“My greatest fear is that he’ll be forgotten.” That’s the first sentence of an article I came across about the unique challenges ‘young widows’ face. It’s a sentiment that has crossed my mind multiple times throughout my days, so much so that I force myself to do things so he won’t be forgotten. The irony of this however, is that I can’t go through our memories. The minute one pops into my head, my chest tightens and I crumble into a puddle of tears. He can’t be forgotten, he can’t be remembered (not yet); it’s a tug-of-war I’m apparently not alone in dealing with.
Today, the sun gave that deceptive perception that it is warm or balmy out. However, it is a mere 45 degrees. Even so, I decided to gear up in multiple layers, put on my specialized skull cap, that has a perfectly placed hole for my pigtail so that I can wear a cycling helmet over it, my windbreaker, full-tipped cycling gloves, and a neck gaiter (that I can pull over my face while riding to cut the wind) and headed out to the garage. Standing there for a good 10 minutes, my stomach turned and twisted in knots at the thought of getting on my bike. A bike I haven’t ridden since August and swore I never would again after Mike’s death. Normally, I would never be caught riding in such cold weather. I hate riding in the cold; my lungs burn, my limbs get numb, and nose hairs stick together–it’s not a feeling I enjoy. But this morning I read an article, “The Young Widows Club,” that made my chest tighten, my lips tingle, and my heart hurt. As I rubbed my chest to self-soothe, I realized I’ve been ingratiated into a club I never asked to join. I read about one woman’s experience losing friendships because they were either “couples friends” or the experience and grief is so painful for the friends that they don’t feel they have the skills to support you so they fade away. Another talked about the clichés they constantly heard about, “Time heals all wounds,” “In time you’ll find love again,” “Everything happens for a reason.”
One psychologist puts it like this, “The stressors and grief that surround a young widow are vastly different than that of any other form of loss. It rips a piece of your very existence from you, so significantly that you are never yourself again, you will be someone different.”
His words lingered for a moment, I again rubbed my chest as if my heart recognized what he was saying, but my head did not. Blurry-eyed, I looked up from the article and watched as the sun became brighter. Robotically, I geared up and went out to the garage. After my 10 minute starring contest, I put my water in its rightful place, and threw on my shoes. Grabbing my phone, I quickly realized that if anything were to happen to me (a flat tire, a fall etc.) I didn’t really know who to call. Loneliness teased me once again as I sat there starring at my phone, knowing that I didn’t have a husband that would keep “an eye out” for me, or text me to see how my ride was going. Shaking off the tears, I adjusted my phone in its holder and clipped in. Shakily, I gazed at the road ahead, unsure if this is what I really wanted to do on a cold Sunday morning. I peddled slowly, not sure of where I was going, but feeling as though I was trying to escape the club that was breathing down my neck, trying to get me to join. I peddled faster, harder. My windbreaker flapping in the breeze, its sound offering solace on an otherwise eerily quiet ride.
At one point, I looked back to make sure there were no cars coming so I could cross, only to become panic stricken when I didn’t see Mike behind me. I stopped dead in my tracks and pulled over to the side of the road. It was a quick one-two punch to the gut, “He’s not here. He’ll never be here again. He’ll never be riding along side me.” I expected to see him, I expected him to say, “Keep going, I’m right behind you.” But all I saw was a field of shriveled up sunflowers and dried up pappus; an empty sound that echoed through the field as the wind rustled through their browning stems, taunting me.
I hopped back on my bike and kept riding. There’s a constant battle that goes on when you lose a spouse. Riding, I felt close to him again, connected to him, yet that connection hurt so bad, it was like someone had carved a hole through my heart and I struggled to breathe.
When I pulled in the driveway, I took a minute because I knew that I wasn’t going to walk in the door and have him greet me and ask how my ride went. I had to prepare for the loneliness and emptiness I would feel when that moment happened. How could I prepare? What was I supposed to do? When I wobbled during his wake, my knee buckling under me, as we stood there and prayed at his casket, my Dad caught me and held me up from behind. But as I unclipped and climbed off the bike, it wasn’t my knee that wobbled this time but my heart. I could feel it beginning to ache again.
Another line from the article nagged at me as I tried to stow my bike, wondering if I’d ride it again anytime soon, “We are too few and too young to be significant.” Too few and too young–that’s me now. Walking into our home, now my home, I caught a glimpse of his cycling shoes strewn across the floor from his last ride just a few short months ago. Leaving them undisturbed, I laid my own shoes next to his. I stoke up a fire to get warm, my limbs numb and tingling from the brisk winter air, and then laid on the floor to stretch. Stretching, and starring into the void of the ceiling, I considered what made me get on my bike; why did I do it? Trying to escape, trying to feel closer to him, trying to stay healthy, trying to get rid of the constant anxiety I feel day in and day out, trying to turn back time, trying to run away from the club I’m now a part of–where there are many more than people realize, and yet too few and too young.
I’ve been told that “we” walk around dazed and confused, unable to really think coherently to make decisions. This is so true. I grab at answers at random when people ask how I’m doing, or ask what I need. I don’t really know. I tell him that, my husband, that I don’t know what I’m doing.
I’m walking through a very dense fog, unable to see the road ahead. I have no idea what’s around the next corner, next hill, I can’t even see the sides of the road, it’s just fog. I just walk, and I have no idea when the fog will lift–one widow told me, it never really does, it thins out, and you move forward, but your assuredness of the road ahead is never as strong as it was before.
I am part of a young widows club–a constant tug-of-war club, a double entendre club, a club where there are many more than people realize, yet too few and too young to be significant. With grace and guidance (hopefully someday gratitude), I continue to walk–or ride, knowing that the “club” is walking alongside me, whether I want them to or not.