I was standing in the kitchen in my condo when it happened. My sister-in-law was on the phone and we were talking about my husband – how his death was so sudden and had caught everyone off guard.

I can’t recall exactly what was said, but before I knew it, I was laughing.

It felt good to laugh after spending nearly a week completely numb. Numb from the pain of learning about his death while sitting in the church parking lot and numb from the guilt of not being there as he took his last breath.

As the laughter subsided, another wave of emotions hit me. I felt terrible that my husband was in a morgue and yet somehow I had the nerve to share a laugh with his sister.

From then on, every moment not spent consumed by crying, hurting or wishing to be with him felt like a betrayal. How dare I allow bursts of sunshine into my day when the love of my life was no longer around?

For many months following his death, I felt guilty for embracing what was left of my life. I hurt every time I found myself living. Dinner with girlfriends? Your husband is dead. How could you even think about friendships? A getaway? You lost your spouse. Should you really be having fun? Reading my favorite author? Shouldn’t you be crying instead?

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These conflicting emotions only added to my grief. I knew my heart wanted me to die but my soul knew it had to keep living.

I wrestled with these emotions for years following his death. Though the intensity began to soften, the thought was never far from my mind as I emerged from my cocoon. I continued to have an overwhelming sense of guilt for finding the joy in each day. I felt my happiness meant I was forgetting my loss and I wanted to preserve his memory. I didn’t want to ever forget his voice, his touch, his smell, his love. To me, living meant I was letting go and I wasn’t willing to let him slip from my mind….from my heart.

In December of 2015 I decided to confront these feelings. I told myself I couldn’t continue to roll around in my widow’s funk and that cutting myself off from all that brought me happiness wasn’t about my love for my hubby. It was more about me. He embraced life and made the most of every minute of every day. My choosing to do otherwise was exactly that…a choice.

In January 2016, I put my best foot forward. I started caring about my appearance and freshened up my wardrobe. I even bought new make-up. And, while I certainly did look better, the heaviness remained. I continued to feel a tinge of guilt for still being here without my hubby.

As I vented my frustration to another widow, she encouraged me to keep going. She said, “One day your soul will catch up”.

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Almost an entire year has gone by since she said those words. A few days ago as I sat at my desk listening to the radio, Kirk Franklin’s gospel hit, “Smile” started playing. As the song closes, he says:

See, I just don’t want you to be happy
‘cause then you have to have something happening
I want you to have joy
’cause can’t nobody take that away from you

It was then that I realized what I’d been feeling the last few months: joy. My soul had finally caught up!

Please don’t get me wrong. The pain of having lost my husband continues to stay with me. There isn’t a day that goes by that the thought of him doesn’t fill my heart with complete and utter sadness. But I know that life is meant to be lived. I honor our love by acknowledging the fragility of life. Though he lived on his own terms, had he known his life would have been cut short at 35, I’m sure he would have done more, traveled more, helped more, loved more…

I am still alive and I will no longer make apologies for my joy. Not to myself and certainly not to others. I have complete unadulterated, uncompromising joy. It’s taken more than 4.5 years to get to this place and though I’m sure those grief waves will threaten to suck me in, I refuse to stay under. I’ve fought too hard to get to this place!

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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