‘Lonely’ Not Powerful Enough Word to Describe Widowhood

Loneliness is not a surprising by-product of widowhood.  I mean, even for the people who have never been through it, it’s a no-brainer.  But frankly, I think that lonely is not a strong enough word.

There is a deep silence that comes with losing your spouse.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re standing in the middle of a crowded room, you will still notice it.  It’s the quiet that comes when you don’t have that familiar voice whispering in your ear at a wedding, “Can you believe she wore that?  I mean, what was she thinking?”  It’s the missing sound of two glasses clinking together on your anniversary.  It’s the absence of someone breathing soundly next to you as you go to sleep at night.

Our friends are so good about trying to make sure that we know that we’re not alone.  And we know we’re not friendless.  We could call up any number of people if we just wanted to hang out.  But we are alone. Our marriages were amputated in the prime of our lives and, for some of us, there is no prosthesis.

A lot of us, since our loss, have found comfort in chat rooms and support websites and that has helped relieve the discomfort of the amputation a little.  It’s like taking two Motrin after extensive surgery.  It eases the throbbing a bit, but when we look down, the limb is still missing.

We’ve found anonymous support from strangers who don’t know us but are as close as we can come to confiding in people who know exactly what we’ve been through.  We tell these strangers some of the most intimate details of our lives, knowing that out of thousands of people, one person might understand us and, out of thousands of people, no one will be heartless to enough say, “You did what?  You’re crazy!”

Because, if nothing else, we all have crazy in common.

It’s an anonymous way to just let our widowed freakiness spread its wings and fly.  We get support from people who understand what REAL retail therapy is.  People who get that a sleepless night with a newborn is one thing while a sleepless night with a dead spouse is a whole other deal.  People who understand how guilt, anger, frustration, and sadness all come in a beautifully wrapped package with our names on it, signed “With Love, Widowhood.”

Finding these groups has buffered the fact that, with our spouses gone, most of us have lost the person we would have leaned on when the worst thing we could have possibly imagine happening…happened.  It’s almost like we need to roll over in bed and say in utter disbelief to our spouses, “Did you hear that you died?  And you were so young!”  This would be followed by a hug from them, a pat on the back, and the murmuring of some comforting words while we cried on their shoulders.

But when we roll over, well, our spouses already know that they died.  It spoils it a little.

I don’t think that most people who haven’t experienced loss truly understand that element of solitude.  And that’s the very foundation of what makes us so lonely.  The person who cared when something really great or really bad happened is missing.  The person who was just as excited and saddened by the milestones of our kids is someplace else (I hope). The person who was just as invested in our lives and the decisions we made is now (again, hopefully) enjoying everlasting comfort while we slug it out down here on our own.

Do you remember the moment that you truly felt the change?  I mean, the time when you realized that this was it?  When you catapulted from married to involuntarily single?

For you, it may not have been a moment.  But it was for me.  I was leaving Wal-Mart (where so many of my breakdown moments occur) when I noticed that “Wild Hogs” was about to come out on DVD  Now, my husband and I had had many failed attempts to go see that movie in the theater, so when I saw that big billboard up at the store, I automatically got excited.  I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to get home and tell him it’s finally out!”

I think there was an audible thud as reality came crashing down on me standing next to the stale cookies that were on sale.

As most of us feel, I would give anything for just one more day, one more conversation with my husband.  I’ve had dreams about it.  We’re just lying in bed and I’m telling him all about what the kids are up to.  We both know that he’s gone, but I’m filling him in anyway.

Those are the mornings I wake up and feel the most alone, the most like I’m missing that appendage.  And even though there are so many people I could call who would commiserate with me, they’re just not in my head and in my heart living my life.

And does it make sense when I say when I’m feeling this way sometimes I just want to be left alone?

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Catherine Tidd

More Articles Written by Catherine

Catherine Tidd is a widow and the Founder of www.theWiddahood.com, a free social support network dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other. She is also a writer, public speaker, and mother to three young entertaining children. She received a degree in English from Rollins College in 1998 and has since worked as a writer, editor, Marketing Manager, and Event Planner. Originally from Louisiana, Ms. Tidd currently lives in Denver, CO. To read more of Catherine's work, visit http://widowchick.blogspot.com

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  • deb sears says:

    Dear Ms. Tidd:

    Thank you soooooooooooooo much for expressing EXACTLY how I feel and at the same time affirming that only “we” know what it is really like.

