Life After Loss: 12 Women on Being a Young Widow

Wendy Robinson | Nov 9, 2016 Love & Sex

young widow storiesWhen my husband and I got married, we made the traditional vow to love each other until death do us part. I suspect that all of us who make that vow hope that we'll have decades together before one of us passes away. Personally, I'm hoping to go out Notebook-style, with my husband and I holding hands at the very end. 

But sometimes, couples don't get as much time together as they'd hope or plan for. While we often think of widows as being older women, surrounded by children and grandchildren, it's heartbreaking to think that anyone can lose a spouse.

For young widows, loss is often accompanied by the challenges of becoming a single mom, dealing with financial hardship, and trying to navigate the waters of dating again. 

We talked to 12 women who were widowed in their 20s and 30s to find out what lessons they've learned following the loss of their husband. Read on for good advice and surprising second acts. 

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  • Learning to Date Again

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    "My husband died in a car accident after we'd been married only three years. I was 26 and it was totally devastating. That was two years ago and I've just started dating again. But it is awkward now.

    When guys find out I'm widowed, it makes them uncomfortable. Like, I think people can deal with the idea of dating someone divorced, but widowed is different. I still haven't figured out how and when to bring it up. I feel like I have to relearn how to date!" -- Shelby T., Fort Wayne, Indiana

  • Complicated Memories

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    "My experience of being a widow is complicated, I think. The thing is that my late husband and I had some serious marriage problems when he was diagnosed with cancer. I stuck with him through the whole thing, of course. But if I'm honest, I don't know if we would have stayed married if he had survived. 

    I'm sad he is gone, obviously, but people want to act like he was a saint now that he is gone and that just wasn't true. My memories feel complicated." -- Mya O., Saint Paul, Minnesota

  • Get Life Insurance

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    "The big thing I've learned from being a widow at 32 is that you have to have life insurance! We thought we had so much time, you know? Like we were not saving a lot of money because we had daycare and student loans and all that stuff. I was a stay-at-home mom and he was working so when he died, I basically had no income. 

    I'm working now and his parents helped pay for some of our expenses, which kept me from going bankrupt. But I wish more than anything we had been smart enough to have made a will and had life insurance." -- Amy A., Phoenix, Arizona

  • Finding Another Man I Admire

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    "I was 34 and my husband was 35 when he died unexpectedly. I found I just couldn't date men like my first husband. It would make me sad.

    But it took 11 years to find someone different that I admired at least as much. Along the way, I dated a lot of men and thought several times of settling for almost good enough. I'm glad I took my time, because we're still going strong almost 20 years later." -- Patty N., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    More from CafeMom: Who Will Raise My Daughter If I Die?

  • My Husband the Hero

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    "My husband was only 27 when he was killed in Iraq. Being a military widow is different, I think. On the one hand, there are other younger widows that you can get connected with so you don't feel so alone. People also think he died a hero. And he was my hero, in some ways. 

    But on the other, people sometimes act like the fact that he died serving his country is like somehow better for me. Well, eff that. I'm proud he was in the military but he died for no reason, in my mind. I'd give anything to have him back." -- Kara M., Dayton, Ohio

  • Forced Me to Change

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    "In retrospect, the day my husband died at 35 was both the worst day of my life and the best. It forced me to double my income over the next 14 months to protect our son, completely changing the course of my career.

    It forced me to set priorities and let go of things I did for appearances only, because it's darn difficult to be both mother and father, especially while grieving.

    It forced me to examine what I had thought were marriage problems, because marriage problems go away when your spouse dies. Your own problems stick around, and there's no one to blame them on or hope for a solution from when you're a widow.

    Once I realized I had been waiting for my husband to fix problems that belonged to me, I saw the entire history of our marriage differently, and I got to work solving those problems. I like who I became. And I've seen the same flexible strength and courage in other women widowed young." -- Patty N., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • A Different Kind of Life

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    "I married my high school sweetheart when I was 22. We moved into a house about a mile from my parents. When I was 26, he died in a hunting accident. 

    I was devastated and for a while it was good that I was in my small hometown because I got a lot of support. But last year I decided to make a fresh start and moved to a bigger city. Now I'm having a really different life than I imagined. I'm single and figuring out who I am now. I still miss my husband but I think this new life will be a good one." -- Courtney K., Saint Paul, Minnesota

  • Missed Adventures

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    "When my husband died, a lot of my dreams died too. We had all these big plans and dreams, you know? Like we were going to travel and see the world. 

    We just didn't get enough time together and it sucks. It feels so unfair. I'm sad about the adventures we didn't have." -- Beth T., Los Angeles, California

  • Finding a Friend (With Benefits)

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    "My husband died in an accident two years ago. I was 38. Since then I've really focused on raising our daughter. It is just the two of us right now. I'm not ready to date yet and I think she needs me to be really present for her.

    I miss having sex though, so I've kind of formed a friends-with-benefits arrangement with someone I used to work with. I get to scratch that itch but no emotional entanglement that I'm not ready for yet." -- Ricki M., Naples, Florida

  • Number One Priority

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    "My husband killed himself three years ago. Dealing with the financial fallout and my own grief has been really hard. I'm still really angry. But I feel like I have to be strong for my daughter, who is facing a life without her dad. She never asked for any of this. So she is my number one priority." -- Name withheld by request

  • Keeping His Memory Alive

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    "My husband died in an accident when I was pregnant with our daughter. It was a terrible shock. The day I delivered my daughter was the most bittersweet of my life -- she looked like him, but he wasn't there. 

    I've since moved in with his parents. Not only they are helping me with her, but having them around along with his brother makes me feel like we'll keep his memory alive for her." -- Billie J., Topeka, Kansas

  • It Was a Good Marriage

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    "When my husband and I married, I knew there was a chance I'd be a younger widow. He had a chronic health condition that ended up killing him at 27. 

    But I don't regret our marriage at all. I went into it with my eyes open and I think even the short time we had together was worth it. It was a good marriage." -- Name withheld by request

    More from CafeMom: 10 Wives Reveal What a 'Good Marriage' REALLY Means