The experts refer to it as the “widow’s fog.” A former widowed neighbor referred to it as “the closest thing to insanity.” However one chooses to frame it, widowhood is not for the faint of heart.
It all began in the summer of 2009, when my late husband, Neal and I were taking a walk on our bucolic street in West Hartford, CT. As we reached the crest of a hill, he began having breathing difficulty. I immediately – and somewhat self-righteously - blamed it on his lack of self-discipline when it came to exercise. Nearly 18 months later, we learned that it was something far more sinister – angiosarcoma, a rare, aggressive – and usually fatal blood vessel cancer.
Even as a geriatric social worker, it never occurred to me that widowhood could happen to anyone other than the “seniors” I assisted throughout my career. It never occurred to me that life could indeed turn on the proverbial dime and that two years would be laden with surgeries, chemotherapies, radiation treatments and abject fear and misery.
Four (of many) things I wish I had known about widowhood:
1.) There are stories far sadder than mine.
I thought I had the saddest story – that both my husband and my dog died less than a year apart – of virtually the same cancer. Then I met two women whose husbands died and within that same year, their adult child died.
2.) Odd things will trigger emotions.
I could be grocery shopping and pass by cantaloupes – my husband’s favorite fruit - only to find myself suddenly in tears. I sometimes wondered if the grocery manager thought the cantaloupes were under ripe.
3.) Inanimate objects will take on extreme importance.
After my husband died, I held a tag sale (yard sale or garage sale for those of you living outside of New England). I sold my large stainless steel mixing bowl to a neighbor for a $1.00 – only to find myself nervously and ashamedly calling her and asking for it back. She was so gracious.
4.) Life would get better.
Today – 5 ½ years later - I would give my former neighbor my mixing bowl, I can walk past cantaloupes with nary a tear, and I am always mindful that there are new widows out there in need of my support.
Widowhood is indeed the nearest thing to insanity – but it does get better. The pain, that deep, dark place does diminish in intensity, and while there are dark moments, there is also light. I am reminded of Helen Keller’s quote: Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.