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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