I am an emotional widow.
Is there even such a thing?
I reside somewhere in an unseen space of loss.
We weren’t married but he was my person. He didn’t die, but our relationship, through no fault of our own, did.
We loved each other to our bones. There was no other soul for me, or for him. We fit from the moment we laid eyes on one another.
It was a beautiful summer day when I approached him standing on the sidewalk next to his motorcycle. We were on the phone navigating our way to one another after only seeing pictures and talking on the phone. He saw me and said, “Woman, we are in trouble.” I saw him and my heart forgot to beat.
Yes, it was that fairytale-like.
When we hugged, it was like our souls sank into one another, “finding home” in each other, his words. We did life – all of it – together. Good, bad, hard, happy, laughing, fun, lazy. We were always learning – so many life and relationship lessons learned and some unlearned between us.
On March 21, 2019, our life changed. He suffered a massive double stroke. Every day I sat by his side, not knowing anything, just deeply grateful my person was alive.
When he came out of induced sedation, he was understandably agitated. He didn’t understand what happened to him.
He was combative – he was a fighter. I was a fighter, too. We would fight through this together. I deeply believed we could get through anything.
Because love shows up, love doesn’t leave, love is longsuffering because love is, is, is.
I have a whole lifetime of knowing what love is not, because of what I have endured and journeyed through alone even when partnered. Never did I believe there would not be a happy ending to this amazing love story. Never.
He came home and I practically moved in with him. We began retraining his brain. He had receptive and expressive aphasia, meaning his ability to understand what was being said to him and his ability to verbalize what he thought was all garbled up. Any word might be replaced with another, creating a jumbled mess of disconnected phrases.
I was able to help him focus. I was able to teach him simple dates like his birthday, to recognize his name, and to say those things. Big accomplishments. We had an ability to “read” one another without many words, my man of few words and I, and it was immediately recognized by his speech therapist as an intangible benefit that helped him. We made a great team.
Until we didn’t.
I do not blame him for the stroke or the unexpected fallout between us. But I could not risk my physical safety. And in that moment, love taught me the hardest lesson I’ve ever had to learn.
Love doesn’t get to physically hurt you, no matter what.
It didn’t matter that he was a victim of a stroke.
It didn’t matter that we were going to be the victim of a stroke.
There are no words to express how deeply I hated this lesson.
Nor what broke within me when I left.
I spent over a year in counseling coming to grips with the truth that the man I loved died on March 21st. Learning to accept that the man left behind was a residual ghost, but not my person, was difficult to grasp. When my counselor told me, I was an emotional widow, I asked, “Are you making that up?”
He wasn’t. It’s a real thing – and I resided in its unseen space.
If he had physically died, the loss may have been more clearly seen. Others may have been more mindful in walking with me through this loss. There may have been more patience with what this cost me, what it broke in me, and the lostness I felt on this unwanted journey.
When my Daddy died, I said that my foundation was the same, but my furniture was rearranged. But this… This cracked my foundation to pieces, to the point I asked, “Why am I even here?”
As a teen, I tried to take my life twice and contemplated a third time. After an encounter with God, I never considered that as a viable option again, despite all the really hard places that have happened in my life. So, when the thought “why am I even here” ran across my brain in the first few weeks after I left, it was like a real-life monster showing up from under the bed. My heart reacted hard and fast, like a kid scurrying away on her bed in the middle of the night, because the monster finally did come out from the closet. It was that terrifying.
Desperate, I reached out, told people that just because I am strong, you can’t assume I am okay, because I am not… I need people to check in on me. And they did.
Grief is basically survival camp. Surviving the love left that has nowhere to go, requiring that you figure out not only how to survive, but at times how to breathe. Learning how to move when your heart is frozen. Some days, it’s an exercise in futility. Believing that maybe one day you will truly live or even love again – seems a fairytale that couldn’t come true twice.
Emotional widows aren’t seen. It is like having an invisible illness, people can’t see it, therefore it feels difficult to pin down. Grief is different for everyone. It can be difficult to share with others, as well as walk out within your soul. I pray no one ever has to wake to an empty pillow, encounter a panic attack because the grief has stolen their breath, or contemplate why they are here because the echoes of loss have drained and consumed them.
They say that grief is only as deep as the love experienced. If you are anything like me – an all in kinda soul – losing your person in death or in this kind of death is going to beat the hell outta you. There’s a bittersweetness to loving this deep. I am deeply grateful to have known this love, yet deeply broken by its loss. And I think that is normal.
I don’t know if my heart will ever be ready for another soul or be able to love like that again. And that’s okay. This experience may have left me with a little PTSD, but the major storm has passed. I’m still sifting, learning, and healing.
I know there are jewels this journey wants to drop into my life, and because I am as God created me, I will become better for having been here, in spite of it, and yes, even because of it.
Yet I also know that my wounds are not my identity. They may be a catalyst for growth, but they are not who I am. I am who I am because of what I have learned, how I have grown, and who I’ve allowed God to mold me into, because my heart has been a willing participant in a relationship with Him, and who He is in me. There are blessings in the broken pieces.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121: 1-2