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NOT

A WIDOW'S

HANDBOOK

Widowhood, from the perspective of a Domestic Violence Surviving Widow

Photography: @lekelikephoto / Makeup: @bellanaija1

I was a twenty-four-year-old domestic violence surviving widow! I could barely say this in one breath but I wanted it all “solved” at once. What I did not anticipate; is how empowering of a journey it would become.

 overcoming grief + empowerment + widow and widower + love after loss + overcoming abuse 

www.notawidowshandbook.com

lu@notawidowshandbook.com

UNITED STATES

Chapter One

BEING MRS. JOHNSON

 
Audio_ Not a Widow's Handbook - 1

Because this is such a heavy start to it all; I'll present it like this... 

Imagine the story of my marriage as the trailer to a movie. 

Are you ready? 

 

Do you hear the wedding bells? It's me in a tube top white dress, smiling from ear to ear, leaning in to kiss the man I'm so in love with.

A little fast forward from this moment; now you hear laughter.  You see us running down the streets of San Diego on Halloween night, drunkenly in love. 

The bells are back, and we are in an amusement park and we are riding bumper carts on water and having the time of our lives.

Bells again, you see the two of us going home with the cutest, sweetest pitbull puppy. 

Now you hear puppy barks and sweet laughter and the bells ring again... you see me sitting on the floor of my living room with tears in my eyes.  

that quickly ends and we are in my family's home, laughing and joking with my nephews.

Did you hear the bells again? We are back at that kissing scene and we zoom out on this couple. Sweet, happy and full of hope. He is in his dress blues and I'm wearing that tube top white dress, but the wedding bells ring again and there he is, with his arms around my neck as I'm losing consciousness. 

Don't turn off the trailer. keep watching...

 

Because the bells will ring again and he is in therapy and from the psychiatrist faint words you can make out the acronym; PTSD. 

This is the part of the trailer when your feelings are all out of whack, this is when you start to rationalize the scene in which the hands of the man I loved were squeezing right around my neck and it sounded as though my hearing faded behind the sad music. Because for a moment which I'll never know how long, I laid on the floor of my apartment unconscious. 

Hold on, the bells ring again and I'm screaming No! As it quickly switches from me to him and he is holding a gun in his mouth. Sweat is pearling out of his skin, tears are running down both our faces and you start listening closer and although I am speaking out loud, I'm not speaking to him. Do you hear it? I'm speaking to God; "Father, please, do not allow him to do this!"

Once again, the bells! Ding ding ding.

It's Christmas and there's snow on the ground. Everyone around us is wearing green bay packers gear. That's right, we are in Wisconsin eating blueberry pie and laughing again. But that gets cut short. There's still snow on the ground and a silver hatchback is driving way over the speed limit and as you zoom inside of it there you see us. Him shaking his head and pleading and apologizing and me with my face covered in blood and vision in only one eye, telling him "you'll be ok, I just got to make it to the hospital and I promise, you'll be ok, I'll make sure you're ok". Then I get rolled into an MRI as they strap a straitjacket on him - I made sure he was ok, I demanded for the police to request a mental health evaluation... Jail was the angriest choice, but it was not the healthiest choice.

This is when the woman in my heart had to ask herself, would I ever allow my sisters to come to live this? The answer was no. The answer will always be NO. I had waited so long that this unhealthy pattern had changed me and the way I thought of myself. I was so broken, I needed to rebuild myself.

It was a very scary day leaving my home. I told my husband; "it is important we re-evaluate." So I packed my things and I went "home". 

 

For a month, we spoke every day. Most days we yelled and cried, some days I almost went back, not enough days I was strong enough. But, on February 10th, 2014 he was the calmest he had ever been all year. We talked about our day, he talked about the things he was thankful for in our marriage and he apologized for the pain he may have caused... by the end of this conversation another wedding bell rings. You hear his apology through the phone in between his tears, you hear me pleading to take a moment to breathe and maybe call his Dr and talk about what's hurting him, you hear the police sirens and then he hangs up. 

This was the last time I spoke to my husband. His name never came up again in my incoming calls again...  not that day. Not ever. 

In the last scene of this trailer, I am sitting on the grass outside of my mom's home holding my baby sister in my arms and my mom's hand in my hand. They are crying but I am in so much pain I feel numb. Not a single tear running down my face. I think I'm too mad to be sad or to hurt to find tears. Right away I speak to God;

This was the day I became, a twenty-four years old widow.

-

Written by Ludwine Johnson

marriage - complex relationships - life before loss - domestic violence - mental illness - pain - grief - widowhood - why do people stay in abusive relationships

Chapter Two

THE GRIEF IN ALL OF US

 
Audio-Not a Widow's Handbook - 2

Four people standing in the same room. When the lights go out, everyone reacts in their unique way. Completely changing the dynamic of the room.

