Four years ago in August 2019, I was thrust into a world of solitude, a widow left to navigate life’s turbulent waters alone. I had become the member of a club with a lousy admission price. The member of a club I did not want to join. I was about to start a journey where I had no idea what to expect, what to face. The only thing I knew was that I was facing it alone.
It was a daunting journey, one that began with the heavy weight of grief that never ends and the shadows of loss that loomed over every step. When I say grief never ends, I’m not kidding. It doesn’t. It just manifests and weaves it way through your life. It’ll trip you up when you hear a song. It’ll throw itself at you as you pass a place of significance. I could give you a list of places, songs, words, and memories that are prone to tripping me up. Friends will tell you that you need to be strong, move on and it’ll get better. The reality is that if they haven’t lived it, they don’t understand what you are going through and what you will continue to experience for the rest of your life.
Everyone told me that life would get easier, I’d feel better about it all, but I struggled with the belief of that. How could it? My husband of 25 years was gone and never coming back. You don’t forget that. You don’t just pack up those possessions, those memories and move on! It took some time, but I discovered something unexpected – an inner strength that had been dormant, waiting for the right moment to surface. Four years was that timespan. Why was it four years? Who knows?
So here I was, on a new voyage of self-discovery, well, rediscovery really if you think about it. The first step was clearing out the remnants of a life that once was. I’d been doing that on and off since I lost my husband in 2019 but that clearing of possessions had stagnated as I lost the ability to make decisions, to throw things out.
It had almost felt that I was throwing him out by doing that, even though I knew that was not the case. I faced the bittersweet task of sorting through the remaining items of my late partner’s belongings, of our life together, each item had a cherished memory or a fragment of the past. It was an arduous process, but I found solace in preserving the memories that truly mattered
Amongst the belongings I packed away were countless photographs. Each one, a snapshot of the beautiful life we had built together. These images were more than just pictures; they were a visual timeline of our story, the smiles, laughter, and shared dreams. Though I tucked them away, the memories would never leave me. As my late husband once said to me, “the memories are in your head, you don’t need possessions.”
His hat was taken down. His Queensland shirt moved from the back of the bedroom door to the wardrobe. Some of his t shirts that had been in a box for 3 years (if I haven’t done anything with them in 3 years, I won’t now!) were disposed of. I kept what mattered the most. Rugby shirts for England and Harlequins. Queensland shirt and his favourite Hawaiian shirt along with a few t shirts of his, such as his Mark McGuire favourite, his army ones and his Sheffield Wednesday ones (a girl has to have something to sleep in and they are perfect.) I have Willow Tree ornaments. Some went away and were replaced with a pared down collection. Instead of my large collection on show, it was now just 4. One representing Mark and I. Mother/daughter, brother/sister, and father/daughter.
The most poignant moment came when I finally decided to remove my wedding ring. For 25 years, it had been a symbol of our commitment and the bond we shared. But as I slid it from my finger, partly thanks to swollen and arthritic knuckles, it signified more than the end of an era. It was an acknowledgment of my own resilience and ability to carry the love we once shared within me, I just didn’t need a physical symbol to do it. One of our oldest friends once said, “no one that knows you would ever doubt that putting pictures and possessions away diminishes the love you both had.” Those words helped me more than he’ll ever know.
With my belongings sorted and the past respectfully set aside, I found myself with a renewed spirit, as if a weight had been lifted and transformed into a source of strength. In the midst of letting go, I discovered the power of embracing the present and the promise of an unwritten future. As the sun set on that chapter of my life, I stood stronger and more self-assured than I had been for a long time. I realised I was no longer defined solely by the label of “widow,” but by my name, my resilience and my will to keep moving forward. Life was no longer “husband and wife” although of course I always remember that time and always will. My part 2 had started. It was now “my life, Jo’s life.”
I started “Jo’s life” with a solo holiday. Two nights away in Stanthorpe. Reliving a great holiday with my late husband by staying in the same place but using it to make brand spanking new memories. Ones that had my name in lights. Joanne’s memories.
Life is mine, just mine. An old memory will surface here and there but new memories are being made every day. And you know what? I still never understand why four years was the magic number, but it is.