Let's not avoid the elephant in the room.

By elephant, I mean COVID 19, or more commonly know as the Coronavirus. Our news feeds and social media feeds are filled with updates, dos, and don’ts. As much as I hate to add to mix, I would also hate to ignore the crisis we find ourselves in and express how this may or may not relate to widows and widowers in our communities.

I am a member of several online groups tailored to those who have lost a spouse. There are common threads that I am seeing as we move through this pandemic. People are scared. People are in a state of flux. Now when I look at the widow/widower community I see men and women reaching out to each other for emotional support. This is very likely the first big crisis they are exposed to as a single. Many relied on their life-partners to help them get through crisis situations. They are now finding themselves quarantined alone or taking care of families without a spouse. They are overly cautious and keenly aware that should something happen to them, there is not someone else there to help them out, offer guidance, support, and if needed run to the store without kids in tow. God forbid they get sick. Many are becoming hypervigilant. One thing is for certain, most are not strangers to isolation. However isolation by choice is much different than isolation by mandate or suggestion of social distancing.

I am in no way an expert on widowhood, I am just a drafted member of the club, who has chosen to share experiences, ideas, and observations. My hope is to enlighten people who are fortunate enough not to be initiated into this secret society. Please take my words for what they are, just my words.

Please stay home, stay safe, and stay healthy.

Widows can be ROCK STARS

This is a fact. Widows (and widowers) can be and are ROCK STARS! They may not always feel like it, and in fact, they probably NEVER feel like it, but they are indeed superstars!

Widows are not strong by choice, they are strong by circumstance. They are stronger than they think. And maybe you know someone that needs this reminder. A widow makes a choice, to fight and persevere everyday with an almost unbearable weight to be carried. They carry the grief of the loss of their loved one, plus they grieve the life they had, and the person they once were. Yet life continues to move forward, in spite of the changes. Friends and family pause, but eventually move on with their own lives (rightfully so), and the widow is left to trudge through each day forging a new world. Everything is new and different. They do all this while grieving… this feat can only be accomplished with superpowers.

Does everything get accomplished perfectly? Of course not! Is every deadline at work met? Nope! Are there opportunities to volunteer at your child’s school that get missed? Certainly! Widows are not perfect beings, but what they are should be admired. There are periods in everyone’s lives where they are expected to rebuild, but those with the widow membership do this while dealing with unbearable heartbreak, trudging forward, as if alongside themselves, separated from the life they are actually living.

This is a Plan B they actually didn’t plan for, but they are making Plan B work!

More about the widow, less about you

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:

  1. There are over 13 million widows in the United States.
  2. Over 700,000 are widows join the ranks of the exclusive club each year
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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)
  6. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Remember that this is not a divorce situation, this was a death. There is a HUGE difference between the two.
  5. 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/

Don’t call me, I’ll text you later…

Ambivert, introvert, antisocial, … whatever, keep your social expectations for me set at low and we will get along just fine.

I have ALWAYS been lacking in the patience department, that has not changed since my husband’s passing.  If anything, my pool of patience has shallowed.  I don’t have time nor energy for idle chit-chat.  And now, more than ever, I despise the phone.  Sure, it is a necessary tool for work, but outside of that, I don’t really want to pick up the phone for socializing if I don’t have to.  I am sure this offends some people in my life, I know there are friends that probably take it personally when they reach my voicemail over and over again.  Now I am not going to say that I NEVER talk to friends and family on the phone.  There are a select few with whom I catch up with now and again.  My mother of course, a cousin, and perhaps a friend or two from high school.  For the most part, when it comes to phone calls, I am on “radio silent.”  Call it being antisocial, call it being introverted, or don’t give it a label at all.

I don’t just abhor phone conversations, social gatherings like parties and groups are not immune to my avoidance.  I don’t loathe these quite as much, but to be honest, they are hard to handle.  I literally need time to mentally prepare for such an event, even if it is just meeting a friend for lunch, and YES, even if it is something I am excitedly looking forward to. And conversely, I also need time afterward to decompress and relax.  I need my alone time.  I treasure my alone time.  Even if I thoroughly enjoy my socializing and have the absolute best time, I am typically exhausted and drained once it is over.

