The First Ninety Days of Being a Widow Sucks

I’ve been a widow for a little more than 90 days. Widow. I loathe that word. It’s a word that defines someone by the loss of a loved one. Typically, I want my Monday posts to be inspirational or motivational, so why write such a negative title? Because it’s true. The first ninety days of being a widow sucks. But perhaps I’ve learned a few things that might help someone.

low light photograph of a bronze statue woman with a "tear-stained" face because the first ninety days of being a widow sucks

My First Days

During the first days, grief consumed me. Waves of grief hit over and over and over again. I had things to do: arrangements to make, family and friends to inform. Ten or fifteen minutes, maybe a half hour of effort, exhausted me. If I wasn’t crying, I sat in a mental and emotional fog that nothing seemed to penetrate. 

Friends said, “If you need anything, let me know.” Guess what? I didn’t know what I needed or how to ask for help. I couldn’t call anyone because reaching out was more than I could do. All I could think about was that my husband died.

One friend of mine texted me every few days for the first couple of months. She’d ask how I was feeling. Then, she let me rant and rave and share more than I should have. It was lifesaving. She still reaches out, just not as often.

Personal Event Days

There are so many things that are difficult as a new widow. Everything is new and painful. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, routines…all are reminders that my husband died.

He died four days before Valentine’s Day and forty-eight days before our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary. To say those were difficult days is an understatement. Each event took at least a week of messed up emotions to “get through.”

image of colorful flower arrangement

My son bought me flowers and cards. Other family members sent cards or called. I used my husband’s shirt as an over shirt. I paged through memory books blind with tears. Leaving the house or doing work was impossible.

It will be his birthday at the end of May. That day will be one hundred three days after his death. And it will be difficult.

Getting Help

My inclination was to climb into a hole and grieve. But one needs a balance of being alone and getting support from friends and family. Often, one needs professional help as well.

I am fortunate. My husband received hospice care. The nurses were wonderful for both of us. Hospice services are available now and any time during the thirteen months after my husband’s death. These services are available for my whole extended family.

My longtime friends reach out to me. It’s almost as if they worked out a schedule between them.

I keep a journal routinely. Believe it or not, writing about my feelings these past few months has helped.

I’ve also had the advantage of my training as a nurse, Nurses learn about the psychology and physiology of death and dying. I’m sure that’s made a difference. Though, sometimes it’s resulted in me being harder on myself than is kind. 

It Sucks

Photograph of a bronze statue of a woman sitting on the ground and bent over in grief because being a widow sucks.

There is no easy way to deal with grief. My training and some different personal experiences taught me that avoiding feelings only makes it more difficult later. So I live with my grief in whatever way it needs to be expressed. Sometimes it’s crying. Other times a sort of numbness takes over. I sit down and what I thought were minutes turned out to be hours.

But no one can endure raw emotions 100% of every day. So I’ve also allowed myself to take breaks, to play mindless games or watch B- action movies. 

Perhaps the most difficult thing for me is to be patient with myself. I’m learning to listen to my body and respect that my energy levels aren’t up to my intentions. And I’m learning to let that be okay for now.

Life Goes On

Over these past three months, it’s gotten easier but it’s not over. The one person to whom I could turn to for advice or a hug or to share frustrations or celebrate a small win with is dead. That sucks. Always.

Slowly, I am able to work on my next novel more and more. Some days, it doesn’t happen.

By the way, about the word “widow.” I am not a widow. His death does not define me. I am a woman whose husband died. Words make a difference to me.

I wanted to share this portion of my journey to remind myself and anyone else who needs to hear it. Life is a journey. And the first ninety days of being a widow sucks. It does. But it doesn’t suck all the time. Not even for a new widow. For now, I’m taking it the same way life comes at me, one day at a time.

A Void in My Heart

Sometimes there is a loss that leaves a void in your heart.  This void isn’t the worst kind of loss: the loss of a parent, a sibling, or child.  Rather, it’s the loss of a four-legged companion with whom you shared a lifetime. We suffered that kind of loss in my home this past weekend.  It’s left a void in my heart.

