Becoming a widow was not part of the plan.
Marriage, kids, house with picket fence, those were on my to-do list and I accomplished them quickly and efficiently. Married at the age of 20, a mother by 25, I even managed to produce three children by the time I was 30, because I was such an overachiever. But at the age of 31, I began to live an unexpected life.
We all do, actually. I have yet to meet one person who is living the life they pictured when they were 10 years old. Life twists and turns until one day you don’t recognise the road you’re on anymore. You could be like me and one of those turns could include losing someone you never thought you’d live without. Or you could be like the billions of other people out there who have lost a job, dealt with a messy divorce, infertility issues or any one of life’s disappointments. And if you have, you know that the one question you stop and ask yourself when the dust has settled is this: Now what?
Becoming the answer you’re looking for
The solution is actually simpler than you think. Because the truth is, you have two options: you can move forward or you can remain stuck where you are.
As I was riding home from the hospital after saying a final goodbye to my husband, my mother at the wheel, my eyes blinded by the sun I hadn’t seen in three days, I remember thinking over and over again, “I will have a good life. I will have a good life.” Even in the beginning throes of grief, I knew there was a decision to be made: I could allow myself to spiral and surrender to the black hole of emotional suffering. Or I could find my way out.
The happiness habit
Of course, thinking something and making it happen are two different things. In the years that followed, I had more moments of self-doubt than I care to remember and nights when I would lie on the floor of my bedroom after putting my three toddlers to bed and
let the tears stream down my face and soak the carpet. But it became my personal mission to find happiness again and to even find the humour in the situation in which I found myself.
Because I knew that if I lost that, I would have lost more than my husband. I would have lost myself as well.
Finding joy was like forming a new habit and writing was a big part of that process. As I began blogging about my journey under the name “Widow Chick”, I made a deal with myself: Each entry would find the humour or at least a lesson in whatever situation I found myself. When my four-year-old son threw a temper tantrum in the parking lot of the movie theatre and removed all of his clothes except his socks, of course I found that mortifying in the moment, but hysterically funny when I wrote about it a week later. When I brought someone I was dating to visit my husband’s grave only to find that the cemetery had dug a hole next to my husband for a new occupant, at which point my date asked, “That’s not for me, is it?,” I found that mildly uncomfortable when it happened, but wildly amusing later.
As I moved forward into a life I didn’t recognise anymore, writing became a map of where I’d been that helped me see where I was going. Life curved again and again, as it has a tendency to do, and I was able to remind myself that it was all necessary—the good, bad and ugly—in order to shape the person I’m meant to become.
That in order to find myself, I had to live and live fully, find the joy and comedy in the midst of self-evaluation and move ahead with what I’d learned.
That gave me the ability to look forward when something happened that I couldn’t understand in the moment. By forming that habit, I knew that at some point I would be able to make sense of those twists—maybe even find the joke—and that gave me the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Expecting the unexpected life
Years later, when the seed of writing the blog blossomed into the book Confessions of a Mediocre Widow, I wrote something that I remind myself of every day: I’ll never have a moment when I’ve done something idiotic [which is daily] that I won’t wish that Brad could be here to share that laugh with me. But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped laughing.
Life is unexpected. Every moment we live is one we didn’t know was coming. One moment could be blissful, followed by an event we don’t know how to handle. And for a planner like me, well, that’s been a hard lesson to learn. But it’s a comfort to know that an unexpected life is something I have in common with each and every person I encounter.
And that my next joyful moment could be just around the next bend in the road.
This was first published in the October 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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