These days there are so many different groups clamoring for attention, special rights or demanding justice. While I’m not out to occupy or demand anything at all, I’d like to share a bit on widowhood. There are some misconceptions and no real understanding of what it is like to be a widow in today’s society.
Sometimes helping others who are dealing with similar situations, or bringing awareness helps us work through our own fears and heartaches. For me, writing has often been my best way of communicating and working through what’s on my mind. Maybe because there’s more going on in this world and things seem so out of control, that things which I usually write about are overwhelming, I’ve had a hard time writing much. So maybe by writing something more personal, it will help others as it helps me find my voice again.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I realized that not all widows are old. When I was a kid, the only widows I knew were so much older. My Nana was old; my mom’s oldest sister was in her late 60’s. My mother in law was in her 70’s, one of the neighbor ladies down the road was in her 70’s as well. But then a couple of the ladies in our home school group lost their husbands, one was in her 40’s and the other, her mid 50’s. Another neighbor lady lost her husband in her mid-30s while her daughter was a toddler. I can’t comprehend how many young widows there are who were married to men in the military.
The point is that widows are not necessarily old.
Some widows are left with a safety net through theirs or their husband’s pensions and social security, or a lifetime of savings and they own their own home. Some however, don’t have much in savings and they have no support from the government. I found this out by checking through social security and finding out I’m too young to be a widow.
While some of us are too young, many of us are also deemed too old compared to those coming into the work force and have a hard time trying to find decent work to support ourselves. Especially if we’ve been out the work force to raise families. We’ve got life degrees, but not the kind that hangs on the wall- the kind that most employers are interested in.
Where divorce, diverse families and feminism is acceptable and glorified, it’s more difficult for those of us who struggle with unexpected loss of spouse, income loss and becoming single mothers through widowhood. For decades feminists have been declaring that single moms are free, can have ‘weekends off’ from the kids when they go to their dads’, can get child support, alimony and/or government benefits, they can have it all. No, we can’t have it all. Most widows have an immense struggle through the first few years just to get by, and forget about even getting ahead.
Most people see us without a husband and assume we’re divorced or are single and raising kids by choice. Many people don’t seem to consider things or even care when we have no one to turn to for help with employment or help for our kids.
Not all kids from divorced families have a loving or caring mom and dad. Many though are fortunate enough to have two parents so they are able to have even some interaction with their dads. Kids of widows don’t have that chance, and I don’t care who says otherwise, young kids and teens need a dad or at least a strong male role model or mentor. Especially for boys, to help with things that only men can provide.
Often times I’ve found ways in which God has used my painful past to help others through similar circumstances. Even still, I never would have expected to comfort another so soon after losing my own husband, but I did. Exactly one month to the day after my loss, my sister lost hers to complications from cancer. Two months later, a good friend lost her husband, and again, I tried to help her through the initial shock and legal/financial preparations that she was facing.
Not all widows have legal/government and financial expertise to navigate the incredible amount of paperwork, forms, taxes and financial bureaucracies we have to deal with at the most vulnerable time in our lives. We often times have to blindly navigate the system alone. If we make any mistakes, those can come back and hurt us more later.
When my brother in law died, my sister had been battling her own cancer, and wanted to downsize. She was fortunate that her husband owned his home and had her name put on the deed. She had some good family friends help her with the legalities of selling the house. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to leave my home months after losing my husband. After losing my husband, losing the only home our son had known his whole life, and the place I knew as home through our marriage was almost as painful as losing him.
Not all widows are secure in their homes, and can feel easily manipulated at a time when they are not in the right frame of mind to make instant, yet life changing decisions.
Through many hard and heart breaking experiences in my life, I was always considered “the strong one”. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are times when we are not strong, we need help, but being considered strong, people don’t think we need help, or we would ask for it. But we don’t always know who to ask, or even what to ask.
The past year and a half can only be described as being like a deer caught in the headlights. Some days I feel paralyzed in my mind, not having a clue of what to do, where to go or what to think. Simple things that I used to take for granted… Simple things like filing income tax, dealing with a power outage from storms, or car problems are real struggles when you used to work on things together or your husband used to do the car repairs.
And then there are days when I do find my back bone, and think- OK today you’re going to get your butt in gear and get over it. Move forward… only to get frustrated with mood swings and find I’ve accomplished nothing by the end of the day.
Depression is real. We don’t need Obamacare to tell us that. We don’t need sympathy, but understanding goes a long way. I’ve been blessed to have had friends help through some real hard and tight times this past year, which I never could have gone through alone. I am grateful. But it’s not easy to ask. As far as moods go, not all widows have a set time for moving on. It helps when I know people are praying for my son and I. They might not know what exactly we’re struggling with at any given time, and again, it’s not easy to describe sometimes, but prayer does help.
I’ve been told that some widows move on quickly, while others take years. None of us are programmed to all have the same grieving and adjustment time. When my husband died, for days I was in autopilot but I remember every detail. The days after, I spent as much time as I could to try to “do” normal things. I needed time to process it in my own way, but I also had to “be strong” for my son and others. When I found out I had to look for another place to live a couple of months later, I was devastated all over again. Having to move quickly, having to go through all of his things, years of things, and years of mine and my sons things, sorting, donating, trading and packing, setting other things aside for his family, looking for a place to live that I could somehow afford, kept my mind busy. I was knocked down, but still having to be strong.
But once we were resettled… reality of life alone and in a strange place set in. People tell me I’m in a better spot, not so much to worry about and to enjoy it. Get used to it. It takes time. While I’m grateful for having a roof over our heads, some days it’s hard sitting out on the stoop watching the interstate traffic go by, remembering chickens in the yard, helping plant the veggie garden every year, seeing the place in my mind. A little boy running next door to his Grandma’s house… a pre-teen boy’s face lighting up every time his dad’s truck pulled in the yard, scratching out another year’s growth on that old kitchen door post. So many memories… It’s going to take some time for me to find my way.
I lost my husband 4 days before Thanksgiving 2014. My sister lost hers 3 days before Christmas. My friend lost hers 2 days after New Year’s Day. Holidays are hard. Valentine’s Day, Birthdays, wedding and death anniversaries, Memorial Day, Father’s Day…
Sometimes widows seem strong. Oftentimes we are strong, because we have to be, but some days the strength just isn’t there. We don’t ask for sympathy, but understanding and patience, and maybe a prayer every now and then.