I know you wavered in your decision to hit “Join”. In your heart, you felt you’d lost the man you married but would anyone else?

Would the ladies in the group who planned a funeral or a memorial service understand that although you didn’t have to wear a black dress as they lowered your spouse into the ground, you know grief and what it feels like for the man you married to no longer be there.

You feel widowed though based on the traditional definition of the word, your title is different. Even among women with similar circumstances, there is debate as to what title is “most appropriate”. Though you know grief can never be compared, you want the widowed community to know that your journey is nothing to be envied.

Yes, his body is still here, but your husband is not.  Who and what remains is barely a shell of the man who promised to love and protect you. Whether it was due to a failed suicide attempt, a horrific accident or bacterial infection, the man you married is now comatose, in a vegetative state or so severely brain damaged that he’s best provided for in a mental health facility.

Some of the widows will tell you that you don’t belong. They’ll say, “…but your husband is still here. You can still snuggle up with him. The kids still have their father”.

They won’t understand that it’s not the body that makes your husband who is. Even his identical twin – alive and well – isn’t your husband. Your husband is more than his face, more than his hands, more than his feet. Though his body remains, all that made him who he was is no longer here. The way his eyes twinkled when you walked into a room. His laughter when the little ones acted silly. His voice, steady and reassuring. His touch, the warm embrace….

And, if the judgment and condemnation from some in the widowed community weren’t bad enough, you blame yourself for even identifying as widowed. You see touching news stories of the bubbly wife, putting on a brave face for the cameras as the dotes on her spouse, determined to see him get stronger; see him talk and walk again.

You wonder why that isn’t your story. You beat yourself up for filing the divorce, for institutionalizing him. But no two stories are the same. You know the history of his abuse, the drugs, the repeated threats of suicide, the numerous times you encouraged him to seek help, the nights you cried as you begged him to go to rehab.

You have to know that you tried your best given the hellish circumstances you faced.

Even if you had a picture-perfect marriage, no one who sits in judgment of you saw you as you made the decision to move your husband back home following the brain injury. Stood with you as you provided round-the-clock care for a spouse whose temper was growing worse with each passing day. But, because of your vows, you felt you had no choice. No one saw the bruises or the scars he left on you physically and emotionally as you tried to care for the man you love. It was only after his wrath created a toxic environment for the children that you made the choice to have him placed in a secure facility.

You – and you alone – lived through those battles. No one gets to determine what labels you put on that struggle. Not me or any other widow who hasn’t walked a day in your shoes.

I imagine there are so many different nuances that come along with being a widow in your position: How do you date when the shell of a man you love is still here? How do you explain to your children that while they can “see” Daddy, he doesn’t know them, can’t play with them or even acknowledge their presence? How do you reconcile the fact that at one point or the other you wished for his death, just so this body could be as free as his spirit?

Yes, my widowed story is not your story. Just like it’s not the story of a widow who didn’t lose her spouse to a sudden, unexpected death the way I did. But, please know, I respect your journey and don’t consider you any less of a widow, especially if that’s how you choose to identify yourself. You will always have a place in my widow support group.

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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