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What Happens to a Widowed Introvert

Self-Discovery

In recent years, the words introvert and extrovert have gained interest. I assumed, like many people do, that introversion is a negative personality trait. I was wrong.

In the past few months, “introvert” began popping up on my Facebook newsfeed. Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert? asked a quiz. Articles caught my attention too, and they were full of praise for introverts.

I began following an author on LinkedIn: Susan Cain. She wrote the book about introversion—literally. It’s called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and it helped me to finally understand and accept who I am.  

I may feel comfortable and talkative at a party one day, but I might dread going to a fundraiser the next day. Why? Because I can become overstimulated.

I need a balance of solitude and social interaction. And being an introvert, my scale tips toward quiet. I need more alone time to be at peace and rejuvenate.  

 

Love

My late husband Jason was an extrovert—my opposite. He was a charismatic social butterfly. I secretly wondered if he thought I was too shy, but he didn’t seem to notice.

Jason’s gregarious personality carried both of us. When I was with him in group settings, I felt no anxiety. I did not feel the need to go home and curl up in bed with a book.

Here’s where I went wrong though—I was so content to spend time with my husband and his  friends and family that I neglected mine or lost contact altogether.  

I lost myself. I let my individuality slip away.

Many wives are financially dependent on their husbands, but what happens to a widowed introvert?

What happens to the widow who is socially dependent on her husband?

 

Loss

My husband died in 2006. Flashback to the night of the viewing:

I walked outside on the porch of the funeral home to escape the crowd. Jason’s cousin said something funny, and I laughed. He was trying to cheer everyone up.

I desperately wanted to pretend that we were at church. That Jason would walk outside and join us in a few moments. I was in denial.

I felt that other people should see me being strong. I could save them from worrying about me. I wasn’t sure what I should do or think. I was in shock.

Emotional turmoil seeped into my muscles, and I was physically exhausted by the time I went to sleep. I wasn’t eating. All day I was around hundreds of people, but I was lonely.

Over the next few weeks, I spent time with Jason’s family in Bluffton and Beaufort. They were all very kind, but I felt that I wasn’t good enough company.

Not only was I a miserable crying mess, but I couldn’t brighten up the room like Jason.

What a disappointment I must be. We used to have so much fun together. But without Jason, I was just a reminder that he was missing.

During another family gathering, my stress began to build. I felt inferior without him. I became more quiet and overwhelmed.

Other people in the room didn’t know me on a personal level. They only saw me through Jason when he was here. Without him, I felt that I had nothing to contribute to their boisterous conversations.

I imagined my husband walking into the room, smiling and laughing like he always did. He loved things like this.

“You’re missing this,” I whispered. “I can’t be here without you.”

I ducked away into the bedroom to read a book. I felt ashamed for being so aloof, but I could not be in the midst of activity any longer. They probably think I’m antisocial. Maybe they’re right. Sigh.

I was not only grieving, I was also overstimulated. I needed to be alone so I could recharge emotionally.

 

Balance

After the initial shock subsided, I set off to rebuild my life in the nearby town where I grew up.

I tried attending a young adults class at church, but I did not fit in with the bold military couples.

I craved human interaction, but I had to find the right environment: a single moms class. They sent me home with a book, and I studied it in blissful solidarity at home. Balance.

Next, I forced myself out of my comfort zone and became a tour guide. I’ve conquered the nation’s biggest fear: public speaking. And I’m good at it—at least with small groups.

My second job was a nice contrast consisting of solo horseback riding on a plantation. Balance.

I reconnected with some of my old friends and began taking classes to earn my bachelor’s degree.

I had to heal. I had to build my social circle on my own.

 

Misunderstanding

Meanwhile, I was avoiding social gatherings that I once frequented with my husband. I declined invitations for lunch at my husband’s church and politely excused myself from his family’s Thanksgiving meal.

I wanted to avoid any situation where I might feel awkward.

Being an introvert, I’m a private person. I talked about my husband and my grief with only my closest friends and family. I sealed away my thoughts and experiences in personal journals.

But one individual was unable to accept my husband’s suicide. The person blamed me for his death and spread slander throughout the community where he lived and among members of his family.

I was unaware of the slander for many years. Sadly, my standoffishness was misinterpreted and played into the angry person’s allegations.

By avoiding so many people, I did not allow them to get to know me.

Being misunderstood was tough, but it taught me to focus on my strengths.

 

Strength

By far, the most important thing I learned as an introvert is to cultivate your creative strengths. I have always been a writer, and it was natural to begin blogging last year.

I wrote about the day my husband died. I wrote about the days leading up to it, and I wrote about the trauma that followed.

Writing about these events was my responsibility. After all, I was the closest person to him, his wife.

