When you’re 25 years old, life is busy, exciting, and stressful all at once. You’re pulling free from your parents and figuring out things on your own. You’re finally getting an idea of where you want your career to go. You’re starting to figure out what it’s like to be a real adult. Most of all, life is exciting because you finally feel like you’re getting your life started, so you start to look ahead to the future and plan how you want the rest of your life to turn out.
But what happens when at 25 years of age, the love of your life dies, and you feel like there’s no future left for you because everything that you thought you’d have for the rest of your life is gone?
That’s what my life is like at 25. I find myself paralyzed, unable to reconcile the way that my life had been when he was here with the now new, foreign, scary future I face without him. I look at my friends, living normal lives as twenty-something-year-olds – going to happy hour, complaining about bosses, talking about starting 401 (k) accounts – and I am filled with a sudden and complete inability to relate. Does any of that matter anymore?
Does the rest of my life matter when he won’t be here to grow old with me?
My boyfriend and I had been together for 5 years and 13 days before he passed away from a short, extremely difficult battle with a rare cancer that typically affects the elderly. We looked at engagement rings together just four months before he was diagnosed, and we were giddy with the idea of the future we would have together.
We had begun to talk about the engagement party, wedding, and honeymoon we would have. We excitedly talked about how many kids we wanted, where our careers would lead us, where in the country we wanted to live, what vacations we wanted to take… We couldn’t stop talking about our future plans, because we thought we had the rest of our lives together, and we couldn’t wait for everything we had left to do in this world together.
But fate had a different plan for us. I find myself feeling like a widow even though we weren’t yet married. But how do I explain this to people? How do I explain that even at the young ages of 25 and 27, we knew we were each other’s soul mates and the love of each other’s lives and that losing him was more than “just” losing a boyfriend? At 25, none of my friends have suffered a loss of a loved one – not even of an immediate family member, let alone a spouse or a partner – and I feel completely and utterly isolated.
It’s not enough that I already feel this gaping hole in my heart where he used to be, but I feel so alone because no one else gets it.
There are many support groups for widows and bereavement groups for people who have lost their spouses, but it’s difficult for me to feel like I fit in when I’m almost always the youngest, and technically, he wasn’t my spouse. Well-meaning friends and family tell me that I shouldn’t worry because I’m so young that I’ll get over it in no time and be able to love and get married eventually. They tell me just to think of it like a breakup. I know they mean well, but I can’t help but think – would anyone say these things to a widow?
There are things that I do feel are different about my grief compared to the grief that might be experienced by someone after the loss of a long-time spouse or partner. I mourn for the future and the potential that his life had and that our life had together. We were supposed to spend the next 50, 60, 70 years together. We were supposed to have kids, a few dogs, a house with a backyard and a pool, grandchildren…
We were supposed to grow old together. Instead, we only had five short years together, and now I’m left with unfulfilled promises, crushed dreams, and a future without him that I can’t even imagine. How can I even begin to re-build my future without him? How do I even make new plans for my own future when I had already planned my life out with him?
When we’re this young, it’s so easy to take our health and our future for granted. We assume that we’ll be healthy for the foreseeable future. We often procrastinate on things both big and small because we assume we’ll have more than enough time to do them at some point in the future. We don’t do nearly enough to tell our loved ones how much we love them because we assume they’ll be around for a long time to hear it. But this month, I will turn 26, and every year I get older, I will be painfully reminded that it will be without him getting older with me.
I’ll be reminded of all the things in life that he’s missing out on, and all the things we never got to do together and all the words I never got to say to him. But every day for the rest of my life, I will think of him, the love of my life, and I will not take a single day for granted.
It’s hard to look ahead at this new life I’ll have without him, but I persist because of him – for him.
Because he wanted so desperately to live that I need to live my life to the fullest for him, as hard as it is to do without him by my side, and never take my life, my health, and my future for granted again.