Facing down a ‘widow fear stage’

If you’ve ever raised a dog from puppyhood, you know that puppies go through natural “fear stages” in which normal things that never bothered them before suddenly scare them into odd responses such as cowering or hiding.

It could be noises or sudden movements or people that trigger the fear response. Or something as simple as going up or down stairs or entering a vehicle. It seems to happen all of a sudden, stay a little while and then leave as quickly as it comes.

As the dog owner, you try to keep the pup’s routine as normal as possible and not acknowledge the fear. Acknowledging it affirms for the dog that its fear response is correct, and then you have a REAL fear problem.


Quincy at 8-9 weeks old for his first visit to my veterinarian.


I think it’s similar in widowhood. Since my husband Jim died from pancreatic cancer in December 2010, I can be going along with all of the confidence in the world, and then suddenly everything feels topsy turvy. I may not be able to name my “fear”, but I feel its effects. It manifests itself as a kind of skittishness and uncertainty.

Routines and elements of my life I was totally comfortable with the day before can seem daunting the next day for no apparent reason. It makes me feel out of sync, not in control, like I’m being swept along by life’s swift waters with no clear destination in sight and afraid to look toward my future.

Maybe it’s the changing seasons, or the light fading into winter’s slumber, or the looming need for new tires for my van, or changes to my duties at work, or feeling overwhelmed by all that has to be done in and to my old farmhouse.

Or maybe it’s because some days I simply feel all alone, even though I am surrounded by loving friends and family and four Brittany dogs. I think everyone has those days, but I know mine are related to missing my husband.

Jim and I really enjoyed the fall season. As hunters and people who loved the outdoors in general, fall is the best time of year.

But it’s not only that because I really relish the thought of the hours I will spend tramping through woods and fields with my hunting dogs and my shotgun, seeking Maine’s wild game birds.

It could be that my schedule is slowing down dramatically after a very hectic spring and summer of dog events and family life events — like my daughter’s wedding — and my fatigue is catching up with me. Or that there is a disturbance in my household’s routine because my youngest Brittany dog Quincy is away from home working on his field skills with my friend and his co-owner.

Or that it soon will be time to clean out my little salad garden that I have loved so much this summer.

Regardless of the cause, I seem to be going through a “fear” phase of sorts. Every little thing triggers a reaction, and I don’t feel a sense of control over my life or my environment. I want to step back from everything, kind of like an introverted response, but know I cannot. I don’t talk with friends or family about it because I don’t want to give it credence — to reinforce my fears, if that’s what they are.

I want the skittish feelings to go away.

I see this situation for what it is and I’m sure it’s temporary. And it may be just a normal human condition of life’s ups and downs, but I think widowhood intensifies its effects on me. Widowhood makes a person feel like he or she is on precarious ground anyway. Add a “fear stage” and you have a very unsettling combination.

In the meantime, I am trying to keep my routines as familiar as possible, and am waiting to wake up one morning and find that I am back in control, as much as one can be anyway. Just as the puppy’s fear stage phases out, I am sure this will fade away for me too and I soon will tackle my life with total confidence again.



Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.