In the depths of grief, resilience emerges as a guiding light, showing us the extraordinary strength we possess to navigate the darkest of times and transform our pain into a catalyst for healing. Join us on this episode as we dive into the courageous and resilient grief journey of Heather Heying Hunt. She is a young widow who shares her raw and authentic experiences of navigating loss, rebuilding her life, and finding hope amidst the darkest moments. In this heart-rending conversation, Heather takes us back to the days leading up to her husband Brian’s passing and the emotional rollercoaster she faced as a caregiver and a new mother. She recounts the difficult decisions she had to make, from moving Brian to hospice care to saying a final goodbye to her beloved dog in the hospital room. Heather opens up about the profound impact of losing her husband on her identity and self-esteem. She reveals the overwhelming sense of loneliness and confusion that engulfed her as she grappled with questions about her purpose and the trajectory of her life. But through therapy, support groups, and connecting with other widows, Heather discovered newfound strength within herself and embarked on a journey of self-discovery and healing. Her words serve as a beacon of hope for anyone facing loss, reminding us that while grief may change us, it doesn’t have to define us. Join us in discovering how to be resilient in times of grief.
Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.
I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide
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The Resilient Grief Journey: Embracing New Beginnings As A Widow With Heather Heying Hunt
Our conversation is with my widow girlfriend Heather. One thing this journey has taught me is if you make yourself available, you will connect with some amazing people going on this process with you together. Let’s get into this conversation with Heather.
In this episode, we have my girlfriend Heather. We will be talking about dating, being a widow, Heather’s journey and how she became a widow. I want to talk about the obvious. We did not play in the dress alike but she did show up and pulled up in the car. I jumped into her vehicle. She was like, “What? Purple shoes?” I could not change into the show’s shoes because when I saw her, we are twinning. The blue jeans, we knew that was going to happen but the shirt too though. Heather, welcome to the show.
Who is Heather?
I am a widow, unfortunately. I lost my husband in 2021 to cancer and it was rough. We had just gotten pregnant with our first child together.
Your husband’s name?
His name is Brian.
How far along were you pregnant when you found out?
About four months pregnant.
When you found out Brian was sick or when he died?
When I found out he was sick.
Let’s back up a little bit. How did you and Brian meet?
I grew up in Arizona and got a job in Virginia. I came out here and met him at work. Work love. It was complicated. We started dating and got married about two years after. He had a child from a previous marriage so I became an instant mommy.
Does the child live with Brian or with Mom?
They had split custody. It was a week with mom and a week with dad.
Do they live nearby?
Yes, the same school district and everything. I met her when she was about five and became part of her life.
What was that like?
It was a complicated instant mom like, “How do I navigate through this,” but we got through it.
Whom did you lean in to find out about that?
Honestly, I did what I thought was the best thing to do at the time. My mom was involved in it, a blended family as well. My parents got divorced. She got remarried and there was a blending of families at that time too. A little bit to her and her advice on things that went well and things that didn’t go so well. There were lots of marital counseling as well.
I’m glad you mentioned that because people feel like we’re grown and we know what we’re doing. We’re just going to get married but there’s so much. When you have an outside person come into the conversation, they bring things up that you would not bring up yourself. It does make you vulnerable though because sometimes it could be your fault. That’s good.When you have an outside person coming to the conversation, they bring things up that you would not bring up yourself. Click To Tweet
It’s that third party for sure, looking in on things and weighing in on their opinion too.
I want to go back a little bit more. Who was Heather before she met Brian though?
I lived in Arizona. I worked. I like to run and read books. That’s pretty much it.
What type of work did you do?
I was an underwriter for an insurance company. I did dental underwriting first. When I moved out here, I took a medical underwriting position.
Are you still in medical underwriting?
No. I’m more in the benefits and reimbursement part of insurance. I work for the Medicaid type of business and do more work with coverage and stuff like that.
What things should people be thinking about then? Based on what you know, if they’re a widow or they’re getting older, are there things they should set up or do?
I do think life insurance is pretty huge. Unfortunately, sometimes they won’t let you change it when you do find out you have a terminal illness. There’s a little bit of a concern there. Covering yourself and having a will are something that unfortunately I couldn’t find when Brian passed. I had to make a lot of decisions on my own based on what I thought he would want to happen. Get your ducks in a row, which sounds morbid.
