Hey Babe -
It’s Chinese New Year again!! My sis and I were hanging out when I was in the OC for Chinese New Year, and we were going through photos on my phone and we found photos from the last Chinese New Year and she said, “That doesn’t even look like you?!” I said, “Well, that was one month into widowhood and I lost like 10 pounds in a month!!” I talk a lot about how I feel and my emotions, but I don’t really talk about the physical aspect of widowhood. After you passed, I couldn’t eat anything. I just stared at my food and forced myself to eat (I mean, I still need nutrients to survive, right?!), and even if I could eat, I was forcing myself to chew and swallow and couldn’t really taste what I was eating. It was like chewing cardboard and eating leather everyday, no matter what it was. It could be my all time favorite dish, and I would still struggle to force it down (it’s literally the opposite of anorexia). People bought and sent so much food, it was overwhelming most of the time. I probably ate like 20% of the food and tossed the rest out. Most of the food was eaten by my “babysitters,” I had 24/7 supervision in the months after you passed. (I liked to called them my “suicide watch” to make sure I don’t slit my wrists or drown in a pool of my own tears and misery.) I know people meant well, but who can eat when your husband suddenly drops dead, like literally in front of your face?! If there was anything I needed, it would be my sanity not food!! Oh, and don’t forget the flowers. I couldn’t even look at them. I screamed my head off when my sister and cousin showed me the slew of flowers people sent. They actually had to hide the flowers from me because every time I saw them, I would have a complete mental and emotional breakdown. Who wants to see flowers that says, “Hey, sorry your husband died!”
There are times where I feel like the universe owes me an explanation to help make sense of everything, so the journey doesn’t feel so futile. Grief is exhausting and emotionally draining, have you ever tried crying for about 80% of your day?! And I don’t just mean the nice crying where there’s just tears rolling down your cheeks! I’m talking about the ugly crying where you’re sobbing so loud that it would make anyone around you cringe like nails screeching on a blackboard. It’s so bad, that even the animals get scared to the point where they would jump off the bed, scatter, and find a place to hide until the emotional landmines have stopped exploding. So, when grief is still monopolizing your life, you can sleep perfectly fine because you’re so exhausted (did I mention, grief is hella exhausting) and there’s no confusion about how you feel because all you can feel is pain and sadness.
When I wake up the next mornings, I couldn’t tell if I was actually sleeping or if I had laid awake the entire night, and most mornings for the first few months after you passed, when I woke up, I couldn’t tell if you dying and everything that was happening was the dream or if it was the reality. My mind was so distorted, confused, dazed, and I was in a constant state of shock, disbelief, and disillusionment that everything felt very surreal; like I was trapped in some alternate universe. I’d wake up every morning gasping for air because it always felt like my heart and soul was ripped out of me, along with my future, confidence, self-esteem, identity, joy, and happiness. All that was left was a stranger staring at me in the mirror, a fear so large that it stopped me in my tracks while also completely immobilizing me, an enormous emotional baggage so large that I can barely lift, let alone carry it all by myself, a pain and sadness so vast and deep that I didn’t even know could exist, and a million broken pieces of my life scattered around as the wind is blowing them away before I can gather them all up.
This was how I felt for the first few months of widowhood. I was literally walking around like a shell of a person. I was neither present nor alive. There were days where I couldn’t tell if I was actually alive or dead. I was just moving to move. I didn’t have a grip over what was real or what was not. I constantly felt like I was trying to figure out how to go back in time and wake up from this nightmare (this is actually a very common side effect of widowhood, I’ve finished three memoirs on widowhood in the last few months and they’re all obsessed with finding a way to travel back in time!! At least I know I’m not alone in this quest!! There’s something comforting in knowing you’re not the only crazy widow out there!!) This is the stage where you’re learning how to crawl. It’s like learning how to breathe and live again. You also go through an identity crisis and realize you have no clue who you are without your partner in crime and whether the things you do or like or dislike or don’t do are because you actually like / dislike them or if it was because of your spouse, so you start exploring these things to find out the truth. (Honestly, this is the side effect of widowhood that was most shocking to me, that I would have a crisis of identity after you passed!! It’s still shocking and strange to me that this is actually a very normal and common side effect of widowhood, yes referring to the widow memoirs and online support group!) Not only are you a stranger to yourself, you’re completely out of your mind delusional, and you feel like you’re trapped in some crazy alternate universe in a really bad scifi show. You feel like the world continues to move as you’re standing still, watching everybody’s life continuing to spin on its axis while yours just fell apart. You want to scream, make people take notice, and tell them to stop, just like your world has stopped, but when you open your mouth to scream, nothing comes out. You’re just standing there like a lunatic with your mouth open as the world is flying by you at the speed of light. So, the only way to cope is to believe your dead husband is on an indefinite business trip (because how else are you able to function in this crazy, tragic, surreal life?! If I went around believing my husband was dead, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed or do anything productive with my life...by the way, this is actually another common side effect of widowhood...believing your spouse is on an indefinite trip somewhere!!)
