Silent Suffering By Linda Donart Young

On the inside, I’ve wanted to write this for years. On the outside I continue to smile and ignore the knot inside of me screaming “you must tell.” The knot continues to scream, this story must be heard! The knot continues to ask me why am I “uncomfortable” sharing? Do I think I’m the only one suffering in silence? Why is the topic of becoming a young widow taboo? Yesterday the knot won.

I’ve shared being raised in a small community. My life lessons came from a father who believed in discipline and from Southern Baptist preaching where I began attending while still in a baby crib. I attended this same church every time the doors were open. This alter is where I gave my heart to Jesus at age nine and ten years later said my wedding vows, moving with my husband 50 miles away from where I was raised. I was so scared to be that far from all I’d ever known, but I had found my soul-mate. My best friend. Life was as it should be.

After marriage I completed my degree in education while working full-time. My husband’s job caused us to move around Texas for three years and during this time we had our first child. We managed to move back to our town and settle down. Our daughter was born and our little family was complete. Gary and I made the decision for me to be a stay-at-home mom. We felt God blessed us with two beautiful, healthy children and we wanted to be the ones who raised them. This came with a cost. Raising a family of four on one income was difficult. We could only afford one car and a smaller house than we would have liked. However, our focus remained on family–not fortune.

Years passed quickly and memories were collected. To say our marriage was perfect would not be true, but it was near perfect. Arguments were few, our children made us proud, every summer we spent two weeks in a pop-up camper in Colorado with just us, nature, and fresh air. Life was just as we’d planned and dreamed. The “knight in shining armor”, that all little girls think is real, actually had found me. We raised our children in church, battled through job losses, held hands while we watched our son thrive in high school as an athlete as well as an academic scholar, cried together at his graduation, and as we left him in Lubbock, Texas to become a Red Raider.

Our daughter was finally the only child left at home. She was social and always with friends. Gary and I looked forward to weekly date nights and talked often of how blessed we were to have found each other. We made plans of how we would grow old together. We watched friend’s marriages deteriorate, which seemed to always pull us closer. We went to church, gave of our finances to church, and would have people often tell us we were the “perfect family.” And you know I began to believe that as well. God sure was good. Until…

On April 11th, 2001, I was teaching and my assistant principal came to my classroom at 3:10 and told me to get my purse. I resisted–not sure why. I couldn’t leave. There were 25 students in my classroom–one of them being my best friend’s son. She demanded and my mind began going in so many directions. First I just knew something had happened to my son at Tech College. Was it my daughter? She remained quiet and escorted me down the stairs. When we reached the bottom she shared that my husband was “in trouble. They think he is having a heart attack and I needed to get there.” Me, in shock, saying he’s only 46. It had to be something else.

As we drove I begged, prayed, screamed, bargained with God. Please let it be a mistake. I even told God we have been the perfect family. Living by His word. I stayed at home and raised the children. We were involved in church and raised our children there. We ensured they trusted You as their Savior. We gave our money. We prayed as a family. Come on God. Doesn’t that make a difference?

When I reached my husband’s office I saw him laying on the floor with EMT’s shocking and shocking his heart. They threw him on a gurney and ran past me. From there everything seemed surreal and in slow motion. We followed the ambulance, which continued to rock as they continued to try and shock him back to life. After waiting in the ER, the doctor talked to me and shared the standard line, “We did everything we could to help your husband but he expired at 4:28.” What do you mean expired? No I’m 44 years-old. We have two children. One is away at college. Our daughter is 16 years-old. Our 25th anniversary is in three months and we have a cruise planned. He still has to watch our daughter graduate. He still has to walk her down the aisle. He can’t expire! He’s my soul mate. The only one who understands my quirks. None of that mattered as the doctor escorted me and my daughter to where he expired.

There is no pain like seeing the pain on your 16 year-old daughter’s face as she looks at her hero, lifeless, on a gurney, his shirt cut open, burned spots glaring where shock attempts were made, not to mention the large white tube still hanging from his mouth. At that moment I didn’t even try to talk to God. God was dark to me. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak.

