Widowhood: Dealing With Sneak Attacks

It’s been five years since Jerry’s death and I guess in some ways that means I’ve “gone pro” in widowhood. Some days though, this pro feels like a rank amateur.  I’ve been dating a great guy, also widowed, for over three years.  Even though I am happy in the relationship and content with the life I’ve built since Jerry died, I’ve been utterly confounded by some very simple acts from time to time.  Let me explain with an example.

Last Easter, I was browsing cards in Target, looking for the perfect one for The Boyfriend.  I picked up a cute looking card with the ubiquitous goofy-looking rabbit and there it was on the inside – a play on words using the phrase “Honey Bunny” – which just so happened to be a pet name I had for Jerry.  I slammed it shut and put it back but the damage was done.  Two little words had taken me from being just another middle-aged woman shopping for a little gift for her boyfriend on a happy, sunny Easter Eve morning to full-on “what am I doing and why does this feel like I’m cheating??” mode.

And there it was – the sneak attack.

Cat attacking cord

It’s the innocent little moments that tend to sink most widows and widowers to whom I’ve spoken.  I think of it as a “Pearl Harbor” sneak attack – a metaphor which works well for me since my husband died on December 7.  It’s the barely perceptible buzzing in the distance that suddenly turns into an all-out assault of grief bombs. In the first year or two I can remember fleeing stores on several occasions because the background music evoked a particularly poignant memory.  There are still a couple of songs that can pose a challenge for me on the wrong day – “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol  and “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” as sung by Elvis Presley.  The latter was a favorite for us since Jerry was 24 years my senior (if you are curious, his divorce had been final for two years when we met).

The difference is that now, as a professional widow, I have developed coping mechanisms that help me to compose myself and get on with the task at hand.  In this case, I walked away and contemplated whether blue nail polish would flatter my toenails —maybe with a tan— and then returned to browsing cards until I found one that was meaningful for THIS relationship.

Coping Mechanisms

Here are a few ways I’ve successfully distracted myself when a grief bomb threatened to derail me:

– Walking and keeping count of my steps.

– Using the meditation trick of paying attention to my breathing. I will actually think “I’m  breathing in, I’m breathing out, I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out” while deliberately slowing and deepening my breath.

– Singing the song “Walking on Sunshine” (Katrina and the Waves) in my head or out loud depending on where I am.  Music is a huge mood trigger for me and I find it almost impossible to not feel happier when I sing that song.

– Deliberately distracting myself with something superficial (a la my nail polish contemplation).

There are, of course, times when I find a quiet place to sit and acknowledge the pain.  I’ve found that, for me, it helps to find some gratitude in the pain.  No matter how much it hurts, or how inconvenient these sneak attacks can be, I’ll always be grateful to have spent over 28 years with someone who’s absence I can still feel so keenly. In my book that makes me lucky.

Listen to “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves:

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