The Shock of Widowhood

In the course of a day, my husband, Dale, stepdad to my two children, business partner, best friend, and—truly—the most interesting person I have ever known, died. That brought on the shock of widowhood.

Have you lost your spouse, your parent, or a beloved friend? What is your story? Please know you’re not walking this road alone. But if you’re in the early stage, you may be pondering how life changed so quickly and how you might move forward from wherever you are. I totally hear you.

The World Marched On

Within a week of Dale’s death, real life marched on. The water pipe from the street to our home burst under the driveway. Our two air-conditioning units failed. The mortgage had to be paid. My daughter, Erin, had some health problems, and I relocated to Denver for a month to help care for her.

By the time I returned home to Phoenix, life had returned to normal for nearly everyone. When I ran into friends and neighbors in the community, everyone was still friendly and solicitous. “How are you? Can we do anything for you? Do you need help with anything at the house? Please come to dinner.”

I’d worked for Dale as his administrative assistant for the past twenty years. When he was restructured out of his job, we planned to buy a franchise and work for another five or ten years. Now the office—his office—was empty. I wasn’t working. Bible study was over for the summer. It was hot, and neighbors were staying inside.

After the Shock Came Loneliness

For the first time in my adult life, I felt lonely.

Throughout our married life, Dale traveled for business five days a week, forty-eight weeks a year. I’d spent a lot of time alone—but I’d never been lonely. I raised my children, worked, volunteered at school, went out with friends, traveled.

Dale called me twenty times a day to discuss business: “What time is my next appointment? Did you make reservations for lunch? Can you make my travel arrangements for next week? What does my week look like?”

Sometimes I had to roll my eyes, he called so often. Frequently, the conversation started with, “I know I’m driving you crazy, but . . .” What I wouldn’t give for one of those phone calls now.

Busy Work Dulled the Shock of Widowhood

I spent time writing thank-you notes. Hundreds of them. I learned how to clean my pool and pull a mouse from the pool sweep. I paid bills, walked my dog, traded in Dale’s Chrysler and my fourteen-year-old Jeep for a Ford Explorer. Celebrating my birthday, I cried over his.

Now what? Maybe you’ve asked this question, too, in the shock of widowhood.

I’ve never been a “tragic figure,” and I did not intend to become one now. But I really struggled with the “So now what?” question. I accepted all social invitations. I tried to embrace my “new normal.” My son Beau and his wife Meagan left. Mom went home. Erin recovered. My friends returned to work. I felt lonely. I have never known such sorrow.

Friends Returned to Their Lives

My friends, family, neighbors, and church family has been absolutely amazing from the first moments of Dale entering the hospital until now. I hope you’ve had a wonderful support system too. But, eventually, everyone gets to go back to real life—except for you.

The harsh reality is that everyone else is dealing with something too. Poor health. Bad marriages. Divorce. Aging parents. Troubled kids. Money. Career. Death. It’s easy to think that you’re alone in your grief because everyone else is dealing with their own heartaches. Eventually, even the death of a great friend and neighbor fades to yesterday’s news.

My kids lost their devoted stepdad, but they still had their dad. They still had me. My friends and neighbors had struggles of their own. My mom ran her own business in a town fifteen hundred miles away. The church I attended was transitioning to a new system of courses and Bible studies.

Three Words After the Shock of Widowhood

I recently saw a Robert Frost quote that totally summarized my feelings: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.” Indeed.

My neighbor Christine “adopted” me. Every night that she cooked, she invited me to dinner. Weston and I would stop by after our walk and eat. We’d sit outside and talk about how hot it was. We’d get in the pool and solve the world’s problems.

Her husband would join us for dinner and then retreat to his office. Dale and Bill had been very close friends—“two of a kind,” Christine and I always said. Traveling salesmen with brilliant minds and strong opinions. After Dale died, Bill—a close friend to both of us—no longer spent much time with me because it reminded him of Dale.

While I was suffering the shock of widowhood, Dale’s death was personal and intense for Bill, too. He lost the “best friend he ever had,” a kindred spirit, an equal who lived down the street.

More than two years after Dale died, I talked with Gary, Dale’s dear friend and business associate, about the changes in our relationship. Gary and his wife, Pam, were longtime friends who enjoyed similar pursuits. We’d been to several car races together and went on long Sunday drives to our favorite Mexican restaurants. Both worked in the investment industry with Dale.