This to say; the loss of my husband has shifted the dynamic of all relationships in my life. We all had to learn each other all over again, all the while grieving. 

Grief, What a Concept –

Folks who love you will want to comfort you. You know? That person in the darkroom who will say; don't panic! The ones to tell you how to "properly grieve"?

“Cry it out” –

In the following weeks, I was physically unable to cry. I could fake a smile, but I could not cry. Instead, I sang. I turned on the Christian Contemporary Channel on my phone and I would sing along to the words, hoping I would cry. I was so angry. There wasn’t any crying until I stood in a memorial home and looked over at the crowd present to pay their respect. A sea of eyes full of compassion. The eyes of my in-laws full of pain, the eyes of my younger siblings full of reverence, the eyes of his brothers in arms full of sadness. Then, as I read out loud these words that I wrote to Adam, as if he could hear them, I shed warm uncontrollable tears. I said a lot in those two minutes. But what I really wanted to say was;

 

"Hey Adam, wish you saw all those eyes full of love for you!"

“Take some time off” –

I was told the news, then had work the next morning. I did not sleep much that night. I woke up early and decided; I am going to get ready for work. I was aware of my new "situation" but I went into overdrive. I did not make time for the HOW COME? or the WHY ME? Not right away. The only question I wanted answers to at that time was WHAT NOW? and it was work. Like a click in my head, I was going to allow myself to be heartbroken, but I was never going to allow myself to be "broke". Walking into work came with a purpose, I was more driven than ever. It is important to note that, the woman Adam fell in love with fights! So, I had to fight. 

I was going to allow myself to be heartbroken, but I was never going to allow myself to be "broke".

 

“Spend time with the people who are here to love you” –

It took over a year to open messages from those first two months. I had never read them. I was not willing to see what people thought or what they felt. I could not also take their grief in. Although I am thankful for everyone who reached out and sent their love and support, it was easier to spend time with people who did not know a thing about me, people who did not care to know. Some days, I would come home and curl into my covers with my music in my ear and stayed silent. Taking in all of the love from afar, in my comfortable new twin mattress in my baby sister's room. My mom would join me sometimes. She would pull a chair close to me, pull out a book and read to herself. The two of us would sit in silence for hours. Those days, I was so thankful to grieve the way my heart desired.

“You have to eat something” –

Yes, of course. "We must take care of our minds and our bodies," Harder said than done.

You know the saying "If I knew then what I know now". Then, I knew that if I filled my time with never-ending activities, I would never have to focus on my new reality. Activities such as work and more work,

Of course, there is never a right time, but what awful timing. I was twenty-four and I worked in restaurants. Needless to say, I always had a late-night hangout partner (we are talking about friends here. but read all of the boys next for what you thought this was about *wink*). Because once I was no longer busy, smiling and working really hard at building “long-lasting memories for happy diners”, I still needed to keep my mind full and busy on something else. This gave birth to the horrible habit of the mandatory nightcap. As I said, the timing was terrible. Everyone around me was in their twenties and drinking, I was in my twenties, heart shattered, world-split in the middle, life flipped upside down and drinking. For someone who could not cry before, I cried often after "mandatory nightcaps". I cried because I did not understand, I cried because I was not sure I was strong enough, I cried because I was angry that my best friend left me. I cried because someone else, in their grief, took away from me the right to say goodbye. I cried because someone, in their grief, took away from me the right to keep a piece of him. I was so angry.

“The grief in all of us” –

In my experience, grief will take over your entire being if you allow it. It will make you feel like you are the only one in pain. It will make you forget the people around you that are also grieving. Maybe it is true. Maybe it is law. Maybe that is how it has happened to me. Maybe this is how it happened for someone else. I assumed this was the reason why when I walked into my home for the first time, everything we built together with my spouse, anything we earned for our time together was ripped apart or taken away. This could also be the reason why when I walked into that memorial home, hung up were photos of his childhood but little to no photos of our marriage. Two out of twenty+ to be exact. This may also be why, when Adam's ashes were laid to rest, I was not there. See the grief in all of us could be so strong that while grieving we are unable to see the hearts breaking around us. I remind myself daily to forgive folks who grieve differently than me. To show more patience and compassion. Grief is like a loud, uncomfortable tunnel of uncertainties and pain. Folks need love in order to come out on the other side.

As did I.

I believe I am still grieving – 

Although every day, I am very much aware that my husband is gone forever. I have had such a journey that I understand it isn't the end of my testimony. I was blessed with people in my life who have shown me a love so unimaginably pure. It is the kind of love you can't ignore because it reminds you who you are under all these layers of pain. The kind of love that forces the real you to the surface and buries all those bad days away. 

