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Clarity was the key to restoring myself back to wholeness and resourcefulness, at my own pace. Grieving my husband, David, over the last 2 1/2 years has required seeking clarity on many levels, slowly reclaiming my capacity to make decisions, take action and even find love again.

My Loss: Grieving has its own pace for each person. For me, the first year was a wasteland of grieving my loss and raging about the future we dreamed of which I will never live with him.

My memory was spotty. My energy flagged so I had trouble working or being with people. Every day, I put my foot on the floor and thought of a reason to live one more day – taking a walk, meeting a friend, writing a poem. I started a website and blog called Bad Widow so that my pain shared might serve some purpose.

With each small act, each decision to do something, anything, I got clearer and more sure that I could survive and even thrive again. It was a brutally tough year but I made it through.

The tape my husband used to hold his wedding ring on at the end
My Identity Now: If the first level of loss was grieving my husband deeply, the second level was figuring out who I was without him. After 25 years together, there were places where I did not know where David ended and I began.

I realized that I had made compromises early in our marriage which I would not make again in a future relationship, if I met someone new. I enjoyed going out dancing but David didn’t so slowly, I stopped. His unspoken disapproval weighed heavily on what choices I made in this and other ways.

It was surprisingly difficult to gain clarity about what I enjoy doing, now I am alone. I discovered that I was no longer the person I was when I was single or the person I was when I was married. As a widow, I had become an entirely new person with different wants, needs and desires, a patchwork of old and new.

The only problem was that I did not know who that person was. Again, clarity was the secret sauce. Like a treasure hunt, every decision I made and every action I took told me a little more about me – who I am, what I want, my work, passions and vision for my future. My foundation got stronger and my confidence grew.

My Community of Support: I was surprised to be so misunderstood by some members of my family and friends, from what people said to how they chose to offer help. Often, their words frustrated or angered me, like “I didn’t mean to make you cry” or “I’m sure you are happy he is in a better place.” They would offer what they would want in my place, the absolutely wrong thing for me.

In addition, I was treated as if I was and would be forever broken, like someone elderly or a child. However, I discovered that if I got crystal clear on exactly the help I wanted and asked clearly, I got it almost EVERY time. They were afraid to get it wrong so my clarity gave them confidence that they were delivering exactly the right support, a powerful gift for both me, as a widow, and for those who love me.

Many people were uncomfortable with their own mortality or the vastness of my grief, or were simply awkward about how to act. I was surprised by the unwillingness to talk about the real issues of being a widow – loneliness, in need of practical help, emotional support and resources, being judged or shamed, having a time limit on the depth or length of our grieving, experiencing volatile emotions, getting back to work and starting to date on Bumble.

Expecting others to just know what to do means nobody wins and people who want to support us either do it wrong or back away for fear of hurting us, leaving us isolated and lonely. I found very few resources which provided specific guidance to loved ones so I started providing it in Bad Widow.

Building a strong foundation of work and play, and opening myself to love and be loved again sparked a deep feeling of betraying my husband, even though he died in my arms on four breaths, peacefully. There was no reality to the betrayal but it was real enough to make it hard for me to be touched or held. I only wanted David’s skin against mine and that was something I would never have again in this lifetime. I needed to get over it or be alone for the rest of my life, which I was unwilling to do.

It was terrifying! My commitment to living and thriving again made me willing to keep pushing myself up to my barriers and past them, again and again. I found love with a new man, willing to be patient as I found clarity, got back to wholeness, and past my tears into a new, joyful relationship.

Desires Clear As Mud, an unpublished poem by Alison Pena

Clear as mud,
What I want, what you want, who I am,
Settled, steeped, stuck
In the mud.

Your courting words confuse me
Beautiful, gorgeous, honey
And offend me
Feeling not exactly true.

My radar for lies acute,
Like barnacle tentacles waving,
Testing the environment,
Unsure what I feel.

You don’t know me
But neither do I,
Tapping along blindly, testing the edges,
Of my widow’s cage.

Assumptions, agreements, obligations,
Love delighted and bound me
To his desire, my desire, our desires,
Until I no longer know where I start.

Autonomy is sweet and bitter.
Alone, I choose, I alone
From my old and my new longings,
No ‘right’ desires, simply mine.

Easier than ‘Yes” is “No”,
Digging for answers, clear as mud.
Negative space reveals
My ‘not’ desires made clear.

Like building a sandcastle on the beach,
Structural with sand, fluid with seawater,
Magic imagined, no two the same,
Like me and you.

Made and destroyed by the ocean, by a child,
Wrecked by my grief, dancing in the street,
Feeling longing and lust, while kisses cause panic attacks,
My turned cheek of avoidance, and so it goes.

As a clam,
Mud’s a fine place to be,
Tunneling down to safe,
Squirting up, “I am here.”

But I am not a clam.
I know mud can be shaped
Into anything.

It wasn’t luck. Clarity and commitment to living fully were my secret. The trick is finding out who you are after your loss, as I did, and being true to yourself.

Please share any insights you get from this post or your own journey through the three levels of loss. Ask me questions. Live fully!

— Published on April 8, 2019