After my husband died, I often pondered the following questions: Would he still be alive if I had taken the short cut to the hospital the night he was having the heart attack? Would he be healthier if I had known how to cook American style healthy meals that he would enjoy? Would he be less stressed out if he had married someone from this country who already knew how to drive and could do things without his help? Had I been a burden to him because I came with only a suitcase and a dream of having a happy life with him? Would my child be better adjusted if she had never lost her father at such a young age? These questions kept me awake night after night for years, causing me to doubt myself and feel inadequate.
I used to entertain a lot of “what if” scenarios as well as endless “I should have ______ and I could have _____” statements that only left me with a heap of guilt and regrets.
On the other hand, I would also question his role in all of this. If he truly loved me, why didn’t he make more effort to eat healthier? Why wouldn’t he go to the gym with me? Why hadn’t he fought harder to stay alive for us? What happened to his promises to take care of me and to give our child the best future possible? How was it fair to me that he died and left me as a single mother to pick up the pieces? The more I thought about these questions, the angrier I got. I wanted to scream, “I didn’t sign up for this!”
And when people, with their best intention at heart, said things like, “How are you?” To which I wanted to say, “How do you think? I’m miserable!” But of course, I lied to them by saying that I was fine. And I added a big smile as a bonus. When they said, “At least you still have you daughter,” I wanted to reply, “And your point is…” I was frustrated at how clueless people seemed to be.
I was disappointed with my own family who didn’t really know what to say, so they often said nothing. There was an elephant in the room that no one dared to acknowledge. They asked me what I’d do, where I’d live, if I’d get a job, when I’d get married again, etc. But what I craved was to hear someone say, “Tell me about what you miss the most about your husband.” Or “I know today is your anniversary, so I thought I’d call you.” But of course, asking for what I need is not an easy thing to do. So I didn't. That's not on them. I am responsible for that. They couldn't have known what I needed.
Since my husband was a Buddhist, many people indirectly informed me that there was no way he could go to heaven. “He was not a believer. It doesn’t matter how nice he was. He was still a sinner who needed to be saved.” I didn’t find it comforting to be in church—that eventually ended my relationship with the church. But I kept my relationship with God.
I could choose to dwell on all of these experiences and stay miserable to this day, blaming myself and blaming others, too. What would my life be like if I had done that? I imagined I would be completely exhausted and utterly drained, living with bitterness, resentment, and self-loathing.
So at some point, I decided to learn to accept that I did the best I could with what I knew at that time. Granted, it may have fallen short of what I wish I could have done. But I learned to forgive myself. Then I gradually learned to see that my husband did the best he could, too. Just like me, he had come with baggage that we hadn’t yet had the chance to process in the marriage. And so did everyone else who crossed my path at any given moment. Not many people knew for sure what to do or say to a grieving widow because they didn’t learn about that growing up or they have never been in my shoes. No one wanted to take the risk of upsetting me. Everyone wanted to stay as safe as possible, just like I would, if the situation were reversed.
I learned that the best thing to do is to remove any blame and judgment that I placed on myself and others. I trust that when I learned better, I would do better. The same is true for anyone else. After all, each of us is doing the best we can.