It’s been a little over eight months since my boyfriend Phil passed away. When I got the call on a rainy night in January that he was gone, I was in shock, and I remained in that state for weeks on end. It was unexpected and beyond devastating. I thought I had an idea of what grieving looked like—I lost my mom when I was six to ovarian cancer. But working through my grief in losing Phil has been completely different. I’m no longer six years old. I’m 30, and I’ve been able to be more intentional with how I work through this loss. And it is work. Unlike so many things in life, grief, it turns out, has no clear stages. There’s no guide on how to grieve properly, and it’s hard to know how to do so. Since January, I’ve been on my own healing journey, one that requires surrendering to the waves of grief, setting boundaries, and being completely open to all the strange feelings that grief surfaces.
The day after Phil died, my therapist told me that although this loss would be a hard one, I had the tools I needed to work through it, given the way I worked through the loss of my mom. And while it’s so easy to compare losses, each loss is valid and each is difficult. The loss of my mom is compounded by the loss of Phil, and it ultimately informs the way I view life.
In the early stages of my grief, I felt like a space cadet, unable to fully process what had just happened. All of the shock got me through those early days and weeks—when I found my only distractions in trips to the mall with my family, and my only solitude when I stood alone in the shower. Going back to work felt like a more productive way to spend my time and gave me a sense of purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Yet after Phil’s service, life went back to normal for everyone but me — or so it appeared. I genuinely didn’t know what to do with my time outside of work. Life was forever changed. And while I have the most incredible support network, grieving is a lonely process.
In a world where there’s a certain stigma around death and loss, I found myself feeling uncomfortable determining how to move forward. Was there a right way to be a widow? When should you be “over it?” The two widows who typically came to mind were Jackie O. and Courtney Love—did one grieve better than the other? Even with these two extreme icons, I’ve learned that grief really is different for each person and can shift, moment to moment.
When I went to a good friend’s bachelorette party in Miami this spring, I was worried about having a panic attack or crying at a club. Instead I had the best time of this entire year with a ridiculous, fun group of people. And it reinforced to me that grief doesn’t look one certain way. As it turns out, it’s okay to let loose, throw on some glitter, and dance to Pitbull even when you’ve lost your person. There’s no need to feel guilty for feeling good. I’ve also found tremendous support in online resources including the Hot Young Widows Club, a fantastic online group created by author Nora McInerny, for people who have lost their partners. It’s helpful to connect with other widows about things that have crossed my mind so many times this year—Is it weird to still keep Phil’s toothbrush next to mine? When will it be okay to start dating?
I thought that grief would look a certain way, like a deep sadness, one where I’d want to lay in bed all day. But grief isn’t just about being sad. Working through it, it’s more complicated than that. Some days I wake up feeling happy, then by noon, I’m crying at my desk. And when dinner rolls around, I’m ready to go on a hike to work through my rage. It’s a non-linear rollercoaster of emotions and I have to remind myself that I’m exhausted for a reason.
My grief is still new and still very raw. Suddenly it’s autumn, but it feels like Phil died just yesterday in this strange time warp. Grief isn’t just the passage of time, but what you do with that time. And I’m choosing to actively grieve with my whole being. It means different things every day—from intentional self-care and therapy to weekend escapes and necessary distractions. It took me nearly two decades to work through the loss of my mom, and I have no timeline for the loss of Phil. I’m also fully aware that there will be more losses in my future, both expected and unexpected. Losing the person I thought I would spend the rest of my life with is heartbreaking and unfair. There’s no use in fighting the jumbled chaos that is grief. I’ve found it’s easier to surrender to the sometimes massive waves and just ride it out.