The 7 crucial life lessons I learned in one year of being a widow

Losing my 29-year-old husband last year and becoming a young widow was not part of the plans I had for my life. At the time, I had a 4-week-old son and an almost 2-year-old daughter. As we approach the one-year anniversary of his passing, I can’t help but reflect on all the lessons I’ve learned.

I met my husband, Charles, in high school and for the next 10-plus years we were living the dream. He was my best friend, father to my two beautiful children, and an all-around great guy. Four years into our marriage he went on his first work trip, where he got in a car accident and never came home. He was only gone one night and yet it changed everything.

First my life imploded and then, eventually, it exploded as my story went viral and catapulted me into the wildest year of my life. To process my grief, my therapist suggested I journal. However, with two babies at home, I didn’t have time to sit down with pen and paper. Instead, I found myself during many sleepless nights scrolling through Instagram to keep myself company. Eventually, I joined the conversation through my account called Spilledmilkmamma, with what felt to me like an open online journal.

I was transparent about processing my grief while still trying to find the humor and joy in everyday life. I dabbled in some lightheartedness by creating reels on Instagram, which ultimately grew into a community of people who resonated with my journey. I never expected so many people to relate to my story. It helped me realize this calling was so much bigger than myself.

Whether you’re in this widow club too, have lost someone close to you, or maybe you’re just lost in general, here are a few of the lessons I've learned:

You can survive your darkest days

When you’re going through the grieving process, days can be unpredictable. Some are much harder than others. I’ve learned that although days can get dark, I have the tools and support to get through them. Making sure you keep people close and a call or text away is crucial. Sometimes all it takes is something small to turn your day around.

People matter most

The experiences you have with those you love and the memories you make are all that matter in the end. We all live busy lives with lots of goals, but at the end of the day it’s the people in our lives and the quality of those relationships that mean the most. Invest your time in the people you love.

God is in charge

Faith is important to me and becoming a sudden widow taught me that despite the plans I make, I am not in control. We can all only do what we can each day and from there other variables and factors will affect the outcomes we personally experience. Learning to accept what is beyond your control is a big part of healing.

I can do anything I want

There are no rules to this. Everyone processes grief and trauma differently.

Anyone dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one should be empowered to start rebuilding their life free of judgment in whatever way works for them, whether that means finding a new career path like I did, moving to a new home or finding love again. Going back to my previous job as a teacher was not going to work logistically as a widowed single mom, so I took a chance on myself to become a full-time content creator. Not only could I heal through sharing my story, but I could also help other people heal. My story is being rewritten right now and I can write it any way I want.

Deep sadness and joy can coexist

I’ve learned there is only darkness so you appreciate the light. Just because you’re in a dark place grieving a loss, it doesn’t mean your heart and mind need to become completely closed off to moments of joy and happiness.

Allowing myself to let those moments into my day and laughing out loud when something is funny has provided a much-needed reprieve. Just because you laughed doesn’t mean you won’t be sad again an hour later, and just because you’re sad doesn’t mean you can’t laugh. Give yourself permission to experience both feelings. Grief isn’t linear and there will be ups and downs with peaks of joy. Savor them.

You just need one true friend

If you’ve ever been unbelievably lonely in a room filled with people, then I’m talking to you. This is something I experienced for the first time during the past year. But having that one person who can give you comfort in those moments is key, whether they’re around physically or a phone call away.

Life is urgent

Everyone is going through something. We’re all going to encounter some adversity in life. When faced with it, the only one who can change you is you. So, take the trip and screw the chores. Go on a date and say what you mean. Eat dessert and buy the dress. Live for today, because tomorrow is not promised.

My husband dying changed everything, but most of all it changed my perspective. Despite being newly postpartum, on maternity leave, with what seemed like a mountain of things against me, I’m still going. I’m living my life urgently, surviving awful days, doing what I want, experiencing joy and sadness, and spending quality time with the people who are on this journey with me. You can do it too.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com