I was not there.

I don’t know what it feels like to get the devastating diagnosis or how you put on a brave face after hearing, “There are no other treatment options”.

My widowed story doesn’t involve encouraging my husband not to lose hope while deep inside knowing the odds were stacked against our ‘happily ever after’. I haven’t had to tell my son that the father he once thought was even stronger than Superman is too weak to play soccer in the backyard.

I don’t know the helplessness that comes with wiping away tears before entering the hospital room to see my spouse, connected to so many tubes that his handsome face is almost unrecognizable. To talk to doctors in the hallway and need to retreat to the bathroom to cry about more grim news. To weep uncontrollably for a partner who is still here – but gone. To wail for my children who are at home waiting for Daddy to get better.

SAVE THE DATE:

The conflicting emotions of wanting him to stay another day while silently praying that God would take him so he could finally be at peace must have been excruciating. Yes, you said in sickness and in health, but no one should suffer like this. Not your husband, not your kids, not you.

There cannot be words to describe seeing the man who once carried you in his arms be reduced to a shadow of himself. Watching his health and body deteriorate with each passing month must have felt like a slow torture. His mind…altered by the medication; his eyes…filled with sadness, fear and regret.

My heart breaks for you knowing the conversations you were forced to have (much too soon). Do you want to be buried or cremated? Who should be named as pallbearers? How you must have dreaded getting the paper he requested to write the children letters, fearing they’d forget him.

And, while you were given those last moments to say goodbye and create memories, how do you celebrate lasts? Last vacation. Last anniversary. Last birthday.

I know your road wasn’t easy.

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And neither was my road or that of any of my fellow widows who lost a spouse suddenly. We woke up married and within 24-hours a new title was bestowed upon us: widow.

There is no word that can describe leaving your house a family of four, only to return with one less member.

The shock of hearing your husband is dead, knowing that you spoke only 20 minutes prior is enough to make you lose your mind. It makes you question your reality. Forces you to make sense of a world that doesn’t include your person. The one you kissed goodbye before walking out the door. The one you made dinner plans with. The one who was supposed to pick up your son from basketball practice on that very day.

It’s like a bad dream; a nightmare that you can’t escape. The news is wrong. The doctors are wrong. His friends are wrong. The police officer is wrong. But his phone that rings over and over and over confirms the worst news of your life…he’s gone.

To go from planning dinner to planning how to tell your children that their father is dead…no one should ever have to have that conversation.

No one ever makes peace with losing a spouse. With a sudden death, though, the inevitable ‘what-ifs’ can be crippling. What if I’d rearranged my flight to get to him…would I have known how sick he was? If we’d lingered over coffee just a bit longer, would the reckless driver have hit his motorcycle? If we hadn’t argued about the bills, would he have stormed out into the darkness and die from an overdose of prescription drugs?

How do you heal when you need so many answers? How can you let go of the guilt you feel for not somehow preventing the death? You know there was nothing you could have done, but how do you drown out that small part of you that won’t let it go?

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And, if you’re like me and you weren’t there when your husband took his last breath, you blame yourself for being absent during the moments he needed you most. There was no hand-holding or words of comfort that come with a final goodbye.

No, we’re often left longing for those conversations that signaled an end was near. It’s quite likely we never discussed what we’d like each other’s life to look like if one of us was no longer here. There were no recordings made to give to each of the children on their milestone birthdays. No “permission” to heal our hearts and seek out our joy. We thought we had more time…

If we’re lucky, that last conversation was a pleasant one and it brings us a tiny bit of happiness on our darkest days.

Widow sister, my journey is no more “sadder” than yours nor is it any less painful. Regardless of the path we took, we both have been left to make sense of the cards we were dealt. Our journeys are different, yet the same. There is healing in accepting each other’s stories, even if they are not reflective of our own. At the end of the day, we both loved and lost. That pain is enough for us to find our common ground.

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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