Losing your spouse is something no woman wants to imagine can happen to them, especially when you are young with small children. But it does happen, and more often than you think (1.2% of single mothers are widows).1 Unfortunately, I am one of those young widowed moms. I know firsthand how something so impossible can become a reality in the blink of an eye.
In late October of 2017, my husband, Garry, suddenly and unexpectedly had a heart attack that ended up killing him. He was only 36 years old, a loving husband, and a devoted father of two young babies. We had no idea his heart was sick. And we were not prepared for this kind of catastrophic life event. In a matter of minutes, my world turned upside down.
This is a heavy subject, I know. It’s one that’s not often discussed. In fact, it’s avoided. But one of my missions since becoming a young widow is to be transparent about my journey. The ups and downs (yes, there are ups), the sorrows and joys, the challenges and triumphs. This is a journey not many understand. But there are some things about being a widowed mom that sometimes we widows wish other people knew. Although these confessions are personal to my story, I think many other widowed moms can relate.
Confessions of a Widowed Mom
I feel like an outsider.
Losing your husband changes you in so many ways. The world as you knew it is suddenly very different, and so are you. Whether I am hanging out with friends or family, I feel a certain “otherness” that is hard to define. It can make me feel awkward and isolated.
It can also make it hard to meet new people and have “normal” conversations without feeling a sense of apprehension. Eventually, someone will ask about my husband or whether I am married. I am inevitably faced with the internal struggle of whether I should lie and spare them the awkward moment or just be forthcoming and get it over with. More often than not, I just let it all out and embrace the awkwardness.
I want to talk about my loss.
Don’t be afraid to ask me about my husband or how I lost him. My story is something I have been very open about for a few reasons. First, I want other young widows to know that they are not alone. Second, sharing is worth it if anyone can learn something of value from my story. Finally, I love to honor my husband. Talking about him keeps him and his legacy alive. It gives me great joy to share him with people who never had the privilege to know him.
My kids are processing (and sometimes it’s weird).
My kids lost their father with they were four and two years old. They could not process the magnitude of their loss at those ages. Now that they are older, they are processing his death and what it means for them, our family, and me. They have always been very open about their Daddy in Heaven, so it can get awkward at times.
For instance, on one of his first days of school, my son and his classmates introduced themselves and told a bit about their families. My son told everyone his name and then very matter-of-factly stated, “My Dad is dead. He lives in Heaven with Jesus.” Thankfully, his poor teacher handled it like a champ!
I can be jealous of your family.
I know it’s silly and illogical, but I can feel jealous of women who are still happily married. I get a little irritated when I hear women complain about their husbands and the petty little things they do because what I wouldn’t give to pick up my husband’s dirty socks off the bathroom floor! While I understand and acknowledge that my jealousy is misplaced grief, I still have a hard time with it now and then.
When I say I’m okay, I’m probably lying.
Since the day my husband died, and someone has asked me how I am doing, my standard response is, “I’m fine.” And that is a blatant lie. But what else can I say? I am not fine and I will never be fine, but I am taking one step at a time. One day at a time. One victory at a time. I am putting my life back together after it completely fell apart, and I am doing it without the love and support of my favorite person. Many days, I am tired. I am sad. I am struggling. Some days, I will truly be okay. But there are a lot of days when I say I’m “fine,” but I’m really not.
I am no stronger than you are. Honestly.
I can’t tell you how often I have had someone tell me, “You are so strong. I don’t think I’d ever be as strong as you are.” And I shake my head and smile sadly because I am not strong. If only you could see how I fall apart after a hard day of keeping it all together. If only you could know the constant worry taking up space rent-free in my head. If only you could hear the prayers of a woman who is grieving. I don’t think I am strong at all.
But more than that, I want you to know that you could absolutely do it if you did have to be “strong” like me. Don’t ever underestimate the strength of a woman determined to continue living and thriving for the sake of her children.
No, being a single mom is not the same.