It is but it’s one of those things that when you do it, it’s done. Back to Brian, how we got to be in this situation. Brian and Mark put us here but we’re not going to be shady about that. How did you find out Brian was sick?
It was random. He was on an antibiotic for a sinus infection or something. He wound up having some throw-up with some blood in it and his stools. At the time, it was around COVID. He was drinking more than we usually were drinking. I was like, “I’m sure it’s just because you’re on an antibiotic and you’re drinking. You’re not supposed to mix the two.” He said, “I’m going to go to the ER.” He was always a little bit of a hypochondria.
I’m not kidding but with some guys, you got to drag them to the hospital. There’s some benefit to that.
He was always sick with something. I’m like, “Is this in your head or is this an actual illness? If that’s what makes you feel better, go ahead.” He goes and they wound up scheduling an endoscopy. They wanted to look down at his esophagus. He goes and has the endoscopy done. They find a tumor between the esophagus where it attaches to the stomach. They took a biopsy of it. The doc is like, “I doubt anything is going on. We’re precautionary. In a couple of weeks, we’ll have results.” We didn’t think much of it. We both worked from home at the time because it was COVID. He gets a phone call from the doc saying, “I need you to come in for the result.”
This is sooner?
Correct. We both knew that was not good news. “Why isn’t he telling you over the phone? Why do you have to come into the office?” He went in. I didn’t go with him. I had meetings that day. Unfortunately, he was by himself. They found out it was cancer. The doctor told him. We didn’t know what stage at the time. He was just told that it was cancerous. We started the next steps of, “What does treatment look like?”
How did Brian share that with you?
I remember him calling me on the phone and he was very even-keeled.
Different from his normal temperament?
No. He’s always even-keeled. “They said it’s cancerous. I’m not worried about it. We’ll fight it and get through it.”
He’s calling you on the way home and tell him, “What are you thinking?
My stomach hurts. My heart drops. I’m like, “Are you serious?” I was in panic mode. He was like, “It’s all right. We’ll get through it. Everything’s going to be fine.” Our first line of attack we thought was going to be surgery. A lot of times what they will do is remove the esophagus and use some of your intestines to lengthen up and create a new esophagus. We thought if it was localized, we would remove the tumor and the esophagus and use some of his intestines to create a new esophagus. It’s an eight-hour procedure. It is very intense. We met with the surgeon about it and it required a feeding tube of some sort for up to six months.
He would think your assessment needs to heal and how it’s going to recover.
Yes, afterward. Initially, that’s what we thought our plan was. It was a slam dunk. “We’re going to have the surgery done, it’s going to be eight hours, and you’re going to be on a feeding tube for a few months. We’ll slowly transition you back to regular food and be all right.” He went and had the PET scan done. It was a timing thing of everything. That’s why we saw the surgeon before the PET scan. It was a timing-off issue.
Explain what a PET scan is.
It scans the entire body for any other cancer or things that may light up. They give you some sugary type dye that attaches to the different areas and will light up on the PET scan. He had the PET scan done and unfortunately, we found out it was not stage one or just located in the esophagus. It had gone to his lymph nodes and liver. That was devastating.
I want to explain. You hear people talk about stage cancer. It’s not stages so much but once it becomes in different locations of your body, that expands the stages and how that’s looked. Stage one is one location, someplace like the lymph nodes where the body is moving fluids throughout and then being able to spread throughout the body. Next, it starts increasing the stages. The brain is at stage four and probably a little bit beyond that because of where it’s located. Surgery is not an option.
We were talking to a radiologist who told us about the PET scan and the results. Initially, the plan was to zap the tumor to make it smaller and then we were going to do that eight-hour surgery. We met with the radiologist to talk about zapping the tumor. She tells us, “It’s stage four. We can’t do this anymore.” We are beside ourselves. I remember walking in the parking lot and sobbing looking at him, “What are we going to do?” He always even-keeled, “Babe, we’re going to get through it.” I’m like, “I know what stage four means.” The likelihood of life after stage four is pretty minimal.
I tried to remain hopeful because he was hopeful. I’m not going to tear him down if he’s willing to fight this. At that point, our only option became chemo. We started rigorous chemo and that’s debilitating. He wound up with lots of throwing up. Not a lot of medication would help with that. He had a hard time eating. Nothing tasted good anymore. They get a metallic taste in their tongues. This was a man who was a foodie. He loved to eat. To see that was heartbreaking and to worry about him not getting enough nutrition.
