The Secret Life of the Forty Something Widow
The questions and opinions are endless when you lose someone. Its as if years ago, someone wrote out a playbook to follow. Book title “Grief for the widow – Volume 1 – The early days”. Know what I mean? As much as everyone means well, becoming a widow means that everyone thinks you should “grieve by the book”. Everyone has a thought and opinion. They will suggest how to act, how to react. You’ll be “advised” not to make rash decisions such as selling a property. Other advice…..how to behave, how to grieve , how to carry on living, how to be strong and so on. Of course you’ll get the one idiot that says “Don’t worry, you’ll get over it” Seriously what the **** is that statement all about?
I was forty-something when I became a widow. Exactly what the title says. I was exactly what it said on the tin. Forty something and a widow. As much as my husband and I had been given the gift of time to prepare for this, I had no idea what to expect. None whatsoever. I was told “you’ll be okay”. I was constantly told “You’re strong and you’ll be fine”. Those statements were not what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear “its all a mistake, your husband will be fine. Take him home tomorrow”. I’d have been equally happy if they had said “he needs to stay in for a while but then go on a long holiday together”. Instead, I received a phone call at 430am and the person on the other end didn’t have to say a word. All I said was “when?”
There is only one way I can explain this and here it is. When you become a widow everyone suddenly knows best. People will come out of the woodwork to tell you what to do. They will tell you how you should be feeling. The most insulting comment I ever heard was “I know how you feel”. I have to explain this for you so you don’t think I am a self righteous so-and-so but unless you have lost a spouse, you have no idea. Losing a spouse is more than losing your husband or wife. You lose a best friend, dinner date, life partner, soulmate ,person to come home to, person you watch movies with, someone to chat to, someone you sleep with and so much more. I lost mine in August 2019 at 430am in the morning , a date and time that will be forever etched in my head. So, here is a brief version of my story so far.
When he died, my world stopped. One of the worst things that happened, was that some friends stopped calling or sending messages to me. Whether they thought that I wanted time alone, whether they were more Marks friend than mine or whether they simply couldn’t handle my grief, who knows. But those friends stepped away. I missed every single one of them so much but in the whirlwind of emotion I was in, I was not in a position to make calls. I needed them to have the initiative. Sadly, that doesn’t always happen and you lose friends. You end up grieving those who are lost as well as those still alive. Its horrible.
The other thing that happened afterwards, was that I realised I had to get on. Despite everyone around me telling me “you have time, don’t rush”, I knew there were things I needed to do. I thought about the “playbook” I mentioned at the beginning of this . “Don’t make big decisions for at least a year”; “don’t throw out things for a while” and so on. I never work by playbooks. I’m not a rules kind of girl. It has to be whats right for me. This forty something widow knew that she needed to reclaim who she was and fast. This widow needed to realise who she was going to be and fast. This widow knew if she didn’t, there was a high danger of crawling into bed and never getting up. This widow needed to do this her way and by herself.
Step one of life – get up in the mornings. In some ways that was the hardest part but I did it. Every morning I got up. I found something to focus on for the day, whether it be food shopping or walking the dog. Whether it be going out for a walk in a country park or to a café for breakfast. I did it and was very proud of myself that I had.
Step two of life – Sort out the funeral. In a lucky (if you can call it that!) way, I had minimal to do here. He was looking after me until the end. My beautiful husband planned everything. The whats, when’s, who’s and where. He gave me his outfit to be cremated in. He told me he had plans for a non-attendance funeral. I have to say, that took a bit of getting used to, for me and family in the UK who had all thought that there may be a live streamed funeral. But in the words of Sinatra my husband did it his way! He even made up a damn playlist for his life celebration party. He had also arranged where his ashes were to go. He went as far as showing everyone when they visited. “Look down there by that path” he’d say. “Ill be there”.
Step three of life – Step three of life for me was realising that there was a lot of my husband around the house. Its things you don’t notice until you really look. Its things that you take for granted. I opened his bedside table and realised I never looked in there and had no idea what was there. I found 6 iPhone 10 cases, not sure why he had 6! He only ever used the one that I had bought him with the photo of his grandkids on it!! But at a sad time in life, it made me laugh. I looked in kitchen cupboards and laughed again when I found 8 pairs of tongs (who needs 8??) I went back to the bedroom and stepped into the walk in robe and instantly was overcome with the sight of his clothes. I knew my job for that day was to remove them. I pulled them all out and sat with them. Three piles – Keep; Dad and bin. Realistically I knew that I could not keep everything. The only way to do it was now – hard and fast. Whether it was the “right way” I didn’t care. It was the way I wanted to do it. It was right for me.
Step four of life – Realising now the formalities are over, what is it that I wanted? Where was my life going? I knew what I wanted. I just hadn’t shared it with the world. I didn’t see why I had to. It was my business. While my husband had been sick, I had needed something to keep my brain active so enrolled on a writing course. I nailed that course! Distinctions and high distinctions. After he died, I needed a distraction so did another course. A few months down the line, I had a Diploma in Professional Writing and a Certificate in Creative Writing to my name. Things were starting to fit together to form my plan. Notice it was still just my plan!!
Stage five of life – actioning your plan. I have, as of this month, been a widow for sixteen months and I am sure if you asked people about me, they would say a variety of things. You’d hear;
- She is strong.
- She copes well.
- She was a nurse.
- She is a nurse.
- She helps everyone.
- She’s quiet and so on.
All of those things were true but they were not my plan. They were not me anymore. I had not told anyone apart from my husband of my desire to change careers. I had always loved to write,. From a young age I wrote poems and stories and later in life revisited it writing custom poetry for friends. I had never told friends of my plans to formalise my writing career.
You see, there was my secret. My nursing was over. My life had changed irreparably. My career was changing. Who I was , was changing. Now was my time. I was not Joanne, the nurse. I was not Joanne, the reliable. I was Joanne, the writer and poet. Time now for me to action my plan!
After one particularly emotional day, clearing some things at home and thinking of my husband, I sat at the lap top and started typing. If I said the words flowed, that was an understatement. I found that after several hours I had a collection of poems. Not just sad ones, talking about grief but others too. Memories of our life together. Memories of friends visits, things like that.
My little plan continued. I still didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to , unless there was something to tell. Anyone that knows me will tell you, patience and keeping a secret are not my strongest talents (I get that from my mother) but this secret I did keep. No one knew I was writing and no one, not even family, knew that I had sent things to a publisher.
Roll forward 6 weeks and I had in my hands a publishing contract. Was writing really that easy? Would everything I sent in be accepted? Now was the time that the secret life of the forty something widow became public. Now was the time to tell people. I’d set a goal and I’d achieved it. Despite my husbands illness, death and all the things that came after like clearing the house, I had done it. Scream from the rooftops time!!!
Just under a year later, my book was published. “Ramblings of a forty something widow” has now been out for three months and hopefully is selling well. Even if it sells just one copy, I can say I am a published author and poet.
The secret life of the forty something widow – I started as a wife, carer, soulmate.
Now…I am a freelance writer, poet and author.
I did it!