I started this blog as a way to both process my own feelings and also connect with others on a similar journey. Over the last two years, I've had countless people reach out - some who have been through their own grief and others who want to know how to handle loved ones who have experienced loss. Connecting with so many people - people who get it, people who want to get it, and people who are just curious - has been incredibly fulfilling for me. And because of those connections, I have decided to be more intentional with these posts, and create a new series where I answer any questions you all have.
Recently I asked those of you following on Instagram what topics you are curious about and what would be helpful to write about. And you guys delivered - bravely and boldly. You asked me about everything from grief (lots and lots of questions on grief), to guilt, to dating after loss, to being a caregiver, and everything in between.
So today is the first installment of the “Ask Me” series, where I’ll be answering all your questions on grief, loss, cancer, joy, and widowhood. Have a question? Shoot me an email.
Q: How do you handle the fear of growing old alone?
A: I wanted to dive into this question first because I think it's a pretty immediate fear from anyone who loses their partner at a young age.
When I was younger, I never really had a fear of growing old alone. I had this picture of myself as a strong, independent woman surrounded - not by a husband - but by a house full of dogs.
Ironic, right? Did my 17 year old self manifest this current reality? Yeah, probably not.
The truth is, I didn’t want to grow old alone, even then. My earlier “manifestation” was really just created out of fear. I feared I would never find a partner so I created this vision of my future that didn’t rely on finding love. I had no healthy examples of love or marriage at that point in my life, so I was unable to picture if for myself. I began putting up walls early to protect myself from future hurt.
And then I met Brad. And he persistently and stubbornly broke down those walls. I felt secure in both my relationship and in my future. Honestly, with Brad, I felt secure in myself. And I never imagined the possibility of him dying young and leaving me to handle the “growing old” part alone. It just wasn’t an option I had considered. If anything, I was going to die and leave him to figure out the rest. He was always better at long term planning anyway.
But here I am. Alone with regular thoughts about my future and certainly not getting any younger.
So how do I handle the fear? On my best days, I live my life as the strong, badass, warrior I am, knowing I’ll be fulfilled in my future, whether I am with a partner or not. I fill my days connecting with friends and family and writing and laughing and exploring. I fill my days creating the best version of myself so that whether or not I grow old “alone” I’ll be surrounded by those I love (including myself), doing the things I love.
But on my worst days? On those days, I give in to the crippling loneliness I feel. The intense yearning for another human. For touch. For intimacy. For companionship. I imagine living my life as that same badass warrior chick but never getting to share that with another person. Never building a lifetime of inside jokes reserved just for you and your person. Never again being looked at like a magical fucking unicorn. On my worst days, I deeply feel that loneliness and wonder if I'll still feel that way 5, 10, 20 years from now. And it’s really fucking hard. And honestly, I don’t always handle it well. I sink into the temporary depression, turn on the saddest of sad music, and feel sorry for myself. It’s not pretty. But I do think it’s valuable to allow myself to go there. Because even when I’m in my deep, dark sinkhole, I know I’m not going to stay there. Not forever. (To anyone stuck in your own sinkhole, know that this is a huge shift from the earlier days, where I felt like I’d live and die in that sinkhole of depression. It does get better.)
Most days, I'm somewhere in between.
If I'm being honest, I’m not sure I actually believe I’ll grow old alone (also a shift from the early sinkhole days). I'm aware that I am young enough that I still may get 50 or more beautiful years with another person. And the truth is, that idea is just as scary as growing old alone. Because after Brad died, a lot of those early walls went back up. I stopped depending on - or asking for - help. After depending on another person for so long, I decided I needed to protect myself and stop depending on anyone. Because what if there isn't another person? What if it is just me? Imagining a different version of the reality you thought you’d get isn’t easy. Accepting a different version of the reality you thought you'd get really isn't easy.
So really, for me, it is balancing the fear of growing old alone along with the fear of growing old with somebody who isn’t Brad. And in order to really dissect that, I’d have to dive into dating and sex and men (all of which you guys bravely asked about), so I'll reserve that for a future “Ask Me” post. In the meantime, if you fear growing old alone, just try and be the best, most interesting, most compelling, most fun version of yourself. For yourself. And I honestly believe/hope the rest will fall into place.