I wanted him to be strong enough to continue the chemo and fight. We did chemo for a few months. I don’t remember exactly how long. It still kept spreading. At that point, we decided to connect with Johns Hopkins up in Maryland and do immunotherapy, which was a pill to try a different option or add on top of that. That made him extremely sick. We had to stop that rather quickly after starting it.
What was Brian’s weight like at the beginning of this? What did that look like over time?
He was a bigger guy. I would say he was about 300 pounds when he started this. When he passed, he was around 200 pounds. It was about nine months overall from being told he had it until he passed. They had told us about 1.5 to 2 years. I was hopeful he might make it to our son’s first Christmas but he didn’t. It is what it is, unfortunately. He kept getting worse and worse and then he began becoming septic. His immune system had been so compromised that every little infection and thing was making him extremely sick. He was in and out of the hospital. In 1 month, I had him in there probably 2 or 3 different times. A lot of his numbers were off. He was a little incoherent and not eating.
We had Nate in April and this was around June. Brian did pass in August. Nate was about four months old when his dad passed. To give you an idea, I’m breastfeeding. I’m trying to take care of a brand new baby and also be the caregiver to my husband who was very sick. I did go back to work after three months. Thank goodness my mother was able to come and stay with us for a few years. She came right before Nate was born and stayed for a few years. She left in 2022. She’s retired. She lives in Arizona but she was able to come out and stay with us. She was a complete lifesaver, especially with Brian in the hospital. I could leave my son home with her and not worry about that. I would get texts or phone calls saying they needed more breast milk.
There was a part that was like, “I can go away because they’re not tendered to me,” and, “I got to make the milk.” I remember putting it in freezers, having coolers, and everything. If somebody didn’t want to, I was like, “That is golden. You do not waste that. You put it back in the freezer.”
Also, the amount of work and effort that goes into that. Thank goodness, we had her. He went downhill. We did wind up doing a feeding tube to try to get him the nutrients he needed and keep them in his system. We did it directly into the stomach and that posed a whole another slew of issues. We thought that that was going to get him stronger again. He was going to get the nutrients back in his body to be able to start chemo again.
He’s more exposed to different bacteria and would be in septic. It compounds vulnerability.
He was on a lot of medication for cholesterol and other things before this. A lot of that you had to chop up to then feed through the feeding tube. He still needed the medication and was having a hard time keeping it down. I’m chopping meds, putting them in a syringe, and feeding them through the tube. Sometimes the tube would get disconnected and we’d have feed all over the bed.
You’re talking at home?
Yes. Alarms going off, needing to change the food. I remember one night I had poured a whole thing of feed into the tubing and I didn’t put the lid on tight. It was probably 11:00 or 12:00 at night. It poured all over the carpet. I stood there and sobbed because it was like, “I got to clean all this up.”
There’s nobody at midnight?
No. I got to get him more feed. He feels horrible because he feels like he’s a burden. I don’t want him to feel like he’s a burden but he is.
It’s a heavyweight but when we’re dating and thinking about marrying somebody, we’re up there saying, “Until death do us part,” and that’s what that looks like. It’s not easy but we’re committed.
We committed to this. It was tough. He was in and out of the hospital and kept getting septic. We did quite a few different antibiotics. It wasn’t clearing it up. It kept coming back. He wasn’t regaining the strength to start the chemo again. He went downhill fast. The last time he was in the hospital, I made the decision to take him to the hospice house. I guess that’s closed, which is unfortunate. It was in Virginia Beach.
What is a hospice house?
It’s a house with a bunch of hospital beds and a full nursing staff.
It’s hospice on this site at this location.
They have a doctor, medication, and everything there. It’s very comfortable. You can have family come. They even allow you to bring your pets in if you want to bring your pets. At the time, I felt I didn’t want him passing at home. I needed a break.
You needed to start thinking about what was happening instead of having to be in what was happening.
I wanted to spend the most quality time I could with him with the remainder of the time we had left.
You are coming to the conclusion that there’s only a little bit of time. “How do I need to set this up so I can spend time with the man I love,” versus all the stress of trying to manage and do those things?
I’m so thankful I did that. I had options. Do I bring him home? His sister offered to take him into her house. I didn’t know what to do. At this point, he was pretty incoherent so I couldn’t even have a conversation with him as to what he wanted to do. I made the decision on my own to go ahead and have him move there. I was able to stay with him.
