After Husband’s Death, Dreams Must be Reinvented

One of the hardest struggles I’ve found about widowhood is that the life you had before pretty much dies with your spouse. Well, at least mine did.  The hopes, dreams and plans that we made as a couple were buried with my husband. Every morsel of my being was changed because he is no longer here for me to love or be loved by him.

At first, his vacancy left the obvious holes; no more him, no more seeing, smelling, holding, or sharing with him.  As time passed, more holes appeared: no one to help with the kids, no one to help with the house and no one to talk to in the intimate way I could talk to him. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so completely alone. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the weight of loneliness like this.

Then comes my life, my hopes, and my dreams.  All obliterated.  In the years prior to his illness, we were coming into a solid comfort zone in life.  We were happy with our jobs, our family life, and our marriage.  We were married for a good chunk of time and had been together for nearly 14 years.  We knew each other and miraculously were still happy with the each other. We appreciated who we had become. We were looking forward to a family becoming one member larger and the joys that come with raising our two boys.

So, he dies.  I’m still here.  I am left to walk the earth without him and to carry on the plan.  Carry on the plan…carry on the plan…carry on the plan?

It took me several years to realize that I could not carry on our plan alone. I think it’s taken me several more to come to grips with the fact that I need to create new plans.  I need to dream and hope without him. I don’t like this and have only gone this direction kicking and screaming for my old dreams, my old hopes, my old life.

My future has been a very difficult thing for me to let go by the wayside.  I don’t think it’s fair that I have to do all this again.  I don’t think it’s fair that I have to do this alone. I don’t think it’s fair that I am left with my hopes and dreams shattered in pieces on the floor.

Well, I also know that life is not fair.  Life is a gift and a struggle.  Life is not to be taken for granted or spent without meaning.  All these factors propel me into my new future.  All these factors give me strength to dream new dreams and hope new hopes and reshape my life into something I can live with and hopefully thrive in day after day.

The problem is that the struggle is hard…some days, some weeks, some months are just too much for me to handle.  These times leave me wondering why? Why try again? Why move on? Why reinvent, re-imagine when so many of these days, I only end up exhausted and overwhelmed?

The only answer I can ever come up with is…drum roll please…there is no other way for me.  I yearn for joy, I yearn to be someone my boys will look up to each day, I yearn to love and be loved.

Every day that I remember this, I build strength for another day. Every overwhelming moment at a time that I remember how much faith my husband had in me to carry on without him, I feel honored.  Every time I feel that warmth of his love flow through me, that moment when I know I didn’t give up, I become revived a bit more.

I am revived and strengthened for another moment. I am revived and even given courage to take on my new dreams, my new hopes, no matter how much struggling lies before me.

So today, I will dream a bit and hope a bit.  Every day I will try a bit more.  With each passing day, I will realize that I have begun the new dreams, the new hopes, the new life that carries his love within me.

This new life may exist without him holding my hand, but it will never exist without him holding my heart.  It will be a fusion of old and new. It will be a mix of what we wanted and what I am capable of doing without him. I hope, I dream, I imagine that every day that I have courage to be and to live brings me one day closer to me, reinvented.

Chris Thiele

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Christine Thiele

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Christine Thiele is a free lance writer, middle school teacher, and a former professional and volunteer youth minister. She has written for The Journal of Student Ministries, YouthWorker Journal , Grief Digest, OpentoHope.com, is a contributing author in several Open to Hope books and The Widow's Handbook (to be released in 2014 by Kent State University Press). Along with her writing, Christine is raising her two lovely and energetic sons. Since her husband's death in 2005 from pancreas cancer, her writing has been focused on grief and healing issues. Read her blog at http://widowisland.wordpress.com/

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  • Jack Mckenna says:

    Chris, the stories on this site are the most meaningful I have found concerning grief, including C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. I was almost shocked at the paucity of spiritual richness in his observation of his grief. Thank you for the richness of your sharing. sharing. Here is some of mine.

    In my dream my wife Maureen was telling me things regarding the situation I had found myself in since her death. For sure it was Maureen who was telling me things, but it was a Maureen unlike the woman who had been my wife for more than 41 years. Gone was the woman who did not hold herself in very high regard when comparing herself to others, especially those women who, in her estimation, had accomplished much more than she in this life, in spite of having devoted so much of her life to loving her children and grand children. This woman looked like someone who was full of knowledge and who possessed incredible confidence in herself.

