I Became a Widow At 32, and This Is How I'm Learning To Heal and Live Without My Husband

Writer Amy Elisa Jackson opens up for the first time about the sudden death of her husband and how she’s finding the will to live without him and honor his legacy.
Amy Elisa Jackson Nov, 06, 2018

If God could take him away so suddenly, so fast, and that wasn’t supposed to happen, then he could bring him back, right? It’s not impossible.

These are the thoughts that run through my mind on a regular basis. Like, weekly. Sure, there are moments when my husband Jeremiah’s death isn’t on my mind or when my own death is weighing heavily on my heart, but it’s mostly just my own voice echoing, “Come back. Just come back.”

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It has been 1,016 days since my husband, Jeremiah Lee Jackson, died unexpectedly in Park City, Utah. With college friends screening movies at Sundance, he boarded a shuttle to head back to their rental house and then… that was it.

Seven hundred and fifty six miles away, a female Oakland police officer awakened me with the gut-wrenching news. I immediately called Jeremiah’s sister urging her to come over, not telling her why. Honestly, I couldn’t trust that through my NyQuil haze I had heard this officer right.

His loss wasn’t just mine. It was his parents’, his siblings’, his best friends from Paso Robles’, the 1-8-1-6, Stanford, Harvard, Wells Fargo. Jeremiah was beloved.

That night, I had a responsibility to them. So I began dialing. First his parents. Telling them that their first-born had died was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Then his brother, and his baby brother. Then I started down the line of groomsmen.

“Why? How? What happened?” were the questions that I received. And I didn’t have answers. I don’t know that I’ll ever have an answer that feels quite right. The sudden death of a 34-year-old husband, son, and brother isn’t right.

Ultimately, his heart — too big and too irregular for its own good — had simply given out. There’s nothing we could have done.

Ever since, I wear my ring and my wounds with an equal measure of pride. I am both a wife and a widow. On most days, the wife in me smothers the widow. When people I don’t know compliment my wedding ring, with ease and without hesitation I say, “My husband, Jeremiah, and I met while we were both at Stanford University, except back then he said I was too bourgeois and too skinny. He was too light skinned for my taste. But years later we reconnected, and feel in love. He browned up a bit and my bourgeois attitude were a turn on for him.” I laugh. We laugh. I’m telling the truth, even if I’m relaying an alternate reality where the past is the present. After all, it’s not impossible, right?

It doesn’t feel like nearly three years have passed since I last kissed his freckled face. Sometimes it feels like three days. Time is an accordion, stretching and compressing. Here are a few other things that I’ve learned from navigating an incredible loss:

Protecting and fulfilling someone’s legacy is one of the most difficult yet rewarding experiences I’ve had.
From sending notes with old photos to friends, to protecting his email, finances and social media from those with ill intent, I began to take Jeremiah’s legacy very seriously from day one. It was like I vowed this to him on that 92-degree day in August before we said “in sickness and in health.” I have carried his legacy like the Olympic torch, never letting my arm slack or lower. And it hasn’t been easy, but it has, and continues to be, an honor.

A grief therapist and a prescription aren’t crutches — they’re life preservers.
I didn’t see a therapist until my fertility doctor suggested it. My bi-weekly appointments were essential to focusing on myself and my grief with the same diligence as I placed on making sure Jeremiah’s family was cared for. I was lucky enough to find a therapist who specialized in grief and had gone through her own significant loss. We met as often or as little as I could handle. And when I couldn’t see the light, she suggested medication — an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety medication. She said, “Your feelings of hopelessness and or wanting to end your life are real. I won’t deny that. But the depression is making you feel like those are the only feelings. You need help seeing clearer; medication will help you see clearer.” And they have. I still have dark feelings, but I have the ability to see the laughter and joy and love, too.

No one really understands, so I don’t expect them to.
I’ve been blessed with a family who understands that they can never understand. My parents know the limits of their empathy and know that their minds cannot possibly understand what it is to endure this type of loss. I never had to shout “you don’t understand” in a fit of widow’s rage. They sent love, support, money and prayers when I drove to Mexico to escape, when I began IVF alone, when I bought a dream house because it’s the one Jeremiah and I would have wanted. They forced a smile when they wanted to cry. They let me be, when they wanted to hold me tight.

Do you, no matter what your friends or waistline say.
Sometimes I wish I was one of those people who was so grief stricken that I couldn’t eat. Too sad to move. But, nope. That’s not me at all. I’m eating all of my feelings. There’s not a dim sum restaurant in the Bay I haven’t hit. Instacart auto-populates my grocery delivery order. And, I should buy stock in Yellowtail red wine. I’ve gained 26 lbs. in grief and it’s not cute, but it hasn’t become unhealthy. So I’ve just got to do me. Friends suggest pilates, self-actualization classes and books that “my girlfriend said really helped her out.” Folks mean well, but it’s not my thing. A bowl of ramen, a pound or two of fresh crab legs, a coffee-rubbed rack of lamb, those are my things.

I hope God understands that I needed to take a break.
I’ve always been a third-pew Christian. My whole life, the 8 a.m. worship service always filled my soul and my spirit, kept me grounded when life got crazy. However, Jesus and I are on the outs, right now, and I pray for his understanding. I hope he understands that I am having a hard time understanding how he could make a man as beautiful and as perfect as Jeremiah, how he could make a plan so clear as our marriage, only to take both away in one night. I don’t understand. I’ve tried going to church since Jeremiah’s passing, but I burst into tears, nearly whaling, when I hear “Precious Lord” or “Farther Along.” I pray God is patient with me.

I don’t want life after loss. Not yet.
Call me petulant or stubborn, or perhaps I am Jennifer Hudson in the famous “I’m not going” scene from Dreamgirls, but I’m not ready to move on. And I’m fine with that. No one else has to be. People ask me all the time if I’ll move back to my hometown of L.A. or they ask me why I’m still in the Bay. I’m in the Bay Area because it’s my home, it’s our home. I feel close to Jeremiah here. This is where we built our life. I see him in so many places, on so many corners, in restaurants, in neighborhoods, in bars, on basketball courts, on streets we used to walk, on BART stops we would frequent, in parks we kissed in, in apartments where we made promises and pots of chili, in Ubers and Munis and arenas and taquerias and tailgates and farmers markets, with friends who became family who then became legacy holders. I am here because we were here because he is here. From Lake Merritt to North Beach, the Farm to the Fillmore, this will always be the capital of the state of Jeremiah & Amy.

Amy Elisa Jackson is the Editorial Director for Glassdoor. The Los Angeles native is 35 years old and hoping to give birth to her first child with her husband, Jeremiah, in 2019.