For all of you, I am beyond thankful! 

-

Written by Ludwine Johnson

grief - post-traumatic stress - widow - widowers - how do you grieve - life after loss - managing emotional pain -  does grief end - how do you manage grief - what is grief

Chapter Three

ALL OF THE BOYS

 
Audio-Not a Widow's Handbook - 3

Do you agree?

At twenty-four most of us are dating and mingling? You meet someone, you make them laugh, they take you on a date. Maybe you speak again, maybe you don’t!

You wonder if your friends would like them, would they get along with your mom. Your dad is hard to please, but they are so charming; he couldn't resist. 

I stand behind the fact that we all do it. We meet someone and we wonder which box they fit in and how well they might complement our lives. 

After Adam passed, I had a million boy questions, but the following ones were the heaviest.

How will men react to a twenty-four-year-old widow? Am I damaged goods? Will I be alone forever? Is this the end? 

As I maneuvered being twenty-four, heartbroken and alone my relationship with men seemed heavy and complicated. It was like adolescence; except I was way too "woke". 

Male interaction was very delicate. In part because of guilt and another part because of fear. I was so young; I was convinced that if I did not take a hold of my love life then I may never have one again. Which would be alright, if I knew how to decipher men interactions and didn't succumb to anxiety so often. I was so certain I was damaged goods. It was as if, I needed to prove to myself that either men were not worth it or I wasn't. All the while feeling like a horrible person because I was this freshly baked Widow.

Not quite the usual snack huh?

Take for example The Witty Boy at the bar who starts off cool, but as the drinks keep flowing his intentions start revealing. So, we laugh and he obviously thinks I'm attractive. I can assume from the turn our conversation has taken that he specializes in one-night stands. All of a sudden, I'm no longer amused. Not because I’m grossed out. Rather, I am filled with fear.

I'm not afraid of him, he's just politely invited me to a Netflix + Chill. I'm filled with fear -period. So, I say the one thing I know will make him go away; "when my husband was alive... [fill in soppy memory] …" and I watch his interest leave him starting with his face, then body language until finally, he musters the courage to walk away from me. Leaving me happy that I got myself out of something I would most likely regret, with confirmation that being damaged goods ain't so bad after all. Yet, I feel sorry for myself. 

Which made the next boy even scarier. Allow me to tell you about The boy who lives life at a thousand miles per hour. He never wants to be married and enjoys all of the thrills of life. He is perfect because in my mind, I already know I will be alone forever. So why not spend time with the boy that has zero intentions on staying. I can be transparent with him and who cares? This boy isn't here for the wedding bells. So, you ride jet skis and you brunch. You do laundry and happy hour. You do friends birthdays and breakfasts and you realize; although I know I'm going to be alone forever, this uncomfortably feels more than what I feel I deserve. So, every day I make sure he knows that I believe that I don't deserve more than this temporary high. Because I truly believed I should be alone forever. So even after having had the time of my life, I make sure he knows that I am so glad we will never be together. 

At this time, you're probably thinking that it is my way of guarding my heart. Maybe I am trying to avoid creating a pattern. It could be! But I'm not so sure. 

Ya see, All of The Boys started with The Boy Who Can Smell Desperation. A mastermind, but it was just what I needed. He's a particular one; He lies constantly. He lies to me, to the other women, to my friends. However, I'm too desperate for companionship and for an escape from the hard conversations. So, I stand near this boy, every time I feel that sunken feeling in my chest. I sit on his balcony and listen. I smile at his tales even though I know the words are far from true. At least I'm not in my mother’s home facing my new reality and ignoring the questions that are too hard to answer. So, this goes on for days until; One day, a literal wake up call. See this boy eventually starts to sound all too familiar and I am less numb and I am angrier. How do I allow myself to come back to a mental space I chose to leave? I have traded my self-worth for companionship. All in the name of loneliness. I am outraged with myself. I walk out and never return.

It seems to me doing the right thing feels very similar to jumping in a pool knowing I don't know how to swim. But I will learn eventually…

Closely to the time around The Boy Who Prays. At this time, most of my prayers involve figuring out whether I will be alone forever. As much as I want to believe positively and stop asking myself these questions, they ring in my ear daily. At first, they're just questions and then they grow into fear. I am always afraid but the boy who prays tames the anxiety. God's people have this light and because mine feels dimmed I bask into someone else's. Each time I feel horrible about myself, I pick up my cell for love and for light. So, we laugh for hours and share vulnerable times. We pray for each other and challenge one another. Quickly that was the expectation. He doesn't know, but it is his job to make me happy. Because I can't find the strength in myself to do so. I have him on this pedestal and he isn't allowed to step down. At any inconvenience, I quickly reverse back into anxiety. Afraid that even in friendship I am not capable of functioning. 