    As she spoke to me I realized that she was imparting profound information regarding her relationship with me now that she was gone. She was explaining to me that all the aspects of our relationship that had developed since we had met and got married were complete. There is no mechanism to continue the work on that relationship. All the regrets from the past are done. All the happiness from the past is done. While the memories, good and bad, are there to be either cherished or dealt with, the fact is that it is all over. Our relationship will never again be what it was. She didn’t say that we would never be together again, but neither did she indicate that we would.

    As the enormity of the truth that she was telling me hit me I started to weep, a profound weeping that seemed to drain all hope from me that the future could still, even at this juncture, result in a joyful reunion with her. As I wept, I looked up to see if she was going to give me a comforting hug, as she had done often in the past during the moments of distress in my life when she tried to comfort me. This was not to be. I noticed that she had gone through a doorway that was difficult to easily discern as it had been wall-papered over to match the wall paper on the surrounding wall. I entered the room behind the door and was aware that the décor was predominately blue. She was at the far end of the room. She turned around and looked at me.

    It is important to realize, she told me, that I have to go on without her for the remainder of my life. What would happen after that she literally could not even begin to tell me as it is so far beyond my ability to comprehend. The message I took from this was that it is likely that, if I do get to meet her, we will not greet each other with joyful hugs and expressions of love for one another as mortals do. Rather, the experience would be a million times beyond my wildest dreams. Any connection with one another would be vastly different from the comfort one human being is capable of giving to another. Her expression as she was telling me this reminded of how two people might interact with one another during a specific situation. The best way I can describe how I felt as she looked at me was in this manner.

    Can you imagine having just interviewed with the CEO and head of Human Resources of a very powerful corporation for the position you have dreamed of all of your life? For the job that you just knew would bring perfect employment happiness and contentment. At the conclusion of the interview they told you that they would call the next day to let you know if you had got the job. After the interview you met the head of HR in the hallway. As you looked at her you knew that she knew if you had got the job or not. As much as you were tempted to ask if you had got the job, you knew that it would be really bad form to ask. As the head of HR looked at you, you knew that she was hoping that you wouldn’t ask. That is how Maureen was looking at me.

    As I look back on my dream and try to remember more details, thoughts are forming in my mind. The first one is the finality of the realization that death is an event of unimaginable significance to the living. Likewise, I realize that there is a really impenetrable perimeter (the Event Perimeter) between life and death that cannot be penetrated by the living or the dead. Which made me ponder how Maureen was able to communicate with me at all. The best explanation of this, to me anyway, is that Maureen has influence where she is and that she was able to have the message communicated to me through the Event Perimeter on her behalf.

    There are only two choices for the source of the intercession as far as I am concerned. One is that an angel was involved, the other is that the Holy Spirit was directly involved. The latter is entirely possible, if not absolutely certain. A few weeks before she died Maureen told me again how, as a young girl in the midst of growing up in a household cursed with alcoholism, she possessed absolute knowledge and comfort that her best friend was Jesus. Now that she is in His company, why wouldn’t the Holy Spirit concede to a request that she would have of her Best Friend?

  • Lyndi says:

    My boyfriend died unexpectedly on January 7, a month ago. I stumbled upon this website and I’m grateful. What I feel is in a dimension beyond my understanding. I used to talk to E. about things like this. Very intimate. I know there are gifts with his passing but I am so heart heavy right now that I can’t see anything. Thank you for sharing your insights….it helps so much.

  • Lyndi, I’m so glad you found the site too! Please be gentle with yourself. I am so sorry for your loss…only a month ago…the wound is so, so fresh. I only wrote these thoughts a week or so ago and I am 5+ years out from my husband’s death. Chris

  • Vanessa says:

    My boyfriend just died unexpectedly February 3, 2011. My friends and family as well as Matthew’s have been so good to me in trying to help me out but they just dont know how to talk to me or be around me right now. I am now part of this exclusive club that nobody wants to join and I am so glad to have come across this website and to read stories such as yours Chris. Its a great help and comfort to see that feelings that I have are shared by others who have been and are in the same place I am. Thank you for sharing your stories. It helps alot.

  • Julia says:

    thank you Chris and Jack, for sharing your stories. I lost my husband suddenly on Feb 3, 2011. I feel so lost and in such pain. Your articles and this website are very conforting.

