Several weeks after my husband died, a friend of a friend suggested I visit a website for young widows. Like me, she’d been widowed not long before, and she’d found it a balm for her wounded, bereaved soul. When our mutual friend mentioned it to me, I balked. How could I — why would I — ever consider putting my most raw, vulnerable feelings “out there” under a made-up user name to converse with strangers in a forum that anyone in the world could read?
(Says the woman whose blog now does just that, but in her own name …)
I resisted the invitation to check out the website, but my friend persisted, insisting it had helped her friend and that it could help me, too. After fending off several promptings from her, I finally typed in the site address. (I figured I’d give it a quick glance so I could tell her I’d done it — so she’d stop asking.)
What I didn’t know then, but quickly learned upon my first look at the site, was that it was FILLED with others who’d suffered their own similar, devastating losses. I believe there were about 17,000 registered users at the time — a staggering number considering I was the only young widow I knew then. It was one thing for friends and family to reassure me, “You’ll be okay, Teresa. You’ll get through this.” Their words were positive and encouraging and appreciated and … emotionally unbelievable.
How could any of the people in my “real life” know what it meant to suddenly, unexpectedly be “relieved” of 24/7 soul mate caretaking? How could they relate to the weight of being the sole, surviving parent of college and high school students? How could they assure me that things would “be okay” for my kids (and me) while life as we knew it tumbled apart and away in grief and loneliness and shock and a thousand other irrevocable daily changes…
Within seconds — yes, seconds — of my first glance at the Young Widows Bulletin Board (YWBB), I felt the weight of “aloneness” slip from my shoulders. These people were my people, from all walks of life, from just about every corner of the globe. All knew the self-severing pain of losing their other halves. All wore the wounds of widowhood.
They assured me it was okay to cry whenever (and wherever) I needed to. They reminded me I needed to breathe deeply and drink more water to cope with the physical stresses of bereavement. They understood why I couldn’t remember to prepare meals (or eat them), why I got lost driving within my neighborhood, and why simple errands left me sobbing. They shared the same physical cravings for their companions.
With these, my new peers, I was home.
They didn’t tell me to “be happy” for his lack of ongoing suffering or to “be glad” it was quick. They didn’t tell me when I “should” feel this way or that. They didn’t reassure me he was “in a better place,” even when they believed it as firmly as I did. They didn’t minimize his absence by “consolation” that I was “young enough” to marry again.
They acknowledged, and therefore validated, my pain.
In the years since I took that first glance, I grew to know and care about many of “the regulars” and before long I found myself in the role of nurturer for the newly widowed. I’ve met with many of my friends from the site and formed lifelong bonds. In time, I leaned on the YWBB less frequently as I grew and healed and found other sources of solace and support.
But it was always there as an emotional backup.
The site recently announced it would forever close as of March 20, 2015. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve frantically poured spare minutes into the painstaking, time consuming process of copying and pasting my archived posts into my personal journal. I’d made a lot of comments over the years, so the process took HOURS. I had about 60 comments to go (out of more than 1300) when at midnight this message appeared:
It is gone. I knew it was coming, and yet … I mourn anew at its passing.
Worse, far worse, early this morning — between the time I began drafting this post and the time I finished it — a friend joined the ranks of the young widowed. She’s a woman of great faith; please offer a prayer (or two or more) in behalf of my friend and her family. My heart hurts for her (and for her children) and I want to — I wish I could — walk her gently to the place of my now-missing lifeline.
There are other sites available now, and I’m sure they will offer complete camaraderie and sustaining support, too. But they won’t be the same.
(By the way, Cynthia and Eileen, thanks again for your kind, well-aimed nudges toward what became a source of strength and encouragement when I so badly needed it.)