What It’s Like to
Become a Widow

by
in

In Short: Sadness, anger, guilt.

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I use the term “become” a widow because after more than a year I don’t think I yet know how to “be” a widow. I’m sure every experience is different. My own came after 53 years of marriage.

Weeks before his passing, my husband Chuck’s cardiologist told us he was probably in his last 12–18 months of life, and we should prepare. So difficult to hear but I asked his gastroenterologist for her opinion; she concurred.

Cremation box on mantle with a graphic showing a sailboat at sea. In the background: a photo of the author and her husband.
The graphic on Chuck’s cremains box represents his long but unfulfilled dream to have a sailboat large enough to tackle long ocean trips, kids and all. (Photo: Lynda J Koenen)

At that point we decided to let our two grown boys know, and to start getting ready — mentally and physically — for what was to come.

Within days things started going downhill in a hurry. Emergency room visits and frightening test results were the norm. His final hospital stay was only weeks after the Covid-19 restrictions were put in place, and I was pretty much resigned to dropping him at the door of the E.R. and pleading for information from whomever would answer. When one of his doctors called to tell me he had put me on a list of approved visitors, I quickly came to the realization that 12–18 months was not in our future, and that these would likely be our last days together.

That week I was told there would be one procedure they’d been postponing, trying to get him in better condition for it. It would take place on Friday and he would be sent home on Saturday with Hospice. My thought was to make him comfortable in his recliner with the TV remote, provide company and whatever meals or other comforts he wanted, to create a cocoon where he could live out what time he had left.

To my shock he was sent home in a coma; there would be no last loving conversations, no opportunity to care for his needs, no preparing for my future life alone, no good-byes. He was gone within a couple of hours.

Thus I became a widow, sad for all we’d never had the chance to do together, for life ahead without my lifelong partner, for our grandson who’d lost so many loved ones in his young life, for our two boys who butted heads with their Dad but learned so much from him.

But anger was strong too, against the doctor who let us believe we still had time to enjoy life together, against the hospital who sent him home in a coma without warning, at circumstances that put us in the middle of a pandemic in which visitors weren’t allowed in the hospital. At my husband for not taking better care of his own health.

Ridiculous, of course: the doctor didn’t and couldn’t make any promises. The hospital was buried in Covid issues, the pandemic was no one’s fault, and Chuck was a victim of his genes as much as his own bad habits.

But oh the guilt. Why wasn’t I more patient when he was first getting ill, why didn’t I take control of his unhealthy habits, why didn’t I push for more family time, why didn’t I spend every possible moment with him that week in the hospital?

There aren’t really answers. Neither the sadness, anger nor guilt has gone away completely. However, over the last year I waited for a “day without tears” — and realized a few weeks ago that it had happened without fanfare. Occasionally a song or a story will still touch me and bring the tears, but it’s no longer every day. I’m still in the process of “becoming” a widow.

Lynda Koenen is retired after 35 years in the aerospace industry, in jobs ranging from production associate to materials analyst to purchasing agent.

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14 thoughts on “Become a Widow”

  1. Sometimes I read the headline for a WiLt story and think to myself, “I don’t want to read this.” Then I read the story and I’m glad I did. Very well done Lynda.

    Yep: they’re so often eye-opening. -rc

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  2. Stories like this are what makes WiLt so important and valuable. Nobody wants to have to face a situation like this but, sadly, it’s one of those things in life that is also a fact of life. Thank you for sharing your story Lynda.

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  3. I’ve been widowed twice now. Sadness and missing her stick in my mind. And like Lynda, some event or song will rekindle memories and sadness. My first wife died over 30 years ago and the second 3 years ago. I miss them both. I grateful for my belief that there is more after this life. I hope to be with both of them again.

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  4. I’m at the beginning of this process, seeing my husband decline precipitously. I think we’ll make it to the 50th anniversary in less than 2 weeks, and we’re planning trips to see kids and grandkids in the next 1.5 months. It might be the last time. This is a well-written piece that gives me a glimpse into my future.

    Sorry to hear of his decline, though 50 years is a wow! Never forget how amazing that is. -rc

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  5. After 2+ years I am no longer grieving, but every so often, as others have said, some small event will trigger tears, regret, or melancholy. We had been married for over 52 years.

    Another wow. -rc

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  6. My wife of 39 years died just as the Covid-19 lockdown was starting. She was in a care home where they had expected her to live another three or four years. At least they let me sit with her for the last three days of her life. That was 14 months ago. I think of her daily. And, if I could, I’d give you a really big hug.

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  7. We’d been together for around 18 months. I had gotten home not long before I heard a knock at the door. I saw the green of the army uniform through the glass and was mentally cursing him for not using his key. I opened the door and saw the cross on the collar of the person in front of me and didn’t have to be told.

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  8. I was widowed 3 years ago, and I was really helped by a piece you had posted from a friend of yours, about dealing with grief, and it being like almost drowning. Would you think about reposting it? Thanks!

    No need to repost it: it’s already available to all in my blog. I’m glad it helped you. -rc

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  9. So sorry for your loss. 53 years is a long time, but I’m sure it didn’t seem like near enough. You are never prepared to have such a hole in your life as the person you shared so much with being gone so suddenly.

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  10. Thank you for this. I’m just over a year into being a widow at 50, after just 18 years of wonderful marriage. The thoughts, the anger, the confusion, always looking at the past, then calm, then being in the present, then the future is in the picture. All of it.

    Thank you.

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  11. Thank you for your courage in sharing your story with us, Lynda, i trust that is helping in your healing.

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  12. Three months ago my husband was told he has a year to two years “but not multiple years” to live due to heart failure. He has chosen not to do surgical intervention because he received a diagnosis of two different kinds of dementia three years ago. Why have a healthy heart but spend years living in Memory Care? And he has been disabled by Lyme Disease since 1995. He’s tired and ready to stop seeing doctors.

    One of our long-distance daughters and her family made a short stop here on their way to their vacation destination and it was bittersweet. Of course in the back of our minds was the question, “Is this the last time he’ll see them?” Another long-distance daughter will be visiting in July.

    Am I prepared to be a widow? Sometimes I think so, other times I feel overwhelmed. One day at a time.

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