  • Tazza says:

    I read that many of us stumble across certain sites and we have no idea why. The Universe works in mysterious ways. For me it has been nearly four years since I lost my soul partner. I should start by telling you that in December 2006 I lost my mum to renal failure. In February, 2007 my partner lost his son who was 27 years old in a horrific road accident. Three months later in June 2007 I lost my partner, it will be four years in June I still find it difficult at times to live my life without him
    As I said before it is not a co-incidence that I landed on this site. For me to have coped all this time without any help is beyond me, I believe that the best healer is the written word, writing is my passion. When Q passed with an aggressive cancer I would write and put pen to paper with how I was feeling, when I needed strength I would write, it helped me to not lose control of my emotions. I suppose being a healer for over 40 years gave me an edge to stay focused and positive but the truth of the matter is a loss is loss, not matter who you are and what profession you have. I felt all the emotions that go with grief, I cried rivers of tears and still do at times. I couldn’t believe the Universe took him from me, I really struggled with that, because I knew that I coped with the loss of mum and the loss of his son however, because we had each it was easy to cope but when Q passed over I was numb, I couldn’t eat or drink, well lets say I was on auto pilot, going through the emotions of mortal life and yet totally disrupted from within. I wouldn’t allow myself the to grieve, sometimes when I would cry I would consciously change that thought process and turn it around and then I would get on with things and dismiss that negative thought. It isn’t a negative thought grieving is something you have to do I chose to suppress my emotions, most of the time appearing that all was ok, from the outside everything appearing to be normal Family and friends saying that I was strong and coping very well. At the end of each day it was just me and my thoughts those were my darkest times and yet those times made me reflect on my emotions and dig deep within to heal. In those times I had a calmness within that helped me through some very hard times. My spirituality (non religious) was and is everything to me. Many times I have attempted to connect with a group that had gone through loss and grief, then I would talk myself out of it convincing myself that I have been there and done that, and then just dismiss it.
    Now here I am reading the stories of other people’s losses and I am glad that I am able to share my story so as I can say that you will come out of this, believe me you will be ok. And for those who have lost a loved one just recently, yes it is raw right now, just know that your loved ones have gone to a better place and are loved. They are watching over you and want you to be loved and go on. Allow yourself time to heal however don’t spend too much time feeling down and depressed, if you are honest with yourself that is not what they would want for you, I found that awareness brings clarity, my survival was knowing that I could turn my pain into pleasure by remembering all the wonderful times we shared, all the wonderful memories and the legacies that Q left me. I now celebrate that Q chose me to love and I had the honor to love him unconditionally. And thats worth thinking about.

  • kandyse says:

    my fiance just died last wednesday feburary 23,2011. It was sudden, i tried everything in my power to resuscitate him until the paramedic showed up, i know that when they took him it was already to late, but what do i do know i hurt so bad. I cant handle this, i loved him so much. i cry, i scream , i get angry, i beg for him to come back, i beg for him to take me with him. i dont know who to turn too. i dont want to be alone, but i dont want to be around anyone. please someone help me, tell me what is going to happen next? i have all his stuff with me, including his truck that i have to turn in, everything around me reminds me of him, please

  • kandyse – I am so, so sorry for your loss, your heartbreak and your pain. Please be gentle with yourself and look to those around you for support. I remember those early days after my husband died were so difficult. It was so hard to breathe even…please, please hang in there and take it one moment at a time. Again, I am so sorry.

  • char says:

    I so enjoyed your essay… I’m 5+ years “out” also… you hit the nail, I must say… thanks so much

  • sarah says:

    Hi, my fiancee died on the 2nd March 2011, aged 25 of cancer. It’s not even been 2 weeks yet, but it is of comfort to read others stories, and to know I’m not alone.

    Here’s my email: sarahleonida@hotmail.com

  • sarah says:

    We had known eachother since we were 7, We were together through every bit of our growing up. Our lives were intertwined, and we were also bestfriends. I know it’s early days but I really can’t imagine anything without him. I know people think that I am still young in years and expect me to move on. But to have been part of each others lives from 7 to 25, is a huge basis, that is hard to move on from, and I believe we were old souls in young bodies. He was such a strong character that he guided me through everything… I’ve never really made any decisions on my own, and I learnt so much from him. He truly was my soul mate, and I can only hope that one day I may be able to come up with some new dreams, and make him proud.

  • Diane says:

    I’m so sorry, Sarah. Try not to concern yourself with what other people think you should do with your grief, and your life. Find some of your friends or family members who can be supportive and *listen* without telling you how to feel, or what to do. You may even have to say “what I need is for you to just listen.” I remember what 2 weeks felt like. We all do.