Yes. They have little couches that pull out and stuff so I could wheel it over next to his bed, hold his hand, and stay the night with him. It’s important. I was glad I was there. A lot of hospice patients don’t have feeding tubes. The nurses weren’t familiar with the feeding tube. I was able to help them flush it out and other things.
You have more knowledge of this. You didn’t have to be worried about being at home and them calling you.
Not knowing what to do.
That’s a whole other freak-out. How far did you live from the hospice house?
Probably about 20 to 30 minutes.
That’s a lot in the middle of the night when you’re stressed about everything.
He was only there for two nights and then he passed.
Were you there the night he passed?
Yes. He wound up passing the next day. He slept both nights and then the second day around noon, he wound up passing. It was crazy the way he passed. We got this dog when we first started dating. It’s like our first baby together.
I remember that Mark and I had a dog too. The dog’s name was Ben. It was like, “If we survive this, we could probably have people. We could do this.”
We got this dog. Her name was Beauty. He was at the hospital and he would hear sounds that almost sounded like a dog’s tail hitting the side of maybe the hospital bed. He was like, “Beauty dog.” I was like, “No. She’s at home. We’re in the hospital. We can’t have the dog here.” He seems to understand. What had happened is my brother was in town and I said, “Would you mind bringing Beauty to the hospice house?”
You were staying there for a long period. He did bring the dog in.
Leave and go back. I said, “Brian keeps asking for her. Would you mind bringing her?” My brother was like, “No problem. I’ll bring her.” I said, “I checked with the staff and they’re fine with her coming.” My brother comes and the dog comes into the room. She jumps up on the hospital bed with Brian and she’s in between his legs. He was on morphine at the time. He was mostly sleeping and eyes closed. I remember seeing his eyes open. I took his hand and said, “Look, Beauty dog’s here.” We pet Beauty dog together. I don’t know if he was waiting to see the dog one last time if he needed to say goodbye to the dog, if the dog made him feel like he was at home and he was okay to go, or what exactly it was. It was crazy.
How old were you then, Heather?
I was 38.
You guys have been married for how long?
7, almost 8 years.
Thank you for sharing that. Sometimes, it’s like something we put on autopilot and sometimes, it’s like we are right there again. The way you feel about it depends on you sometimes. That’s not an easy thing to talk about. I do know that you know how important it is to be able to connect with people and understand what this looks like and how that is. Your mom’s in town. Your brother’s here. What happens? Brian takes his last breath. What do you do from there, if you remember any of that?
There were a lot of people in the room at the time.
Were you there by yourself?
No, I was not there by myself. There were a lot of reactions, yelling, crying, and screaming. I tried to take control of the situation and keep my emotions at bay. I walked up to the nurse’s desk and said, “I think he is taking his last breath.” I knew they had to come and check his vitals and pronounce him.
You’re in business mode. “I have to take care of things and do stuff.”
We have the stuff to take care of. I went up there and did that. She came back in and did pronounce him. I remember her hugging me and I sobbed.
Isn’t it interesting how sometimes with total strangers you can do that more than with someone you know? That’s a whole thing in itself.
It is. I don’t know if you have this persona that you need to be the strong one or what it is with those people you love and care about versus a stranger when you know you don’t have to be the strong one, you can let yourself be. I remember sobbing. I was being told we had four hours until the morgue would come and take the body.
Did you return to business mode after that?
It was like informing all of his family, nieces, and nephews if they wanted to come, see him, and hold his hand before the body was taken. I didn’t know how everybody felt about that. I didn’t know if they all wanted one last moment with him and his body or if they were fine being told that he had passed. We kept him there for four hours. It was one of the most peaceful times of my life. I remember sitting in the room, just him and I. It sounds morbid but it was just the peace.
It doesn’t sound morbid but it sounds like we’re not educated on what it’s like to deal with. This is a man you have spent every second and moment. You have created a life together. We have this stuff we watch on TV about what it is. This is you saying goodbye to the man you have loved. This is coming to terms with reality.
It was super special. Everybody else felt uncomfortable being in there.
It wasn’t their husband. Probably for ourselves, before that situation with Mark, I had never sat in a room with a dead body. I’m like, “Who’s doing that?” Now, it’s your husband. “I’m going to get every moment I can get because this will not ever be again.”