Male interaction sucked to say the least. My friends and I casually called it #Boyxiety. Anxiety induced by male attention and the lack of attention. In both instances, it knocked me completely out of my skin. If I wasn't sad, I was scared. Which I hated. I wanted so badly to jump back into normal yet I hadn't taken time to process my new normal.

What did I even want out of life altogether? 

I was a twenty-four-year-old domestic violence surviving widow! I could barely say this in one breath but I wanted it all solved at once. I had to cut myself a little slack and be more compassionate. I had taken too much time looking to the first nice man to unknowingly and perhaps unwillingly fill this huge void in my life. It had to stop, So... I stopped. I looked back at myself, looked back at all the boys and made a list of what I actually needed. I put intimacy on hold. I canceled amorous relationships and welcomed friendships without setting impossible expectations. I looked to my faith to quench this weird need for validation. I gave my heart the time and the space to heal. When I went on dates I looked forward to the restaurant's bourbon and steak options rather than how many compliments in one night I may have received.

The Rest of the time, I focused on healing. I wanted to be more than the girl who finally walked out of a bad situation. I did not want to be a widow everyone felt sorry for. I knew that once I would meet The Boy God Wants for Me, I would be healthy enough to accept and receive him. To be a pillar in a relationship. I wanted to first value myself, give to myself the things I went seeking in all of the boys.

Although I am in a healthier relationship now, I still seek to grow spiritually and emotionally. Drawing a line between my contribution to a relationship and my value as a person. I often physically separate myself. Temporary solitude to re-energize my self-esteem. It is important to me that while I continue to nurture love and trust in this new relationship, I take a moment to recharge – healing is gradual, and there are so many things about grief I am still learning, experiencing and transitioning from.

 

What helps is The Boy Who is Patientbecause all that may need fixing and healing is my task to complete. However, I am most thankful to have room and a safe space to do so. 

-

Written by Ludwine Johnson

love after loss - widowed - dating - complex relationships - widow - widowers - dating life -  relationships - anxiety - self-esteem - when is the right time to start dating - will i be alone forever 

Chapter Four

GOD AND I 

 
Audio - Not A Widows's Handbook - 4

Five years ago, I probably said the most honest prayer I’ve ever said in my life;

 

“God gracious, take me and use me because the only strength that’ll get me through what’s next is the kind only you promise to give.”

 

Instantly something popped up in my mind: Ever heard the saying; “Put God to the test”?

I have, plenty of times in my upbringing in the Word. Naturally, the following words in that prayer were quite stern. I am usually a very humble “prayer”. I was taught to be thankful and to stay thankful in all situations, rather in that moment I demanded healing and fixing.

I have known God since I was a little one. I used to recite His words without really understanding what they meant. I guess as you grow up, these words start to take meaning. You enter situations and you start to relate to a specific bible verse or quotes from your favorite teachings.

Through teenage years, many of times I have selfishly looked to God to take away a number of pains, negative thoughts and irrational fears. Of course, with prayer and action they went away. As expected, I became braver and I found strength to move on. Sadly, once all was resolved, I talked to Him less until another obstacle would arise. Which would drive me to seek Him again. Alas, that was the cycle. 

What is truly interesting is that I had never before felt shame for walking in and out on God, while He remained faithful and continued to pour blessings on me. It wasn’t

because I stopped believing, But I would forget to take a moment before making a decision. Often times I would see that my way was probably not God's way, but I would walk down it anyway. Holding Him to great expectations. Only to hold myself accountable when it was convenient. When it was time to speak with Him. I wasn’t always thankful and staying thankful anymore. I was only ever asking for forgiveness.

I didn’t really reach out to Him as often as I could’ve made time to. Not until my boyfriend of 8 months wanted to marry me. Immediately I said yes to the proposal, but quickly turned to God and said; “Are you sure?”. I talked to God often in that following month. I talked to Him about my plans, where I should be, whether I should go. Should I reveal this man I have been talking to everyday for the last few months to my friends, to my parents? I didn’t want to. I wanted to elope! I would pray about it. I became very anxious for days and then just decided on my own; “I will Elope! “. Through every step of it I was thankful. I was thankful for flight arrangements, family homes, courthouses and celebrations, love and a new life. I was thankful for my parents becoming open-minded to me having eloped. I had so much to be thankful for and I just couldn’t believe how super blessed I was. Unknowingly to me, adversary was right around the corner.

