We are the “Keepers of the Flame” – Stages of Widowhood

I am a Widow, they say. I like to call us “Keepers of the Flame”, instead. Our light flickers, almost feels like its going to blow out, but it keeps burning. It starts burning stronger and stronger as we navigate through the unknown. We become the keepers of not only our flame, but our loved one, in heavens flame. We keep their flame going through sharing who they are, what they have taught us and their flame keeps us knowing they would want us to keep going. We are the keepers of the flame for the woman and men who came before us and the woman and men who come after us. Our flames together, grow stronger, burn brighter. Together we find a new burning and brightness that we all deserve, are all worthy of. Be a light seeker and start burning your flame so bright others will want what you have, knowledge and wisdom are power.

Widowhood as it is termed, is something many of you are trying to wrap your brain around.  I still try to wrap mine around it ten years later. Nothing could have prepared any of us for this.

How can this be reality? Many of us who have been on this journey for some time, still try to understand it. There is no understanding it. Its a part of life that is unfair, unreal and unimaginable to those of us who have lost a spouse, a partner, a lover, a child, a parent, a grandparent, a cherished loved one, a friend. It is never easy to say goodbye to the ones we love. It is hard if you never had a chance to say goodbye, you were never allowed to grasp and understand they were leaving. It is hard, if you sat by their bedside through the many ups and downs, the glimmers of hope for a recovery. It is hard to watch the struggle (in them and yourself), see them become someone or something they are not, watch life leave them. Whatever the circumstance, it is hard. Each loss is the hardest to you, because it is your loss, your story. Own your feelings, own your story and you will unlock and allow yourself to heal through it. Vulnerability is the doorway to healing.

So, you are here. I am happy and not happy at the same time. I am happy because we found each other. I am not happy, because I wish that you did not know this pain, this way of life. I have heard, just get over it. In those moments I could curse those people up and down and say some of the nastiest trucker mouthed things I can imagine in my head, but I take the gracious approach and say, yeah you certainly don’t understand and I don’t need to waste my breathe explaining it to your small mind and your very small heart. That is one approach, some times and depending on the situation and person, I will try to educate, try to bring across perspective, but you have to understand the audience and not everyone is worth that time, because some may never get it, and I hope they never have to.

Burn this in now, you will and you should never as some say, get over it. You may want to consider getting over them, or deciding what purpose they have in your life. I have had to sit in this many times. You see, I am awesome! Yes, I am, and you know what? I am sick of people trying to steal my colors and put me into some kind of box surrounded by walls and boundaries. I am getting off on a tangent, but the thing to take away here is do not, and I repeat, do not let others place boundaries on you! Do not let them steal your colors! Be the colorful being and person you are meant to be. I have so much to say, so much I want to share with each of you as I release and expose my vulnerabilities because sharing and opening up leads to healing and growth. It helps others while it also helps us.

You are a part of this club, this tribe. It sounds awful to call it a club or tribe, doesn’t it. Those in my mind are things you want to join, want to be a part of.  So, I would like to call us the “Keepers of the Flame” . Yes, I feel we are the keepers of the flame. We keep the memories and the legacy of our loved ones alive. We keep that flame burning inside of us forever. It is a flame that flickers, almost blows out, maybe it does blow out or feels it has blown out. It comes comes back. It does. It is a flame of love, life, light and we get to share it with the world.  At some point it willignite so bright,  it will radiate us and fill us with new hope. It can flicker and almost blow out even after glowing and growing brightly. Yes, we are the “Keepers of the Flame”.
So, my keepers of the flame, when widowed, we are told we will go through three stages of widowhood, so they say. I agree with all of the feelings, but I also think there is so much more that comes through in widowhood. I have added to these stages and will continue to add. I want you to each help me add to it, experience and various experiences and perspectives on this, will get us to the properly defined stages, which will continue to grow. I will enlist many of you to help to add to it. There are so many emotional and social issues that just are not properly addressed in my opinion. Remember, these opinions are my own and from my experience and also gathered from talking with so many of you.

When I was widowed I read plenty about grief and the stages and processes with which each book told me I would go through my pain. Many times as I was reading I would relate to some but not all because I wasn’t there yet and in the very beginning the words on the page seemed illegible to me because I still hadn’t come to terms that I was a widow.

Reading so many of your stories and learning more intimately about each of your losses has touched me. Thank you for following my blog and for joining this community who will support you through the ups and downs of widowhood. Subscribe here by entering your email, follow the Facebook page and make sure you join the private group. Stop over and connect on Instagram with me and the best compliment to my heart would be if you share this out. This community and so many widows communities are growing and just recently two woman who are a part of the Facebook group found each other in their back yard and met for an amazing lunch, I also have met many locally. I so wish I could have been there with them, but I know someday soon I will meet many more of you.

I imagine at the time when you lost your spouse, you had a moment where you stopped and thought, “I am a Widow?” Or maybe, it happened more unexpectedly like it did for me. I was asked if I was his Widow? It had not crossed my mind, but yes, they were correct. It was not blasphemy even though it felt like I had just been cursed at. They were not wrong in what they said. My bodies response was to pause, stare, go blank. It was something like a fight or flight response, a direct hit to my nervous system.

I was standing next to my husband who was lying in a casket when the next person in line waiting to pay their respects, said, “You are his widow”?  It took me a moment, I didn’t quite register what this man had just asked. I can only imagine the look I must have given him and the awkward silence and stare as I processed, what I had heard. Up until that moment, that word, “Widow” had never even crossed my mind or entered my vocabulary. 

I went to say, No. What I responded with was, Yes.

I have spent so much time thinking about each of you and where you are at in the journey of widowhood. I know for myself, I have found inspiration and encouragement in knowing that there are many just like you and I. We each have a unique story to tell, the story of our life. So sitting drinking my coffee this morning, I thought it important to share this message.

