There is something unnatural about talking to your husband and then within hours, he’s dead. I became a widow with no warning other than my hubby just wasn’t feeling well. Not feeling well comes with an expectation that the person will get better. Not feeling well wasn’t supposed to mean I would be widowed at 32.

I often talk with my widow sisters who, like me, lost their spouse suddenly, and unexpectedly. We often wonder if we were cheated by not having that time – that grey area – where you know inevitably death will not be denied but your brain gets time to absorb your reality.

I don’t think anyone ever “makes peace” that a spouse will die. I don’t think you ever become “okay” with looming widowhood.

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I just know that as someone who lost her husband without as much as a warning, I often wondered what if. What if I hadn’t delayed my trip to meet him in South America? What if I’d truly understood that this wasn’t the flu as the doctors thought it was? Would that have saved his life?

Grief coupled with “what ifs” are especially tough.

A close friend of mine wonders what if she’d engaged her husband a bit longer over a cup of coffee. Would those extra 5-10 minutes have altered the outcome? Would she have been able to avoid the title of “widow”? Would it have mattered?

The wife – who requested cookie dough ice cream from her doting husband who was on his way home but detoured to the grocery store…did that call send him into the path of the drunk driver who would change the trajectory of her life and that of her unborn child?

What if we hadn’t missed that phone call? What if we’d probed a bit more when he said he was “okay”?

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For years, I beat myself up and carried the guilt and shame of not being there when my husband died. Last night’s episode of “This Is Us“, pulled at that scab.

I ultimately realized that everything happens the way it was supposed to happen. My pastor recently preached about how we can be a blessing to others despite our pain, despite our mess, despite our tragedies.

I have to believe that God knew exactly how much I could have tolerated in order to ultimately be of service to others, especially the widowed community.

Perhaps, I couldn’t have handled being there at that moment as he took his last breath. And, while I am in awe of the widow who held her spouse as he slipped away, I know we aren’t built with the same threshold. Each of us, despite not being given a choice, handles grief and shock differently. Yes, I’ve heard of widows losing their husband and children in the same horrific accident yet they go on to rebuild the broken pieces of their lives. But, I’ve also heard of those who became addicts and/or ended their lives, unable to cope with such immeasurable tragedy.

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Would I be the same person I am today if my spouse had died – right there next to me – in a foreign country where I knew no one? Would I have survived being 3,000 miles away from home, making funeral arrangements instead of what I thought would be a delayed honeymoon? Could I have been seated on a plane traveling back to the States with my husband, the love of my life neatly tucked away in the undercarriage of the same plane as cargo?

The reality is that I don’t know. I don’t know if seeing the life drain from his face would have led me to this current path. And, yes, I want to believe that I would have eventually made my way out of the darkness but honestly, the darkness might have consumed me too.

God had to know what circumstances would allow Him to get the most glory out of my pain. With every widow(er) who reaches out to thank me for starting the Young, Widowed  & Dating Support Group or who writes me a note about a blog post that’s helped him/her, I realize that my husband’s death – in the exact manner in which it occurred – ultimately helped define who I am today.

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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