I was like that little one again, the little girl who recited bible verses without truly understanding the weight of her words just yet. Well, only half of the words. I had the “for Better”, “for Richer” and “in health” all good and going. I mean come on; I married my best friend! – Note that I just chuckled at how naive that may sound. Once “for worse”, “in sickness” and “for poor” manifested itself in my marriage, I clawed my fingernails into God’s arm and held on for dear life.

I pleaded to him through all of the bad days. Although God placed me before people who could have held my hand and walked me out of this complicated situation, I sat down and waited on my exact prayer to be answered.

Imagine this: a savior standing on a cliff, holding on to a troubled heart. They are both looking down at rapid waters infested with sharks. He tosses a rope, he tosses a harness, but she will not budge. Why? Because my prayer was to fix my marriage, not remove me from it. I wanted the sharks to flee and the water to tame.

Oh, you are right to think; and who the heck does Ludwine Johnson think she is? Stubborn, that’s who.

I mean, I was a good wife. Therefore, I decided on my own that God owed me a good husband. I can’t even come up with the calculations that my brain was made to think that God could ever be indebted to me. Yet, there I was – “God gracious, I do not understand what more you require of me. I have done absolutely everything in my power. Please change Adam’s heart, heal his heart and let him walk in your way – key words: in my power. I walked as though I had it all figured out. Did God ever think; If I had the situation under control, what was I blowing Him up for? Although I acted as I had it all under control, I didn’t. I thought talking Adam off the ledge, making sure we make it to therapy appointments and going to marriage retreats was going to grant me what I persistently asked for. N O P E

That isn’t the way to cookie crumbled.

The epiphany happened when I was being rolled into an MRI and instead of thinking of me. It was loud and vivid. My heart dropped and I was thinking of my sisters. I couldn’t stop thinking of my sisters. These two humans who relentlessly praised all of my deeds. This went on for a few days before it fully registered. If I wouldn’t allow my sisters to live through something like this, why would I? Yes, I made vows, but I was not the only one to make vows. I had only held myself accountable and I had only demanded my reward for it, but it wasn’t just me. You will agree with me when I say that we only have power over our own thoughts and actions. It was never my place to change someone else, rather my response. I had to do more. If not; I will continue to live in the potential of MY death doing us part.

January 10th, 2014;

 

I left.

From the day I left, God and I, we spoke every day! I spent countless hours seeking Him. Talking through my fears and my confusion. The embarrassment my “picture perfect life” being exposed for the charade it actually was. I was on the right path and I was thankful again. Ashamed, but staying thankful. Later, by Adam’s choice death did do us part. I was devastated, but I turned to my safe place and thought; God you and I have been getting along great these few weeks. This is obviously adversity, but this time I will let you handle it. I said a prayer and hopped on the ride that was widowhood.

Sounds easy when I say it like this! I was now on uncharted territory but I only had one option and that was to have faith. So, that is what I did. Through a constant merry-go-round teacup roller coaster of amplified emotions, I opened my bible, I turned to google for help and I just took in God’s word like it was my first time reading a bible. Just taking the promises and the exhortations and making them mine to apply and live and achieve. What God had done for Job, Joseph, Paul, Ruth, and Esther; I was convinced He would do for me.

On one of the early days, I found the book of Philippians.

I knew I wanted to talk at Adam’s memorial. I was so numb then that the words weren’t coming to me. I was conflicted. Even having lived through a marriage like mine, I still believed it was (and it remains) important for me to recognize that each time I utter Adam’s name, I am speaking of a human being. A life created by God. Placed not only in my life but also in the life of others. As a son, a brother, a friend and a fellow “devil dog”. I needed to pay homage to that person. If I was to move on and heal, I needed to start now.

 

Even though at the time all of the healing was a combination of actions, fifty percent faith and fifty percent fear, doubt and self-condemnation. I made a google search; “Bible verses for a broken heart” – I found Philippians 1, verse 3. “I thank my God for every remembrance of you” – were the first words I spoke once I stood before his friends and my family. Followed by a detailed list of all good remembrances of my marriage.

That wasn’t the only thing Philippians did for me.

This book has encouraged me to write these words today. “God and I” is the only chapter on this entire blog/book that only required ONE DRAFT. God delivered over and over again in my life.