I created a way for my acquaintances to get to know me through my writing, and many sent messages or encouraged me in person.

Thankfully, I was able to undo much of the slander by sharing my perspective of the situation.

I learned that for me, the most effective way to be heard is through writing.

 

Identity

Many marriages consist of opposites: extroverts and introverts often complement each other. But if you are the introvert, do not allow yourself to become an extrovert’s shadow.

Insist on going out with your best friend for lunch on a regular basis.

Insist on following and discovering your own passions. Keep those facets of your identity strong.

I still guard my individuality, but it’s more subconscious now. I stop by my friend’s house for a glass of wine, or I spend a Saturday afternoon blogging.

I researched what it means to be an introvert. I learned more about myself, like why I shy away from certain situations or why I’m content to spend an entire day alone.

I’m learning how to balance, and I’ve learned how to communicate those needs with the people I love.

Widow Repair Re-Create Family Traditions

Last week, my nine-year-old son Caleb asked me to cook some crab legs and lobster tails.

He was six the last time I offered him crab legs. We were at a friend’s house for a feast of King Crabs. Caleb took one suspicious look at the giant spiny legs and refused.

I reminded him of this, but also admitted that it took me a long time to try new foods. Everyone in Beaufort thought I was crazy not to love seafood!

I launched into my narration: “I was 19 when I first ate crab legs and lobster! Your dad took me to Red Lobster…” I smiled with memories, and I wish he could see and hear his dad like I can.

Flashback: Summer of 2004. I was 19.

Jason and I spent the day on the river, then rushed back to his house to get cleaned up. We were completely exhausted from sun and swimming, but also starving.

“How fast can you get ready?” he asked. “All that time on the water makes me want seafood. Let’s go to Savannah!”

There wasn’t enough time to blowdry my hair, so I curled it around my hand and let it dry by the open windows of Jason’s Sport Trac.

Looking back on it now, I think of how spontaneous we were. I’ve never been one to take anything for granted. I enjoyed every minute of that day on the boat and our mad rush to get ready. I remember how the fading sunshine felt on my skin and the balmy air as we sped down the highway. My love was singing along to the radio beside me.

 

Jason ordered the Ultimate Seafood Platter and rolled his shirt back to three-quarter sleeves. At his insistence, I tried a bite of lobster dipped in melted butter. Next, he taught me how to crack open the crab legs.

Delicious! I quickly lost interest in my shrimp pasta.

He was so eager and generous about sharing something he loves. I think that made our meal all the more romantic and intimate.

I counted it as One of the Best Days I’ve Ever Had. I still do.

I didn’t know that it would still be so fresh in my mind this many years later. That I would talk about it over and over again. That I would tell our son the same story. Although it’s not really a story. It was just a day.

 

Fulfilling a Family Tradition

Fast forward to the past weekend:

Everyone in the Lowcountry will write off Red Lobster as a chain restaurant, but for me, it was like fulfilling a family tradition. We ordered Jason’s go-to dish—the Ultimate Seafood Platter.

The waitress asked if Caleb had ever eaten crab legs, then gave him an expert demonstration. She cracked it open and pulled the first intact piece from its shell. Caleb’s eyes were huge, and he tore into the feast until there were only a few fried shrimp leftover.

He declared that we should have a seafood night every weekend. I see a few lazy afternoons of crabbing in our future, and I realized that I’m in a good place.

When Caleb discovers something new, I’m happy to share stories of his dad. The pain of the past is leaving me, and I look forward to making new memories with our son.

Widow Repair Re-Create Family Traditions

 

Healing Over Time

You can’t force grief out of your memories. You can’t fast forward emotionally.

I spent so much time feeling like I was anchored in a sea of pain. Every day I drove across Lemon Island, but my memories were clouded with the knowledge of a hopeless future.

Instead of swimming with him beside the boat, we were drowning. The boat was sinking. I was suffocating.

One day you will find your windshield wipers—something to whisk away the rain that stole the joy of your memories.

For me, part of it was time. Time has been healing for me, no matter how cliche that might sound.

Thankfully, I have much more than time. I have our son. His enthusiasm helps me to see the past, untainted.

 

Find Your Symbol of Happiness

Now, I pull up the rope and watch the pain—the water—filter through the netting. All that’s left is a crab, a little symbol of happiness.

Jason leaning toward me with a bite of lobster on his fork. He cups his other hand under it, to catch the dripping butter.

…Caleb holding a crab leg under his nose like it’s a mustache. I push his sleeve back to his elbow, and he holds up his other arm so I can roll back the left side. I place the cloth napkin on his lap.

Healing comes when you are ready. I will keep my eyes open for more opportunities to re-create family traditions, to share stories about Jason.