When Grief Looks Like A Shrugging Emoticon
In 2013, podcast producer Rachel Ward's husband, Steve, died unexpectedly. She was 32, and he was 35. Being widowed is painful under any circumstances, but Rachel says that she went through an unusual kind of grief and confusion after losing her husband at such a young age. "I felt like I re-experienced adolescence after Steve died," she says. "But I also feel old because I am an aging person. I'm 36 years old. And that's older than a lot of my peers who on paper have an equivalent life position. You know, like just moved to New York City and are single, except they're 26 and I'm 36."
The first time I spoke to Rachel was in 2015, after she wrote a viral Medium post called "I'm Sorry I Didn't Respond to Your Email, My Husband Coughed to Death Two Years Ago." Humor got Rachel through the early days of her grief, and her post was an attempt to put the social awkwardness that comes with widowhood behind her. "I guess I’m kind of hoping this is also sort of a juncture in my life and like a transition point,” Rachel told me. So we held on to the recording of our interview, and checked back in with her this summer to see what happened next.
A lot did happen in Rachel's life in the two years between when we spoke. Rachel changed jobs and moved cities. She says that four years into widowhood, she tries not to think about the grieving process in stages. "I have to remind myself all the time that grief is not linear," she says. But she also says she feels stuck in ways, especially when it comes to dating. "It feels like I have to be like cooked to a certain level and I'm just, like, not," she told me. "But I've also lately been having some really nice realizations about how it's kind of great to be single and not have to like not have to the kind of draggy parts of relationships."