At 44 you don’t visualize yourself walking around a cemetery looking for the perfect place to bury your 46 year-old soul mate. You don’t plan on sitting at a gigantic conference table planning a funeral while your children watch stunned with tears in their eyes. All these things you do and everyone is watching. They are watching to see how strong you are. You hear whispers among those in your home. They are all wondering “how is she going to do this?” “They were so attached I don’t see how she can make it without him.” “They’ve been married 25 years. They grew up together. She doesn’t know life except with him.” You go through the motions of the viewing and funeral service. Everyone covers your house with food, company, and activity. But the time comes that you must face the word “widow” and the silence begins.

Your friends have gone back home to their families–which are still in tact. They hurt for you but everything in their world still works like before. I had a recliner no one would sit in because it was “his.” His spot was still at the table. His clothes were still in the closet. His pillow still on the bed just like he left it that last morning. More silence. I could not hear God nor could I feel God. I felt abandoned and forgotten. My Southern Baptist lessons taught me that God was almighty. He could have saved my husband that afternoon yet he chose not to. That’s how I saw it.

And the things people would say “He’s in a better place.” What? Like NO the better place is here with his family taking care of business. I had one friend tell me, “Gary’s death had made her husband realize how important she was to him and that he had began to shower her with attention and gifts.” Well I’m so glad that my husband died so yours could be a better man to you. My final break with God was when a friend in our Sunday School class shared that I should begin attending the singles class. My presence in the “couples” class was too hard on the rest of the members and, well, I wasn’t part of a couple anymore. The anger continued to swell inside and I knew I needed help.

My search began. I called every organization, every church and no one had any type of support for a “young” widow. They offered grief support groups and I tried to attend but there was no one there like me. Some had lost young children and others were in their 60’s and 70’s and had lost their spouses. Some had lost parents. Please there has to be someone like me. Someone my age, thrown into poverty through sudden death, worried about their children’s health. Staying up at night watching and listening in fear that their child would try to hurt themselves because their pain was so raw, and they refused to even say the word “Dad.” Trying to keep one enrolled in college four hours away and having no idea how he was handling his grief. Both refusing to discuss the death with me. More silence.

I read every book I could afford on surviving widowhood. Oh there’s that word again. Nothing was written about the “young widow.” Everything was spiritual, sharing scripture and prayers. No I know what the Bible says. I know where to find the scripture. I need to talk to someone who mirrors me. Someone who had a husband one minute and the next he’d expired. Someone to tell me how they made it one minute at a time. I needed someone who knew what I felt without having to say a word. Someone whose child would graduate from college without his proud father watching. Someone whose daughter would graduate from high school without Dad. Someone who dreaded a wedding because there’s no one to walk her down the isle. Someone who would feel bittersweet at every holiday, weddings and births of grandchildren. But I found no one. Silence.

Twenty-three have passed–some days are easier than others. All happy occasions remain bittersweet. It still amazes me how quickly I can return to April 11th, 2001. Recently a friend’s husband passed suddenly. Her children are similar to mine. With the blink of an eye it threw me back in time. Fragile. Unsettled. Feeling the rawness I know she has in her heart. I reached out to her with shared silence. Wanting her to know she is not alone–there is someone like her. Someone who’s broken, lived minute to minute, and is now able to live day to day. She responded that, “I provided her comfort during desperate days.” Those of us who had the label “young widow” and plowed through the fog must provide comfort during desperate days–even if it takes us back to a place we prefer not to remember. It’s painful for us to go back to “that time” but we have to break the silence. Too many suffer in silence because the topic is too difficult for those unlike us to hear.

Life is unpredictable and our days are numbered before we are born. Yes, I learned that in my small Baptist church. It’s easy to say yet hard to accept. But I no longer will remain silent. The knot inside is no longer a tangled mass. It will always remain and that’s okay. It’s a scar inside and never do I want to forget, because with my grief knot, I will continue to reach out to those like me. Those who will openly speak about the unpredictability of life not because someone has told us but because we live it.I’m currently completing my certification as a Grief Counselor. My hope is that I am able to provide a safe place for young widows to belong, where no words are needed because there is a authentic understanding.

About the Author

A Texas educator and principal leading middle school teachers and students. Currently working for a university assisting student teachers seeking degrees in education. A certified grief counselor and proud Mimi of two grandsons.

Apr 29th 2024 Linda Donart Young

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