One minute, I was happily married with two children – aged 14 and nine – the next, I’m a freaking widow! Stripped bare for the world to see. It’s been 3 years and now, I’m ready to open up about my widowhood journey, grieving a loved one, losing friends who thought I should move on just because it’s been three years on….
My name is Mary-Jane, my husband passed away in August 2016, Leaving me a widow. He was just 46 and although he was an alcoholic and a bit of a smoker too, it was a sudden and unexpected death. It took me a lot to come to terms with his death and also with my new status as a widow.
My husband was a chronic alcoholic, but his death caught us unawares. I mean, there was no warning! He died 3 days after our daughter’s 6th birthday, of a major pulmonary embolism. We had been together for 16 years and have two kids together, who are now my world since their father died.
On the day he died, I felt kind of weird and in shock. My first reaction was to inform the people important to us. I was on phone all day and didn’t really sit down for hours. It felt unreal and more like a nightmare. Everything had happened so suddenly and I hadn’t fully comprehended my new status as a widow.
There was so much adrenaline flowing through me that I didn’t realise how unreal I looked to everyone. Later that night that I collapsed screaming that I wanted him back. It was then that I could see the relief on the face of the people around me. Apparently, my family and friends were beginning to get concerned about the way I was handling his death.
Before I broke down in tears, I was being monitored and followed by relatives who thought I could do something irrational or hurt myself while pretending to be ok.
I have found grieving to be cyclical in some ways. My grief did not follow any prescribed stage. At the time he died and in the following weeks, I felt like I was wandering around in a strange world. I was functioning and doing everything I needed to do in terms of looking after my children and the house, but I don’t think that I was really thinking of him as gone.
Every so often “reality” would hit and I would feel like I had been punched in the stomach. I couldn’t catch my breath, I’d double over. Sometimes, I just would scream out of helplessness. I still have moments like that to date. It’s the worst feeling ever!
I just get angry at times. Yes, I felt that his death was avoidable but for his smoking and drinking habits. Sometimes I just felt an enormous sadness for him and everything that he was missing with the kids. Any anger I have felt or do feel is more to do with what he put us through with his drinking.
I have found myself getting so angry and calling him an “asshole” for leaving me with such an enormous task of going through the rest of our family life alone, for leaving the kids fatherless, for stripping me bare. We loved him so much, he was our pillar. It really isn’t easy finding yourself a widow especially one with many responsibilities.
Strange as it may seem, I did have some good memories of laughing and feeling everything will be just fine in the days following. I found out that grief is weird. My closest friend and sister came to stay and they had myself and the boys chuckling within hours. They both would remind us of some things my husband would do and we would just laugh until tears followed.
Planning his funeral was bizarre as well, everything seemed to point to the fact that maybe he was actively still involved in our lives.
I had his favourite song played as he was carried in. It’s called “Bongo” and it is from a native singer. I must admit now that it was a very weird song at that. His family had shocked expressions on their faces except for his immediate younger sister who began chuckling and wagging her finger at me.
His sister and I were actually giggling at his funeral. It rained heavily that day, it was the kind of rain that precedes harmattan and there was thunder and lightning, so the minister had to shout to be heard above the storm. My husband loved rain and storms and he would have found it all so funny.
People said to me later that they felt so sorry that I was sobbing all through the ceremony; I had to tell them I was giggling as well!
As soon as the first hymn was sung and the minister started talking about my husband the sky cleared, the rain stopped and immediately sun began to appear. It was beautiful but strange and I do have happiness from time to time remembering this. I just laugh and carry on, but there is always sadness in the background.
Then began the most difficult part
What has been most difficult about my husband dying is the real physical pain of his not being here anymore. The loneliness is worse. I was once told I couldn’t claim to be lonely because I have children, but it’s not the same.
Most days when I’m off duty from work especially during school holidays, the house is quiet and I’m usually so lonely. Even though I don’t mind my own company, continually being alone is awful.
Just after my husband died, friends and family rallied around. I was rarely without someone visiting or phoning. Over time that became irregular. I began to lose family and friends. They didn’t understand why, after a year or so, I was still grieving so hard.
My husband and I were socially active people, so I took to Facebook to share how I felt from time to time. I lost friends there as well and was called “toxic” and “negative” after some controversial posts I made. Several people told me to “brace up” that I wasn’t the only one who had lost a spouse. Support dwindled as people moved on. They didn’t realise that my “moving on” was slower than they expected.
Even the free counselling I got, courtesy of my workplace, couldn’t help fix my emotional problems. Counselling sometimes, made the pains raw. Yer, the counselling helped but it still had to come to terms afterward that I was a widow.
Another aspect of his death I had to deal with was people’s insensitivity to my plight as a widow. For example, his former place of work gave me grief trying to process his benefits. The insurance people weren’t helpful as well.
Some of the questions they asked when I applied for bereavement benefits were very hurtful. I remember that one of them asked me “Where were you when your husband died?” My answer: “kneeling on the pavement next to him administering CPR.”
Helplessness and anger
This made me remember the day he died. We were only a few yards from the state-owned hospital when he collapsed. I ran in there asking for help, only to be waved away by the receptionist and told there were no doctors available. This was despite my telling her he wasn’t breathing and it was an emergency.
That helplessness was overwhelming. I later complained about the receptionist’s attitude but was basically told she hadn’t said that or waved me away. This was despite the uproar from witnesses against her after I had to leave without help. That incident haunts and upsets me to this day.
In the early days, I wanted people to acknowledge what had happened to him. To not be afraid to speak to me about him. People are too frightened that they will upset or hurt you – but they don’t realise that you can’t possibly be hurt any more than you already are.
yes, I still want to talk about him, and for people to ask. I loved him and I still love him. He is the father of my children; I want people to know that though he had flaws, he was a great husband and father.
What I miss most is his company. His cuddles when I returned home from work, his smell even after smoking or drinking, his silliness, his wicked laughter. I miss his cooking which was more regular than mine… his support around the house….. Just knowing that he’s there. I miss that. I just miss him.
Just hang in there. Allow the process
To someone else going through a major bereavement, to a widow or widower out there, I’d say: don’t fight it. You need to go through it and express it in your own way. Not how people say you should, not how therapists or friends or family say it should be. Everyone’s grief experience is different and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Just go with the flow and be sure to come out better, it actually gets better with time.
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Nothing really to add here. Most times, people don’t understand what someone else going through bereavement has to go through. Reading this story gives more insight into the world of a widow and helps create understanding and sympathy.
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