I thought about the beginning, when I first realized I was a widow. I thought about how people supported me and how people did not support me. I thought about the judgment and the secondary issues surrounding widowhood.  As I wrote, these words came to me.

I’m A Widow, They Say.
I’m To Cherish The Memories, They Say.
I’m To Move Forward Even Though Motion Has Left Me, They Say.
I’m To Not Move Forward Too Quickly However, They Say.
I’m A Widow, And Now My Every Move Is Scrutinized.
Don’t They Know Movement Is The Hardest Thing Some Days?
I’m A Widow, They Say.

Can you relate to this? Does this induce some thought provoking moments where you go back to, or maybe you are going through it now, the second hand grief that was placed on you by others? That second hand grief is something you also never expected to have to go through. Its easy to say, who cares what others are saying. Much easier to say though. It affects us after loss. We lost the most important person and love in our lives and then the scrutiny and criticism projected onto us by others for how we are grieving, how we are moving forward, how we are not moving forward, is ridiculous. IT IS RIDICULOUS! We acknowledge it, feel hurt by it and we grow to ignore and keep moving beyond others expectations for ourselves. It still hurts us though. This is what I would say to those who place judgment?

  1. Have you gone through the loss of a spouse? Answer: No. Reply: Then mind your own business.
  2. Do you know the pain and instability of my world? Answer: No, but… Reply: Wait hold your buts and mind your own business.
  3. Do you think your telling me to move on and to be happy, is helping me? Answer: I hope so, Im try to be optimistic for you, trying to help. Reply: I appreciate your care and concern, however I have to grieve in my own way and in my own time. I will get there and sometimes, I just want to share how I feel openly without judgement, without resolution. I just want my heart to be heard and my grieving in my own way and time to be accepted.
  4. Did you really say or question me for moving forward? Answer: Well, yes don’t you think its too soon? Reply: Too soon for you, or too soon for me? Do you think I want to stay in this place, I have to keep moving. Moving is hard, but its the only fluid thing I know right now and I can’t even think let alone know whats good for me. I will never move on, but I do know I am worthy of living and finding happiness again. I am not sure I am ready either.

There are many widows in this world. Millions upon millions, approximately 14 million in the United States. Many who have been on this journey for years, and others who are just recently joining. It is important to share each of our experiences to see where others are in their grief journey and to know that each person is different. I hope each of you remember that your spouse would want a life that is grand, a life that is good, a life that is not wasted in vain, FOR YOU. Their gift to you is this day and the next day and the next. Gods gift to you is this day and the next day and the next. His greatest gift, however will be the day he calls each of us home. For now though, I choose to take the pain of this life and allow it to mold me into my purpose. Will you do the same?

Your spouse wants you to know and feel the love in their heart for you and the value of doing something great with the time you have. They would likely say, “go out into the big world and create, do, achieve, share, follow your heart, and find out what it is that YOU want”.

I challenge you to do the things they weren’t interested in doing, the things that you really want. Fill your soul, find your new. I challenge you to also, do the things you both wanted to do. Along the way journal and write down your thoughts. Write down, what doing them meant to YOU. Write down what YOU think your spouse would have said while watching you do those things.

There are many layers and stages to widowhood. The stages of widowhood and processes and feelings laid out are not linear, not all encompassing and so if you don’t follow these stages or an order, just know there is no true order.

Stage 1: Grief

You have likely sat and thought, I am a widow, so now what? What will my life be now that my spouse is not here with me? Who am I?

I remember asking myself this and ten years into widowhood, I can’t say I am an expert widow, but I can share with you how I grew and continue to grow and transform through my grief. There are many feelings and experiences in grief. The body and minds reaction through processing and accepting widowhood will likely bring you to feel these feelings. It is somewhat of an incubation period, although I’m not sure that is the exact term I would use. It takes time. We retreat for a time until we are ready to emerge.

  • Fog, numbness and exhaustion
  • Pain, aching pain
  • Fear, fear, fear
  • Paralyzed feeling
  • Denial, a need to lock up places of your heart too hard to explore
  • Stress, anxiety, worry, panic
  • Depression, self pity, feelings that you don’t want to live here without them
  • Anger, bitterness
  • Loneliness, longing, want
  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of compassion for others circumstances and life events
  • Vulnerability, susceptibility to others persuasions
  • Loss of feeling and care for yourself
  • Self care diminishes
  • Relationships with others change and some end. We push people away.
  • Health issues
  • Trust issues
  • Self destructive moments, uncharacteristic thoughts and feelings

Stage 2: Growth

Suddenly and with no real ability to pin-point the change in you, you will begin to feel hope, you will begin to feel want and start thinking about your future. Growth really occurs when we become silent with ourselves, when we start to accept the loss we have suffered and we start to love ourselves back into existence. We no longer just want to exist, we want to thrive, we want to flourish. The fog lifts and we put into action allowing ourselves to feel new feelings. I call this our re-birth.

  • Fog starts to lift
  • Semi Acceptance of your new normal
  • Motion really feels like motion, movement and the need to move in a direction you choose, comes back
  • Fear, stress, anxiety and worry lessen
  • You start to feel hope or a want to hope for your future
  • You begin smiling again, maybe you even laugh
  • Self care becomes more important
  • Mental capacity returns
  • You can start to feel more and compassion returns
  • Forward now becomes a thing and a want
  • Support from others is much easier to accept
  • Love for yourself grows
  • You unlock some places and spaces of your heart and begin processing feelings, healing
  • You want to thrive and flourish

Stage 3: Transformation

I remember when I started seeing that I was so much more than a Widow (I never really saw myself as this, rather it was placed on me), I was a strong, courageous, bold woman who had broken the boundaries and the molds that society placed upon me and that I had maybe even for a time placed on myself. I possessed an independence and a strength that set the stage for me to really go after things in life with tenacity. I possessed a grace and a courage to continue knowing I can re-invent and transform myself any time I want to. Growing has no end. I can tell you this strength is hard for others in my life at times. I will never stop being the woman I am however. I will always continue fighting for myself and showing my daughters their wants matter.

