As a widowed community, we often lament about being disappointed by friends. Whether they think widowhood is contagious or that we’ve become man-eaters (and want their man), there is no shortage of reasons why once solid friendships dissolve.
I know no doubt what I’m going to say will ruffle a few feathers but it’s true. I’ve interacted with hundreds of widows since my husband’s passing six years ago. I’ve spoken to their family and friends. I’ve even had random people reach out to me to “complain” about the widow in their life. I’m sure some of my friends and family have had some issues with me too.
We have had a horrific thing happen to us. It will hurt for a long time. We will never get over it. Trust me, I understand. At some point, however, we have to look in the mirror and decide what kind of person we will become post-loss. Not just after we get to a place of healing. Right now. While we’re in pain. Yes, even now, we get to choose what kind of person we will be. Who we will be to ourselves. Who we will be to our children and who we will be to others.
Often we complain and blame others for distancing themselves from us. We think they don’t “get it” and that they can’t handle our grief. The truth is, many times it’s us. We are the problem. And, before you “play the widow card”, check yourself for these behaviors below. I know I’ve been guilty.
The “… but did your husband die?” Widow
Your close friend says she had the day from hell. She’s crying about her car stalling on the side of the interstate and the cost to have it towed and repaired. Her teen’s school called to say her 15-year-old has been skipping school. And, to add to the craziness of her day, her boss wants to cut her hours at work. As she pours her heart out, you mentally check out of the conversation. Is she really serious right now? This is what she’s crying about? I wish those were my only problems. Then, as she continues to complain about her day, you go there. “That sucks for you but at least your husband isn’t dead.”
I know widowhood is soul-crushing and seeps into practically every aspect of our lives but, we do not own sadness. We do not have a monopoly on pain. The same trials and tribulations that we cursed, cried and had tantrums about pre-loss are still happening to others who have not lost a spouse. Let them vent. Let them have their moment…without comparison.
The “I Need Help But Not Your Help” Widow
Your grief is becoming more overwhelming by the day. Your Facebook statuses chronicle your anguish. You post about not having any resources, being away from family and wanting to feel “normal” again. Of course, there will be those who read your updates and continue to scroll, without even offering a word of encouragement. But inevitably, someone – perhaps another widow – will offer assistance. And, being the “thanks, but no thanks” kind of widow that you are, you’ll provide 2,000 reasons why none of her suggestions will work.
Widowhood is a hard road to navigate. What works for one widow may not work for another. Let me say though that some widows I have encountered seem all too happy to stay in their funk, perhaps believing it pays tribute to their late spouse. Like it makes them “more widowed” for staying in the trenches of grief. Let me assure you, you are no more widowed than someone working to find the happiness in each day. We’re not talking about someone who is truly depressed. No, this is about widows who are all too content to shoot down helpful suggestions – without even making an attempt – and later complaining no one is there for them. You do yourself a disservice by not grieving with hope. You can’t continue doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
The “How Dare They Be Happy” Widow
You noticed the newcomer to your widow group lost her husband three months after you became widowed. When she posts that he died as a result of prostate cancer, you feel a kinship and decide to “stalk” her Facebook page. Oh, she’s out with friends. Already? Wait, is that a new man? Is she really dating that soon? You come to the conclusion that she must not have been married as long as you and your man or perhaps she didn’t love her husband the way you do because you can’t even picture yourself dating, let alone posting happy snapshots with a new partner. You then begin to make snide comments about “dating too soon” or “not understanding widows who opt to date”.
The length of someone’s raw stage of grief is no way correlated to the love they have for their spouse. Your grief is uniquely your own. You do not set the standard or the bar for grief and/or love. It is unfair to judge a widow for seeking her happiness – even if doesn’t look like our definition. Do you see that as a widow judging a fellow widow, you are no better than the internet trolls who spew their venom each time a celebrity widow finds new love? You’re no better than the clueless friend who thinks we’re “over it” simply because we choose to live post-loss. You know firsthand what we often hide behind the smile…the tears in the shower…the insecurities…the triggers…the fears. Instead of judging that widow as she walks towards her happiness, use her as inspiration to find your own if you haven’t already.
Please remember that even in the worst of circumstances, we can still be compassionate and understanding. Death has taken so much. Don’t allow it to take your humanity too.
Mom to a feisty preschooler, Kerry runs a support group for young widows and widowers venturing back into the world of dating and is a contributor to HuffPost.