, and it was accepted and published soon after. I initially questioned why I, an introvert who had never publicly shared my story, chose such a public forum to share my grief. My answer came when I stumbled across a quote by Iyanla Vanzant: “When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you, and your story will heal someone else.”
That has been one of the most important lessons of my widowed story. There is freedom and healing in sharing your story. No matter how alone you may feel, there is always someone who will say, “Me too.”
We’re not alone in our grief. We’re not alone with our pain.
Through sharing my story, I’ve met (or virtually met) over 1,000 widows and widowers through my blog, YoungWidowedAndDating.com. They are people whose story may not mirror my own, but who understand the pain of losing a spouse or partner. I draw healing and inspiration from each of them, and I hope they can say the same of their encounters with me.
You’re never too broken to be healed, and you’re never alone on your widowed journey, regardless of how things may appear. Tell your story and tell it often. The person who heals the most might be you.
— Kerry Phillips