My father ensured that my personal belongings were shipped to my new home. My mom sat at my bedside every day in hopes to dilute the loneliness. My two youngest siblings crawled into my bed to eat animal crackers and watch Disney movies. My younger sister walked me to my very first day back into work. My best friend offered me low rent in her family’s home for my first year as a one-income household. A stranger at the time - now one of my closest humans drove me 30 miles distance every day for three weeks because commuting was the only obstacle between me and a promotion. This promotion led me to meeting women who would join my tribe. I took a risky job opportunity that initiated the connection between myself and two ministers devoted to God’s people in a way that has changed my life. Went to support a friend at an MMA fight and it brought in my life a family who would take me in during a new transition. A family I am now organically a part of. Later, in a friend’s conversation about me; She calls me with the opportunity to keynote for a group of women survivors of domestic violence. I finished my very first speaking engagement and a woman holds me and says; “God sent you for me”.  All of my Jesus friends. Over the years, I have had incredible encounters with incredible people with whom I connected in impossible ways. Those people at one point or another have contributed exponentially to the forward motion of my healing.

Five years later, as I look back on my journey, I can pinpoint the times and moments in which God has been working hard for my good. He has done exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever think or imagine. From the hard days of pain and doubt, to the moment you clicked to read this chapter. I have won over and over again solely for His Glory.

Father, thank you! For you have never left me, nor have you ever forsaken me – amen!

Written by Ludwine Johnson

faith - spirituality - self-love - family - friends - self-worth - accountability - prayer - meditation - love after loss - mantra - love - God and I - God's faithfulness

Chapter Five

DATES ON A CALENDAR

 
Audio - Not A Widow's Handbook - 5

“Even having lived through a marriage like mine, I still believed it was (and it remains) important for me to recognize that each time I utter Adam’s name, I am speaking of a human being. A life created by God. Placed not only in my life, but also in the life of others. As a son, a brother, a friend and a fellow “devil dog”

I did marry my best friend –

When I spoke at that memorial, that’s what I wanted to highlight.

This was the man who taught me how to drive. Contrary to his personality, he was very patient during my learning to operate a vehicle – I knew the basics, but if I can drive backward today and if I strolled around in my hatchback on Illinois’s icy roads with my mother in the passenger seat. It is thanks to Adam.

If you walk in my home today, you will notice a few things; my bar is stocked with bourbon, beer, and Deadpool gear. Well, this "Maker’s Mark and Cherry Pepsi Ruination 2.0 Marvel loving devil dog" has taught me to appreciate those things. My love for booze and a good vigilante movie is all refined from these good moments between a husband and a wife. The list goes on. For the better part of three years, through aches and pains, our friendship lived many memorable and tender moments.

We celebrated each other’s milestones. In the heart of our hell, we made time for play and for family –

I know in many scenarios; this is why women stay. I stayed in the hope of good moments to outweigh the bad ones. With time I had to understand that, I should’ve left. I should’ve walked out before the number of bad times became larger than the good times.

Leaving with my head still held high, my self-esteem intact and the good memories in my pocket. It would have been easier to heal if all I had to forgive was the one time. The good times would have helped me get through my new bad times. Making certain days easier to celebrate– How do you celebrate a marriage anniversary when one half is gone?

Good memories make the dates on the calendar so much easier to bear.

After becoming a widow, birthdays, anniversaries and other dates crossed out on our household’s calendar became pretty heavy - My companion was no longer here and that thoughtful thing he did on the morning of that special date is gone with him. We can’t skip days; they will come back at the same time next year. So far, I have lived four birthdays and four marriage anniversaries. In my search to bring light to my life, I did not want Adam’s imprint to remain so negative. Although I did live a horrific experience that deserves light. I could tell my story with the good and the bad. I gave my heart to somebody who had the potential for ultimate greatness, I could not allow his memory to be just a laundry list of negativity. This would have only made me depressed and taken me steps back in my healing.

I had a plan –

 

I was going to celebrate Adam’s positive contribution to my life on all of the dates on the calendar. On our anniversary, because we haven’t lived more days together to be thankful for, I celebrate my name. I celebrate its meaning. Being Mrs. Johnson then is totally different from being Mrs. Johnson now.

This Mrs. Johnson is an overcomer, a soldier, and a badass chick. She does not flinch before adversity, rather she makes a point to conquer it.

Beings Mrs. Johnson now is to be a victor.

Mrs. Johnson celebrates all the dates on the calendar. This allows whatsoever things were true, whatsoever things were honest, whatsoever things were just, whatsoever things were pure, whatsoever things were lovely, whatsoever things were of good report; if there was any virtue in it, and if there was a need for praise at any time in my marriage to live on while all of the bad days fade away in the background.

Although February 10th was once the worst day of my life, on February 10th I have a glass of his favorite beer and say a prayer of thanks for the good he has done in his life. This in recognition of his life, in recognition of our friendship and in recognition of my strength and healing over the years.

I have learned that just like in our marriage, the good and bad days exist in conjunction with one another. To recognize one is the accept the other. Grieving and healing happen each calendar day, at the same time. Manifesting itself in different forms. I can do both, heal from abuse and remain thankful for the days I keep dear to my heart.