    I consider myself “new” (just a little over two months), which is why I’m franctically searching for information on how to survive this. I still not know why or how, but thankfully, after reading your article, I certainly feel justified, or better yet, championed, regarding the agony (again, too mild?) I’m in.

    I hope your good days are starting to outnumber the bad.

    • Dear Deb–

      Thank you so much for your comment. I’m so sorry to hear that you are joining our club! With that said…I hope that you’re finding the support you need. There is amazing support out there. The fact that you’re actively looking for information and reading things that will make you feel more understood is a really good start.

      I know right now you are in a very “blurry” stage trying to figure out what to do next. My best advice is to just go as slow as you can. I wish I had done that! And I hope this a comfort to you, but after 3 years my good days definitely outnumber the bad. You WILL get through this. It just takes time.

      If you’re on Facebook and you feel up to it, I have a page under Widow Chick. I can’t tell you how amazingly supportive these strangers have been to one another. It’s a great place to post questions if you have them or just see what other people are doing to get through the day. Some people have VERY helpful ideas.

      Thinking of you…
      Catherine

  • Shelby says:

    Thank you for so beautifully voicing what I have been feeling the last couple of weeks. It will be four months tomorrow. The first two months I was still in shock enough to actually believe that I was gonna do this grief thing with no problem.

    Thud.

    Reality.

    He’s gone and he isn’t coming back.

    I begin next week with an in-person grief support group but I would not have made it through these first four months without the amazing online group of widows and widowers I have found.

    And I’m sorry for the event that brought you this wisdom of which you’ve written.

  • Dear Shelby,

    Well, I think a few months in was when I first felt that “thud.” Certainly not a fun experience. And I’m with you…I thought I could get through this, no problem. All that talk about “time will heal” was not flying with me. That was a hard lesson…to realize that that’s what it takes.

    It has amazed me the people I have heard from who are so new to the Widowhood who are already reaching out, trying to find resources that will help them. I’m telling you…you are light-years ahead of where I was at that stage. And that will make a BIG difference for you…developing a support group early on that will help you get through this.

    I hope that you find some AMAZING people when you go to your group. I know that once I found that support it helped me so much. Even if you just really connect with one person there…it will make all the difference.

    Thinking of you….
    Catherine

  • Julie says:

    You said it perfectly, but that thud doesnt seem to be a one off…but a rampage of thuds, when i’m trying my best and everyone is asking how i am and im trying to hold it together and just get through the day, to get up, get the kids to school, bide the morning till my youngest comes home…feed them, clothe them, deal with the beaurocracy of no money and yet that realising thud of wanting to ask him what to do continuously dawns. one month in and i dont want to deal with the realisation everyday. I just dont want to.

  • Sandra says:

    I’m new too. My husband passed away 1 month ago. I still can’t believe how my life changed in the blink of an eye. The shock has worned off and I cry daily. Normally I’m a happy person and I feel like the joy has been sucked right out of me. I don’t like the new reality.

  • Mar says:

    It’s been a little over 2 years for me as a widow. I am 56 years old now. My husband died of a heart attack at age 53. I am on disability after I was run over by a car in 2007. I have a leg injury and cannot work. I search constantly for widow support groups, but there are none in my area (the Lehigh Valley in Northeast Pa). My married friends simply do not understand and think that I should have in their words”moved on by now”. I wish I knew what they mean and when I ask them they have no answer. I belong to a bereavement group where everyone is 75 to 87 years old. I attend deep water exercise classes and swim everyday to help my leg. I also do yoga everyday. I have lost 30 lbs. I never sit home and cry. What exactly do they mean by moving on? The loneliness is unbearable. I understand exactly what you mean. It hits me when I go to a grocery store. I hear married people bickering and just want to shake them and say stop it, do you realize you have someone? It hits as I ride alone in a car and think if something happens I have no one to call to help. Most people give up after a while, they don’t know what to say so I find they just don’t stay in touch leaving me feel lonelier than ever. It’s the most painful, hollow feeling. I try different groups but really need a widows group where they truly understand. Thanks for allowing me to vent.

    • Dear Mar–

      I have now declared that you have hit your limit on bad luck! What a crazy couple of years you have had. My heart goes out to you and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that your luck will turn around soon.

      Isn’t it a strange place to be? Where you’re lonely, but you’re not ready to “move on”…as they say. It’s kind of like being hungry but nothing sounds good. I really sympathize with you about being in a group of grievers who are so much older. I don’t think most people understand that there is a huge difference when you’re going through this at different ages. What I’ve experienced at my age is nothing like what you’ve experienced at your’s.

