One of the unique challenges of grieving the loss of a spouse (and I would imagine it is similar for those who lose a child) is how often my loss comes up in conversation with strangers.
I hadn't realized how often people ask me about my husband until I lost him.
Now I know to expect the questions almost immediately. Maybe men are asked most often about their careers but I am asked most often about my husband.
It's almost unavoidable. Trust me, I've tried. No matter how I try to direct a conversation, all roads lead back to Greg. And while I love to talk about him with people who knew him, I really hate to talk about the worst experience of my life (losing him) within the first 5 minutes of meeting someone.
I've burst into tears more in the past 22 months than I'd like to admit. And nothing kills a conversation with a stranger quite like them finding out your husband died and then awkwardly standing there while you cry.
I've had to force myself to step into new situations over and over again even while dreading these interactions. I've practiced how I would respond to questions and coached P on how he can respond when people inevitably ask about his parents. I've learned to always carry tissues with me just in case, and how helpful it is to have a buddy with me who can field questions and help redirect the conversation.
Yesterday, I walked into a new space that had a mix of people who knew me and Greg along with people I had not met before. As is typical, soon after meeting me, someone asked about my husband. I responded by sharing that he'd passed away and then rapidly steered the conversation in a different direction. I've gotten pretty good at that. It usually comes out something like, "Actually, my husband passed away. So, what do you like to do for fun?"
How awkward. For both of us!
But it keeps me from having to answer uncomfortable questions or trying to handle someone else emotionally processing my loss.
The fact that I'm a widow shocks people. Every time. No one ever expects someone my age to be a widowed.
As awkward as it was, I felt really proud of myself yesterday. I'm proud of how many times I've stepped into new situations and dealt with the unexpected tears. How many times I've forced myself to speak the reality that I hate in order to get to a point where I can say it and not immediately cry.
Maybe someday I'll even be able to say that my husband passed away and not immediately change to subject.