  • Oh Sarah, I am so sorry for your loss. My heart breaks for you. Those early days are so difficult…well, it’s all difficult. Hang in there and be gentle with yourself. Know that you always have our company and solidarity here at Open to Hope. Chris

  • Cindy Cummings says:

    Christine,
    My husband passed away on October 16th, 2010 after a brief, yet courageous, battle with a rare lung cancer. He began feeling sick in April of 2010 and underwent many tests. It was July 1st when he was diagnosed with a lung cancer but it took until August 4th to determine exactly what type and for treatment to begin. By then he was hospitalized and 2.5 months later, after what his doctors thought was a curative approach, he was gone. In a way we only had a couple of weeks to prepare for his death.

    Burt and I had known each other for 25 years, married for 22, and we still looked forward to seeing each other at the end of each work day. We were excited to be able to spend our time together.

    When I found your site, this article, I felt that my feelings had been put into words. I have printed your article and keep it with me. The last three paragraphs help me remember how to move forward. I read them on my difficult days.

    My life is not of my choosing right now. I am not resisting it…it is what it is. I’m just having a hard time settling into it. It’s not comfortable to me yet, but your words are helping me to get there.

    Thank you and God bless.

    Cindy Cummings

  • Cindy – I am so sorry for your loss. My heart aches reading your story. My true hope is that somehow when I put words on the page, it creates solidarity for us. My early walk after the death of my husband, I felt so terribly alone. Since I know I can’t change your path or mine, I hope my words help people feel less alone. Be gentle with yourself.
    Christine

  • steve says:

    Christine,

    I am so sorry for your lose. I know no words can take away the pain of losing your spouse and soul mate. My wife passed aways going on 2 months now after fighting a fast spreading lung cancer that only gave her 9 months from discovery. I was happy to help her fight this battle since she took care of me for so many years, and God did grant me some time to tell her how much I loved her; consequently, she had 4 surgeries over a 8 month period. She suffered so much during those 8 months from 2 lung surgeries, 2 brain surgeries, and 4 chemo treatments. She had 2 strokes within a 3 month period from a tumor bleed, AV bleed, and the doctor said she should have passed each time but somehow she hung on. Everyday I think of her and ask God to take me at any time because I don’t want to be here anymore. I know the pain you feel and I pray for God to grant you peace. Stay close to family and friends, try to stay active, and you will have some good times. The nights are the most difficult for me but some days are bad also. I look at life different now and realize that nothing on this earth matters more than family and friends. I hope God grants you peace and good fortune follows you all the days of your life.

  • Louise Hart says:

    I lost my fiance on Jan 26th 2011. It was completely unexpected – he was alive when I went to bed and I found him passed away the next morning – it was just terrible. He was just 34 and I am 28. In the weeks after he passed I went from planning our wedding day to planning his funeral. All I want is to see him one last time, even if it were in a dream.

    It’s a relief to find this website and see how other people are coping.

    Louise

  • sarah b says:

    I recently lost my fiance to an accident on the early morning of new years day. Jan 1st 2012. Its been almost six weeks. I went from looking at wedding gowns to coffins in the matter of days. Its very hard to even imagine a future or think, sleep, breathe, carry on. And i t seems as if nothing helps and noone knows how I feel. That being said; this really did hit the nail on the head. These words ring so true and I have to start making different plans not try and think of the plans we had. Its really comforting to see someone else has survived this. Its nice to know I am not alone. Thank you and god bless.

  • Donna Walker says:

    Thank you for this story…its ironic you posted this on the same day my husband passed. i held him as he took his last breath and it has and still is extremely difficult to cope with

  • Suzi says:

    My husband died suddenly aged 54 he wasn’t I’ll and was fit and healthy. I’m lost and empty. Family are supportive but I try to be strong for them but inside I’m dying. Some days don’t want to o on. Seem to bumble along day to day. Will I ever be able to face a morning or laugh again?

