November 20, 2016 marked the beginning of the second year of widowhood for me. The first year I was in a brain fog. I can't remember half of what I did. I only know that somehow the bills got paid. I was able to go to and from work, the bank and the grocery store, and attend a bereavement group, where I either cried or felt like crying.
I remember bits and pieces from that year — placing my husband's ashes in the James River in Huron, South Dakota, where he was born, talking to my therapist, making sure our son felt safe in a new vocational placement (he is autistic and transitioned to an adult program that year), getting the taxes done, etc.
Everything had a common denominator: I was alone. For the first time in almost 25 years, I flew solo looking down upon the earth as if it was some foreign landscape. I don't think I grieved the first year. I reacted from the shock. I was both robotic in my will to push through the days and chaotic in my thinking. But what was I really thinking?
I thought that I had failed in some way. I thought maybe if I had made the right calls, found the right doctors and got him the best treatment that he would still be alive today. Despite numerous attempts from his oncologist, people in the bereavement group and family and friends to convince me otherwise, I still think it will take some time to relieve myself of this guilt.
My husband and I had worked so well as a team that we often didn't ask for help. Now, I had to get used to depending on my friends when I couldn't find someone to watch my son or when I needed another opinion about what to do when my water heater broke. I had to force myself to call in sick for work, to get an extension on filing my taxes and to ask a friend to drive me to my parents' house because I needed practice taking the beltway. This new independence seems more like dependence to me. I am still getting used to it.
With the independence came loneliness, and then, fear. How could I do all this alone? Take care of a 23-year-old with autism, run a house, work? This fear of the unknown was due to the fact that I only had a Plan A. When you marry someone you love, Plan A is all you need. That is until it falls apart and you're sitting alone in your queen-sized bed with Grumpy cat and the remote. So, I joined MeetUp.com and several online dating sites. However, it wasn't the quick fix I thought it would be. It seemed that I was so used to being a wife that I didn't know how to be a girlfriend. I didn't want a fixer-upper boyfriend with an ex-wife or an ex-girlfriend. I wanted what I had with my husband. Again, what was I thinking?
I had to realize that loneliness is not a death sentence. It is a way of being with oneself that can also be transformative. So, I set out to be lonely for a while until I could take the bandage off my cut and trace the scar. I didn't know when that would be, but I came to the conclusion early on that I would have to welcome the loneliness into my life. I would have to go into this second year without an online dating subscription and with new, realistic expectations of how to live and become me. I had to create a Plan B.