I soaked it all up. I sat there and held his hand. I was kissing him. I was thinking about all of our memories together. I know he wasn’t suffering anymore too.
After you had watched him go through so much.
I’m a strong faithful person. I knew he was in a much better place and not in pain anymore. The comfort that gave me was so relaxing.
When you say faithful person, what does that mean?
Believing that he went to heaven and in an afterlife. He’s with God up in heaven watching over us. I’m a strong believer that that’s where he is.
I want to make it clear. Sometimes, we say catchphrases or words. People don’t quite understand what that means. To think about the person I loved after watching him suffer to such an extent and realize his journey here was over, I could see the complexity of the feelings. I don’t get to continue having a life with him but knowing that he doesn’t have to endure that anymore. Thank you for sharing that.
You’re welcome. There was a little bit of selfishness on my part. I got to spend more time with my son. I didn’t have to try to balance. That sounds horrible.
It doesn’t sound horrible. Another thing is it’s not realistic. You were 38 and nursing. Your husband became terminally ill. You didn’t run away from doing any of that. That’s so common for the caregiver to have mixed emotions that they did their job and the person died. They’re relieved. They don’t have this double duty. You wouldn’t have wished Brian dead but this was the course. You have to be logical in trying to reconcile with your heart and you can be happy about that. We are relieved that that happened. That is a natural feeling. It’s something we have to reconcile with but you did what you were supposed to do like a loving, faithful wife.
The rest of that day, I was in business mode.
That’s what could keep you alive and keep you functioning because there’s no room to break down. We got a whole bunch of stuff we have to do.
It was like, “Where are we taking the body?” He wanted to be cremated. “Who’s going to cremate him? Whom do I need to contact for that? What’s done with his medication that’s left here? What about all this medical equipment?” We’ve got clothes and pictures there. We’re packing all that stuff up to then take that home. It was wanting others to be able to say goodbye if they wanted to. I thought, “What are the next steps that we have to take care of at this point?”
Did you have a service for him before the cremation?
We did a service but it was after he was cremated.
He is in a columbarium, I guess what it’s called. It’s at an Episcopal Church. It’s a wall and they have a plaque with their name on it. Within the wall is a box. It has his ashes. We did do a ceremony. We move his ashes, walk everybody over, and put his ashes in there. I like having that space. Since he passed, we’ve gone and celebrated his birthday there.
Have you taken your son there?
Yes. They have a bench and stuff. It’s outside. We’ll bring cupcakes and sing Daddy happy birthday. We still attend that church occasionally. It’s about a 30-minute drive from our house. It’s a little far. I try to go once a month. We always go and say hi and goodbye to Daddy. Nate has learned to touch the plaque and wave goodbye. I don’t know exactly what Nate understands. I always talk about Daddy being up and watching over us. There are lots of pictures in our house of Daddy.
It’s to keep Brian’s memory alive for Nate. Your husband dies and you’ve had this young child. How do you learn to cope or manage with this?
Lots of therapy.
How did you find a therapist? What was that like?
I started a therapist before he passed when he was terminally ill.
Smart. You were about that business mode.
I had started speaking with her prior to him in passing and juggling all the things.
To get through all of that, you need some place to explode, a safe space.
That was super helpful.
Had you had a therapist before?
This wasn’t a new concept?
No. I’m a huge proponent of therapy. My parents got divorced when I was fourteen and we did therapy then as children, which helped tremendously. Brian and I did the marital counseling as well. That was super huge for us. I’ve had success with therapists. I’m a huge proponent. I like to talk about things so it helps me to talk to somebody like that. She was with me for about a year and then she wound up going and pursuing her education further. I had to find a new therapist in the middle around the one-year anniversary of his passing.
It was tough because there’s so much you’ve invested with somebody, especially going through your husband being sick and going through your husband passing that you have to then reopen and rehash. I do still see her, the new therapist. She’s been phenomenal. I did do a lot of grief groups. There’s something called GriefShare. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. It’s very faith-based, which for some people if they have anger towards God, maybe because they lost their loved one or don’t have a fairly strong religious background, it could be overwhelming to them.
I have a decent faith. I wasn’t upset with God. It was just a terminal illness. It wasn’t accidental you could say. It was good. It was a 13 or 14-week course. They have a great workbook that you work through weekly, which was nice. I was involved in that. I did another widow group with you. That’s how we met through a widow group with Ms. Rosa. It was online. We were in COVID. We were Zoom calling in. It was wonderful.