  • A renewed energy, gratitude and appreciation for life emerges
  • A security in knowing that growth is on-going and in finding yourself
  • A confidence in yourself develops
  • A new awareness and perspective on living
  • Independence and sense of fulfillment for how far you have come
  • Philanthropic exploration and appreciation for the beauty in the world
  • An understanding that YOU matter and a love for the NEW YOU grows
  • Joy has returned, newfound joy and acceptance that you can be joyful, happy
  • Emotional healing and strength
  • Understanding that grief does not end. You don’t get over it, you continue to get through it.
  • You continue to unlock places and spaces of your heart you didn’t know needed unlocking
  • A new understanding of the person you are and continue to transform into
  • Seeing the beauty in your brokenness

I am a remarried widow and so if you were to put me in a stage, I would likely fall into Stage 3. My belief however is that categories and staging and planning out where you are, are not much help. Getting through it understanding its an on-going journey and that you can go back and between and all over the place in a matter of 60 seconds or a split second, that will set the expectation, that there just really shouldn’t be an expectation.

For example, with the ten year anniversary of my husbands passing that just recently was here in September of 2016, I was back and between all of these stages. I went back there by choice and not by choice.  There are people in this world that would say “you have have moved on, you are happy, so why dwell in the past.” The problem with that statement is that we do not move on. I believe we move through, always carrying them and the loss with us, allowing it to grow alongside us and remain a part of who we are because widowhood shapes us. It teaches us a whole new level of who we are and what life is about.  Some may be concerned with how my second husband has handled me being so open in my sharing of widowhood. Some may even say I am no longer a widow. It is ok what others think, because it doesn’t affect me. My why is because of all of you going through this. My why is because I understand and sometimes just knowing and finding one person who understands, that can make all the difference.

My message is not one of despair, it is one of hope. It does encourage me to share openly to create a space of awareness, to share what my ten years in widowhood has taught me and continues to teach me. Ignorance really is such a thing as we all know and the world is not taught how to grieve and what to do when someone is grieving.

I went back this past year so that I would fully feel through and see how far I have come. I saw myself knees on the floor, hands on his legs praying fervently for him in the emergency room. I saw myself laying in his hospital bed, telling him if he needed to go, I would be ok. I saw myself, carrying like a suitcase, the cooler that held his heart to the jet that would deliver it to the lucky family on the other end. I saw myself hidden behind sunglasses as I followed his casket down the same isle of the church we were married in. I saw myself on the floor of the shower crying as the water washed my tears from my face. I saw myself stop caring for myself. I saw myself go into robotic mode and take care of all of the crazy dealings and paperwork and court and the nightmare that came after. I saw myself travel, explore, begin to live. I saw myself take on new things my heart probably never would have, but because I now felt I had nothing to lose, I had nothing to lose. I saw myself laughing and loving again. I saw myself become a wife again. I saw myself become a mother. I saw myself achieve and achieve and achieve. I saw myself, lose myself again. I saw myself, almost walk away from my marriage when we stopped putting us first. I saw myself remembering what was important and making changes. I saw myself seeking God and trusting in him more. I saw myself! I really saw and loved the woman I had become through all of the moments of my life. I found that through the rights and the wrongs, I forgave myself, because my maker had forgiven me.

So, today I bring good news to you, you have a caring friend in me, caring friends in the community of those of us who are growing in numbers and coming together. You are not alone, even though you feel alone. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News” – Romans 10:15

Trust is so hard. Understanding is so hard. “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.: – Proverbs 3:5-6

You may be in a place where you can not trust, you can not feel hope. That is ok, start out by praying in those moments for a peace to carry you through. Turn your pain into your purpose and remember that when you are ready, vulnerability is the doorway to healing!

That is all and that is a lot. So have a wonderful day all of my keepers of the flame.

Tanya Smith

 

 

 

 

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A Widow’s Story From South Africa – We Call Her Anna

Thank you for visiting A Widows World.

In this first Widow Share Episode, Tanya Smith has the honor of sharing a Widow’s story from South Africa.

Her story and her message is powerful. Her identity has to remain anonymous for cultural reasons. Please watch and leave your comments of encouragement and support for this woman we call Anna.

If you would like to submit your story, email tanya@awidows.world. A Widows World is growing into a community, which serves to inspire, empower and connect widows worldwide.

We hope you will join this movement, sharing your own experiences through the journey of grief, growth and transformation.

 

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Widow Defined – I Will Hold My Head Up High


A widow defined, is a woman who has been through hell losing a spouse, but holds her head high with a quiet strength that can be felt by all who are in her presense.

I remember the stares and how I could feel the touch of them on my skin. I showed nothing in return and if I did maybe just merely it was a nod or a glance of acknowledgment to close the gap. Then I would discretely move back into my hollow shell, my place of protection. Blank space spanned in between me and everything and everyone around me. I stood still, so still and the world kept moving, spinning, going on. I remember thinking how can this be, is this a dream world? Would the darkness ever end? I would curl up into myself in the night, willing my swollen eyes and the loneliness of my mind to give in to rest. I would wake each day, to the sun peaking through the pale yellow curtains and then be greeted with the shocking stab to the heart as my reminder of what was real set in. Then, I would get to it, start my day surrounded by his things, but not him, only to get through the mundane chit chat that would surely ensue as others tried to cheer and bring up anything, anything but my current hell.

Slowly, very slowly, motion started to return to me. I could feel my hands though frail, I could see my face, though pale, I could see light, though it shown too bright. What was this light shining down on me? Why was it warming my skin, bringing color back into my cheeks?

