What Happens After?

My husband Phillip died in a tragic accident. I woke up the next morning, and felt certain that I had been dreaming. With my eyes closed, I slid my hand across to Phil’s side of the bed, and felt the cold sheets where his warm body used to lie. His death wasn’t a dream.

The pain of his absence was searing. There were many days when I felt sure that the gut wrenching pain would kill me. In fact, to this day, I am still surprised that I lived through the pain of outliving Phil. I felt like a zombie that was bleeding internally, and dragging my blood soaked bandages as I wandered aimlessly through life. Attractive, yes?

Day by painful day I put one foot in front of the other. Many days were awful, others were worse. Getting out of bed was sometimes a Herculean effort, and other times getting into that empty bed at day’s end took every ounce of strength I could muster. 

My life was full of these mind-bending contradictions. I wanted to be alone; I hated being alone. I ached to be around familiar friends, but their presence shone a spotlight on the hole left by Phil’s death. I wanted everything in my life to go back to the way it was, and yet everything familiar was torturous. 

Yes, no, move forward, run back, cry, laugh, cry some more…I felt like a spinning top with endless momentum. When would the pain stop, and who would I be when/if the ache in my heart finally eased?

One of the most challenging parts of widowed life was living with that uncertainty. What would come next? After I was done. After I was “better.” After I reached the semi-dreaded state of acceptance. After I was done being widowed. What would happen then?

There is no single answer to this question, every widowed person must discover their own unique path as they heal and evolve. But I can tell you what I have learned since my husband died. I will never ‘get over’ Phil’s death, and will always think that Phil losing his life in an accident was a terrible waste. The world would have been better with him in it. 

I’ve learned that my widowhood belongs to me in the same way that my motherhood, and sisterhood, and daughterhood, and friendhood does. Being widowed is part of my life story, and this painful chapter has colored the rest of my life in rich, deep colors. I have met some of my dearest friends while navigating the waters of grief, and I know we will be surfing together for life…no matter what lies ahead. 

Lastly, I have realized that life will always be delivering a new challenge, another test, a different circumstance to my doorstep. How I handle the package will determine what impact the next unexpected experience has on the following chapter of my life. Thanks to my widowhood, I know I will survive.

And what will happen after? I will be okay.

About Author

Michele Neff Hernandez

Michele Neff Hernandez is a nonprofit leader, compelling speaker and committed advocate for widowed people around the world. She is the founder and Executive Director of Soaring Spirits International, a non-profit organization providing research-based programs and a community of peers for anyone who has experienced the death of a spouse or partner. Since Michele founded Soaring Spirits in 2008, Soaring Spirits has served over four million widowed people and continues to increase their reach through the development and management of innovative grief support programs.

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