“Why is she so happy, mom?” A friend’s son asked after hearing that I had lost my husband and then had the nerve to race a cyclocross race in the pouring rain. I was letting out squeals, more than anything out the absurdity of being a new widow and daring to laugh. Especially at myself.
“I’m a widow! Har, har!”
I wasn’t acting like a widow should. Widows should be dressed in black, barely able to move due to their grief. They should stay home and shut out the outside world. They have puffy eyes and sad faces. And mostly, widows are old.
I knew I wasn’t like most widows. I knew I had a choice. And my choice was to get on my bike and feel alive. I wanted to feel my heartbeat so it would give me a brief break. I wanted to forget, if just for a moment, that my heart had a big gapping hole in it.
My heart pounding, body and bike barely cooperating in the mud fest surrounding Marymoor park. My dismounts were comical. I laughed mainly because I had seen so many friends fluidly demonstrate their prowess of getting off their bikes before they hit the barriers. I flailed around, missing the dismount zone, often dumping the bike and bumping my shin. The anxiety would build, a half lap before the obstacle and I’d start laughing. To most I must have sounded like a lunatic.
Yet that comic relief, that ability to laugh at myself was just what I needed. It released some of the grief pressure. A pressure that kept me huddled under the covers at night, wiping my snotty nose all over my sheets and pillow. The pressure that dulled my senses into one feeling: utter devastation. Feeling this emotion scared me. I didn’t want anyone else to know it’s pain.
So instead, I learned to keep my grief to myself. To express it late at night, with Makiah as my witness. I didn’t want to scare people away. I didn’t want to scare myself. Neither my friends nor I knew what to say. How does one handle grief, let alone someone else’s? How do you comfort someone who loses their partner?
I wanted to function back in society as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to have awkward conversations with acquaintances or nimbly navigate unchartered waters. So instead, I laughed like a manic while riding a knobby tired bike in the pouring rain over bumpy grass and off camber courses. I knew I wasn’t acting normal but it felt good.
I wanted to separate the dark grief periods from lighter moments. I gave myself permission to laugh. I gave myself permission to cry. I also gave myself permission, despite my people pleaser tendency, to turn down social invitations. Yet I still felt like someone was wrong with me and was disappointed when I couldn’t rise to the occasion. When I couldn’t buck up and put on a happy face. But my friends understood. Or at least it didn’t seem to bother them. That widow card has trumping power.