From what I have read, I would be classified more as an ambivert than an introvert.  An ambivert enjoys alone time, but can also enjoy being around others.  They can be outgoing in the right context, they have the flexibility to work both alone and in teams, and have the ability to process outloud and internally.  So there!  I can be a jack of all trades…. I just prefer it not to be on the phone.  LOL

(If you want more information on Amivert, Introvert, Extrovert, you can click here)

I have a huge “thank you” to shout out to my friends. They have stood by me through all my changes. Through my ebbs and flows, through my periods of isolation. (Which tend to be many) They understand that I can be antisocial, and introverted. They get that I am no longer a chat on the phone type of person. Text me if you want to catch up, or just check on me. That is typically the best method to reach me.

*This post is dedicated to my family and friends that put up with my crap.

Everyone says that in hard times you find out who your true friends really are. I somewhat disagree with this statement. Friends differ in how they support you. Some friends may shy away, but not because they don’t care, moreso because they don’t know what to do or how to help. Most friends are still there, waiting in the wings for some direction. Friends can fade in and out of your life. Treasure all your friends.

A Bittersweet Valentine

It’s February 14th!  The day for love, the month with Valentine’s Day.  While Valentine’s Day means something different to me than most (it is the day my husband passed away), it is a day to celebrate love none-the-less.

There are no mushy cards, there are no balloons and chocolates, no fancy dates, and no sappy love songs.  My daughter and I choose to celebrate this day, not in the typical fashion, but as a day to honor her father.  This was the day he passed, 8 years ago.  We celebrate by enjoying some good food and fond memories.

We have lived the past 8 years without B.  But we have really not lived the past 8 years without B.  He is still with us, he is around for everything we do, for all our accomplishments and all our struggles.  He is there.  He is here.  He is everywhere.

Honestly, we do not just keep him in in our hearts and minds today, his birthday, and holidays, but all days.  We are not shy about remembering.  I want A to know her father and to remember him always, therefore we talk about him and I teach her about him.  He is something we will continue to share throughout her life.  While he cannot physically be here for her milestones, he can and will be here in spirit.

Love after loss is complicated

Continuing with the February love theme, I will be addressing “love after loss” all month.

When I first became a widow, like many before me, and many after me, I was resolved in my statement, “I will never fall in love again, I will never re-marry.” And guess what? I meant it. I did not want to go through the loss again. I did not want to trust, or love, or have my heart broken. I was going to live out my years alone and make myself fine with it. (Keep in mind, I was only 41 at the time)

That just goes to show you how truly messed up your brain is when in the throws of deep grief. I look back now and think, how absurd it is to think that I would want to be alone for the next 50 years. What was I thinking?

But that line of thought did not last long. It was around the 9-month mark that the loneliness set in. The need for companionship. Not necessarily love, because I was still not interested in love. But dating and friendship, yes. I did not enjoy the solitary life. A life where my social existence was entangled with my daughter’s. Her activities and her friend’s parents. Or me surrounded by other couples as the third wheel, fifth wheel, always the odd one out.

I wasn’t looking for love…but it found me.

Let me just tell you. Life is messy. (I have said it before, I will say it now, and I will surely continue to say it in the future) As time goes by, as more of your life has past, relationships get so much more complex. It is not easy. It will never be easy again. I have lots of baggage…a daughter, an established career, a mortgage, an intricate and diverse life. And now, to top all that off, enter a suitor…A man that also has baggage, past relationships, perhaps children, a career of his own…do you see where I am going with all this. Complexities.

To complicate things further, let’s toss in some emotional baggage. Trust issues, hurt, abandonment, PTSD, anxiety, stress, anger…

And now, the piece de resistance, GRIEF! This is a recipe for disaster…

but as with all complex situations, if you survive, you reap great reward!