I try hard to give grace when I hear the comment, “Oh, I know how you feel. I’m a single mom.” While I appreciate and applaud single mothers, being a widowed mom is not the same. My husband and I didn’t split. He died. My husband cannot choose to be involved in his children’s lives—that was taken from them. I understand that single mothers have incredibly difficult challenges, and I don’t want to diminish that fact. Being a widowed mom is not better or worse than being a single mom. But it is certainly not the same.
I am constantly worried I’m failing my children.
My husband was the “fun dad.” He was basically a giant child. He loved to get down on the floor with his babies and wrestle or tickle or play Barbies or build castles from blocks. He loved to take them on adventures and show them the world’s beauty. He was so good at that.
Meanwhile, I was the boring old mom who the kids got sick of because they were with me all the time. Now that he’s gone, I fear that I can’t make up for the things they’ve lost. I try hard to be a “fun mom,” but the truth is, I’m too busy trying to keep us all alive and fed to worry too much about it. As a widowed mom, I can never give them what their dad would have given them, and I have a hard time with that. I can only pray I’m doing enough to make their childhood as joyful and carefree as possible.
I am no longer afraid to live life out loud.
One surprising blessing I’ve gained since losing my husband is that I am no longer afraid to live life to the fullest. Watching my husband die at only 36 years old made me realize just how short life can be. My husband was a master at living life out loud. He was one of the happiest, most gregarious, friendliest, most generous people I’d ever met. He grabbed life by the horns every opportunity he got. When he died, much of me died with him. But then I was reborn, and his fun-loving, adventure-seeking, life-grabbing spirit now resides within me. I will never take this life for granted again. What a gift he gave me in that.
I have learned the value of good girlfriends.
I was never good at making girlfriends. I avoided befriending other girls for most of my life because I found them mean and superficial. After becoming a mom, I started realizing how important it was to have friendships with other moms. As hard as it was, I have made an effort to find my tribe every time I have moved to a new place.
This new habit came in very handy after my husband died. We had just moved to a new city and I had barely begun to get to know a group of moms. Even though I was the “new girl” on the block, that amazing group of women came to my aid in overwhelming ways after he passed. They brought me food, took my kids to play dates, did my laundry, helped me shop for a dress for the memorial service, and did so many other things I can’t even remember. They never asked for thanks or repayment. They never made me feel silly for asking for help. They just did what I needed. Years later, my girlfriends continue to be there for my children and me. I will forever be grateful to have learned the value of having good girlfriends.
There are some things I don’t want to discuss.
As I mentioned above, for the most part, I am an open book. I share my story with whoever wants to hear it. I don’t mind answering the hard questions. But there are some things that I’m just not ready to share, like dating and finding love again.
This subject is so deeply personal and confusing that I haven’t felt capable of talking openly about it. The amount of scrutiny that a widowed mom endures when she decides to put herself back out there is intense. Everyone, from family to friends to perfect strangers, seems to think they can have an opinion about whether and when a widowed mom can or should date. It can make an already difficult part of life even more challenging for those of us trying to navigate it.
If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.
Listen, widow jokes are a thing. To be my friend, you have to be able to laugh with me. I try to be careful about who I’m with if I crack a widow joke, but I sometimes can’t help it. Being a widowed mom is intense on so many levels. If I don’t laugh about it sometimes, I will lose my mind!
Laughing and joking about something so morbid may seem off-putting to some people, but it is truly a survival tactic. Don’t be afraid to laugh with me when I make a joke or decide to dress up as “Wonder Widow” for Halloween.
I am doing my best.
All things considered, and although I feel entirely different from other moms, we are all very much the same. We are all doing our best with the hand we’ve been dealt. Each of us has a unique set of joys and struggles that we deal with at different times in our lives. None of us are immune from loss, grief, or pain. Some of us have lost our spouses, some have lost children. Many of us have lost our parents. Through it all, we continue to put one foot in front of the other and do our best to keep going. For our kids. For ourselves. For each other. And that’s all any of us can ask for.