The light had never left me, and so I believe all things are connected and contrived for us. Today, as I was reading I came upon this verse, “Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my Light.” ~ Micah 7:8

How amazing is this message? So much of what is put on my heart encompasses two opposite sources, darkness and light. If we never went through darkness, how could we fully appreciate the light? I remember as a young girl in Sunday school, one of my favorite songs was, “This little light of mine, Im going to let it shine. This little light of mine, Im going to let it shine. Everywhere I go, Im going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” Just singing it as I type, brings me warmth. Yes, warmth even knowing what I know and going through what I have gone through and continue to go through. I feel the warmth and light of this life, and you can to. Believe it and come on this journey with me back to the light.

And so today, as I was thinking, I wanted share these feelings to open a glimpse of the world of a widow or someone who has lost profound love in their life. So, go with me ten years back in time, if you will. The word Widow had never even fell upon my lips, or if it had, I didn’t understand the coldness, the solitude and cruelty of it. I think about all of the woman I have met that are a part of this misunderstood tribe. I see so many that carry the look of strength, but when I see them I see them for who they are and not what they have been marked with. I see a quiet grace, an unspoken sadness, a dignity and appreciation for what is true and real. I see the compassion and understanding, that we know the loss that we have experienced changes us and will continue to change us as we grow into our own right, into our light. We know we are beautifully broken and we don’t see ourselves as needing to be fixed, or needing to just get over it. It will never leave us and this is something, we are just fine with.

We will go through a re-birth if you will. We will not have to relearn everything, but we will have to take steps in our own time to relearn the life we will build for ourselves, a new life. When we get to a place of healing and readiness for what’s next, all I have to say is watch out world!! Widowed woman are strong woman, bold woman, brave woman and will see through bullshit a mile a way. We won’t bind ourselves long to people and things if they do not serve us or better us, we will have learned the importance of time and filling it with people that lift us up and support us in our journey, rather than those that cut us down or are the nah sayers. Yes, we don’t have time for the nah sayers.

We will go through all different stages and waves and all at once or one at a time. We will love deeply and expect more out of others and at times that will hurt us, because we can’t expect people to see the world as we do. We will feel things deeply, more deeply than a person could possibly think they could feel and we will not care what others perceptions are of us, because we get who we are, or we understand we are getting to where we hope to get to.

So, because music has been such a part of my journey, this song completely enveloped me when I heard it. It took me to thinking this, this right here explains some of how I felt, still feel when I look back at the quiet strength I showed.

Wherever you are in your walk of widowhood, or grief journey in losing a loved one, please believe in your heart that the light will come back to you, if you open yourself to receiving it. Please be encouraged by this and at least impress upon your heart that you will be open to what is next for you.

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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The Classification of a Widow{er}

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I want to share my thoughts on the classification of a widow or widower.

By societies standards, that little status box we have to check each year on many applications or tax return filings is what technically classifies each of our marital statuses. You know them, single, married, divorced, separated, widowed. It categorizes us to doctors, banks, schools, government, census, the IRS, etc.  It however has nothing to do with who we are and what we have gone through. It has no direct meaning or correlation to how people identify with us. It tells no real significant story of our life and experiences.

In 2004, I checked single. In 2005, I checked married. In 2007, I checked widow. Then in 2009, I checked married again.

So, based on my re-marriage in 2009, I was no longer a widow by societies standards. This is fine, and its not fine in the same token. What people don’t understand is that the journey of widowhood will follow those of us affected by it, FOREVER! 

Woman and men in the world that are widowed or become widowers and that decide to remarry, will continue to be affected by widowhood through remarriage and for the rest of their lives. I can tell you this from my own experience. A loss as significant and devastating as losing a partner will carry through into all aspects of life. I know that one day, god willing, when I am older, I will look back on my entire life and remember John and our love story. I know I will remember it with the same love, fondness and tears in my eyes as the day I said goodbye to him. I also know I will look at the life I built for myself, I will look at the struggles I went through, I will give thanks that I took the chance and lived.

Last night for example, me, my second husband and my two daughters through our marriage went to a birthday party for our friends son. These friends were my and my late husbands closest friends and really more than friends because they became family. I saw so many people I hadn’t seen in such a long time and it was warming to my heart, but I also left in tears. Happy tears because I saw them and because my second husband has been so embraced and accepted by them. Sad tears because of all of the memories of me and John with them that will always be there, and also for how much time has gone past and how fast time continues to go by where I don’t see them much. We still speak and try our best to stay connected, however its not as often and its not the same as it was. Despite that, I know we will always be close, always be connected and have love for one another. I know I will always be a part of their family as I hope they also know they will always be a part of mine. Through time and re-building and schedules and ultimately letting things slip and get in the way, it is different. I know I don’t want it to be different though and maybe some of that is my fault. I for a time had such a difficult time with everything that reminded me of John and our life. Life started really happening for all of us. Between marriages, having children, living in different states or cities, careers and just growing into our responsibilities as young adults, we were all learning the juggling act of life.  It gets crazy and navigating the crazy is sometimes very hard and draining. I know my heart is constantly feeling pulled, because I want to be everything to everyone. I also know this is not realistic if I am to remain a sane person. The sane part may even be questionable from time to time. I want to have connected relationships and friendships. It is important to me. I continue to have this, but not at the level I wish for. This struggle is real for many of us. We do our best and sometimes, maybe we fall flat, but we do continue to try. I’m very blessed that every single one of my closest friends and my family understands this same struggle, and we can pick right back up where we left off not holding anything against the other, because we get it. Life gets complicated and busy.

I have faced many challenges as a re-married widow. Some of them people may not understand or get, but they are what I have been through and so I can share them from my own experience and the experiences I continue to have. I have also come to terms that people don’t have to get me, because I get myself.  Don’t classify a widow{er}. If you are of the mind that a widow or widower just gets on with their life and is no longer classified or part of the widowhood journey, after remarriage, your thinking is incorrect and so I hope this helps others understand and take to heart that widowhood continues on in those of us affected indefinitely.