If you are a pet lover, you understand.  If you are not, you have my permission to skip over this postMiniature Schnauzer puppy we named Nemo

I’ve had pets most of my life.  And since pets lives are short, I have outlived many pets.  There are some pets, though, whose presence comes to mean far more than just companionship.  My miniature schnauzer, Nemo, was one such pet.  I’m including a snippet of one of my morning pages that explains a little of why Nemo’s presence was so very special in my life.

Morning Pages 3/17/12:  As I write this, Nemo’s labored breathing fills my ears. Tears well up and my heart aches. I’m losing him. I feel guilty for the pain I think he must be suffering. Yet, he still eats, he still plays with his toys, and he still guards the yard against silly squirrels and crazy cats, although all of those things are accomplished much more slowly than in the past. I know he doesn’t know he’s dying. I know that I’m projecting my feelings onto him, my faithful companion, my buddy. His liver and his heart are failing him. Am I failing him?

Eleven years ago DH was recovering from open heart surgery complicated by a stroke. I’d been fortunate enough to have sick time to stay with him for nearly six weeks. But time was running out. DH was hurting and depressed. I could barely motivate him to get up and move about the house. I would have to return to work soon and I was certain he would get worse alone in the house. Then, two weeks before I had to return to work, I brought a tiny miniature schnauzer puppy home. I named him Nemo.

DH couldn’t believe I had been so mean. He argued that he would never be able to care for the puppy while I was at work. I put a gate on the front porch. Now DH could let the puppy out on the porch to do his business. In the evening I would hose off the offending output. DH argued that he couldn’t bend over to pick the puppy up. I taught Nemo to jump onto the couch on command. And too soon, I had to return to work.

DH spent the days on the recliner sofa. When he couldn’t bend over, he played ‘footsie’ games with the puppy. When he napped, little Nemo curled up in his lap and napped, too. And every few hours, DH would shuffle out onto the porch and sit while the puppy sniffed and circled until he found just the right spot to relieve himself.

Over time, the puppy grew into a handsome, sweet-natured dog. DH regained strength playing fetch and taking Nemo on walks. While DH’s physicians, physical therapists, nor I could penetrate his pain, fear, and depression, the pup snuck into his heart. I firmly believe that Nemo saved DH’s life.

Over the next few years, we bought two more pups: a mutt and a Yorkie. Nemo adjusted fantastically. He tolerated the pup who tugged out the hairs of his beard and the pup who hid all the toys. He groomed the babies and woofed at them to come in with him. They are inseparable.

The three amigos, my three dogs
left to right: Cosmo, Astro & Nemo

A bad liver is causing his heart to fail. His failing heart can’t pump enough blood so he breathes fast and heavy. He’s having syncopal episodes or fainting because he’s not getting enough oxygen-carrying blood to his brain. Sometimes these episodes look like seizures. Medications can only help for so long.

I’m trying to enjoy the time we have left. He still greets me at the door, begs for treats, and he brings me his favorite toy which he holds in his mouth until I command him to ‘leave it.’ It’s a game he plays for an extra ‘good boy.’ I pet him and tell him what a good boy he is. And I pray that God takes him gently when it’s time, but not just yet, please, because my heart is breaking.


4/7/2012: I wrote the above paragraphs when I was feeling very selfish. I couldn’t imagine my life without Nemo in it. I couldn’t say goodbye.  I wasn’t ready. Unfortunately, Nemo’s quality of life declined dramatically. His chest heaved in an effort to get more oxygen. Sick as he was, his sweet temperament never changed.

As I watched his health decline, my selfishness vanished. He would pick up his toy in preparation to go outside, but had to drop it so he could breathe.  He would stand beside DH or me, his head against our legs because he couldn’t rise up on his hind legs to beg for a petting.  He tried so hard to continue to be the loving companion he had always been but his physical heart simply could not perform the way his spiritual heart wanted to.

We said our final goodbyes this weekend.  He laid his head in my hand and I stroked him as he left this world.  It was beyond hard.  My heart is full and empty at the same time. I have a void in my heart, in my life. Words fail me.

And can it be that in a world so full and busy the loss of one creature makes a void so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!– Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

In loving memory: Nemo (2001-2012)

I have a void in my heart, Nemo, my miniature schnauzer died recently.
Nemo, miniature schnauzer