Widowhood, particularly at a non-traditional age, can bring a feeling of isolation. It’s hard not to feel adrift and alone when no one around you seems to understand what you are experiencing.
If you’re wondering if you will always feel this way, the short answer is “no” (unless that’s your choice). That isn’t to say that you’ll feel like you did before though.
I think the analogy of a broken bone works well when trying to describe the process.
Initially there is the sharp, unrelenting pain of the break. Then comes the further breakdown of the surrounding tissue. With time a soft callus forms and the sharp pain subsides to a constant dull ache. Eventually comes the new growth and the bone heals and becomes stronger in that particular spot. The break might have brought some restricted movement but you adapt and learn new ways to do the things you want rather than letting it hold you back. But always, there remains a reminder there was a break.
Your loss, and the grief that comes with it, is knowledge you can’t unlearn. It’s imprinted on you—the tattoo you can’t remove.
With time and a lot of hard (and sometimes exhausting) work, you will start to adapt to the impact this change has made to your life. One way to try to comprehend how this shift in your grief works is to think about how easily you process other changes every single day.
Each time you lay down to sleep, you do so with the day’s activities having changed you. The changes are usually so small and routine that you don’t even register them as change.
For example, maybe you learned something new at work, read a riveting story online, or had an interesting conversation with a friend. Maybe what you learned was that you can’t eat half a pizza and not gain weight … Whatever it was, over the course of the day you acquired new awareness that your brain categorized and stored for future reference.
When your spouse dies, a heaping helping of undesired learning is thrust on you in an instant. Each and every day brings another flood of new things to learn as you deal not only with your emotions but also with the more impersonal aspects of your spouse’s death like taxes and paperwork. Your emotions feel raw and always at the surface; there is a huge gaping wound in your life that no bandage can cover. For many it even manifests itself physically. Sleep is disrupted, you get sick easier, activity levels change, sometimes you even forget to pay attention to important body cues like thirst and hunger.
Everything feels foreign and off-kilter.
As if that weren’t enough, your relationship to family and friends is also undergoing a seismic shift as everyone else processes their grief and adapts to the change in their unique way. There is so much to grasp that the amazing supercomputer in your brain can’t possibly process it in the usual time, instead requiring months (or maybe years) to catch up.
When you break it down like that it’s easy to see why, at some point, many new widows and widowers become so overwhelmed they feel as though they are losing their mind. Recovery from the loss of a spouse is almost certainly the most difficult life event most of us will ever undertake. How long it takes to process grief is highly individual so don’t compare yourself to someone else. There will always be times when you’ll grieve for what might have been and what you’ve lost. But it does get softer with time.