A widow who re-marries will be presented with new and different challenges.

  • The war within ourselves because we remain in love with our spouse that passed, but we also are in love with our new spouse. I remember when I realized I was starting to fall in love again and what a very strange feeling it was to know, I loved two people. I can’t explain how surreal it was and I can tell you the exact moment this realization came to me.
  • The struggle that we go through feeling like so much time is passing, but we are making new memories. The overwhelming feeling that the new ones are replacing our old ones, that we are replacing our late spouse that passed. Even if we know we will never replace or forget them.
  • Speaking of time passing, for as quick as time passes, it is also hard to know how many years have spanned to where we are today. Knowing the last time we spoke to them or saw them was so long ago, can be hard. Time and distance can present new feelings and emotions and so the saying “time heals all wounds,” it’s not really true.
  • Making our relationships with new people that come into our life open, so they know and support that our journey is on-going. We worry about others placing certain expectations on us, when we may not know what to expect from ourselves at times in the grieving process.
  • We may have a hard time communicating when their are times of frustration and possibly anger, linked to an event or a date. Certain periods of grief can elicit this and it is normal. It may even be a subconscious thing. I know certain times in the year when I am feeling funky or just down, I can stop and say oh It’s around my first husband birthday or our wedding day or the anniversary of his passing.  Its also important to be open with your new partner so they can know that the cause of those feelings and your emotions are not directed at them or caused by them.
  • We can hold things in that hurt us. Its important to try to be open with our feelings and share them so the people closest to us can try to understand us more and what we may be going through.
  • People connected to our first spouse and a part of the life we shared, may have a hard time with our moving forward with our lives. They may not be accepting of a new partner.
  • Making sure the new people in our lives don’t feel threatened by our continuing to share the person we lost and still love because they were and are still and important part of who we were and who we continue to be.
  • Making sure we do our very best to not compare our new partner to the one we didn’t choose to say goodbye to. Sometimes we may not even mean to.
  • Communicating what it is we want for ourselves in our new relationships, so its clear and a new partner understands. They need to know we must share our journey, who we were, who our partner we lost was. It’s important so we can feel whole and safe in moving forward.
  • Clearly sharing with a new partner that there will be hard days, tearful and difficult days. Days of remembrance, milestones and even those just because sad days.
  • Remembering that our new partners likely will not know how to empathize or be there for us in those times of remembrance or important dates. We cannot expect them to, so if we want them to show support, then we need to ask them to or share with them these times.
  • Understanding that a widow will always love her husband that passed. Death and time do not change that.
  • Remembering that no one love is the same and seeing the uniqueness and finding thankfulness for both is very important.
  • The blending of families and children. I did not have children with my first husband, but I do have several woman that are my friends whom are widows and do have children. I can not speak to this personally, though they share with me the struggles.
  • For me, I have already started explaining to my children I have from my new marriage that I loved someone and had committed a life to someone before their father, that I still love them and will continue to because they are important to me and who I have become to be as their mom. I will teach my daughters that this is ok and I will share with them my story and how thankful I am for John and how thankful I am for Dave. I will teach them that love comes in many forms and not just the way society shows it, or the way we expect it to be.
  • Making sure the children you had with your spouse that passed, feel open to talking about him and sharing him without fear for hurting the new partners feelings. Giving them a place of comfort and trust to know that their fathers memory will live on. Again, I can not speak to this, I only know from what my widowed friends have shared.

There are so many more, but these were just some I wanted to share.

I have a girlfriend that I met in my travels who lost her significant other. They were not married and so thankfully his family embraced her and recognized her loss. I feel a different status needs to be recognized for the woman and men who are the girlfriends/boyfriends or life partners, of the passed. There are many woman and men, who were also with their partner for years. Maybe they did not get the chance to officially marry their partner, or they had made the decision that they did not need a certificate to acknowledge their commitment. They have no classification. Many of these woman and men are not recognized for their loss in the way that they would have been if they had officially been married. I recognize them, because they loved and knew the love of their partner that they lost. They experienced the same or similar loss as many of us who were married and widowed or became widowers. In today’s age, more and more people are deciding to not get married, so we need to see that girlfriends/boyfriends and life partners who have experienced loss, matter. That they have the same grieving journey ahead, though they are not recognized as widows. I embrace them as the same as me.

It was put on my heart to write this blog because I have seen articles written that discount, discredit and make woman or men who have remarried or who were not married to their partner feel as if they should just move on, renounce the fact that this devastating loss has happened and because we have moved forward, we no longer care or we are magically healed. This is unfair, untrue and ridiculous.

I was 26 when a bee or hornet changed my whole world, something as small and relevant to nature, the nature that we love and do our best to preserve, reminded me that in life there are no guarantees. It was beyond my control or understanding. Although, John and I were only married a little over a year, we had shared seven life packed years together. I feel like there were people that saw we were only married a year so they started forming their own opinions, like somehow that one year was not long enough and I would be fine. It was seven years, we spent building a relationship and a foundation of love. Whether its months or years, or decades, I hope this provides insight and new thinking if you are the family member or friend of a widow{er} or unwed widow{er}. No person should ever discount others relationships or discredit love.

I am and will always be a widow, because I am John’s widow.  Widowhood is something I know and also don’t care to know, but it has defined me and the person I am today and the person I will continue to grow into. I share my journey as a widow openly because it is who I am. It is a part of me and my life with John and no check box or person will tell me differently. I share it because I have also made sure my new husband understands my journey and he has always been open and continues to support me through it. I will be a widow and know widowhood until I die, EVEN with remarriage. I will be wise beyond my years, because of what I have been through and continue to go through. To this day, I remain John’s wife; I am his widow, he is my late husband.