There are many mistakes to be made along the way. Proceed with caution and lots of introspection.

  1. Never say never
  2. Be sure you are entering a new endeavor honestly and not to avoid your pain
  3. Don’t have heavy expectations
  4. Be flexible
  5. Do the next right thing
  1. Never say never. Life after loss is full of change. New relationships are no exception. Be open to the change, “embrace the chaos.” Be open not only to new romantic love, but to new friendships.
  2. Be sure you are entering a new endeavor honestly and not to avoid your pain. You will not be able to avoid the pain of grieving. You may be able to postpone the pain (through self-medication, avoidance, filling the void with outside relationships and activities), but it can and WILL most definitely catch up with you. Dealing with your pain and grief as it happens naturally is much healthier than having it hit you upside the head like a brick later, and what would most certainly be with the worst possible timing.
  3. Don’t have heavy expectations. Don’t enter new relationships (romantic, companion, friend) with loads of expectations. Don’t go in putting pressure on the situation, just relax and enjoy the other person or people.
  4. Be flexible. New relationships are just that, they are NEW. They will be different than your past relationships and will require learning and compromise, they will require you to be flexible and willing to perhaps change your mindset. They will be DIFFERENT. Enjoy the change.
  5. Do the next right thing. This is something I have said before. Take things one step at a time, and with each next step, carefully consider what the next right move will be…and do that. Do not move too quickly for yourself (you know you better than anyone, so don’t let others pressure into their ideas of what you should be doing or when you should be doing it).

Entering any new relationship is scary. And after the death of a spouse, it is much more complicated. I am still trying to traverse this love expedition, I am not an expert and I cannot in all honesty say that my relationship will survive, there are no guarantees. I am speaking from my own experience so you can throw it away with the bath water, or listen to my pitfalls and navigate them successfully for yourself. But whatever you do, don’t be afraid to love, without it life would be empty, or shallow at best.

“Can you believe she is dating so soon after her husband passed?”

February is here!  Love is in the air, or so the retail world will have you believe.  This is the perfect time to address the taboo subject for widows/widowers.  When is “too soon”?

“Psst…Can you believe she is dating so soon after her husband passed? I mean really, it has only been a year?”

Why is it that, what seems like, the entire world gets to weigh in on when the appropriate time is for a widow or widower to re-engage their love life?  In my experience, everyone in my life had their own ideas on when the appropriate time to for me date would be.  And honestly, they are entitled to their opinion, but not to their judgement, or scrutiny, or to butting in without solicitation.  I get it, everyone thinks they have your best interest in mind, but how do they even know what my best interest is?

Short answer:  They don’t!

No one has ever walked in my same exact shoes, and therefore, no one but God gets to judge.  Everyone has their own timeline, and everyone understands what their own timeline is, and can assess for themselves.

Hear this:  You can absolutely grieve your spouse and fall in love with someone new at the same time!

Grief is very complicated and excruciating, however, it is not exclusive. Life is messy! It would be great if you could tie things up with a little bow and be done with it, moving on to the next phase, but life does not work that way! You can move through life in multiple phases at the same time. Is it easy? NO, but life rarely is.

Moving forward with someone new, while still grieving, is a difficult and multifaceted task, but that is how I roll…The more complicated and twisted the path, the more likely it is that I will travel on it. I cannot speak for all widows/widowers, but I can share my experience. I did not go out searching for new love. What I did want was companionship, a plus one to events and gatherings. I was tired of avoiding social gatherings and such because I felt awkward around couples and wanted someone to be able to see a movie with or share an adult conversation with at dinner. Love kind of found me, at the most awkward and inconvenient time (but isn’t that usually the case?).

Looking back on it now, I feel sorry for my current husband, to have had to share me with my grief. To have watched as I navigated down a windy path alone, unable to really understand or offer me much assistance. There must have been, and probably still are, times of jealously. It has to be hard, because although my relationship with my late husband was far from perfect, my marriage did not end in a breakup like most relationships that end do. The animosity that usually accompanies the end of a marriage was different in my case. And I do believe that this has caused tension or strain on our new relationship.