The GriefShare, was that run by someone that had lost a loved one?
Yes. It was their sister, as well as their mother if I remember correctly.
The support group you did with Rosa was the first time engaging with other widows. How did that differ?
It’s vastly different. Grief is based on the relationship you have with that person that’s gone. The relationship, like you talked about between a husband and wife is vastly different than the relationship between maybe a brother and a sister or a daughter and a mother.
You’re grieving differently. I’m glad you mentioned that because sometimes people say, “This is more complicated than that.” It all sucks.
Not one’s worse than the other.
People say, “I cannot imagine losing a child or a sibling.” Losing someone that you love is hard. There were people in that group where some were separated and some weren’t in good marriages but it still was hard, the disconnecting of your life from this person that you love. That’s what I wanted to bring up. The GriefShare is a lot of different people with different griefs. You then were able to connect with people in very similar situations so that connection was different.
Navigating finances and all the things that you do when you have a spouse. If something goes wrong in the house, he probably knows how to fix it or who to call better than I do. Now he’s not there and I have to try and figure this out and pick up the pieces. Also, budget, bills, and all the things.
Everything and being a young new mom.
You were twisted and unwinding that too, gaining strength on your own to try to figure that stuff out on your own. I remember the vacuum cleaner not working and I broke down. I wanted him there to help me fix it. It’s like, “This isn’t fair. Why do I have to sit here and try to fix this? I have a baby I need to try and take care of. I don’t have time to fix this and watch these YouTube videos. He should be here to help me.” It’s all those things but the more you do them, the stronger you get.
That right there is the part. It’s so painful but you’re going to have the pain and experience anyway. At least to me and other people, I’ve found being connected to other people that have had similar experiences whether you’re watching a video in a support group does help. It has a way of dealing with healing and connectivity.
You get stronger and you realize, “That wasn’t that bad. I figured out how to fix the vacuum cleaner. Sweet. I can do it.” I miss him dearly. I wish he was here. I don’t like doing this life without him.
This is not the version of life we ordered but this is what we’re learning to live.This is not the version of life we ordered, but this is the version of life we're learning to live in. Click To Tweet
We’re getting stronger every single day because of it.
About getting stronger, have you found out something about yourself that you didn’t know about before? How is Heather different than the girl that Brian met?
I feel like I’m way different. I’m much more patient.
There’s something about someone you love dying, like the things that would get you upset are theirs. I can relate to that.
I’m more patient and I have more love to give. I don’t know if that sounds crazy but in my younger years, I would get overwhelmed by things very easily and let that get the better of me. Lash out or get angry about things that in the end don’t matter.
It’s what’s important and what’s not.
Who I was then is not who I am now. Work is not that important to me, Tina.
You have said a whole mouthful. Before, I remember I would work late. I’m like, “It’s time. Goodbye. See you all.” Work-life balance and all the other stuff is going to be right there when I get back.
Not taking that home with me. I put in my time.
Unless it’s an emergency. If it’s regular, I’ll see that tomorrow. I’m grinding while I’m there but when I’m gone, I’m gone.
That changed my perspective. Before, it was like, “I got to get this done. This is so important. However many hours it takes to get it done, I’ve got to do it.” Now, it’s like, “That can wait until tomorrow.”
How has Brian’s death impacted your identity or how you see yourself?
It tore me down initially. My body had changed so much in having a child. I didn’t find myself attractive anymore. I didn’t have that spouse telling me I was attractive. It was very devastating for me. What am I doing with my life?
We had this plan of what we were doing.
We knew what life looked like in five years. We had a yellow brick road we were following and that road shattered. I’m trying to put those bricks back together and navigate what this road looks like. It was tough. My self-esteem and mental health took a huge hit. I didn’t know who I was or what Heather wanted. I was so wrapped up in being a caregiver and a new mom that it was like, “What do I even like to do?”
How did you start finding out who Heather was?
Getting Nate into daycare gave me time to figure out what I like. I have space to myself too. I began working out again, which is huge for me. That helps my mental health.
I am right there with that. I’m pounding and throwing some weight. Also, walking. These knees won’t run out. Let me go for that.
