‘There’s no ‘how to become a widow’ class. Before he died, I never thought about what his first pet’s name was to look up my bank account balance.’: Widow describes things she was forced to learn after husband died of pancreatic cancer

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“The smoke alarm in my hallway chirped for two days. Usually right about 4:30 a.m. until it decided to tease us by being quiet just long enough to let us barely go back to sleep. It was easier than I thought to get it down and get a replacement. It was easy enough to figure out how to put it back up. It was easy enough for my beautiful girl with her long arms to reach it.

Sure, it was an easy enough task, but it was a task that I never wanted to learn.

Daughter replacing smoke alarm her deceased father would've fixed
Diana Register

Because, before my husband died, he took care of everything. Before he died, I didn’t have to worry about what the combination was to the safe, or what the password was for different bank accounts or which bills to pay first. Before he died, I never thought about how to turn on the barbeque, or how to start the lawn mower or that I was supposed to disconnect the hoses in the winter. I never thought about how I would need to know what his first pet’s name was to figure out what my bank account balance was.

Screenshot of text's between widow and her friends asking help how to fix something
Diana Register
Hose hooked up to house covered in snow
Diana Register

You see, like most couples, he had his roles and I had mine. I suppose if I had been the one that died, he wouldn’t have known what time to take our daughter to gymnastics. He would have had to learn exactly the right way to make a ponytail and what kind of snack to pack. He would have had to learn all the words to her favorite song, and who Justin Bieber was. He would have had to learn how to make playdough and why making Shrinky Dinks is actually cool.

No matter who was left behind, we both would have had to learn as we go because there is no ‘How to become a widow’ class. Nobody hands us a manual when it happens with all the answers. And, I know what you’re thinking, we should have had those conversations. You’re right, we should have. But, he was 44 when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It’s not like we had thought much about it before it happened. We should have talked about it after his diagnosis and before he died but let me tell you this: There was NO way I was having a discussion with him about the things I should know about before he dies because there was NO way I was going to ever make him feel like I had given up hope and was planning his death. So, yes, have the conversation with your spouse before they get sick but please understand how hard it might be for some of us who didn’t.

Please be compassionate to those of us who are learning. There are so many things I don’t know. So many things I never had to know. And because he is gone now, sometimes, I don’t know where to turn. I ask my friends on social media, I ask my friends in person. I ‘google,’ I research. I look things up, and to be honest, as empowering as it can be, I hate every single second of it. This wasn’t the way life was supposed to be. It wasn’t what we had planned. I wasn’t supposed to be figuring this all out on my own. I wasn’t supposed to be playing jokes on our daughter without him here, like putting broccoli in her Easter eggs. He did that. That was his job.

Daughter of widow mother opens Easter egg that has piece of broccoli in it
Diana Register

But, along with the tasks I have figured out, I have learned some even more valuable things. I’ve learned that life goes on. I’ve learned that grief follows us, but life really does go on, whether we want it to or not. I’ve learned that some days are ok, some days aren’t, but we all get through it. I have learned I will never stop missing him, and I will always want him to come back and do all the things he used to do, because most days, I want to stop learning how to be a widow.

And, as much as I realize I don’t want to learn how to be a widow anymore, the reality is that I am a widow and that is not changing. So, I have two choices as I see it. I can spend sleepless nights with chirping smoke alarms, or I can figure out how to replace them. And some days, I might replace them and be full of energy and good spirits, and other days, I might be tired. I might not feel like it, but I will do it anyway. Because that’s what widows and widowers do. We do it anyway.

I want you to remember this. Once you plan your spouse’s funeral, you can do anything. You didn’t know how to do that before you did it, but you figured it out. And you figured it out in the middle of the darkest moment of your life. Yet, you didn’t give up. You didn’t give in. You didn’t let fear win. You mustered every piece of strength you had and honored that person you loved with all the dignity they deserved. And as you continue in your life without them, you will draw on that strength and do all of the things you didn’t know how to do before. You will learn. You will grow. You will figure it out even when it seems so hard. Because that’s who you’ve become. That’s now who you are. Don’t ever doubt yourself. Don’t question your strength. Don’t ever forget what got you here. People look up to you. You inspire people. You may not know it, but you do. Yeah, I planned your funeral, I got back out of bed, I even started an entire foundation in your honor. And wrote a book about healing in this awful ‘Grief Life‘ I was thrown into. And our daughter is right there beside me, helping carry on your legacy. Because we owe that to you.

Widow mother stands in police uniform holding medal beside daughter
Diana Register

So, go change the lightbulbs, go change the batteries, go ask your friends for advice, go play jokes, go mow the lawn, go braid your kid’s hair, go memorize the songs. Go do it all. I have faith in you and deep down, you have faith in yourself. You will find it as you go. You are stronger than you think and more capable than you know. I promise.”


This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her bestselling book, “Grief Life,” is now available in print and kindle. Experience love, laughter, loss and hope in this raw, emotional, honest look at grief. You can follow her work on her Facebook page. She has been chronicling her journey with grief in a series of stories for Love What Matters:

Read more from Diana:

‘With his body full of tumors, he kept working’: Wife’s tremendous grief after husband’s cancer diagnosis

‘We pulled into the cemetery. It struck me we didn’t have anything to leave behind. As she opened the door, there it was. Two vials of glitter.’

‘I let my 15-year-old daughter get a tattoo, and no, I don’t care what anybody has to say about it.’

‘We do not think of dispatchers as heroes, but that night, Jeff was mine.’

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