-

Written by Ludwine Johnson

good days - bad days - memories - trauma - identity - grief - emotional strength - overcoming - internal battles - life after loss

Chapter Six

"I LOVE YOU"

 
Audio - Not A Widow's Handbook - 6

2014

Dear me, 

I know this three-word phrase is a blurry concept right now. You wake up with a heavy heart and it is hard for you to take in all the love. You are unable to open texts and social media messages. They all ask: what's going on? What happened?

When you posted about Adam's passing, were you looking for love? Was it just an announcement?

Take your time to respond. I know your heart is in pain and you are uncertain about how much you even love yourself.  How can the marriage you have invested so much in end this way? 

"I love you, it's not your fault. I'm sorry" these are the very last words you would ever have heard from Adam. Now you replay his voicemails over and over again when you're in your room alone, but I know it's not the same. 

What a complicated love you two had. It's hard for a woman like you, as angry as you are, to wrap your head around how much Adam may have loved you. 

I know that you will go back and read the letter he left on your computer's desktop.  "My wife...”. I know you wish he himself believed those words enough that he would have stayed. The first man who loved you for all of what you are. Also, the man who seemed to hate you for all of what you are.

So Confusing!

It's tough, isn't it? Trying to discern love in pain, love, and pain, love from pain. Right now, it seems all the same to you. 

What a complicated love you two had. Although you feel like you have given all of your love. You look at yourself in the mirror and you wonder if you haven't said "I love you" enough. You wonder if he knew, in the trenches, how much you loved him. 

Why didn't your love save him? Now that he isn't alive to love you, will you love him forever? 

You spend so much time at work, are you afraid to love him? Is it easier if you're too busy to love him? It seems it hurts more to love him now than when he was here. It hurts so much; you aren't sure you can feel anything at all. 

"I love you" that's what everyone said when you went to Illinois. You say no way, they don't love you. Why not? Do you not feel it? Do you not see it? What do you even feel? 

You're confused, you're lost. Any chance you get you're out seeking distraction. This painful love doesn't seem to go away. 

You love Adam so much still, but how? Why?

 

And, who loves you? 

Think about it... Who loves you? 

But you can't think about it, can you? The only thing that seems probable is that they pity you. Them, all of your "loved ones". They pity you and it's so overwhelming. You doubt their love. I'll say the truth; you reject it. Why Ludwine? 

It seems you want love, the way your heart palpitates when you meet someone new. It seems you're afraid that they don't love you, or that they might hate the same things they love about you. I think you're afraid, they too might realize you aren't worth staying around for.  

But...   You know it's not your fault, right? 

I'll ask again, who loves you? There are people in your life who go above and beyond to make you happy. But you're patiently waiting for the other shoe to drop because I know you believe you aren't as great as they think. You're not even as beautiful as they say. 

You're a broken heart, broken face and broken faith. Who could ever love that? How many 24-year old widows do you know get to be loved? 

It's as though all you've done as of recent is look for validation around you and when you seem to receive it, you push it away.

Why does it hurt you? To hear "I love you"? 

2015

I'm so glad you're looking for God.

You've been taught your entire life; "God is love”. Is this what you're seeking? Love?

I feel as though your intentions may still not be right.

You haven't taken the time to appreciate the friends and family still trying to reach your heart. Rather, you're asking God to fill a gap in your life. Every verse you read; every teaching you listen to keeps telling you to see yourself as God sees you. Are you able to do that if you do not love yourself? 

You're aching to replace these self-loathing feelings with the validation from green-eyed bandits from whom you've hidden how dark it is in your world.  You believe so many horrible things about yourself.

Are you not as pretty as you say? Are you not as smart as you think? Are you not worthy of all good things as you've been taught? 

Then why do they say you are? Why do they say "I love you"? Your friends and family. In words and actions? Why do they say you're loved? 

2016

"Take ownership of your calling. Learn to see yourself as God sees you" are you ready? Are you ready to give it a try?

Forget beautiful brown curls, warm hugs, and nocturnal walks. They haven't filled this void. They haven't taught you to believe the "I love you". Give yourself a chance. 

Ludwine?  You are smart, you are valuable and you are righteous in Jesus Christ. 

F I N A L L Y!

You're learning more about how to tell yourself "I love you". You're becoming a little more selfish with your time, with your love, with your feelings. 

You're spending more time on self-evaluation and meditation. Finally, you have started to identify what love means. 

How great is this? You look in the mirror and turn from side to side, you strike a pose and you smile. You're making fewer decisions to find validation and you're making more choices that warm your heart. 

You're being kinder to yourself and slowly eliminating people and habits that left you feeling worthless and sad. 

