I hated the day that my label changed from wife and caregiver to widow. Claiming that new, dark, and very unwanted label was terrible. That simple, one-syllable word currently defines my status, no matter how I fight it.  It’s a label that I try to wear with a smiling public face. In private, it’s loaded with the emotional tsunami of now carrying out my life alone without the love of my life. I’m not just grieving for him, but for the life we had together. Heart-wrenching is a term I’d always found a bit melodramatic and a cliché, but I now know that it’s a real physical thing, like a sprained ankle or an ulcer.  For months, my heart not only wrenched, but it clenched and wrung itself out like a sponge. Admittedly, since some time has passed, it has gotten a little better. What used to be stabbing waves of grief throughout the day, have now subsided to sporadic watery eyes. I can go out for hours at a time and feel fine, until I’m smacked in the face with something that triggers a memory.

It’s like having a phantom limb syndrome, only for my feelings. Evidently when someone loses a limb, they still feel sensations as if it’s there, and although thankfully I’ve never experienced this kind of physical loss, losing a spouse is like an emotional amputation. The truth is that love doesn’t die when your loved one does. My husband was suddenly cut off from my life, but the nerve endings of my love for him were not. They’re alive and well, causing me pain every day. And if my love for my husband didn’t die, what about his love for me? There’s a law in physics that energy can neither be created or destroyed, just transformed. Love is a form of energy between two people. My husband and I were very close and I wonder if I’m grieving for both of us.? Could my pain be so intense because I’ve absorbed his grieving for me too and the loss of his life? I can hear his words inside my head. Is it just me remembering him, or is it his energy? These are mysteries to which no one has answers.

Back to my label. According to thesaurus.com, I’ve not only become a widow, but they think I’m a dowager and a relict too. I don’t like the word dowager. As a child of the 60’s who still dresses in blue jeans and boots, I have a hard time thinking of myself as a dowager.  The word conjures the image of wealth: an elderly woman in a long fur coat, a hat with an assertive plume, wearing a ton of jewelry.  Relict is a little better, although it’s an unfamiliar word for me.  I had to look it up and it means a species or community living in an environment that has changed from that which is typical for it, a remnant or survivor, or a widow. The French “veuve” is more elegant and preferable or the Spanish “Vdo” that is pronounced as if it had four syllables is fitting for a simple word with so many complexities. Google’s definition for widow is also pretty interesting and yet depressing.

A woman who has lost her husband by death and has not remarried.

On her husband’s death, a widow usually foresees a life full of harassment and humiliation.

Is this my life? I need a new label! My work is to find myself again through the emotional rubble. I had a life before I met my husband, and thankfully I have some coping skills for being on my own.  I’ve drawn on many of them, and the threads of former life that I am able to find. People I thought were my friends have distanced themselves as if what I have is contagious. I find that I hardly have the emotional energy to care, but I do know how to make new ones and am working on that. My energy for my business has morphed into other creative ideas. I’m doing a lot of yoga and walking my dog as I contemplate my next steps, putting one foot in front of the other, thinking I deserve a better label — survivor.

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