Someone I hadn’t spoken to in a few years recently reached out to me. During our conversation, he asked if I was still writing. I explained that in addition to writing as part of my day-to-day responsibilities at work, I was also blogging for The Huffington Post.

“What’s the blog about,” he inquired.

“Widows and the widowed community,” I replied.

“Oh, so you interview the widows you meet in your 9-5?” he asked referring to my work in luxury senior housing.

“No, I write about widows…like myself,” I said.

“Widows!” he said puzzled. “Oh, I forgot you are widowed. I was thinking “widow” as in someone in her 80’s”

Admittedly, prior to becoming widowed at 32, the only widows and widowers I’d ever met were in fact those in their golden years. Heck, the closest I’d ever come to knowing a young person who lost her partner was when a classmate’s boyfriend died in a tragic accident.

Even after being widowed I was still naïve. I recall filling out paperwork after I bought a new house and being asked a series of questions. One of them was about my relationship status. I sadly checked the “widowed” box.

Once the form was submitted, I was prompted to print a copy for my personal records. As I flipped through the pages of the finalized form, I saw there was a $500 deduction next to the “widowed” box. I’m not sure why, but I immediately panicked. I assumed that I had somehow committed fraud by getting this credit. In my mind, the $500 was reserved for seniors who lost a spouse and were unable to pay their property taxes on their own.

I quickly called the number on the top of the form and explained my dilemma to the representative. I told her that I’d seen the deduction on my tax forms and wanted to know if it could be corrected internally since I had already hit the submit button and was unable to make further changes.

“Ma’am, are you widowed?” she asked.

“Yes, but I’m only 36. My husband died 4 years ago,” I said.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” she replied.

Then she said the words that have stayed with me and helped me to accept the word “widow”:

“Whether you’re 90, 70, or even 32, you become a widow when your spouse dies. Being a young widow doesn’t make you any less a widow.”

She was right. The pain of losing your soulmate leaves the same hole in your heart, regardless of age.

From that day on, I’ve stopped downplaying the magnitude of my loss. My age doesn’t make my loss any less significant. My pain is just as valid whether I’m an 18 year old who lost her spouse in an automobile accident, a 40 year old whose spouse succumbs to cancer or an 85 year old who loses her spouse to Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s the same gut-wrenching, soul-twisting pain.

Mom to a feisty preschooler, Kerry Phillips became widowed at age 32. She runs an online support group for young widows and widowers venturing back into the world of dating and is a blogger for The Huffington Post.

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