  • Kelly says:

    I lost my fiancé of 5 years this march and am so devastated.. He died at the age of 26 and left behind me and my 2 year old son. It was a sudden death and I feel I have so much I wanted to let him know.. 2 months prior to his death we lost a baby which caused a lot of stress on us causing us to go on a break for a month until we got our heads straight.. Fortunately in the end we were on great terms but I still feel so much guilt of what if.. Anyways I was just feeling sad and lonely as I always do hopefully one day I will find happiness again

  • Nadien says:

    I lost my husband 61 days ago – 5October2012 – in a car accident. His last words to me on the phone was ‘I am on my way home. I love you’. Little did we know that words had a double meaning that afternoon… There’s so many what if’s and maybe’s one struggles with, but somehow you just don’t get it answered… We have two beautifull girls, 3 and 6 years old. Although they drive me insane some days, his love for us remains showing through them… They talk a lot about him – all the good times we had together, all the things they remember their dad by & that gives me peace of mind that they always had a positive seeing of him and that memories will last… His space will always be empty physically in our lives, but his love for us will never end… There’s still many days that you just don’t want to get out of bed, but somehow you do… don’t know how, but you do… There’s still many times I want to break down and feel like screaming, but you find something else to keep you occupied… i suppose one forms your life around what you have right now, as he’s not here, doesnt mean that you can’t go on… It’s not always pleasant, but the sun comes up eavery morning, although some days rather cloudy, but it does come up. Without our girls and without a Power from above I would not have been able to make it so far… I will always love him and I know his love for us will always be with us.

  • lisa says:

    I moved away from my hometown to start taking care of a man that was totally blind due to two shotgun blasts to the face…and he had prosthesis eyes…a man forgotten by the world….he had lots of health problems but I did my best to help him to live a normal life as best we could….copd, congestive heart failure,high blood pressure, overweight….but i had three years with this man…waiting on him hand and foot…but i came to care so for him…he was my reason for getting up..for cooking a meal..for doing anything i did…it was all for him….and one day i came home from classes and found him struggling to breathe..and i helped him to the bathroom…back to his bed and he wanted us to have lunch together as we always did…he struggled…but i helped him get back to his bed where he just sat down and said to me “I think its time to go….” and we never spoke again….he instructed me to get the ambulance with a lift out here to get him to the hospital…and told the emt that came to look at him to tell me not to forget his living will….he went into a coma before they could get him loaded into the ambulance…and he never came out of it….and i watched him die while we held hands in the emergency room…and now i go through so many thoughts of dying myself, imaginations of hurting others which is not what i want to do at all…..i feel like i am completely crazy….what now? Being alone in a town i barely know….we had a beautiful home…i just finished nursing assistant classes and am about to take the state exam….but I am completely LOST! Whats next?

  • Colleen says:

    First, thanks for the original writing. It speaks to what I am wrestling with. . . .again. The ‘how to make plans and have dreams’ part of losing your spouse. How to find myself again, my raison d’etre, and be good with that and look ahead with some kind of framework – not just breathe, step, breathe, step, breathe. . . . My journaling took me to Thoreau, and surfing here. Above and beyond your words, I read some of the other entries. . . and am reminded, again, that I am not walking this alone. My partner died 3 years ago (cancer), when I was 52. Today is easier than a year ago, and I still have days when I slam up against the lost dreams and hopes. Now to make new plans, dream new dreams. A friend, who’s partner died the same year as mine, said to me the other day that for now she needs to make good friends with herself, remember who ‘she’ is and what speaks to her. To find her own footing again – she recalls that sense of self from years before her partner – to spend time getting to know herself again and being good with that.

  • Brandon Chadbourne says:

    My husband Shawn went away from me on the 7th of October. I found him in our bathtub. I am more afraid than I have ever been in the whole of my life. This pain isn’t going away at all, and I feel like it’s eating me alive. He was my soul mate, and now I just feel so empty. His letter to me was amazing, and so full of love. He said he would watch over me, and love me eternally, yet I feel so profoundly alone now. He was my best friend, my everything! I can’t eat, barely sleep, and I know he wouldn’t want me to feel this way, but I can’t get away from this feeling of loneliness… Now I am getting sick. We were a battery couple whereas he was HIV negative, and I am HIV positive, and he took care of me. Now I feel like I can’t even take care of myself. My CD4 is dropping massively. I want to see him, join him, but I am not giving up. What to do? I just turned 36 on the 1st, and he was 41. With all of these holidays coming up, and the greatest loss of my life, I think this just may get me. It’s like I’m just giving up on life, and I don’t know how not to. Sorry for all of the negativity, but maybe someone can offer me some advice? With loving kindness, Brandon Chadbourne

  • prudence says:

    It’s only by now i experience the real meaning of “emptiness”, my husband passed away three years ago, i found myself lose of motivation for everything, educating the kids becomes a very hard job for me, everyday, afer works, lots of house problems to settle, life is meaningless, working, solving problem, no joy at all….