‘My dear husband, you made me a wife, but cancer made me a widow. I now understand the true meaning of a strong bond of love.’: Widow shares grief journey 1 year after husband’s death

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of grief which may be upsetting to some.

“One year without you. I have now been a widow for an entire year. 12 months, 365 days, 52 weeks – however you say it, I am still a widow. It has been a year since I have heard my husband’s laugh, seen his smile, and felt his touch. To say this has been the hardest year of my life is a huge understatement. Looking back, I am honestly not sure how I have made it this far. Some days were so very painful; I didn’t understand how a human could survive. But, survive I have. There is a huge difference between living and surviving, but at this point, I will take surviving.

My dear husband, I have learned a lot this year, albeit the hard way. Many of the lessons were ones I could have done without ever knowing. I now understand the true meaning of a shattered heart, the unfairness of death, and the incredibly strong bond of love. I have learned a person can cry more tears than I ever imagined. Over the two decades we were together, we often joked about what one of us would do if something happened to the other. Even after your diagnosis, we never seriously contemplated this, as we were convinced you would be fine. I now wish so badly you had told me how to do life without you.

Husband and wife look comfortable and content with one another
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

Grief is a funny thing. It creates a clear disconnect between the head and the heart, and it is difficult to reconcile the two. The first few months were filled with shock and disbelief. How could such a strong, smart, vital man succumb so quickly to cancer? You made me a wife, but cancer made me a widow just a short time later. Looking back, I think you were hiding things about your illness in an attempt to protect me. While it helped at the moment, it also left me utterly broken when you passed away. I was not prepared nor did I allow myself to see it coming. For a while, it was easy to think you were just on a trip or deer hunting. The problem was, you never came home. I would wander from room to room, expecting to find you.

Each time I drove up the driveway, I expected to see you walk out of the shop to greet me. As time went by, the harsh reality began to sink in. My head knew you weren’t coming home, but my heart still held out hope. Even now, a year later, there are times when I look out the window and still expect to see you across the pond or out on the tractor. They say you learn a lot about people during tough times. You would be surprised at the friends who have simply faded away. A year ago, there were longtime friends I would have said would be there for me no matter what. Ones you would have expected to be there as well. I do not fault them one bit. Grief is sad, hard, and very lonely.

I truly believe my pain scares people. They are scared of being me. As disappointing as it has been to watch these folks slowly disappear from my life, other true angels on earth have emerged. People I never would have expected have genuinely wrapped their arms around me and lifted me up when I was at my lowest. Casual friends have become lifelines. Your brothers-in-law and best friends from the lease and flying have stepped up to support and encourage Matthew as he makes some major life decisions. Between our siblings, at least one of them reaches out daily. You would be so pleased and grateful by the love showered upon us. Perhaps those lost friendships will return someday, or perhaps they simply served a purpose during a different season of life when I was a wife and not a widow.

It’s been hard to navigate all the things you always took care of. I had to hire someone to work on the deck, and it was a complete disaster. He took a ton of money, and only did half the job. This never would have happened if you were here. You spoiled me by knowing how to fix or build anything. My first experience at hiring someone went terribly wrong. I could not believe someone would take advantage of another during such a vulnerable time. You truly see the best and worst of humanity during times like this. So much has happened in this past year my dear husband, and you should have been here for everything. Your absence has been felt so strongly, especially as the children have grown.

Anna is doing well at work and taking on more responsibility. She has been selected for special projects and is advancing. Matthew is excelling in his flying career and has been presented with some fantastic opportunities. He takes your suitcase every time he flies and wears your uniform belt. You left some huge shoes to fill, but Matthew is doing an amazing job taking care of the deer leases, house, property, cars, etc. You would be so proud. It breaks my heart you aren’t here to celebrate their successes. A true example of the unfairness of death. My heart is still broken, and I expect it will be forever. It is funny how people tell me I have almost made it a year without you. It is as if they think I will be magically healed the next day.

Dad takes a photo with his two kids at a wedding
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

Grief doesn’t work this way. Grief is a pain like no other. The tears fall over the life’s missed moments I want to share with you. They fall over the intense loneliness even when I’m in a room full of people. They fall over walking into an empty home. They fall over the plans we had and won’t come to fruition. Tears and more tears, and the most intense sadness. In all those jokes we made about something happening to one of us, I don’t think we ever stopped to consider what would really happen to the one who remained. You know my worst fear was getting cancer again and not being able to beat it a third time. You always teased me because I was obsessed with this fear. I now know dying isn’t the worst thing that could happen…being the one left behind is much worse.

As I sit here one year later, I miss you like crazy. I miss our future. I miss the person I was with you. What I wouldn’t give for one more smile, one more tender kiss, one more anything with you. While I am thankful for the time we had, it was not nearly enough.”

Married couple together for over 20 years take a photo together
Courtesy of E. Christiansen

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by E. Christiansen. Submit your own story here,  and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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