The way widows are viewed and socially embraced is changing. I am thankful for this, especially in a very uncertain time in our history where we see so publicly the amount of lives that are lost unnecessarily. The amount of woman and men, who are now a part of this journey, it breaks my heart. I pray for all of the new widow{ers} as a result of the recent terrible shootings and killings throughout the United States and Internationally.

When I became a widow, there was not much in the way of support or avenues for widow connection. Social media has now changed that. The widowhood connection is much stronger and growing. It is growing for widowers and girlfriends/boyfriends as well. It’s amazing to me all of the empowered woman and men I have started to meet through social media, that are sharing their journey and have been sharing it. The bravery and courage behind that is amazing to me. The vulnerability and bravery of it!

When we stop hiding, we can truly be who we are.

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Keep Believing Even When Your Prayers Hit The Ceiling

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My Faith Had Lost All Meaning

Keep believing even in the moments you feel you don’t have an ounce of belief in you. I remember when I felt my prayers had hit the ceiling. The night my husband was taken to the hospital, I fell to my knees at his bedside in the emergency room. I prayed with conviction and authority in my heart, that god would heal him. Although, he came back to us, he was not going to get better. My prayers were not answered and that was something that I could not understand. I had become something I never imagined or thought up for myself, I became a widow. During that time, I lived in a fog and complete haze. Loss and the aftermath it presents is something that you can not explain or help people to understand. Unless a person has experienced loss for themselves, it is hard for others to comprehend. I saw the unanswered prayers as god failing me, life failing me. Because of that, I lost confidence in my faith and I stopped praying and believing.

You Kept Me Believing

I’m thankful that God and my family kept me believing.  I came back to my faith and as I did, he started revealing to me the plans he had ahead. I’m blessed that I can stop and look back at my life, even the struggles, and see the joy that has been restored. Through my journey of loss, I have become to know myself. I am confident in who I am, although I am still growing into the person I hope to be. I am blessed to have leaned into life and to have designed the life I want for myself. My design continues to change, but I think that is completely normal for people who open themselves up to growing.  I sometimes fear for what pain may be ahead, but I think that will always be present, because loss changes perception of life. Challenge yourselves to look to today and have a grateful heart for moments and breaths.

There is a song that goes with this. Music has been such a big part of my journey.

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It Was Written

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Looking back on the past ten years and how fast it has gone by, I have a grateful heart. I understand what life means and I am still learning. I’m thankful for what was written in the sand for the life I shared with John and I’m thankful for what was written in the sand waiting for me after loss. I’m blessed for everyone in my life that helped me along the way. Live your life so fully through the seasons of it. Feel through the pain and don’t hold yourself back for fear of the hurt that may be ahead, because you will be missing out. Make an impact in your life each day.

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Have Courage

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Courage! Having the courage to step out and take action can be so hard sometimes. Truly though, the decision leading up to you actually taking that first step is the hardest, isn’t it?

Don’t we all agonize over just that part.

Once we take the leap, doesn’t everything have a way of working it self out? Maybe not the way we expected, but somehow it could lead to something better than we could have hoped for. That is at least what I have experienced.

Obstacles will always be in front of us, but I guess for me, the having no regrets part is the biggest thing. If you don’t follow your heart, I will ask you this, how can you truly be whole?

If you are struggling with something today, I would say, trust in yourself! Listen to your heart and where it is leading you. Don’t make a decision impulsively or hastily (I know this from experience), think things through, but not to the point you drive yourself or others around you mad (I know this from experience also haha) :). If you are constantly worrying or doubting what’s ahead, give it up to god and start praying for the signs to lead you to your whats next.

Comment below #iwillhavecourage if you are going to commit to figuring out your next step!

Pictured are my daughters who teach me what courage means everyday. If I had not had the courage to start again, I would not know the amazing love and joy they would add to my life. I commit to raising these two to be strong woman who are confident in themselves and go after their dreams. #lovinglife #addelise #widow #courage #awidowsworld #rebuilding #livingthroughloss