You've even taken a risk and postulated for growth in your work life. How I'm proud of you. You're taking risks and making strides and winning every step of the way. You are more thankful for life today than I've ever seen it. 

How I love you, me! 

You're no longer ashamed and you've started to own up to your testimony. If I have to be honest, this is the best me you have ever been and I can see in your friends that they are so proud. Maybe relieved?

It's true, everyone was worried this journey would be impossible for you. But here you are speaking love into other women's hearts and feeding your soul in the process. 

2017

You're so open.

 

You've always been such a secretive, scared and very insecure person, but you have morphed. You met a boy but you're being honest and patient. With yourself! 

It's so incredible how good you feel. 

How did we get here? For every good thing, you take a moment to recognize where love for yourself has brought you.

To be in such a good place, to wake up in a home that's saturated with love. With people who want nothing else but to make everything easier for you. You have blossomed. In all places, you walk in exuding confidence that even you are impressed by. You get to spend time with a man who is patiently waiting for you to open your heart to him as he's opened his to you. Emotionally, Spiritually, Financially, socially you have reached a place of peace. 

How full is your heart!

2018

Finally, it is easy for you to love. You're so full of love you're seeking to give it back. You're seeking to Glorify God and to share all of your light with the world around you. 

"I love you" is so powerful, isn't it? Something that seemed like a weapon raised against you. You have taken and turned into medicine. It has mended your heart. It has healed your soul and elevated your self-esteem. It's made you fearless.

Love has empowered you to turn what seemed the testimony of a martyr into the success story of a victorious woman. 

How invincible you are. 

Dear me, I love you!

Written by Ludwine Johnson

self-love - love after a loss - grieving your old self - grieving my abuser - coming back to life - healing - self-care - love - the power of love - love yourself - a love letter to myself 

Chapter Seven

W I D O W

 
Audio - Not A Widows's Handbook - 7

A widow once told me: it gets better!

Although that is a true statement, you just read through a roller coaster of emotions that tell you that I wasn’t always sure of it.

I walked into Widowhood shaking in my boots.

Where I am from, widows have a very specific set of rules and regulations – it is tradition for them to mourn for a certain amount of time, dress a certain way and "behave as a widow". The mere thought of that made me very anxious.

As a wife I knew my role. When I woke up in the morning or when I walked into a room. I knew what that role entailed.

However, as a widow I did not know where I stood. That meant something different depending on where I was and whom I spoke with. Especially that folks around me often had expectations that I wasn’t always willing to live up to.

In the professional world: it was almost never an issue. It was my own little secret. When I walked in to work, the only words that defined me were my job titles, my drive and my commitment to excellence. Outside of filling out a tax form, work was the only place that being a widow didn’t trump everything else that I was.

In my financial life: it was complicated. Life as I knew it truly shifted. I was reduced to a very modest life. I had invested all I had into being a wife. Even in the storm that was my marriage, I never once imagined this transition. As next of kin, I watched the bills pile up and I had two choices; sinking into depression or ignoring it until I was in a position tackle it. The ladder sounded like a wonderful idea at the time, but since, I have learned – do not let that stuff take the back burner. Although today I know to take it all one day at a time, one charge at a time. I do wish I was given that advice earlier on my journey.

In my friendships: I really benefited from friendship with people whom I had not shared my story with. For all of the sad days, those friends were my semblance of normalcy. On the harder days, I was never more thankful for my friends who knew. I could always count on them to show up with more love than required. I have learned that your friends (and family) will always want to say the right thing to get you out of a funk. Although their presence and time were my only medicine, I wanted to always remind them that I see their hearts. Whether or not I could receive it, I could see it.

In my family: we all had to learn to redefine what it meant to be a widow. I was never willing to stop and allow myself to sink into sorrow. So, the rules and expectations were never welcomed. I understand now that it was their own way of seeking normalcy and to protect me from further emotional harm. It was a clash of generations. We were all trying to grasp a concept that none of us could. A parent never really prepares to see their young child lose a significant other. So, as everyone in my family tried to figure it all out, I chose to apprehend it all on my own terms.

There wasn’t one easy moment. There were easier moments but most importantly there were victories. Setting specific goals to achieve and making it happen were my joys. There was always a little pinch. I always wished Adam and I had separately moved on and had the opportunity to be happy for one another. However, I knew, wearing his last name I had the ability to give "Ludwine Johnson" positive meaning by kicking ass and taking names.

Being a widow is trying but it is not impossible.

Even this is something you can do on your own terms and be great at it.

Written by Ludwine Johnson

widow - widower - on your own terms - identity - individuality - testimony - grief - success - overcoming - self-love - safe space - healing