“…to this day I still cringe when someone refers to me as a widow.”
The first few days following my husband passing are still very much a blur. I can remember the flight home, the loneliness that consumed me, and the reality that slowly began to sink in. I was used to not having my service member home, however knowing I would never hear his voice, feel his touch, or have him hold me was almost too much for my mind to comprehend.
There was so much to do, and I was extremely overwhelmed. I had plenty of friends and family around me but I still felt very alone. There was so much to do and I was not quite sure where to start. My mind raced. My heart pounded. With every new thought I was once again reminded that I was alone.
No one could have prepared me for the transitional process, or the journey I was about to embark on. I felt separated from those around me. I was no longer part of the “active duty” family that I had known for so long, yet I did not quiet feel as though I fit in with the civilian world either. I felt like an imposter in many ways, simply because I didn’t know what to feel or where I fit in.
My military friends were beginning to welcome their service member’s home, and I was in the beginning processes of “clearing housing.” I didn’t want to be treated differently and to this day I still cringe when someone refers to me as a “widow.” My entire world and everything in it was different.
Things moved so quickly that there was no time for me to even process what was going on around me. Before I knew it, I was packing up our household goods and placing our entire life in boxes. I was once again saying goodbye to something that I could never get back. The last home Steve and I shared together would soon be occupied by another family trying to make their way in the uncertain world of the military life–I was to begin mine alone without him.
Grieving for what is Lost
For the military spouse, packing up and moving regularly is part of the military culture. However for a military spouse whose service member has passed away, the familiarity of packing up household goods, and clearing quarters quickly becomes unfamiliar territory.
Typically speaking, when a loved one passes away we are able to choose a little more freely the rate at which we will go through the grieving process. We are able to reminisce with friends and family as we rummage through our memories, shared experiences, and material belongings or we have the ability to say, “I don’t feel up to this right now.”
When a Service Member passes away however, the entire process seems to be expedited. Quickly quarters are to be cleared, a new home must be found, and papers must be signed. I remember feeling angry. I felt robbed of the ability to have any time to process what was going on around me, and it was the one time I wanted someone to understand and realize what it was they were asking me to do…I was a widow.
The transitional process that a military family will go through after their service member passes is different in many aspects than that of a civilian. Getting “stuck” in the grieving process is highly possible, especially for those families who never have the opportunity such as I, to be with their loved one during their final hours.
I am so grateful for the many wonderful people who were there during my time of darkness, and there are no words to describe the gratitude I have for those individuals. I realize I am blessed in many ways to have had the opportunities that I did, however I feel as though the need to take a closer look at the transitional process for the wounded family is real. I find myself wondering how many other spouses, children, mothers, fathers, and family members feel as though their ability to grieve has been stunted, or as if they are stuck within the process simply because of the expedited nature.
Missed the beginning of the series? Go to ‘The Phone Call’ to read the first installment of this caregiver series.
The caregiving mini-series, 444 Days in the First Year, was written by Tabitha McCoy. Tabitha is a contributor to the MFLN–Military Caregiving concentration team and is a former military caregiver to her husband, SGT Steve McCoy. In this mini-series, Tabitha shares her personal story of caregiving, loss, grieving, and transitioning, as well as insight and advice for both professionals and family caregivers as she recounts the 444 days following her husband’s injuries and then unfortunately his death in June 2008.
Tabitha holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and is currently a graduate student at Valdosta State University where she is pursuing her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.
This post was published on the Military Families Learning Network blog on August 29, 2014.