If you want to believe that you’ll live forever, do not get into a conversation with a young widow. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to get through a whole discussion with another young widow without talking about death. Even the young widows who are my closest friends – the ones who I talk to about mundane daily events on a regular basis – even with them, pretty much every conversation of any length will inevitably include at least a brief conversation about death or dying.
I don’t try to have these conversations with my widow friends. It just happens. I guess it’s because at this point, most of us have learned how to not talk about death all the time with non-widows, but we still need an outlet, and we know we can have these types of conversations with each other.
Just after Shawn died, all I could talk about was death. In fact, I talked about his death with an obsession that was oddly similar to how I talked about the births of my three children just after they came into this world. I couldn’t not talk about death. It was all I thought about for months and months.
I knew that telling everyone about my husband’s death was sometimes weird, but I couldn’t help it. I told the Amazon delivery guy and the dentist and random women I met at backyard gatherings. I have a million stories about people’s reactions to my news of early widowhood. Most of them were quite shocked. Because of course they were – they were just going about their lives and I dropped a piece of shocking news on them. “Yes!” I wanted them to know, “people our age can die!”
Eventually, my compulsion to talk to everyone about Shawn’s death eased. I could actually think before I spoke, and I would say to myself, “is this really the best time to bring up death?” I still talked about death more than anyone else I knew, but at least I wasn’t constantly the party killer. I began to act like a somewhat normal person in everyday life, even if I still felt like I was walking around with this huge weight on my shoulders.
As time went on, this weight lessened, as it often does with grief. I still felt sad, but I didn’t have to stop myself from telling everyone about Shawn’s death because I didn’t constantly think about losing him. I still thought about him a lot, of course. But I could also drink an entire beer at a party or enjoy a full meal with friends and not think about losing him. I could also stop talking so obsessively about his death with everyone I met.
Or at least I could save those discussions for my widow friends.
It’s been over six years since I had my youngest child Tommy, so I don’t talk as much about his birth anymore (even though it was a pretty dramatic one!) But the other day, I met a woman who was very pregnant with her first child. She asked me about birth, and I went on and on about the various details of my children’s births. I remembered everything – what it felt like to be in those early days of parenthood, what it was like to give birth, and how obsessed I was with my birth stories when I was a holding my infant. I could really identify with her emotional state.
Yes, it’s been a long time since I went through childbirth. I don’t go around talking about birth all the time anymore. But damn, when I met someone who was in the same place I had been, it all came right back to me.
I’m projecting here, but I think this is how I’ll always react to meeting a young widow, especially one who is early in her grief. These days, I don’t talk about Shawn’s death with everyone. In fact, many people I meet don’t know that I lost my husband when I was in my 30s, at least not right away.
But when I meet another young widow, I find that inevitably we talk about death. Not because we love death, but because – like birth – it’s something that has changed the core of who we are.