“My skin feels as if it has been turned inside out and the world is made of sandpaper.” I’ll never forget those words, uttered from a fellow widow’s mouth at one of the first grief groups that I attended after my husband died. What a raw description of how she felt. She was vulnerable, honest and broken. At that moment, I realized that I was too. I belonged to a club that I had no desire to be in, The Widow Club. I will always be known as Sharon, The Widow. Kind of like Meryl Streep will always be known as an Oscar Winner. My title isn’t as fun and glamorous as Meryl Streep, but if I had to be part of this exclusive Widow Club, then I was determined to make the best of my membership.
I set out on a mission to really find out who I was. What were my passions? What truly made me happy? How could I give beyond myself and help others? After the brain fog lifted, I kicked into gear and started living my life with purpose. My intention was not to negate the memory of my husband, but instead to live a life that he would be proud of. Time was not going to mend my broken heart, but my actions would start to repair it. One of the first and most important actions that I took was to tell my story. By telling my story, I could help others and it would help me begin my personal healing process. At first when I would explain my dreadful story to people, the tears would fall as I spoke. But as the years have passed, I can now tell it without crying. I would say that the healing process has begun. So, here is my story and a few things that got me through the fog.
My Grief Story
My grief journey began in June of 2010. It was a beautiful sunny morning and I remember the sky being so blue. My husband decided to ride his Harley Davidson to work that morning. As we sat on the porch, sipping on coffee and discussing our plans for the weekend, I had no idea that in 90 minutes, my husband would be brain dead. As he rode down the winding driveway he gave me his signature, “thumbs up” and I waved as the hum of the engine began to fade away. As I headed back into the house, I flipped the morning news on and listened to it from the kitchen while I did dishes. I kept the volume low because I had two kids that were sleeping in and enjoying their first day of Summer Vacation.
About an hour had passed since my husband left for work. I knew it took about an hour to get to where he was going and I thought to myself that he was probably there by now. As I picked up dog toys in the living room, the breaking news alert on the TV caught my attention: a serious injury accident at the Mound Rd exit was coming from the newscaster’s mouth. Panic immediately ran through my whole body because I knew that was the exit that my husband would have taken. My shaking fingers dialed his cell phone number repeatedly, hitting redial, redial, redial, . . . but he never answered. My body became one with my couch as I thought the worst. My mind wouldn’t stop racing with horrible thoughts. The images on the news showed a motorcycle lying on its side and I knew it was him! I called my Mom so she could talk me off the cliff. She was the only one in my life that could calm my fears. She always taught me to look at the positive side of things.
Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall in this situation. My life as I knew it was about to be over. Thirty minutes later I received a call from the hospital. This calm loving voice said that my husband was admitted and that I needed to come to the hospital as soon as I could. How could she be so calm and composed, I thought to myself? I asked her if he was dead and she said, “Ma’am, you need to come up here. We are sending the state police to pick you up and bring you here. They should be there within the hour.” Waiting for the state police was not an option for me. The way she worded those few sentences meant that what I was heading into was not good. I tore down the hallway toward the bedrooms and woke up my sleeping children. With tears running down my face and fear running through every part of my body, I asked them to quickly get dressed, grab a snack and a sweatshirt and jump in the car. I said that their dad was in an accident and we had to get to the hospital. The hour-long drive was unbearable and the fear of the unknown was eating me alive. My husband never came out of the coma and was pronounced dead nine days later.
Accepting My “New Normal”
Days, weeks and months had passed and I was accepting my new normal. My “New Normal” included things that I wasn’t used to. I was now the chief car mechanic, plumber, landscape engineer, snow removal specialist, good cop and bad cop when it came to my kids, counselor, banker, accountant, chauffeur; the list goes on and on. Add all of those things to working outside of the home, as well as all of the everyday chores, and you have a pretty full day. But I never complained. I would become the master list maker. I wrote TO DO lists for everything. When you lose your spouse, the little things in life become very overwhelming. But when I actually wrote everything down and prioritized my tasks, they were much more doable and less intimidating.
While tackling the extremely long TO DO lists, I always made time for me. Walking for an hour a day probably saved my life. This was always done alone, sometimes with music, sometimes without. Walking outside was my preferred venue. My treadmill didn’t excite and engage my senses the way a walk in nature would. I was full of gratitude when I was one with Mother Nature. The colors were more vibrant, the smells were more aromatic and intoxicating, the feel of the sun on my face was warm and calming. "How lucky am I to be able to enjoy all of this", I would say to myself. This was my time. It was my time to unplug from the world and recharge. I found I was happier and my concentration was better after a stroll through the woods.
My Grief Groups Saved My Life
Grief Support Groups, you either love them or you hate them. Personally, I loved them. It was a chance to share my story, listen to theirs, cry, laugh and be vulnerable. It was a judgment-free zone. You could complain about raising your kids alone, discuss wanting to date again, and brag about how you fixed your leaky toilet all on your own. It was a safe place where you could get a pat on the back, a giant hug or a little gentle push to try something new. The biggest takeaway for me was how lucky I was to have met such a wonderful group of people. We were all different, but down deep, we shared a commonality of losing somebody we loved. I always thought, “Wow, I never would have met these wonderful people if I hadn’t suffered this horrible tragedy”. My life is fuller since I met them. Almost seven years later and we are all friends. We may not see each other as much as we used to. But, an occasional lunch or drink after work to catch up is so comforting.
Tell Your Story
Tell your story and tell it often. You’ll notice as time goes by, that the details of your story will soften. You may notice that you give different details each time. That is a sign that the healing has begun. Your story is still the same, but you are viewing it differently, and it’s not defining who you are.