The ankles are not liking me. Finding that increased my confidence as well. Finding other widows helped too. Finding a support system that I could message or reach out to or meet up with was huge. I did find a lot of mom friends that have kids right around the same age as my son. Many of my friends have older kids. I found a great core group of women with whom we get together at least once a month with all of our little ones.
We have a running text message every single day like, “Nate had a breakdown for 25 minutes today about this. Have you all experienced anything like that?” We’re all in our 30s and had all our first kids in our 30s. They’re all boys. We are navigating this new motherhood. You know that you’re not in it alone and you’re experiencing similar to what other moms are experiencing. A lot of their husbands work in different states.
They’re domestically doing this independently.
Yes. They know what it feels like to be a single mom.
I need it geographically. It’s easy to connect with them because they’re not going home with this little adulating family. You’re over here with Nate.
You can vent about some of those things. I hate when people say, “You’re so strong, Tina.” I’m going, “No because we had a mental breakdown two hours ago.” Your ability to regain or recapture your life after so much, would you have ever thought this was in you?
Absolutely not. Even looking back on it, I don’t know how I did it.
Who was that person? How did she do that?
I don’t. I look back and remember things that I had to do and had to be done. I’m like, “How did I do that? How did I manage all of that?”
It sounds like you did what needed to be done at that moment. It’s like, “How do we get through this?”
One day at a time, that’s all I could do. I don’t look any further than that.
Grief is always going to be in existence in some way or another in our life. You don’t get over grief. It changes. What do you feel like for yourself that has allowed you to get outside of that perpetual sadness in the heavy part of grief to be in a place of living?
It’s my son. To be transparent with you, life would have been much different if I didn’t have him. When you’re breastfeeding and you have a baby, you can’t lay in bed all day and be depressed. He needs you to change his diaper and feed him. You have to show up for him. He doesn’t care what you look like but you have to be there for him.
You have to move, engage in life, and do something.
I needed to be there for him. He already lost his father. I was not going to allow him to lose his mother as well. I showed up for him every single day and he pushed me to move forward because I didn’t get to wallow or spend days in bed. I had to get up, go take care of him, and be there for him. It’s been a blessing that I have him. I do think that’s where I got a lot of my strength from too. I don’t know. I would’ve done as well if I didn’t have him.
What I also hear you saying is to find some reason to give you a purpose. If you don’t get to have a Nate, find something that’s going to draw you outside of yourself, out of bed, into living, and what that looks like. We’re having a two-part conversation but I’m not going to get into part two now. If you could look back at any point in your life at younger Heather, what would you tell her and about what age would she be?
Probably in her early twenties and I’d tell her, “You’re a lot stronger than you’ll ever know.” I struggled a lot in my twenties with identity. “Who am I? What is the purpose of my life?” Self-esteem issues too. Looking back, I was able to see what I have gone through and come out okay. I’ll tell her that she can do amazing things no matter what’s thrown at her.
What gives you hope?
My son gives me hope.
Two more things. If a young widow is reading this, what is some advice that you would want to give her?
Try to find people that support you. I’m a strong believer in reaching out to widow groups. There are a lot more resources out there than we think there are. Connect with people that are going through similar situations. I’ve tried to connect with other young widows via Facebook so you don’t feel so alone in all of this. They give good advice as far as how to keep their father’s memory alive and other things that you navigate as you raise this child on your own. Building a support system is huge.
We talked about a lot. Not a question for me. Anything wrapping up or advice or things you want to share or do?
When we go through something like this, it’s helpful to be transparent and open about it to other people. You would be surprised how many people are struggling with something similar. Being vulnerable, it allows them to be vulnerable and both work through things. Some of the advice I would give is to put yourself out there. It’s uncomfortable. You’re going to talk about it all over again but you never know who you can share.
Thank you for being part of this conversation. I am sorry for the person that you have lost that drove you to this conversation with Heather but I’m glad that you found us. My girl is out here. I did not know how resilient she was. I came pretty short of telling her she was strong because nobody that’s a widow likes hearing that but her ability to make intentional decisions and her little guy, Nate, brought her out of this.Try to find your people. Click To Tweet
I encourage you to find your people. Connect with Widowhood. Find us on Facebook and be a part of our small group. We have a virtual meet-up once a month, a book club, and a conference coming in October 2023. Email us. Be on the opportunity to share your journey because the more that you have community, makes it a little bit easier as you define your new life. Talk to you soon.