      I wish I had better words of wisdom for you. The truth is, I’m feeling my way myself. I don’t know if you belong to Facebook, but if you do, feel free to look up Widow Chick there. I know that there are some people in their late 40s and 50s and they really are an amazing support group. I just really hope you find the support you need.

      Thinking of you!
      Catherine

    • michele says:

      OMG I feel exactly the same way.., especially when you said if something happened who do you call for help. I was married for 25 yrs. when my husband committed suicide. It has been 2 yrs., but feels like yesterday it happened. The loneliness sometimes is almost unbearable. Pleople say to move on with you like, be happy and start new. Easy for them to say especially when they are sitting at home with their spouses. The weekends are the worst.

      Hugs,
      Michele
      sofine4952@aol.com

  • Lou says:

    July 4th i became a widow. I am 38 and have 2 pre schoolers. No medical condition, no warning I found my husband dead. how do i pick up the pieces of my life for my babies?

    • Dear Lou,

      I am sure you are in so much shock right now. And please believe me…I know what you’re going through. My husband died in an accident on his way to work in 2007 and my kids were 5,3, and 1 at the time. I never saw it coming. To be honest with you, it took me a couple of years before I would stop having those little moments of shock (they became farther apart and less intense, but they still came).

      The good (and bad) thing about having kids that young is that it forces you to get up. You have lots of bad days, but the kids keep you moving. Sometimes I thought it would be nice to be able to just sit in my bed and grieve, but my kids still had to be fed and taken to school and all the every day things that kids need.

      Forgive yourself NOW for not being perfect for awhile…your kids are too young to know the difference. Find help where you can…look for group therapy for your kids…the good thing about that is that you’ll meet other parents in your situation (you can check with local hospices…it doesn’t matter if your husband died suddenly…or with local schools and see what resources are available). Accept help when it’s offered and don’t be afraid to ask for it. You may be surprised who steps up to help support you.

      Take things one second at a time if you need to. What’s going to be hard as a mother is learning you’re going to have to take care of yourself before you can take care of the kids.

      Please know that I’m thinking about you.

      Catherine

  • sanet says:

    I’m 38 years old, no children (1 dog and 1 gold fish), which believe it or not keeps me going cause they must be fed also, like children do. I work fulltime which also helps, but can be very draining at the same time. You all took the words right out of my mouth. It has been nearly 7 months since I lost my husband to lung cancer. He celebrated his 40th birthday in hospital in May and died on 3 July 2010, 3 months after he was diagnosed. We were married almost 18 years. I have been through everything you have described and I am sick of people telling me to “move on”… and cruel jokes or comments people make to “chear me up” really pisses me off and hurts! (excuse the language). Nobody understands, therefore I will definitely check out your website Catherine. Thanx Sanet

  • elma says:

    My husband past away 11 months ago in a car accident. I do have a good support group af friends, but none of them realize what it really means to to go home to an empty house. Chatherine and all the others who wrote here, you put in words exactly how I feel.

  • Key West Susan says:

    With the exception of having children, I certainly have shared your thoughts and emotions! Thank you so much for sharing your journey and for stating so eloquently something that is so difficult to express. Wishing you strength and peace in the New Year.

  • cyndi says:

    It has been 8 months for me since my husband passed away in April. My youngest brother was killed 9 days later on a 4 wheeler. I am not doing well. I have no energy and am working in a town that I have no friends or support. I do not have the energy to change my location. I am so lost, confused and empty. I do not know where home is. I am lost and want to be found. Help me.

  • Patti says:

    Hi it has been 7 months today. I am working full time and find that it is good for me otherwise i would be in the house 24 / 7 Have friends no family other than grown children that have their own lives and live away from me. I live in a rural community of about 4000 and I am 62 years old. I am trying to get past the feeling he will be coming home any day. STUCK
    Dont really have a best friend that I can speak openly with. He was my best friend. I know I will survive. Glad I found this web site. Makes me feel not so alone.
    Thanks

  • Bobbie says:

    I’m not sure what happened to the comment I posted about a week ago, but hopefully this one will not disappear. Reading the posts on this website has helped me to see that I’m not alone. I attend a group with other people who have had a love one taken from them too soon. It is helping. I also go to private therapy, which helps too. I took my husband to the hospital Monday evening, November 4, 2013. He was having a heart attack. He was taken from me on Thursday evening, November 7, 2013. A few days after, I was contacted by one of the doctors who informed me that he had a rare form of Leukemia that caused blood clots that attacked his heart. It feels like it just happened yesterday. I really miss my best friend and soul mate. Thank you for letting me express my feelings here.