So, now that you’re husband is on an indefinite business trip, you start living your seemingly normal and familiar life while also knowing in the back of your mind, there’s nothing normal or familiar about this life (but you just brush this thought off, I mean minor details, right?!) You look around and everybody and everything around you is the same, but nothing feels the same and you know nothing will never ever be the same again either, but as the Brits say, “Keep Calm and Carry On!” When you finally find the strength and courage to try to put your life together and start moving with the rest of the world again, you walk into a room and people stare at you like you’re an elephant in the room because all they can see is the W etched on your chest. You want to shout, “Stop F***ing staring at me, A**hole!!” but you know that’s rude, so you just deal with the stares, the looks, the pity, the judgement, the awkwardness, the “walking on eggshells,” the platitudes, and whatever else comes with being recently widowed. (I call this stage the finding your balance so you can transition from crawling to walking...it’s like month three to six) You constantly feel like you’re living in a fishbowl, and everybody's watching to see what you’re going to do next since that’s how they’re going to judge and gauge your sanity and wellbeing. Because somehow, you’re miraculously going to “get better” with time (because you know, time heals all things in life, right?! Yes, the sarcasm is dripping off of me right now) and the gaping hole and pain you feel in your heart and soul will one day just go away and evaporate into thin air (you know, just like it does when your grandparents/parents/pet dog/cat/lizard died after living a long and fruitful life or when you get divorce or break up with your boyfriend/fiancé, because all of these experiences have the same gravity as your life partner suddenly and unexpectedly dying on you 30 years too early.)
So, when everybody is staring and watching you, the quickest way to get out of the “fishbowl” is to show everybody there’s nothing to stare or look at anymore, right?!. Yeah, now we’re in month seven to twelve. I call this phase, “Hell yeah, I’m walking B****es!! Don’t you see me putting one foot in front of the other and strutting my stuff like nothing tragic has ever happened to me ever!! (I mean, my husband didn’t die, he’s on an extended and indefinite business trip! Didn’t you get that F***in’ memo?!”) So, this is where you carry on like you’re completely “normal” and “okay!" Actually, you're better than okay, you're F***in' GREAT!!” because you’re going to fake it until you make it!!! Yes, you will fake it until you make it or until it all comes crashing down around you. I don't know yet, because I might still be in this fake it until you make it phase!!
Usually after month five or six (everybody is different and copes differently, but for me, it was around the five to six month mark), the fog lifted and I learned how to manage the pain and grief better. It started to become less debilitating and it no longer monopolized my life. I was no longer a zombie or just a shell of a person walking around. I was still slightly deranged and somewhat delusional (I honestly don’t know if this will ever go away?!) As I like to call it, this is the phase where it still feels very surreal but less alternate universe. I was able to feel more emotions than just pain and sadness, but then the emptiness and loneliness sets in and all the questions without answers start to surface and permeate your mind and make you restless. Even if I could sleep for an uninterrupted three hours (which was very rare, I would only average about two hour intervals of sleeping without being woken up for no apparent reason other than, "WTF?! My husband died?! Where have I been all this time?! I thought he was on an extended business trip!!"), it’s still very restless. I would wake up multiple times throughout the night, and even if I was able to sleep, it’s very restless (just in case you didn’t get it the first time, did I mention….RESTLESS SLEEP is a very common side effect of widowhood?!) I’ve never been a parent, but from what I understand, widowhood can be equated to the lack of sleep new parents undergo when they bring home a newborn. There’s no screaming babies in the middle of the night, just the restlessness of all the random thoughts, emotions, frustration, and disillusionment whirling around in your head screaming for an outlet or some sort of answer or explanation for why a happily married person like yourself is laying in a cold, half empty bed, or it could just be the mere fact that you're not used to sleeping by myself (I mean, you've shared your bed with someone for over 10 years now), so it feels weird to go to bed and wake up in the mornings alone and not have a warm body to cuddle next to or to fight with in the middle of the night for blanket surface area (Yes, Babe, no matter what you like to say, you like to steal the covers and roll yourself into a burrito while I’m left out in the cold!! Yeah there’s that also, I guess!!)
