There are so many falsities when it comes to being a widow, so many myths and stereotypes, especially when widowhood comes at a relatively young age. I would like to take a moment to set the record straight on a few things.
First, lets review some facts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Census, based on the 2010 census that was conducted:
- There are over 13 million widows in the United States.
- Over 700,000 are widows join the ranks of the exclusive club each year
- Would it shock you to know that the average age for a widow is only 55? Meaning that half or 350,000 widows are younger than 55.
- The average widow lives 14 years longer than her deceased husband
Those are the facts, the varitable truths, if you will. Now lets examine some of the falsehoods:
- You don’t look like a widow. As we can see above, not all widows are elderly grandparents. Widows, according to the 2010 Census, come in almost all age groups, with the youngest not even 18 years of age. So put away the image you have in your head of grandma, dressed in black, and taking over their grown-child’s guest room.
- You don’t really fit in to our friend group anymore. Widows lost a husband, not who they are… If your kids are the same ages, with the same interests, …that hasn’t changed. If you had shared hobbies and activities before, you probably still have them now. Isn’t this myth more about the person who believes it than the widow themselves? What is fueling this belief, is it feelings of awkwardness and insecurity on the part of the believer?
- I am sure that she doesn’t want to be around us, we probably make her sad. You know what, in the early days, this may (or may not) be accurate, HOWEVER, don’t you think the widow should be able to make this decision for herself? The last thing she needs is someone telling her how she feels or how she should feel. A friend would offer and not take offense if the offer is declined…and do not stop trying.
- Just because my husband is dead and yours is alive doesn’t mean I want your husband. This one goes hand in hand with the insecurity of #2. If you have a friend, who also happens to be a widow, this does not mean she wants to steal your man! Don’t assume she is on the prowl and has her eyes set on a married man, or specifically your man.
- And on a similar note, she is seeing someone new, dating, or remarried, so she must be over it. I cannot stress enough that while time helps you to learn to live with the grief when you lose a loved one, it never goes away. It is always there, like a chronic or incurable disease. (Fun fact: widowers are 10 times more likely to remarry than widows)
- She is constantly looking for attention and sympathy, it has been so long, she should just stop milking it and snap out of it already. Again, no matter how long it has been, 6 weeks, 6 months, 6 years and beyond, she will never just “snap out of it” as this is not something you “get over”, it is the gift that keeps giving forever. You don’t recover, you learn to live again, only this time WITH the grief.
It is healthy to talk about someone who has passed, rather than avoid it as if it never happened. Bottling up emotions to appease the selfish few that are bothered by this would be unhealthy and counterproductive. This especially hold true for widows that are younger with children, they carry not only their own grief, but they hold the responsibility as beacons for their grieving children as well. Navigating grief is hard enough on its own, but then you pile on other people and the whole thing just snowballs into a giant mess of complication. I cannot speak for every widow, nor every circumstance, but I can assuredly state that their main focus is not to steal someone else’s husband, and I know it hurts them to think that their friends would reject them with thoughts of competition or because of their own insecure and uncomfortable feelings. I know everyone involved, including the widow, would like to go back to relationships the way they were before dynamics changed, but unfortunately that is unrealistic and irrational thinking.
My advice today would be for the friends and family of the grieving.
- Be in tune with you own emotions. If you are feeling insecure in anyway, look in the mirror first, you will probably find this is coming from within you rather than from anything your friend is doing. Your widow friend is wrapped up in her own world right now and probably not a threat.
- Just because she is in a new relationship doesn’t mean the old one never existed. Be respectful and do not judge. If in doubt, ask her.
- If you feel uncomfortable because her Facebook posts mention her late husband, then scroll on past them. She may need to express her feelings, and share a memory or two or a hundred. She may be preserving these for her children, or maybe just for her own peace.
- Remember that this is not a divorce situation, this was a death. There is a HUGE difference between the two.
- Don’t give up. Be supportive, no matter what. Be the one with the thick skin, absorbing the rejection instead of forcing that role on the widow.
I know it is “easier said than done” when I tell you to keep it more about the widow and less about yourself. Put your own feelings aside before you judge, or better yet, just don’t judge at all…be supportive.
For more information on the myths of widowhood, here is a link to a great article. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/widow-myths-lies-other-fallacies_b_58e794aee4b06f8c18beead8
For statistics on widows in the U.S. please see https://www.census.gov/