Being a Widowed Single in the Midst of a World of Couples

Suddenly losing your “Plus One” when your spouse dies just sucks. Plain and simple. It does. It is an ancillary issue that grief causes – there are many of course, and most suck. Becoming a single in the midst of your group of friends is hard. You have had this social partner for a long time – in my case, 15 years. You had a partner, you had someone to talk to at a party if there was a lull, you had someone to rescue you from an awkward conversation, you had someone to wink at from across the room, you always had a plus one for weddings and events. You had a vibe and a rhythm and no need to worry about who was refilling your drink or taking you home.

This strikes me again today strongly for two reasons. One is that a mom I know lost her husband to suicide last night. 9 days before Christmas. A great family with 3 children – lives changed forever in an instant. Even though my husband died, it’s always shocking and hard to fathom when someone dies. I found out late last night and have been thinking about them ever since. Another wonderful human that has lost their Plus One. I am not close to her but all of a sudden I feel a bond to this newest member of the club – “the club that no one wants to join.” It is a club like no other however, one in which its members comfort each other and come together in such a strong way for support – because no one can understand what this experience is like, really understand, unless you have lived it. We all know that, and when a new person enters that tribe, they become emotionally connected to all.

As I was thinking about this woman and her family this morning, I was also thinking about a Christmas Party that I am invited to this evening. I have been debating for days about whether or not I will go. I adore the couple that are hosting this annual party and I know many of the people that will be there. Many of the couples that will be there (it is almost all couples). I have gone to this party several times over the years, a few times with a date, but most times that I have gone, I have gone alone. Getting up the courage to go to events like this is tough. Going alone to an event that is mostly filled with loving couples always brings on a lot of anxiety for me. What if I walk in and have no one to talk to? What if it’s awkward AF? What if I am standing alone in the corner? What if the people that do talk to me are doing so because they feel sorry for me? What if they are talking about me – the single in the midst of couples, the widow in the midst of marrieds, the recently re-singled woman. What if they see me the way I see myself? The chubby odd woman out. Some of my fears are reasonable and some are not – I realize that. But my brain practically explodes with the anxiety. When thinking about these events, sometimes I push through and take a deep breath, look as good as I possibly can, and put on my mask of extreme self-confidence and go for it. Often with a drink or two before I get to the event. Sometimes I stay home and binge watch Netflix and eat ice cream. Often with a drink or two.  And typically regret not going. But these things ARE HARD! They reaffirm that your spouse is gone, reaffirm that you are on your own, reaffirm that you are lonely, reaffirm that you have massive anxiety and self-esteem issues, reaffirm what a mess you can be.

As I was thinking about whether or not I should go to the party, it occurred to me that this woman – and her husband – were also invited to this party. And that she was now, among many, many other awful things, going to have to deal with this solitary bullshit. I hate it for her, I hate it for me, I hate it for all of us.

After way too much overthinking, I have decided I am going to go to the party. I have had so much support these past years and a lot of that support came from the people that will be at this party. I need to remind myself of that, remember that these are people that have had my back. I have come to realize that many widows do not have the type of support I have had and for that support I will be forever grateful. And you know, as a widow, there are only so many invitations you receive. You have to say yes whenever you can and get yourself out there! Sitting at home watching a movie does absolutely nothing for your low self-esteem, nothing to relieve your sense of loneliness, nothing to sooth your anxiety, and certainly nothing to make you feel less of a mess. This is the time to look yourself in the mirror long and hard – which is therapy in and of itself – and remind yourself what an amazing, bad ass, gorgeous, special, interesting woman you are. This is the time to feel your own vibe and be your own Plus One. This is the time to remind yourself that there are many that are indeed grateful to have you in their lives. You have come so far in this life – walking into a party alone is not the biggest mountain you’ve had to climb – unless you tell yourself it is.

Bringing laughter, light and hope to a grieving situation

Finding yourself pregnant after your husband dies is an experience like no other. It was everything: good, bad, scary, amazing, tragic, mind blowing, happy, sad, overwhelming, nauseating, painful, exhilarating. I was suddenly alone and I had two little girls already that were looking to me, just me all of a sudden, for the answers to their questions and for their everything. I really had trouble processing the situation – it just didn’t make sense in my brain.

I had another really interesting emotion come up for me too: shame. I don’t know why but I felt ashamed. I felt stupid. Like a pregnant teenager that had made a huge mistake. So weird. I mean, I was 36 years old and married. Well, not married any longer exactly. Kind of married? Ugh. No, I was no longer married as much as I still felt that I was. I was almost embarrassed when I told friends and family the news. I can’t explain it, but I felt as if people would look at me like I was an idiot. I actually had two people ask me, right after I told them that I was pregnant, if I was going to keep the baby or terminate the pregnancy. Those words knocked the wind out of me, although I certainly understand where they were coming from. How it could look, from the outside looking in, like a very good option. My life was so insane already. But that thought never crossed my mind – well, until it was brought up. But I never entertained that idea. The thought of going through that after losing my husband was even crazier than being pregnant. It would have made the road smoother in some respects I suppose, but dammit, I was in my 30’s, already a mom, and this was a baby that we had wanted, talked about and had already started loving before we even knew it existed. There was just not a chance that I would not have the baby.

I did not tell many people that I was pregnant. The embarrassment was kind of overwhelming – well, the whole situation was. And I was worried that something bad was going to happen, not if I told, but just because of the circumstances. I was thinking that my husband died – what’s next? Something is bound to go wrong with the pregnancy. I had an ultrasound early and then I had another at around 10 weeks. That once again was all good, but you still couldn’t convince me that something wasn’t going to go wrong.

But there I was, mid-December, over a month since Steven had died – and I still had not told my family that I was going to have a baby. I had only shared with a close circle of friends. I still was having trouble getting the words out of my mouth. I remember going in to visit with our wonderful parish priest and telling him about it. He was – shocked. And tried so hard to conceal it. He was unsuccessful. We laughed and cried about it together and he reassured me that the community would be there for me and my girls. He also spoke to me about this amazing blessing that I was trusted with and the gift that this baby would be to me and to the world. And man, he was right.

Christmas was quickly approaching and I knew I had to tell our family about the baby. This being my 3rd baby, I was already starting to show – either that or I was just gaining weight. I know so many widows that couldn’t eat and couldn’t sleep after their person died. Not me. Get in my belly. Comfort! And sleep – yes please! Any way to escape reality – and I couldn’t drink or use any kind of drugs now so…sleep and eat. I did that. I was in such great physical shape when Steve died. Yeah, that body has not been seen since November 8, 2006. Crap.

I struggled with how to tell everyone that baby number 3 was on the way – including my girls. School pictures of the girls were a typical gift then for our parents and siblings so I got an idea. I made a package for my parents, Steve’s parents, his sister, my brother. Each package had 3 smaller packages within it and they were numbered 1, 2 and 3. I was with them when they opened them (except my parents – I had to lead them thru it over the phone) and told them to open them in order. The package labeled number 1 was a framed photo of Maggie. The package labeled number 2 was a framed photo of Melissa. The package labeled number 3 was a framed photo of…the ultrasound. I didn’t say a word as they opened them. My favorite reaction was from my beloved Father in-law. He opened number 3, looked up with a very confused look on his face, and asked, “Is that a shell?”

Telling my parents was the hardest – and it was that ridiculous shame I was feeling. It all disappeared after I talked with them on the phone Christmas Day and I heard my mom and dad both crying – from happiness. It was a miracle that I was pregnant with this amazing angel and from day one, this baby brought tremendous happiness, light, laughter and hope to this world.