I was happily married for twenty years to my high school sweetheart before he tragically died in a commercial airplane crash in 1994. I was certain I had died in that plane crash right along with him. Never have I experienced such total despair and hopelessness. I floated through life like a piece of drift wood in the middle of the ocean.
For the first year following the plane crash, I needed to learn how to live without my husband. I had to reconstruct my goals, rehabilitate my emotions, and stumble my way back into society without the man who promised to be with me forever. At first it was dreadful. And then it got worse. I attended support groups. I read grief books and articles on bereavement. I even started to write my own book about being a widow without any warning.
I spoke endlessly to others who seemed to go on with their lives after the death of a loved one. When the person you love dies, it tears a hole in your heart that is so insurmountable you never think the hurt will end. When the person you love dies suddenly in a public airplane crash with the news flashing on the television every day for a year, it is difficult to have any measure of closure. I wanted desperately to know if I would ever feel normal again.
One thing I have learned about understanding loss is the misleading belief of getting over it. We never really get over it. We surrender to it. We are held hostage as the grief mercilessly rips our hearts into a million pieces before allowing us to rebuild our lives again. It is a daily part of us forever. We learn to get through it. Someone once taught me that the only way to heal grief is to grieve. After a certain amount of time, we learn that we can laugh again. We learn that we can enjoy living again. It does in deed get better in time. Life is only as good as we make it
After my thoughts were no longer totally on grieving, I decided I wanted to try and go on with my life. With the anticipation of a teenager and the fear of a deer jolting across a busy highway, I forged ahead and decided to date again. My daughter who was nineteen at the time was more emotionally mature at dating than me. It had been more than twenty years since I was in the dating world. Who pays, who opens the door, who makes the first move? What will he expect from me after dinner?
On my very first date, I felt out of place sitting next to a man other than my husband. I was certain everyone in the restaurant was staring at me and I needed to remind myself that I was not being unfaithful. I was now single. I unconsciously compared habits, clothes, cologne scent, and yes, even kisses. One might be inclined to hurry and get into a relationship as quickly as possible because you will want that partnership and “normal” life back immediately.
My advice when suddenly single? Take your time. Get to know who you really are, because you are no longer the same person you once were. After several disappointing dates I realized that I did not need to settle for someone because I was afraid to be alone. I needed to be certain this other person would bring me joy and humor and compliment my life.
Dating divorced men did not work for me. They were coming out of a bad marriage. I was coming out of a good one. They did not want to hear about the husband who was placed high upon the pedestal.
I came to the conclusion that the important element was to just be myself and not look for what I once had, but experience different men and learn something from each of them.
I also realized being single was not all bad. I could spend an outrageous amount of money on a sweater and not have to justify it to anyone but myself. At night alone in my bed, I could eat a bowl of popcorn and watch a late late movie with the lights on without disturbing anyone. I learned the difference between stocks and mutual funds. I drove the interstate alone for the first time in my life with my favorite music blasting while I sang along and I traveled to different places all over the world. Even though I made a few mistakes, I was holding it all together the best way I knew how. I actually liked the independent person I had become.
I still wanted someone special to share my dreams and to grow old with. But I no longer had that desperate feeling of being alone for the rest of my life. I did not need to settle for anyone unless he was one hundred percent!
I realized that losing a spouse did not mean the end of the world. It only meant the end of that particular world. I learned that my new life can be filled with meaning, hope and even love again. I had a choice to make. I wanted to go on.
Joanne Shortley-Lalonde is the author of Widowed Without Warning, www.widowedwithoutwarning.com
The expressions of open feelings from this author was refreshing.She proved through trememdous pain, we can survive. No, it is not easy or quick, but we can find a way to get through it.
I can’t wait to read the entire book.
I could have lived/felt/written your very words and have many of them in my own personal grief journal. My husband was killed suddenly in an accident that as well graced the newspapers. It was in 2001. I’ve felt the many thing’s you described. However I never had a need to be in a relationship or felt desperation you did. I’ve still not dated it’s something I have no desire to do. One thing I will say is, time does become your friend…And have you ever thought that he may not have been your husband forever as promised but in death you were his forever..your vows ’til death do us part was fullfilled?? to me, that’s an honor in itself. How lucky you are and myself.. Not many people in todays world can say this my friend. I’m penning one myself on my own journey. The people in the world need new approaches and ideas at handling grief. It’s a subject most people avoid. I’m sure you know this!!I’m whole again and happy I had a beautiful marriage. I would not be who I am today had it not been for that experience. Gratitude goes a long way and in that, I feel is the main lesson. Congrats on the book.
A beautiful story of pain and recovery. Gives hope to those who grieve. Life goes on, but not without some effort and change.
Excellent article!! Really written from the heart, and I’m sure putting into words what many women have had to go through and couldn’t articulate. I am glad I got to read this.
I remember that particular airline crash…what a horror! It is refreshing to know that happiness can be found again.
I have been married 50 years to my loving husband and I do not know what I would have done had I been in her place. I have read her book and it is very inspiring and gives us all hope.
I have read the book and think it is wonderful that the author shared it with the public. Inspiring to know that one does get thru these things and can go on living. I am sure that loss affects each individual differently, but attitude and choice is part of the recovery. Personally, I have great comfort in knowing that whatever happens in this life, God will never leave me. So glad she is doing well now.
This is such a journey on paper that the author shares from her heart. It’s one thing to have to experience it, it’s another to be able to share that experience in order to help other grieving people. What a beautiful way to accept life and take from it what makes you stronger. Your book is an inspiration and the way you have healed, grown, and lived life gives hope to us all.
I have not greived from losing a husband but from a child. when I read the discription on the tree feeling half alive and half dead I could really relate to that. I truely feel this book will be an inspiration, it shows that you can smile again and live again.Thank you for having the courage to share your thoughts.
Profound pain will hollow you and prepare you to experience profound joy. I believe that “life” can be a series of “lives” and that, if you’re open to it, each one can bear fruit. You must first have the courage to face the future with an open heart. I believe this author did just that and hope she is being rewarded with new joys each and every day. Thanks for sharing.
This story was beautiful, despite the absolute terror that seized my heart at reading this dear woman’s words. I cannot imagine losing someone close to me, much less my spouse. Being widowed is a huge fear of mine, but to know that women out there can share their stories and guidance so vulnerably is such a gift! Bless the author and her new life. I sincerely hope it has flourished over time.Please, please, PLEASE include more stories like this!! Amazing read and I will definitely get this book!!! Thanks!
This article is such an inspiration to me. I didn’t lose my husband to an accident, he died from cancer. I had the overwhelming fear of being alone for the first time in my life. I went straight from living at home to being a wife. After being with someone for 23 years then being alone, I can tell you firsthand that it’s as terrifying as anything that could happen to someone. You do have to discover just who you are, because for so long you are a part of a single entity.
I don’t know about getting back into the dating scene because I have yet to go on a date. But I can say, the thought scares me. I like living alone, although there’s times when the loneliness seems more than I can bear, but I will get through it.
Thanks for the article, I truly hope it helps other widows as much as it’s helped me to see that other women who have lost their husbands go through what I did. I am not alone.