Letting Go – Part 3

In this next writing, I will begin to  unpack what steps I took to create my new life and identity as a single woman. 

I remember reviewing Roy’s death certificate several months after his death.  I noticed that it said he was married to me on the day of his death. Ironically, this is the same day that I became a widow.  I felt married to Roy for a very long time after his death. In reality,  I will always be Roy’s widow.  

There is a great deal of paperwork to do in the aftermath of loss—much of that paperwork asks for our status: single, married, divorced or widowed. When I first marked the box “widow” I felt heavy and lost.  With one stroke of my pen, I announced to the world that I had become what my mother endured when my father died when I was just four years old.  I was a widow. 

I wondered if I would follow my mother’s example as a widow.  She did not grieve openly. As a family, we did not talk about my father very much after his death.  His photos were removed from the table tops and his clothes donated to charities.  As I look back, I remember that the energy in our home felt suppressed and dark.  There was no music being played. My mother was withdrawn and untouchable.  She was deep in the belly of grief and did not share her experiences with me and my older siblings. I don’t know who she had to talk with in the aftermath of his sudden death of a massive heart attack.  At some level, I knew I did not want to suffer in the ways my mother did.  

When I  began to throw mementos of our marriage away and shut the door to Roy’s den, I was reminded of my mother’s actions after my father’s death. There was a type of magical thinking that seduced me into believing “out of sight, out of mind”.  I was propelled by a hidden hope that if I pushed all the memories away, I wouldn’t be reminded of the unrelenting pain. Escaping the pain was the driving force in this time period.  I awakened to the brutal reality that I was doing the same things as my mother did.  I was attempting to shut off my mind and heart from the pain of grief.  

During the first three years following Roy’s death, I learned about the world of widowhood.  Whether I liked it or not, I was being forced to become cognizant of how I was doing in my new life flying solo. I measured myself by the following parameters: 

  • Emotional functioning:  Widows are seen as vulnerable, less capable, and are at risk of being exploited. I was warned to be careful, to be guarded. I recognized that I had to create strong boundaries with just about everyone until I trusted myself.  Cultivating self trust was pivotal in my growth and development as a single woman. 
  • Practical/day to day functioning:  Now I was assuming responsibility for all of it—all that Roy had handled was on my shoulders.  I spent many hours on the phone closing all of his accounts and ordering death certificates to prove his death.  It was overwhelming to be responsible for answering all questions having to do with our life and lives.  Moreover, I fretted about future holidays—how would I spend them and with whom? I read everything about grief.  In a short period of time,  I filled the empty spot in our bed with books on grief, spirituality, and poetry.
  • Mental functioning:  Grief and depression work in tandem following the death of a treasured love.  I pulled together a very strong team that was committed to helping me.  My team was composed of very close friends, an excellent therapist, a spiritual director, and a widows group.  I also chose to go on antidepressants.  Eventually I added a trainer to help me move my body and go for regular walks.
  • Competence/confidence levels: I measured most of what I did by imagining how I thought Roy would handle the situation and worrying whether I would be as competent as he was.  I was afraid of making wrong decisions.  I made countless mistakes and endured many  sleepless nights as I wrestled with my fears of being incompetent.  I started to work with a writing coach who helped me get onto paper all that I was feeling.  Those writings led me to the development of this website.  
  • Legal and financial responsibilities: I chose to sell the home we built and to move into a smaller place near the ocean.  I worked with a very supportive group of professionals who helped me get up to speed about my legal responsibilities for our estate, financial advisers who taught me about our investments, and deciding upon a real estate agent whom I could trust to help me sell our home as well as locate my new home.  

Looking back from today’s vantage point, I am grateful for the perseverance that guided me to a fabulous relationship with myself and my life.  The love of my women friends is what helped me keep it together.  I am forever indebted to them—my guardian angels—for supporting me through the darkest time of my life.

In the next installment, I will share  my experiences of dating again at the age of 63.  I will describe how I knew I was ready to consciously create my future.