The Next Phase of the Grief Journey – Life in Year Three – Hope for Widows website

Imagine you’re driving in your car, enjoying the scenery. It’s a beautiful sunny day and you’ve been looking forward to this trip. You’re happy about being halfway to your destination and singing along with the radio, when – suddenly – the car next to you swerves in front of you and slams on the brakes. You slam on your brakes, try to avoid hitting the car and swerve off the road. You’re fine. The car is fine. But the serenity is gone. The dreamy quality of your nice soothing drive has been interrupted and it takes quite a while to get back to a calm state. The whole experience is jarring, puts a whole new perspective on the drive and on life. You realize how fleeting happiness is, how close to death we are at any second, how one second everything is great and the next it’s not.

That’s life a couple of years into widowhood.

I’ve gotten to the place I never thought possible. I go for days now not thinking about Rick. Two and a half years – that’s what it took. Two and a half years after a twenty year marriage, and I no longer think constantly about the man who was my whole life. I’m driving along a new road now. I’m looking towards the future with hope and happiness. I feel serene and sometimes even excited about this new journey. And – although the ride is sometimes bumpy – most of the time it’s smooth sailing. And then suddenly it’s not.

It could be a trigger word, or a favorite place, or a photo – or nothing at all, that brings up a memory. My friend’s dad is in the hospital. My friend told me he has a low hemoglobin count. Hemoglobin, there’s a trigger word. It immediately brought back a rush of painful memories. I felt the desperation of watching Rick suffer through chemo treatments and shots and radiation treatments. The word hemoglobin triggers memories of Rick with the IV drips, smiling across from me so bravely, ashen gray and sickly. Hours of hoping and watching as he sat silently playing with his phone – or joking with nurses and attendants. All in vain. One word brought back statistics and sadness, learning about how many ways things could go wrong, hoping things would be normal again. And finally things were. He was in remission. But normal only lasted a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks and then everything that could go wrong went wrong and normal never happened again, and he was gone.

Read the blog here. 

About the author

Katherine Billings Palmer is a technical writer, poet, and essayist from Garden City, Michigan. She’s won several academic writing awards, including first place in the University of Michigan Dearborn Critical Essay Contest for her work about poet John Donne: “‘The Sun Rising’: A Lover’s Boast.”

In 2017, Katherine’s husband, Rick, died of complications from small cell lung cancer. She wrote a series of poems and essays about her struggles to cope with her grief. I Wanted to Grow Old With You is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Her latest book, A Widow’s Words: Grief, Reflection, Prose, and Poetry – The First Year was published in January 2019 and is also available on

Katherine is a guest blogger for the Hope for Widows Foundation and writes about her grief journey at

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