I have had to spend much of our relationship learning and forging the “new me.” I have been strengthened by my experiences, and the chaos that surrounds the process is something that can be challenging during a new relationship. Trust levels within me have changed, because like it or not, when my spouse died, I lost a little of that ability to trust. I became much more independent and at that point, I became a survivor. Because of my husband’s passing, I have hardened myself, in that I can do most everything on my own. I do not need to rely on a spouse to survive, which is a comfort and an asset, but also can be a hindrance to a partnership. And what is a new spouse to do with that?…I am sure it is frustrating.

Finding a love again is messier than it was the first time, but still rewarding. Still exciting when it happens. And by all means…still possible!!!

When is a person ready for love. Who knows? There is no set timeline, and I wish people, especially those that have never had to lose a spouse, would reserve their judgement and simply be supportive. Remove the stigma that attaches itself to widows and let them mourn and love in their own time.

Grief never really goes away, and neither does the ability to love, or the ability to love through grief!

An unwanted milestone…

As I write this, it is January 28th.  My beautiful and talented daughter is celebrating her 16th birthday.  This means more than just a Sweet 16, or the age she earns her driver’s license, this year marks 8 years since she lost her father.  She has officially been without him for half of her life.  It saddens me to think of it, but true none-the-less.  So with that said, in honor of his memory and as a tribute to my sweet, insightful, and intelligent daughter, I am going to publish a letter that she wrote her father when he passed, and that the pastor read during the funeral:

A letter to my Daddy                                                                             February 16, 2012

It seems like just yesterday when you and I were teaching Marley and Puck tricks. I’ll never forget that day.  I’m glad that you chose Valentine’s Day to die.  That way every Valentine’s Day we’ll all remember how much you loved us and we loved you. Now forever and ever you’ll live in our hearts.

Love,

Your Daughter A

P.S. Mommy said that she’ll learn to like Phineas and Ferb, your favorite show!

Happy Birthday to my beautiful little girl!  You are very special and should be celebrated today and everyday!

 

 

Grief Group – not just a cry-fest

When someone important, like your husband dies, everyone in your life has a tendency to ask….”are you speaking to anyone?…I mean professionally?”  Dancing around the subject of “hey there, you have been sad long enough, maybe you should seek professional help.”  Oh sure, everyone means well, telling you what you need in your life to make it better.  And maybe they do to some degree, but to another degree, I think they just feel awkward around you, and think that if you go to counseling then maybe you will snap out of it, and be their happy friend again and everyone can just move on as if nothing ever happened.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against counseling, hell, there was apoint in time when that was the profession I was aspiring to, I guess I just resented the feeling that I was being shoved in a direction I didn’t want to face.

About 3 months after my husband passed, after much prodding from others, I forced myself to sign up for a group.  I was able to find an organization called GriefShare.  It is actually a great program, and I would highly recommend it.  Coming from a counseling background, I was not really keen on the idea of group therapy, the wounds were too fresh, and GreifShare made the situation much more palpable.  The program had an agenda for each session and the cycle of sessions ran for 13 weeks.  Each session had a topic, like ‘Guilt and Anger,’ or ‘Why,’ or tackled the concepts of afterlife and heaven.  The organization was Christian based and we spent time focusing on God and leaning in to our faith for answers.  It really was a great deal of help to me.  I would go once a week and we would watch a video, have a group discussion that was based on both the video and our homework.  Homework consisted of reading from our workbook and answering some personal study and self-reflection questions.  Honestly, I needed the structure to help me deal with the wide range of emotions in my head that were spinning out of control everyday.  Grief Group is a good thing.

