Turning a Bad Time in my Life into a Positive

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Linda L. Bryan

I have often said that it’s easier to be a widow than a divorcee because my husband didn’t leave me by choice and he loved me to his last breath. I feel badly for divorcees who feel they were abandoned and unloved by someone they loved so much.

I had the ideal marriage. My first date with my husband was when we were juniors in high school and he was my best friend in typing class. When he asked me to go to the prom I almost fell off my chair.  Would going to the prom with him ruin our friendship?  I had never thought of him as a “date.”  Well, that date went well and our second date was a hayride. I remember coming home that night and telling my mom (as a 16-year-old) that I thought someday I would marry this guy!  And . . . four years later after we both graduated from high school and he graduated from Williamson Trade School in Media, PA we DID get married.

I think one major thing that helped me cope with my husband’s death was that he was so extraordinarily sick for over a year.  We never knew for absolutely certain what his health issue was and he had numerous surgeries and procedures and just never got any better but continued to go downhill.  His final surgery was at Pitt and we had a wonderful surgeon there who after the surgery finally determined that Gib did have pancreatic cancer.

Since he suffered so much, I felt such a sense of peace for my husband that he no longer was suffering and I hung on to that thought for dear life.  Don’t get me wrong, I cried and mourned for a long time.  I was lonely and missed him with all of my life but I have to say I think to know he wasn’t suffering any longer was my saving grace.

My son was also critically injured that same summer and had to be life-flighted to Allegheny General with a head injury.  Having two very ill people that I dearly loved in two different hospitals at the same time was difficult but thankfully God spared my 12 year old son although He took my husband.

I consider myself a pretty strong person and I can remember exiting the funeral home with both of my kids holding my hand and I thought of Jacqueline Kennedy and her grace and beauty throughout the tragic death of her husband.  She was strong.  She created a new life for herself and she was a wonderful mother and grandmother so I’d have to say without a doubt, Jackie Kennedy was a role model for me as a young widow and young single mom.

I started college four months after my husband died and that was one of the best decisions of my life.  Through that I made new friends, found new interests and eventually started to work at Penn State.  I came to Dubois Regional Medical Center (DRMC) after almost ten years at Penn State and love my work here as well.  I wanted to show my kids that a college education was important and if I could do it, they could do it.  Both of my kids—Darren is now 38, married and the father of my two beautiful grandkids and Dana, 35, married and works at DRMC so we have a LOT in common— graduated from Penn State and I am very proud of them both.

I have always been a motivated person.  While I have friends in my circle that have been there for most of my life, I am constantly making new friends and find that keeps me revitalized and brings new interests into my life. I have dated but have never found anyone I want to marry so I guess you could say I’m a contented widow of twenty-five years.

I think the most difficult issues that face people who are divorced, widowed or separated are too numerous to list.  Some of the most important I feel are:

  • Friendships change. As a widow I found my husband’s co-workers drifted away quickly and they were always what I thought were close friends.  But they really did me a favor because I had to expand my social circle and found a lot of new friends who have been an absolute treasure in my life.  I’ve been told that widows are viewed as a threat to other wives.  I find that ludicrous since I sure didn’t want any of their husbands.  I think in divorce it’s the same deal – friends divvy up and take sides or the woman is viewed as a threat.
  • Finances change. Incomes are lost and a widow has to think about how she is going to provide for herself (in the case of an older widow) or for her family (which is the case when widows are young and have children to support).
  • Living arrangements sometimes have to change. Can the widow or divorcee keep the home in which he/she has resided? In my case I stayed in my rather large home because I could afford to do so at least for a while.  I didn’t want to “rock the boat” with my kids.  They had gone through enough and I didn’t want them losing their friends, their lifestyle and their home in addition to losing their dad.

My best advice to someone who is going through this is to remember that life does get better.  I can remember right after my husband died thinking “I’ll never smile again.”  But how can you not smile when you have loving children, family and friends around you.  How can you not smile when your kids come home from school filled with pride about an “A” they got on a term paper or a when your son hits a home run???  There are always things to be happy about if you just think about it a little.

I always knew my husband wouldn’t want me to mope around and create shrines to his memory.  Not that I will ever, ever forget him.  And I do still think about him every single day but a person just cannot remain sad forever and I refused to do so and I refused to let my kids have unhappy memories so we created new traditions at Christmas, we went on vacations that their dad probably wouldn’t have enjoyed – Disney World – for one.  And we do have happy memories both of when we had our wonderful husband and father and also from when we were just a family of three.

I’ve taken a very bad time in my life and turned it into a positive.  I often wonder who I would be if I had not become a widow.  I wonder how life would have been different.  More money, better lifestyle, more luxurious vacations, better home?  “Yes!” to all of the above but do I like my life now?  For sure!  I like who I am and I am proud of the work I’ve put into becoming the person I am today.

There’s a lot more I could say—I am a published poet. I was a facilitator for Grief Share at my church for awhile. I’m “mama” to two beautiful grandchildren—Alicia is 7 and Eric is 5…I’m a daughter and sister, and my life is not what I had planned but it’s a good life.

Linda L. Bryan is currently the administrative assistant to the Chief Operating Officer at DuBois Regional Medical Center..

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