Grief Affected Whole Network of Connections

We hadn’t seen each other since Dale’s funeral, and I wondered if we were still friends. Gary said, “You know, it really wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to call you to do stuff after Dale died.” Simple truth that made complete sense. Pam still checked in, though, and it was great to catch up with Gary in person. It felt like “old times.”

Gary stopped going to car races because it wasn’t the same without Dale. His death was so shocking that it’s still a topic of conversation among their friends. It made them think about their own mortality. Pam and Gary shared their regret that we planned to meet after the holidays but never scheduled anything. Then Dale died. As Buddha said, “The trouble is, you think you have time.”

My mom also experienced the loss of several good friends when my dad died. She and Dad used to have lunch every day with one of their friends. After Dad died, that friend served as a pallbearer and then quit calling. Chester is a small town with few options for lunch. Truthfully, he would’ve had to go out of his way not to talk with my mom, but he just dropped out of sight. My mom called one day to tell me that he called to take her to lunch—three years after my dad died.

Two other couples dropped out too. Mom and Dad had known them for years; they traveled together, went to the movies, talked on a daily basis. But after Dad’s death, they stopped calling. They each sent a Christmas card this year and said they needed to get together—again, three years after Dad died. One couple wrote a long letter confessing they had failed Mom, but they just couldn’t deal with his death. It made them feel old and mortal. If a guy as young and vital as Dad could die, that meant they could too.

Friends Faded Into Their Own Grief

Would you be shocked to learn that, on average, 75 percent of the survivor’s support base is lost following the loss of a spouse or significant other?1 There are many reasons why this might be true: moving to a new place, loss of “couples friends,” having a despondent outlook, grief on the part of family and friends. This loss of support base can be especially difficult for the survivor who lost a spouse to suicide. They may feel so socially isolated and ashamed that they dread facing their acquaintances in the community.

If your friends’ grief changed your relationships after your spouse died, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t really care about you. The way they chose to deal with the death of someone they loved was just different. We can analyze why they dropped out forever, but the short story is it wasn’t dislike for you. It was love for your spouse. And the price of that love is grief.

Readjusting Friendships During the Shock of Widowhood

Christine called me one day to ask me to dinner on the upcoming Saturday. I told her I’d love to come and asked what I could bring. “Nothing,” she said. “I’m having couples over on Friday and I’m prepping for both nights.”

“Thanks so much! I’d love to come,” I said. But I thought, Couples. I am not a couple. I’m not coming on Friday. I’m coming on Saturday.

We hung up, and I considered my new status as not half a couple. One minute later, the phone rang. It was Christine.

“I don’t know why I said that. Of course you are welcome to come on Friday. What was I thinking?”

I assured her no harm was done and said I couldn’t come on Friday anyway. “I’ll see you on Saturday.”

Christine and the rest of my neighbors have never treated me like I wasn’t welcome. I’ve since been to many “couples” dinner parties as a single, and I’ve had lots of couples to my home. But I have changed my thinking about two things: how I feel when I’m included in a gathering of couples, and how I think about singles in my social circle.

One is that being included as a single at a couples’ party makes me feel like things haven’t changed. It makes me feel wanted and included in neighborhood events. But the ironic part about being included is leaving that group of couples to go home alone at the end of the evening emphasizes that—indeed—I am no longer half a couple.

1 “These Are the Statistics,” Widow’s Hope.

Kim Knight is the author of Widow’s Might: Embracing Life after the Loss of Your Spouse – An Encouraging Book for Widows Dealing with Grief and Loss: Knight, Kim: 9781424551118: Books

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Kim Knight

Widow’s Might is Kim Koeneman Knight’s first book. Kim holds as Master of Education in Office Administration/Business Education and taught business skills at the college level for many years. She was once named the Colorado Business Skills Teacher of the Year by the Colorado Private School Association, KMGH-TV, and The Denver Post. Kim has appeared on nationally and internationally syndicated radio and television shows and has served as the keynote speaker for numerous investment seminars and Christian retreats. Kim lived in Phoenix from 2006 – 2014 and was very active at Mountain Park Community Church, where she led the Women’s Ministry and the Career Transition Team and served on the Board of Servant Leaders. In 2014 Kim moved to Dana Point, California, where she served on the Women’s Leadership Team at Capo Beach Church. Kim moved to Naples, Florida, in 2020 and provides resume writing and interviewing skills guidance as an ongoing ministry. She leads a women’s Bible study and has taken on her favorite role of “Kiki”—grandma to her darling granddaughter, Elliott.

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