Lessons from a 3-year survivor of widowhood

I didn’t think I’d survive this long without my husband, who was also my best friend.

We were married 33 years — a lengthy time to love someone, then lose them suddenly.

Jef received excellent doctors’ reports, scrupulously watched his weight and exercised daily, so it was a huge shock when an emergency room nurse telephoned to say he’d collapsed on a walk.

When I got to the hospital, he was gone — and my life changed irrevocably. Three years later, here are some insights on widowhood that might help others.

First, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to losing a spouse, because love is unique for each couple, as is grief.

In the movie “Spider-Man,” there’s a compelling line, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s also true that with great love comes extreme grief.

People who loved their spouses deeply often face a long, painful journey and when it’s a sudden death, healing usually takes longer.

The first two years after Jef’s death, strong waves of grief would randomly knock me down.

I might be in the grocery store and notice his favorite olives and start weeping, or at church, where his absence in the pew was palpable.

At home, his empty chair, his vacant studio — where he churned out lovely paintings — and his closet brimming with neatly arranged shirts screamed he was gone.

When I walked in the front door, I expected to hear the familiar, “How’d it go, hon?” but was met with stony silence instead.

Secondly, widowhood taught me the healing power of gratitude. On the day he died, I was grateful for the priest who met me at the hospital, a house that filled quickly with relatives and the meals friends provided.

As time went on, I looked for moments of joy, even on the saddest days — the squirrel that shows up regularly for peanuts, a shy rabbit hiding in the greenery of a neighbor’s yard and, don’t forget, pistachio ice cream.

I also savored memories of the happy life Jef and I had together, especially our many boating trips in Florida, where we came face-to-face with a friendly manatee, feasted on fried mullet and toasted soul-stirring sunsets.

Finally, the greatest lesson is to rely firmly on your faith and cherish Christ’s promise: “Blessed are the mourners, for they shall be comforted.”

Comfort comes from seeking pinpoints of light in the darkness, which signify your heart is healing.

On one bleak, rainy day, for example, I suddenly had the impulse to head to the animal shelter, and returned home with a hefty orange tomcat, which meant I had a paw to hold during the lonely evenings.

I also sought comfort from a Catholic grief counselor, who encouraged me to be patient with this seemingly endless journey — and cling to my faith.

Each day, I reflected on Christ’s words, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Until my husband died, I didn’t understand the weight of the cross, but afterward, I realized true discipleship means sharing Christ’s suffering.

Attending daily Mass also brought glimpses of light, allowing time for prayer and Holy Communion — and the chance to thank God for giving me a beautiful, happy marriage.

Shortly before he died, Jef said something that keeps playing in my head.

I was thinking about my mother, who died long ago, and asked him: “Do you think I’ll see her again?”

He looked at me tenderly and replied, “I’m sure you will.”

This is the hope I cherish, that someday, God willing, I’ll make it through the Pearly Gates — and hear a familiar, friendly voice ring out: “How’d it go, hon?”