The loneliness and yearning becomes overpowering at times. This is kinda like the four to six month mark for most widow(er)s (this is when some widow(er)s start dating or finding as the online widow community likes to call FWB (friends w/ benefits) - I actually had to look this term up since I had no clue what it was!!) The feeling of loneliness, emptiness, and yearning is like nothing you’ve never felt, known, or experienced before. A loneliness that is so raw and full of longing and yearning that nothing in the world could ever take it away. It’s something you feel not only in your heart and soul, but also in every inch of your body that craves companionship and touch, not just any type of companionship or touch, but the closeness and intimacy you shared with your person. (And most widow(er)s find this out the hard way, but even dating and FWB doesn’t help alleviate this kind of loneliness even though they all say it was fun while it lasted, which is why I never dabbled in either (but maybe I should 😂😂😂. It's a good thing I do research before I do anything, right?! See all that googling you used to make fun of me for doing comes in really handy when I’m wading through this new widowhood journey...albeit, I rather not have to google widowhood and dating in the same search parameters though!) There’s always a never-ending list of things I want back in my life like your touch and embrace, your eyes, your lips, your hugs, your kisses, the looks you would give me, your smile, your jokes even the ones where you are hella' making fun of me, your laughter, your surprise attacks, the tickle fest that would take me to the floor begging for mercy, and the list goes on and on. You don’t know how desperately I want all of these things back in my life (even all the stuff you used to do that I hate and annoy the hell out of me). There’s nothing I wouldn’t give to have them all back (the good and the bad), while also knowing, at the same time, that I could never ever have any of these things back, no matter how hard I try or will them to come back. A yearning and longing so strong that most of the time, I feel like a drug addict going through withdrawal. The longing and yearning isn’t just to find a companion or find happiness or joy again, it’s the longing and yearning for your old life back. You want your dead husband to be resurrected, so you can go back to living the life you chose. You know...the life where you are completely happy and content with (even with all the annoying things you hated and wished your spouse didn’t do anymore?!) You don’t want a new life or a new husband or a new love. You just want the old life back, the old husband back (with all the good and bad qualities). Wow, I didn't think I would never live to see the day where I would say, "I even want all the bad and annoying things about you back?!" I mean, is that really too much to ask for?! I’m even willing to take all the bad stuff back!! That’s commitment, right?! (Yes, it’s always a mixed bag of emotions at all times on this journey!! #widowhoodstruggles)
Your “new normal” starts to set in, and you settle into your normal life and routine again. You’re running now, and at top speeds also. You can’t seem to stop because you’re afraid if you stop, you won’t be able to get back up again. So, you’re moving and moving as fast as you can. It’s almost like you’re running from something, but you don’t know what it is yet, and you’re too afraid to look behind you to see who's the monster chasing you, so you just keep running with your eyes closed in any direction you can. You’re definitely “making it” to the outside world even if you are straddling two completely different worlds. One where you’re always looking in the rearview mirror, still struggling to make sense of your life and situation, and wondering when your husband is coming back from his indefinite business trip because you’re tired of taking out the trash every week (which is really a job description under husband) and picking up all the slack of managing the household and your lives by yourself to “I’m F***in’ GREAT!” to the outside world. You are able to laugh and smile again. You’re going out into the world again (although you're still a little ‘socially awkward’). You cry less. People may think you’re “over” your husband dying and she must be doing “better.” Even you start to believe that you’re doing better and that you’re moving on. Yes, you’re still a little crazy (less deranged, just crazy now), but now you’re a little quirky and neurotic (since you don’t really know who you are and still trying to figure it out so you try different personalities on for size), and you’re still slightly delusional (a lot less delusional than before to the point where you can fool everybody to thinking you’re a very normal and sane person!! If they only knew?!) This is like month seven to ten or eleven. You’re literally living two different lives like you're an undercover spy. You know that one life is a lie and the other one, you can’t seem to get a grasp of yet so you try to push it aside and deal with it later. You start juggling two different lives like you're a double agent Russian spy. But over time, it wears on you, and after a few months like month ten or eleven, you start to feel unsettled because you can’t keep up the lie and facade anymore. But what's worse is that now you have no clue which life is the lie and which one is the truth, especially since they both seem to be you, even though you know one is a lie and they're in direct contradiction with each other!! You grow even more unsettled and you start to get more and more confused as to who you are and which life is really the real one since the lines between the two lives are blurred now. All you can do is hope that at some point they will both converge, make sense, and be aligned; instead, of blowing up in your face and you get indicted for treason and sentenced to death or something crazy like that. (Yes, my fingers are still crossed!! 🤞🏽🤞🏽🤞🏽) So, this is where I am now - month 13. I’m a double agent Russian spy; living two completely different lives, and I have no clue who I am or which life is really my true and real life, since they both seem to be my true and real life, even if they're in direct contradiction with each other. So, I have no clue where to go from here but to just keep living both lives and hope that nobody figures it out before I do!!
And, I'm still wondering when the hell you're planning to come home from this indefinite business trip of yours?! I'm really tired of taking out the trash every week for you (especially with all the rain nowadays)!! Can you send me a signal or a sign to let me know when you plan to come home because life really sucks right now!!
Oh did I mention, #widowbrain still hasn’t really gone away yet and I’m like 13 months into widowhood?! I still have a hard time filling out simple forms (I had to fill out DMV and bank forms for your estate stuff and couldn’t even get those right (even after multiple tries by myself) with simple info like name, address, account number that the bank / Triple A representative have to re-do the forms for me?!), using new parking meter pay stations (I literally stand there for minutes on end trying to register what I’m supposed to be doing and when to put in my credit card to pay and what to punch), even new reporting or files I have to for work takes a lot longer and multiple times trying to figure out the best way to approach it. Anything new that I’m learning how to do for the first time in widowhood has been quite a struggle and I’m not talking about complicated things...just simple everyday things that one in their right mind could do without even a second thought!!
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A grieving widow who is trying to find meaning and purpose from her tragic event.