At the beginning of widowhood, I stayed up too late each night because going to bed meant facing his absence head-on. Getting into our bed meant lying down next to an empty space where his body should be. It was remembering that he would never sleep next to me again. It was the knowledge that bed would not bring a quieted mind or relaxed muscles. Instead, getting into bed brought the torture of time to dwell on the fact that his body was in a grave instead of breathing next to mine.
Despite being pregnant and having a toddler to care for—despite working full-time—avoiding my bed until deep into the night became a destructive yet necessary survival skill. I didn’t want to see his empty spot in my queen size bed. I didn’t want to feel how much space my pregnant body had, lying there alone.
It was such a relief when the baby came a few months later because she took up a little room next to me. She had a beating heart, rapid little breaths, cheeks to kiss, a velvety head to caress. All these signs of life reassured me; grounded me. I nursed her often in the night and was thankful for the skin contact. Even as she screamed night after night from reflux and I thought I would lose my mind from doing it alone, my bed was not such a tomb with the baby in my arms.
(Aurora Kay, 2 days old, Nov 2014)
It’s been five years since Chris died. Five whole years have passed since I last went to bed with my husband beside me, assured that this was a safe place… without a thought in my head of abandonment. Even now I see myself with this practice of avoiding my bed at night despite fatigue. I will sit up for hours on end watching tv, talking on the phone, reading a book, killing time on social media… It’s not a conscious decision any longer. I don’t even think about it. It’s simply a habit, informed by the trauma of those early days. When I do get in bed I usually fall asleep quickly and the morning always comes too soon. I rarely have dreams that I’m aware of and I wonder how much REM sleep I get because I’m never quite rested. Waking frequently in the night is normal and expected.
A trauma as significant as losing a spouse is something that changes you forever. Some shifts are emotional, some spiritual, some financial, and some physiologic. Truthfully, all the parts of your life are intertwined—they cannot be separated as simply as sorting clothes out by season.
The trauma, it seems, has an affinity for manifesting in me the worst when I am tired. It makes sense. Logically, I am at my most vulnerable and have the least emotional reserve then. This is why I believe the nights can be so hard.
If you are grieving, hurting, suffering from PTSD, anxiety, or depression—I get it. I will not say I undertand your exact path because I don’t; only you know exactly what it is to live your life—but I can relate. I can relate, and I care. You are not alone.