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Positive Encounters

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Every encounter in life matters. Every encounter leaves us with a chance to reflect looking at where we have been, where we are now and where we want to be!
I have had several encounters over the last couple weeks that really allowed me to stop and look back at my former broken self and see where I am today. The biggest thing I have seen lately is how so many things are being revealed to me. It is because I have opened my heart, my mind and I have been praying more directly.
First Reveal
When my my first husband John passed away, I was working for a wonderful company. They were sensitive, supportive, and understanding of the tragedy I had gone through. The week following Johns passing, we were supposed to be on a trip to Vail, Colorado with everyone. A trip that I had planned and John and I were very excited about. Needless to say, we did not get to go on that trip and all of our plans we had would never happen. I went back to work a week and a half later, because I had to financially. Though it was hard, it helped focus my mind on something that I knew, my job. I had so many moments I would be crying in my office. I felt broken and afraid of what my future was going to be. I was lost without my partner and best friend. I felt bad for my family, friends and co-workers who had to see me that way, even though I knew they understood. I eventually made the hard decision to leave and take time off to find me, the new me. I had sold our lot that we were going to build on and so I had a little money to take me through a few months time while I waitressed, until I figured things out. I closed a chapter that I needed to close at that time to start writing a new one. It was the right decision for me.
Recently, my old co-workers reached out to catch up.  As I was walking into the building emotions started flooding over me. I continued through the lobby and saw my old office. As I waited for some of them to greet me, I had a moment that made me stand still and stare into the office window. I could see my former self, sitting there so frail, beyond devastated and lost. I was the most lifeless version of myself at that point in time. So uncertain of what my life would be.  I immediately turned back to where I am now.  Feelings of thanks and pride washed over me. If anyone had told me I would get through it back then and have the life I have now, I truly would not have believed it. It was not without struggles, I struggle to this day. Looking at myself today, I was standing in that same spot but now I was a strong, confident woman. I was remarried, had two beautiful daughters and I had built an amazing career. I saw someone who didn’t take no for an answer and it showed in many areas of my life. I now carried a smile and an evident love for life. There will always be an underlying sadness behind my smile, but I am happy in my heart. Happiness is knowing John would be happy for me too.
Message: Remember to take care of yourself. Listen to what you need and not what others think you need.  Take time for your heart to heal. It will take years and years. Parts of my heart are healing still. It won’t heal completely and your hurt will always be there, but listen to yourself and what you need to move forward. Allow yourself the chance to at some point in time stop and look back with pride for how far you have come. 
Second Reveal
On July 3rd, we hosted a Fourth of July celebration at our home. I was running all week making sure the plans and preparation would come together, but also just telling myself, “Hey, these are your friends and family, just relax and enjoy that everyone will be getting together.” I was headed to the grocery store to pick up the buns and potato salad the morning of, you know the last minute fixings. I came to the ketchup isle with the pickles and then it happened! A man around my age late 30’s, maybe early 40’s says, “Is your name Tanya?”
I stop and take a look at him, not recognizing him and I say, “Yes” He then says his name, and continues, “I know you.” I clearly don’t know this man from recollection, so I am visibly feeling bad because I do usually remember people, so I say, “You do?”
The next line brought me to instant tears, “I knew your husband, John, I was friends with him and also know your dad.” I quickly apologize for my tears which maybe even were sobs….yes sobs. See, even ten years later, unprepared for running into someone, I did not have my guard up. I was not prepared. I immediately felt bad and said, “I am so sorry, I do this sometimes, I am OK.” His family was staring in shock and I quickly recognized that everyone was looking at me, thinking why is this woman crying in the ketchup and pickle isle. I pull myself together and hear him say, “Be blessed.” This encounter completely shook me. I always have outwardly been strong and wore my smile. I broke down. I had let myself break down and show my true feelings, the sadness of losing John, it will always be there. Most people that know me, will say that I am very open and almost transparent when it comes to how I am feeling. This is true, but I have held a lock on my heart, ever since John passed away. I locked up space, that I let no one see, because it is hard. I have been opening up this space, because I’m ready to. Sharing has been beyond amazing for me, I always wanted to do this, but I had to be ready. The timeline is mine and no one else’s.
After, I left the store I instantly wished I would have been able in that moment to have a conversation with this man, to let him know that even though I showed my tears, my sobs…I am good. I am good within my self, I am good within my soul and I am so proud of the life I have built and continue to build.  A life that my first husband would be proud of. I wish I had had the chance to brag on my second husband and how that despite trials we have faced in our marriage, we are in love and good. That I feel John picked him for me because they have so many similarities, yet are each very different people.  I wish I would have showed him a picture of my two amazing daughters. I didn’t though, because I allowed myself to break down and it was exactly what I needed to do, to see that I am good. I have continued to peel back the layers of my pain, revealing a trueness to myself and an outlook that is life focused. I hope that maybe I will perhaps have the chance again so I can share this part of my story.
Coming out of that experience, it helped and touched my heart.
Message: I remember when I used to say I was OK, because it was so much easier than explaining that I really was not. When I started crying, and I said, “I am OK,” I really meant it this time. I will always cry, sometimes sob over the loss of my first husband and best friend, but I have stopped hiding behind my pain. I am taking care of me, opening my heart, sharing who I am. I have learned that being vulnerable and real is OK. More people need to see that in this world, more people need to be shown it is ok to move past your grief and that life is a gift that none of us should waste or throw away. 
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International Widow’s Day June 23rd

Today, June 23rd is International Widow’s Day!

It is a day very close to my heart as I became a widow at the young age of 26. Becoming a widow at any age, is difficult, so I would like to take this time to recognize all of the widows worldwide and honor them this day, by acknowledging the struggles, the heartache and the journey of widowhood.

Widowhood is not easy and truly no matter how much time passes, the journey is ever present and the feeling of sadness, missing, longing, loving and reflecting on the time that was shared will remain. I have found remembering and letting yourself be in  and feel through those tough moments is not only good for the soul but also very healing. My journey as a widow will be ten years this September. There are days it feels like yesterday and days it feels like it was so very long ago, but the feelings remain. We did not choose to say goodbye. Maybe the loss was was sudden, maybe it was known and the time was looming, no matter the circumstance when we love someone and lose them to death we will never feel we had enough time.

I encourage widows out there to live, take chances and go after the things that matter. Don’t stay in your sorrow and grief, honor your loved one lost and yourself by living a life that would make them smile and be proud. We all deserve that.

Background on International Widows Day

International Widows Day takes place every year on June 23rd. It was initially launched by the Loomba Foundation whose focus is caring for widows around the world, in London in 2005.

International Widows Day (IWD) is a global day of focus for effective action to raise awareness and help widows and their children around the world. In 2015, there were an estimated 259 million widows and 585 million children in the world affected by widowhood, together with their family members the number is well over a billion people. For more information on the Loomba Foundation visit http://theloombafoundation.org/international-widows-day/

The Loomba Foundation put together a report in 2015 that details the research they performed to gather information on the number of widows per country. I have used Esri’s ArcGIS for Office solution to create an interactive map that allows you to visualize this data worldwide. Although, this is not 2016 data, this is the most current information I was able to gather. I credit the Loomba organization for their research, adopting this day, and the care and support they offer to recognize widows worldwide.

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Loss Cripples You

IMG_3669Loss cripples you, it settles a fog over you.  It completely changes you. I remember looking in the mirror after I lost John and my reflection was a stranger. I couldn’t recognize who I was, let alone comprehend who I was going to be without him.  I tried looking ahead, but all I knew, was what was behind me. The life we had. The life we were building and the plans and dreams we shared for our new adventure in marriage and creating our forever.