  • Annemarie says:

    Ah the silence. Seven weeks later, I still haven’t figured out what time to go to bed because he isn’t there saying, are you ready for bed? Then there is the grocery store – He would really like this with some wine tonight? My freshly painted nails ready to be Instagrammed only to not have him to send them to. The record time in my daily runs to be shared but with whom? And the worst sting of all – His daughter’s wedding dress hanging in my closet, knowing he won’t be there to walk her down the aisle next year.

  • Oriane says:

    I lost my 32 year old partner about a month ago. He just never woke up… I found him in the morning and emergency doctors could restart the heart with adrenaline, but we had to take him off life support the day after. He was just too far gone…

    One of my ‘moments’ was at the crematorium. He would always pick up half smoked cigarettes from ashtrays in the street and say ‘can you believe someone threw it away? People are nuts!!’ with a huge child-like smile and amazed eyes, like he had found a treasure or something (in our defense, cigarettes are ridiculously expensive in France… and we had a very frugal lifestyle :) )

    While his body was being cremated I went outside for a smoke, and in the ashtray there was this almost entire cigarette. Completely straight, not even crushed a little. When I saw it my heart jumped, I got so excited and thought ‘oooooh, I have to tell…’ then it hit me. I had to tell Mik, but could not because not only had Mik been dead for 5 days, he was currently in the oven.

    I froze and remained in a weird numb shock for a while.

    I found your post googling ‘widowhood loneliness’, though technically I am not even a widow. In France people tend do get married after they have kids. Or never. We had talked before about getting married for tax purposes, but first we were going to buy a house (we had chose the location), have kids… I was never able to use the word boyfriend when talking about him, it seemed like such an understatement. Sometimes I would say my husband. Now I can’t even anymore: too much difference in status both in administration and people’s mind. A widow is a widow. A surviving partner is nothing.

    Fortunately I am very good friend with his family in law: he was the older brother of my best friend’s partner. For 6 years we lived parallel lives around them, always visiting, sometimes hearing about each other, but them but never meeting. We finally met at the 4 year birthday party of their twin kids. Mik would often say ‘It’s funny cos we would have met at some point… If not that time, later… We were just meant to meet!’

    My two friends and I organized his cremation ceremony together. I cannot even imagine the pain of a partner who would have not been so close to the family in law and could not have actively participated in the organization…

    He wasn’t my boyfriend. He was my life mate who I did not get a chance to have a life with. We will never buy a house. We will never give the now 6 year old twins (who used to call me auntie years before I lived with their uncle) cousins. I’ll never be his wife officially. I’m not even a widow. I’m just single.

    It hurts beyond words. So thank you, thank you for putting words on this pain while it’s too new and raw for others to be able to do so.

    • John Doe says:

      I have never told anyone how I felt about losing my wife in a car accident. We had been together since we were kids. When she died I had six children aged 2-15. I had to call her parents from the hospital and tell them that their daughter was dead. Then I had to leave her there and hurry home so that I could tell the kids before someone else did. I remember the next morning when I woke up after a couple hours of of exhausted sleep – laying there and asking myself if it had really happened and then realizing it had. I couldn’t eat for a month. I couldn’t listen to music. It felt like someone kicked me in the stomach and I couldn’t catch my breath. I tried to talk to my parents about it but they were too grief stricken. They just offered me some of the pills they were taking. I declined. I had to “be strong” for the kids too. For seven years after that I used to sit up in my hotel room and sob whenever I was away for work. I still cry sometimes but never when anyone is around. The kids are almost all grown now and soon I will be alone. If you have never been through it you can’t know what those lonely hours are like. Of course I don’t feel sorry for myself. I know that there are lots of people who have suffered as much or more than I have. But I also know how I feel. I realize you probably won’t publish this. But just once I wanted to let it out.

      • Nancy Bradley says:

        OMG, me too – to all the comments! It’s been 7 years and it still hurts sooooo bad. Love and peace to all of you.

  • Angela Schlaack says:

    I lost my husband 5 weeks ago. I am 44 and he was 45. We were married 21 years. I could have written this myself. I cannot tell you how emotional this made me feel to read that someone “gets” it.

    Thank you