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Widowhood: Surviving to Thriving

A little over five years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom with a small but thriving craft business. My husband was living his dream as the commanding officer of the Second Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. Our oldest (and only son) was about to graduate from high school; he had recently been accepted to the Royal Military College of Canada, and his Dad couldn’t have been any prouder.

In fact, he’d uncharacteristically told everyone that his boy was going to RMC, or as he put it, “It was like we won the lottery.” And in a way, we had. Life was good. But then, in one life-shattering moment, it wasn’t.Shortly after he deployed to Wainwright on exercise, Dan’s LAV III rolled over, crushing him in the turret.

Lt. Col. Dan Bobbit was living his dream as the commanding officer of the Second Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.

Without warning or time to prepare, I suddenly found myself a forty-three-year-old widowed mother of three teenage children. I had no idea how I was going to support my children, where we were going to live, what I was going to do with my life. I didn’t even know who I was anymore.

I woke up that day a wife and I went to bed that night a widow: lost, frightened, and full of uncertainty. I was, as Veterans Affairs Canada now deems me, a Survivor: “A person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.”

When Dan died, I grieved not just the death of the man I had loved since I was eighteen years old, but also the relationship we’d had and the future we had planned that was now lost. I also grieved the loss of my role as his wife. For almost twenty-one years, I’d been a military spouse. And suddenly, I wasn’t. Military widowhood is like forced early retirement.

I was the person remaining, but I hardly felt alive. In fact, for weeks, I felt nothing but complete numbness. I was shattered, trapped in a black void. And I had absolutely no idea how to find my way through it. As I lay there in the darkness, under the pile of the broken pieces of my life, I realized that no one was going to come and save me. No one could rescue me or fix my life. Except me. I needed to get up and be my own hero. I had to learn how to be a widow.

How does one even learn how to become a widow? It certainly wasn’t something I’d envisioned myself being at forty-three. I’d naively thought that if and when I was widowed, I’d be much older, perhaps in the twilight years of my life. And somehow, it would be easier then. But of course, it’s not any easier being a widow at seventy-three than it is at forty-three. It’s just different.

Widowhood is a lonely, solitary journey. There are no rulebooks on how to be a widow or how to move forward with your life after loss. It’s up to each of us to decide which route is best for us.

When Dan died, I grieved not just the death of the man I had loved since I was eighteen years old, but also the relationship we’d had and the future we had planned that was now lost. I also grieved the loss of my role as his wife. For almost twenty-one years, I’d been a military spouse. And suddenly, I wasn’t. Military widowhood is like forced early retirement.

Most people have years to plan their retirement with their partner, and even then, the transition from military life to a civilian one is often difficult. But it is even harder when death forces retirement on you. When you are widowed, you aren’t just forced into a new role of a widow; you are forced to make the transition from military life to civilian life completely on your own.

When I was first widowed, I felt so much pressure to conform to the role of a widow, as if I was supposed to act and feel a certain way for the rest of my life. But I knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my life as Lieutenant Colonel Dan Bobbitt’s widow. Of course, I will always be Dan’s widow, but that is not WHO I am, and it’s certainly not WHAT I do. I am so much more than what I have lost. I am not just Dan’s widow, as I was not just Dan’s wife. I am not what happened to me.

Widowhood forced me to evaluate not just my life, but who I am fundamentally as a person. I have gotten to know myself really well over the last few years. I have a lot more wrinkles than I did at forty-three and my hair colour is now (a well-disguised) natural grey. I’ve been skinnier in my life, but I’ve never been fitter.

Widowhood forced me to evaluate not just my life, but who I am fundamentally as a person. I have gotten to know myself really well over the last few years.

In fact, I am emotionally, mentally, and physically healthier than I ever was when Dan was alive. Ironically, the best version of me was born from my husband’s death. It took me a long time to reconcile that with myself. Inside, I’m still Monica, but I’m a different version of her than I was five years ago. This Monica knows all too well that life can change in one tragic moment, and so she no longer takes anything for granted. This one is more grateful and more compassionate. This Monica is much more self-assured and confident. And she is so proud of the woman she has become.

Learning to become a widow is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and yet it has taught me the most important lessons. Death truly is life’s greatest teacher. Death challenged me in every way possible. It took away everything I believed in and forced me to confront my worst fears. And yet, death made me who I am today. It made me appreciate each and every moment. It has shown me the power of vulnerability and the importance of gratitude. It has made me love more fiercely than I ever thought possible. And death has made me wiser. Death broke me and then made me resilient and stronger than I ever thought I could be.

My worth and my belonging are not defined by my marital status. I am not a label or a box to check on a form. I am not just a widow; I am who I have chosen to become.

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Monica Bobbit

Monica was a military spouse for almost 21 years, until her husband was tragically killed in a LAV rollover during Ex Maple Resolve at CFB Wainwright in May 2014. Monica writes about her experiences as a military wife and widow in her blog, A Goat Rodeo, where she openly and honestly discusses what it's really like to be widowed and shares the wisdom she has learned as she continues to move forward with her life. She also shares her story with military members and their families at speaking events across the country.

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