Almost ten years later, I look at my reflection and I see me, well the new version of me. I’m forever changed, but I’m proud of my scars and my journey. I see that once I started focusing on each day and living to honor John and myself and not take a moment for granted, I started to really live. I honestly have reminders all of the time, after all we are human. We are not perfect and despite loss we can and still do lose site of what’s important.  I learned it was ok to dream again, feel again, love again, be happy again.

Focus on what’s in front of you rather than looking too far ahead. When I did this and lived day by day, taking pressures off of myself I started to be less afraid of what was ahead. I started focusing on the day and making it a good one and that overflowed into the next day…I began to find my joy again. New joy!

It was not easy, I stumbled a lot, I feel like I still do, I felt lost a lot and at times I still do, I was afraid and at times, I still am. I was afraid, because I lived through just how fragile life is and so with that, I felt fear for letting myself love again. I was young, it was likely that I would find love again, if I opened my heart again and once I got to a place I was capable of loving another person.

Fear also cripples us, it holds us back, it makes us question ourselves constantly. This is the fear we hear within ourselves, but also the fear that others project onto us.

The fear inside of me was thinking, “what if this happens to me again”, because lets face it, it could! What would the point be in getting close to someone again? The heartache that could come.

The fear projected onto me, was society and peoples beliefs for how I should handle my grief! How I should stay in it for others. People become very uncomfortable with strength, when you don’t fall into some social norm. There is no manual here people. Grief is personal and affects us in different ways.

I remember a friend getting me out of the house weeks after John had passed. I didn’t want to leave my place of mourning and safety, but they were kind enough to know, I needed to put my mind on something else even if just for a minute. Escape my reality, even though it will never escape me. We attended a Halloween party and a woman my age at the time cornered me knowing what I had just been through. I didn’t know her, but she acted as if she knew me. She said to me words I remember plain as day. She said “Don’t be afraid to stay at home”. My face I could feel in an instant turn white, what? What should I say? So I mekley said “ok”, while inside I wanted to claw at her. I wanted to say what do you mean by this, explain! Why did she feel the need? Was I asking her for her opinion? No! Had she just lost the person she loved the most in her life, and was now suddenly some expert in grief? No! I was angered and wanted to leave. I was visibly upset and hurt by her words.

You see, though what I have learned through this is that people they don’t know what to say, they don’t understand, they can comprehend. They feel sorry for you. You see it in their eyes and you feel it in their words. Words that honestly can hurt you more than help you. Words that sometimes make you feel they are minimizing your loss. When this happens to you, there is no bright side…there is nothing that comforts you and you don’t want to hear how you will be ok someday…because you are not ok. This is not ok.

I see that now though she just didn’t likely know what to say.  Its simply that people have no idea how they would handle a loss like this, they can’t comprehend it and when it is a young life I think it’s even harder for them to grasp. Any loss is hard though regardless of age. Time! Time shared will never be enough, even when someone has lived a full life, the memories there that were made and the person you mourn who impacted you and had some part in the person you are…it’s never enough.

I heard what people were saying when I decided to start getting out. I had to put my shield of armour on. I had to toughen myself in ways I never thought because I was a caring, compassionate and sensitive person. I had decided, I was not going to stay in my house for others, stay in a place where walls and flooding memories were closing in on me. I woke up every day and that was 100% for me at that time, just getting up. There are moments where I feel I lost time, I can’t remember. This is normal. This is real. A piece of my heart, of who I was and am is gone, but does live on through me. Through my sharing and my heart.

There was a particular day about a year and a half after losing John that I felt like I woke up.

During the time when John passed away, we were living with my parents. We were getting ready to build our home and break ground we had hoped that weekend. After losing him, I went back to work a week later because financially I had to. We were young, we hadn’t planned for this. It helped to put my mind on work, I had so many day I would sit in my office and cry, sob! People were kind though and they gave me my space and they showed their concern and care. Six months later, I was done. I needed a break. I needed to feel, or feel nothing. I just couldn’t pretend. I had to immerse myself in my loss. I had sold the lot that we owned, so I had some money to get me through for a short time until I decided what was next. I moved into a little house, which I quickly became very fond of. My first place living on my own. It was very lonely. It was also very good for me. Skipping forward though, I went back to work about four months later finding a new job. It was somehow easier for me to start new rather than have people look at me with pity, though they may not have been doing that I felt it. I needed to start new or at least as new as I could.

So getting back to the day, I feel I woke up. I was upstairs in the finished attic space of my house on a Friday working from home. I went to head down stairs to get some water. I lost my footing and I fell from the top of the stairs all the way to the bottom. It took my breath away, I was balling and the pain was stabbing. Then the next instant shook me. I instantly felt like God was saying “stop”, “wake up”, John was also saying “please stop being so sad”, “live”!

It was such a powerful moment for me. I saw clearer and I knew it was time for my re-entry into the life I could have, if I would let myself.

I woke up and I started to rebuild. I used to put so much emphasis on what others felt I needed for me. I quickly grew a back bone. I quickly stood up and put a wall around me, protecting myself from others judgments or thoughts for how they now wanted me to live. I was not staying in this place of loneliness and self pity another minute.

I have met many widows along the way, I truly feel like god has brought them into my life. They have enriched my life. It does help knowing that I am not alone, even when I thought I was. I see the grace of god in my story, I believe he carried me through even when I did not know he was there. Even when I turned away from him. I’m thankful, I did not turn away for long, but even when I did, I felt his protection. His love.

My heart is happy today, though I have so much more healing and life lessons to learn! I have an open heart and am not afraid of living.

I’m truly so very thankful Johns gift to me was teaching me that life and love are worth EVERYTHING. Because of this, I opened my heart when I was ready, on my timeframe and no one else’s and I have a wonderful second husband Dave and two unbelievably loving and sweet daughters that show me each day how truly blessed and loved I am.

Healing is on-going! Learning is constant. Embrace your journey and honor your loves lost by LIVING!

~Tanya Smith

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