Bridge the Gap
By Paula Renninger
RELATIONAL HEALTH FOR WIDOWS
My husband died two days after his 49th birthday. A week later it was to be our 26th wedding anniversary. The next week, his best friend turned 50. His wife was hosting a surprise 50th birthday party for him. I had known about this party for months. In another lifetime, I would have been helping my friend plan the party. But not in this new world that I was thrust into.
I got ready to go to the party reluctantly. I was only going out of obligation. He was my husband’s best friend. His wife had become one of my closest friends. Our children had grown up together. This is what friends do — we celebrate milestones with each other.
I arrived. I am walking through the crowd of people and feeling the pitying stares as I walk around. He sees me. His face lights up into a big grin as he walks towards me and grips me in a bear hug. “I am so glad you are here,” he says. I’m not. He shows me where the food and drinks are and is drawn away by another party guest. I sneak out the back door and cry the whole way home. My husband will never see 50. I will never be able to surprise him with a party of friends and family. I hate my life.
Everywhere I turned, people were living life. Laughing, smiling, eating, drinking, celebrating, and existing. I felt like the awkward new kid in school who was trying to fit in. Do you ever feel that way?
Among my married friends, I was single. Among my single friends, I was married. Idle chitchat annoyed me. Women complaining about their man infuriated me. People discussing plans saddened me. I wanted to share how I was torn in two and one half of me was thrown into a ravine and the other half was trying to function through life. But nobody could understand me unless they had experienced the same loss.
Relationships are hard, and very hard when you are in an emotional tailspin. Finding your way as a stranger in a strange land is just one of the many collateral effects of becoming a widow.
Many days I would be so frustrated with how to relate to people when their only concern was what to eat for dinner. And on the rare occasions that I would try to express my pain or grief, others simply could not fully comprehend me. So, I fell into the trap of not expressing my grief. Not disclosing that most moments I felt like I was teetering on the edge of a huge black hole that could swallow me up (and honestly some days I wished it would).
But we all know that just because we are not speaking our grief doesn’t mean that the grief is gone. Grief is always with us and always finds a way to express itself. Loneliness, anger, fear, anxiety, and a boatload of other emotions can be manifested. I am not a psychologist, but I know that the depths of grief can rear its head in many, many ways, especially when we cannot find a compassionate ear to share our pain.
I could never find a listening person in my peer group or family to be the shoulder for me to cry on. I was the “lucky” one to be the first to lose a spouse. So, I decided to be that person for the women who would follow my path into widowhood. And sadly they did. Within a year of my husband dying, I had three friends who lost their husbands.
I want to encourage you to write down what you would like or need from others. How would you like people to treat you as you wander through the halls of grief? What support do you need from others? Write it down.
Now become that person.
Become the inspirational person you need or needed. Become what you wanted someone to have done for you.
As you become what you need, you will learn that you can feel all your emotions — love, anger, loneliness, fear, happiness, etc. and be okay! More than okay! You will be able to bridge the gap that is between your grief and others. And, hopefully you will be able to experience the greatest healing which is helping someone else to bridge the gap.
Paula Renninger lost her college sweetheart after 25 years of marriage and three children. She strives to spread the love they shared with others.
Modern Widows Club offers in-person and virtual support groups to help widows find friendship, support, and a safe and encouraging community with others who understand our journey, and where we can help each other bridge the gap. Connect with our communities here.