If I am being completely honest.  I cannot recollect much about the videos or the workbook or the actual assignments, other than to say they were helpful and aided in lending me some focus and direction.  But that does not mean I didn’t get anything out of the experience.  I met a group of women, albeit older than I, that had similarly lost important people in their lives.  We all had similar and differing experiences, and we all had a sadness that we could now let show for 1.5 hours a week.  This was not a “cry-fest” and we did not sit around feeling sorry for ourselves.  This was not AA or Group Therapy. This was a group of women discussing how misunderstood we could be around our family and friends.  The women in my group understood how hard it could be to sit in church for the first month hearing your loved one’s name announced, from a list of names, when the parish is asked to pray for the deceased.  They understood and laughed with me when I told them the Voter’s Registration Office sent my late husband a letter (addressed to him) stating they received a report that he was deceased and they were revoking his voting abilities unless he could prove otherwise.  They cried for me when I recalled the gymnastics competition where I publically broke down in front a large crowd because my child’s father would never be there to see her recieve any more awards or ribbons or accolades.  These are stories that friends and family don’t really want to hear, friends and family want everything to go back to normal.  (Normal, again with that word, I really have grown to hate that word.)  A normal that would never, ever be again.

Things I have learned from the Grief Group experience.

  1. Sometimes it is a good thing to put structure and organization to the crazy emotions that want to take over
  2. Listening and being listened to by others who are also going though loss can be a good thing
  3. Having a place to go and express some of the weird, or frustrating, or heartbreaking things that happen on the grief journey can help you get through the week minimally scatherd

Sometimes we get caught up in our grief and what we need, our expectations of our loved ones, that we don’t consider nor remember that they have lives too.  And all they want for us is peace.  Grief can be all-consuming, it can make you selfish and lose focus on the needs of your friends and family.  Sometimes a little outside help can ease your burden and burden you put on others.

In summation, Grief Group is Good.  I would not encourage anyone to shy away from the experience.  I would, rather, encourage anyone who has lost someone close to start moving forward, not alone, but with a little help from others on your same path.

*If you are looking, or are interested in GriefShare, you can find a local group on their webiste:   https://www.griefshare.org/

 

 

A child impacted by loss…the sparkle dims just a little…

Undoubtedly and undeniably the hardest part of losing my spouse is the impact it has had on my brilliant little girl….who is not so little these days.

Let me tell you about A.  A is a gifted child, she was reading chapter books at the rate of one a day in Kindergarden.  She would create these math problems that yielded numeric palindromes (i.e. 158903858309851), in her spare time, just for fun.  She had just turned 8 two weeks prior to his death.  At that time, she was a black belt in TaeKwonDo and actively competing in gymnastics.  Your basic overachiever child who never met a challenge she didn’t want take head on.

A’s bond with her father was something of envy.  They read books together, watched Phineas and Ferb religiously, cooked together, and had a blast.  In fact, here is a funny side story from the hospital:

My husband, B, was on a ventilator and was about to receive a heart pump, with all the tubes and wires, it was easiest for the nurses to check his pulse manually from his ankles.  The nurse entered the room, pulled up the covers that were over his feet, and gave the strangest look.  I am pretty sure she didn’t want me to see the look, and was hoping I was just working away on my laptop and it would go unnoticed, however, I spied her confusion…  I actually giggled outloud as the nurse left the room.  My friend, who was sitting with me at the time, had no idea what was making me smile and laugh during such a serious and solemn time.  I explained…you see, B’s toenails had been painted a sparkly pink.  A had given him a pedicure in the days prior to his unexpected trip to the hospital.  I am sure the nurse was confused, I didn’t offer any explanation, and that just made it all the funnier.

So, my husband and my daughter were close.  It broke my heart to be the one to break her heart when I told her of his passing.  That is what really hurt the most.  And to be honest.  That bright, shiny, innocent look of a child began to sparkle just a little bit less after that day.  Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I can see it in her eyes sometimes, even now.

Rather than ending this passage on a sad note, it may please you to know that A is still brilliant, although she is a teenager now.  She is well-rounded and very well-adjusted. Her journey has not been an easy one, she has had her share of obstacles with school and her social life, but handles things with more grace than I ever could.  Hint:  She gets that from her dad.

 

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