The view was beautiful when I reached the top of my mountain.
Climbing Mount Everest is the term I use to signify my experience of becoming a widow. Seven years ago, I got a visit from the police that would change my life forever. My husband’s body was found after being missing for two days. Life as I knew it changed forever.
That moment in my life felt like I was just struck by a Mack truck, on top of which I was immediately thrust onto the side of Mount Everest. Suddenly the world I knew was a complete inferno, and I had no choice but to strap our eight-year-old son onto my back and begin climbing—at an angular incline of over 90 degrees, cliff-hanging.
To add insult to injury, I was wearing flip-flops and shorts that day, not the proper climbing boots or gear necessary to go on that adventure. I was just given rope and there was only one way to go—up. My son and I were utterly unprepared for this adventure.
This mountain represents “that hump” that widows must go through in ending the obligations they shared with their significant other.
By this, I mean the following:
>> Going (or not going) to court.
>> Having to adjust to the lack of income.
>> Probate if you had a will (sometimes there isn’t a will).
>> Settling the business debts of the dead (yes…if you were married, they can come after your assets).
>> Having to (or not being able to) sell the home you shared.
>> Selling other assets—cars, other homes, and so on.
>> Taxes, filing as a married person (this can take years depending on how fast you liquidate your assets).
>> Moving to somewhere new, or not being able to relocate at all.
It represents everything you have to finalize before living as yourself, finally. As you climb, there are storms, high winds, blizzards, and other obstacles that prolong the ascent. Although the incline begins at over 90 degrees, it can get to under 90 degrees, and even flatter. The incline depends on what side of the mountain you are on.
You meet other people who are also climbing. Some of them are young, with children—like me. They are going through their journeys too. Sometimes you form groups and climb together. You are no longer alone until it’s time to separate and wish the others well. Some people make it up that mountain faster than you and that’s great.
I got stuck on several levels of the mountain and ended up circling it. I couldn’t find that perfect opportunity to go up. This mountain is psychologically and physically draining to anyone going through this. Having to survive the storms, blizzards, and freezing temperatures makes you see things that aren’t there. Sometimes, I’d see that summit. I would think I was almost there, only to realize that it was a mirage. I was seeing things. My son and I had already climbed so high and still had so much more to climb. It depresses you and discourages you. It can even kill you. I know of several widows who did not survive the climb—sadly.
As you figure out how to continue going up, you meet people who are descending. They have completed their “hump” of settling their shared obligations with their departed partner. They have ended that hard chapter in their lives (sometimes there is even closure). They can enjoy the ride down the mountain and continue the rest of their lives. Although I was glad to meet them and learn from their experiences, I envied them. I couldn’t wait for my climb to be over. “You’ll get there eventually,” they would say.
COVID-19 delayed my trip to the summit. I hung out at that last stage before the summit for about two years. I fell ill; international travel was difficult. Lots of quarantine and lots of restrictions made getting to that summit difficult. Most importantly, I felt reluctant to complete my climb. The finality of my ascent marked the closing of a chapter. I had no idea how psychologically hard that last bit would be.
It is seven years, seven months, and a few days since my husband died. I am finally descending. My (now 15-year-old) son and I had reached the summit. The view was amazing. It was well worth the wait. I took a deep breath up there, and now I have closed my chapter.
My descent is easy (so far). My son—whom I took with me—and I can live our lives without having to settle any more of Daddy’s things. It’s a huge weight to take off our backs.
To all the widows out there, take all the time you need to take care of yourself and settle your wares. No need to rush the process because rushing can lead to impulsive choices you will later regret. Sometimes taking longer is a bigger blessing than you know.
I am forever changed, and I can definitively say that I am thankful it took as long as it took to get over my hump.
Fare thee well, widows.