By Jo Smith-Hooker, from When Hope Shines.
When someone dies, you don’t just lose the person. You also lose every moment you would have had with that person in the future.
When the one that dies is your husband, and you are both so damn young, and you planned to grow old together… well that’s a lot of future moments, plans and dreams that you are now left holding in a shattered mess.
That shattered mess lay at my feet for a very long time, as I continued down the path of making decisions and plans based on what “we” would do and what was best for “us”.
For a very long time I couldn’t see a future for myself at all. It simply hurt too much. But little by little as time passed, I started to catch glimpses.
Just after the 4-year mark, last September, I knew it was time. Time to start changing my thinking. Time to start considering what I wanted. Just me. No longer us.
It takes work. It takes commitment. It takes so much damn courage to accept what you don’t want to accept. It takes heartbreaking determination to let go of a life that you had planned. Of all the dreams and hopes. Of a future that will now never be. Of a future that no longer belongs to us. No longer belongs to me.
Deep grief and the feelings and state of mind it brings are familiar to me. It’s been a crazy journey, but the point is I know who I am when I am lost in the depths of grief.
I am a young grieving widow, in survival mode, doing my best to get through each day, trying to not screw up my kid’s lives.
There is a sense of holding on. Of struggling through another day. It brings comfort, because as painful as it is, it means Daniel is still very much a part of me.
I felt like it meant I was keeping him alive.
It is so easy to become content in the depths of grief and think that this is life now, this is as good as it gets. But I can without doubt say, it is not a place to stay. It is not a place to live.
I’ve learnt that I keep his memory alive by learning to live again. By slowly re-building. By understanding that regardless of what my future holds, he will always be a part of me and I will always love him.
For so long I held onto the idea that maybe, just maybe this was a nightmare… that eventually I would wake up.
My reality though tells me different. That it is impossible. That in this lifetime, he is no longer mine.
I sit here and tell you – I accept that…
In this lifetime, Daniel is no longer mine.
In accepting that, it meant I needed to grieve and let go of the dreams we had, of the plans we made, of making decisions based on “us.”
Us existed, but no longer exists. Us exists in past tense. I can’t live my life now based on what we would do.
When I first saw this quote by Mary Oliver in the early months of my grief, I hated it. Funnily enough, it is a quote that has stuck with me.
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
It used to pop into my head at random times and I’d tell it where to go. Because honestly, how could I ever possibly see this darkness as a gift? This darkness will never be a gift. Being widowed at 36 and grieving my 37-year-old husband will never ever be a gift.
But I have this box and it is definitely full of darkness and that is no longer enough.
I guess it did take me years. But sooner or later you have to face the pain, because as I discovered, you can’t outrun it. I tried for years. Soon after the 4-year anniversary I knew. I knew I had reached a place in my journey where the comfort of grief and my life were no longer enough. So I did something crazy and pulled the ribbon off the box. It’s scary to face this life, this future when everything is so unknown.
When D died, I thought I would die too, in the literal sense. I honestly didn’t know how I would survive life without him. When he left, a box full of darkness remained. His absence will always be a box full of darkness.
But, opening the box… it opened something within me. Almost a sense of permission. Permission to be completely open to what comes next.
The gift that is left… my life and my future.
I can do with them anything I please. I choose to live them. It’s messy, but it’s mine. I have learnt that it is ok to feel both happy and sad at the same time. I have learnt that it is ok to laugh and really live in the moment. I have learnt that the best way to honour Daniel is to embrace my life again.
I am learning to love the person I am today.
I’ve changed so much I often wonder if he would even recognize me.
I am happy.
For so long I thought I would never actually say that and truly mean it ever again.
I understand that there will be moments for the rest of my life and maybe days and weeks at a time when the grief will sweep me under and I’ll wonder again how I will ever get through this. But I will, because life is waiting for me on the other side.
My life is a gift.
Right now, I’m very much trying to live each day as it comes, welcome new challenges, take chances and really embrace the absolutely amazing things life is sending my way.
I am looking to a future that is mine.
Jo Smith-Hooker was 36 when her husband died instantly in a motorbike accident in September 2013. She lives in Brisbane with her two daughters. Her loves include adventures, writing, spending time with those she loves, music, travel and running (ok, the love part is a work in progress).
You will often find her curled up with a book, living in an alternate universe. She is passionate about walking alongside others on their grief journey and is a Management Committee member for First Light Widowed Association.
She shares her experience and journey with loss and life on Instagram, @whenhopeshines.