The Unofficial Truth About Grief From A Young Widow

by Elaine Roth
Originally Published: 
Portrait of young sad woman
Igor Ustynskyy/Getty

COVID-19 is no longer an invisible monster impacting someone else somewhere else. It’s here. An invisible monster crashing into the lives of people I know. The RIP Facebook posts are starting. The emails announcing the death of a loved one are arriving. The collective grief is rising.

In our society, grief is largely misunderstood. It’s more than sadness and more than missing the sound of a voice and the feel of arms wrapped around you. It’s a profound life event. Grief becomes a part of you, and that’s not a gloom and doom truth, I promise. It’s just a truth.

I’m not an expert in grief. But I’ve lived in grief since my young husband died two years ago. I’m a young widow, and this is my unofficial truth about grief:

Grief comes in waves.

Grief is often analogized to waves that ebb and flow. In the early days, grief doesn’t feel like a wave. It feels like an ocean that has settled on you. Those floodwaters will recede. And then they’ll come back—when you expect them and when you don’t, when a song comes on the radio and when there’s nothing but silence around you. The waves will always recede, and eventually, more time will pass between each wave.

There was nothing you could have done differently.

Wondering whether I could have done something differently to change the outcome sent me spiraling into a black hole of “what if” questions in the first days and weeks of grief. Even if you could say with certainty that you wouldn’t have lost your person if only you’d done something differently (which you can’t—life is too random and unpredictable to ever know), you can’t go back in time.

Try to stop that spiral of “what if”—it’s nothing but exhausting. Give yourself the space to ask “what if” and then give yourself the grace to stop asking.

They knew you loved them.

Even if you didn’t tell them that last time, maybe because you didn’t know it would be the last time, they knew. They knew you loved them and your love changed their life, made it better and happier. Because the truth I know is that last words don’t matter as much as the thousands and millions of words spoken before.

It’s going to feel like the world fell apart.

It has…but it will be rebuilt. It won’t look exactly the same; it will have holes. But maybe sometimes those holes let in a little more light.

The first laugh will stun you.

You’ll feel guilty that you can still laugh. You can. And that’s a testament to the strength of your heart and soul.

Watch out for that first holiday/birthday/special occasion.

It’s going to hurt. Special occasions will always arrive with a razor blade, but that first one… it might make you feel like you’re back to square one with grief, but you’re not. Give yourself the space to take a step back (or twelve steps back, if you need)—it’s not permanent.

There’s no cure for grief.

Trust me. I’ve been looking for a way to cure my grief for two years. The only cure is to acknowledge grief is there—in the worst moments and the best moments and the quiet, in between moments—and accept that having grief doesn’t mean you’re broken or stuck or less than. It means you’re human; it means you loved.

Everyone’s grief looks different.

Grief looks different on different people, and there’s no wrong way to grieve. Maybe you’re the person who can’t get out of bed, or maybe you’re the person who sticks to their 5 a.m. gym routine even more strictly. Or maybe it changes based on the day. It’s grief, however it looks, and it’s yours. No one gets to tell you how to do it. But also, you don’t get to tell anyone else how to grieve your loss.

You might feel like you are defined by grief.

When you suffer a profound loss, you might feel as if that’s all anyone can see. It’s not. All the bright parts of you are still there. In some ways, they’re even brighter now, even easier to see.

You might not feel strong enough.

Strength looks different on different days. Some days strength is opening your eyes and taking a breath, a breath made of instinct and reflex rather than grit and determination. Some days strength looks like doing all the things. Either way, you are strong enough.

Values will change. Relationships, too.

What once felt important may no longer and what once felt unimportant may seem crucial. This extends to relationships, too. You’ll be surprised at who shows up and who disappears into the background. Hold on tight to the people who show up.

Life will always be split into “before” and “after.”

Yes, there’s something deeply sad about the idea of a before and after, about the idea of a painful fissure in the story of your life, particularly when that after is caused by loss. But, like a scar, with time, that crack between before and after will begin to feel less jagged and raw.

You might grieve yourself.

You might grieve the person you were before loss, the person who didn’t know that grief was more than feeling sad, who didn’t know that grief was so heavy and that it somehow threaded into all the parts of you. Grieve her. But remember the post-grief you has done incredible things, too.

The world won’t look the same.

Which can be hard. But sometimes, when the light hits just right, whether a sunset or a sunrise or just a burst of sunlight piercing through a blanket of gray clouds, you’ll find a moment of peace — a moment where you know you aren’t alone. Breathe into those moments.

I’m not an expert on grief. I’m just a young widow trying to figure it out. And I hope it helps.

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