Monday, April 6, 2009

Grief Time Limit

I had to take care of the taxes this past week and went to the accountant on Friday for my follow-up appointment. I cried as we reviewed my options and at one point I referred to my husband having died. My accountant sternly replied that since that was five years ago, it was old news and I needed to get over it. He then went on to give me that old familiar line that there have been lots of women widowed and somehow they manage to move on and survive. Somewhere in there too was the comment that if I have to downsize and move into an apartment so be it, that is what I have to do and I need to face it.

I had a lot of reactions to this exchange. First, that these are all things I've heard before plenty of times in my widowhood. I don't think my accountant wanted to be mean and was trying to be helpful. For the first time, I tried not to react or think defensively and to sit with his perspective and perhaps even benefit from it. Yes, I do need to face reality and move on (not only from my first husband's death but also the end of my remarriage).

But despite these positives, the main reaction I had to this exchange was the feeling that as a widow, I'm not even allowed to have the death of my husband as an explanation to what I am feeling or dealing with in my life because it has occurred in the past. It seems like after that first year or two we've used up our grief allotment and can no longer use it to justify where we are in our lives. I felt like I was even having my grief taken away from me.

Granted, the immediate death event is over. But what still remains are all the complications that resulted from that death in the realm of financial, housing, job and parenting responsibilities. I think these are referred to as secondary losses. So even though my husband died five years ago I am still dealing with and trying to cope with things that do directly result from his death. I'm not sure I'm explaining this well and maybe people who aren't in this situation wouldn't understand it. I guess what I could do next time would be to explain things more specifically - "I'm dealing with the financial repercussions resulting from my husband not having enough life insurance to allow me to pay off the mortgage when he died." It has just always been easier to say, "I wouldn't be in this position if my husband hadn't died." And in the end, really, why can't I have that? I've had everything else taken from me.

Today I am grateful:

1. That the taxes are done (still have to mail them but at least I know the damage isn't as severe as I'd been dreading).
2. That the boys seem to be hanging in there emotionally and socially.
3. That I'm in a much different place than when the divorce was first filed - that I've accomplished a lot of introspection and made some spiritual progress.
4. That I feel a little more hopeful and positive despite the obstacles that still loom ahead in our lives.


  1. It has been over seven years since I was widowed, and I have been remarried for four of those years. I still don't feel like I have all my "ducks in a row" since Andy's death, and don't know if I ever will. It is impossible to explain to somebody who hasn't lived it, that it's like having your house smashed by a tornado and having to rebuild with whatever pieces you can find left of it. (((HUGS))) I understand.

  2. What I really appreciate about your comment is that you are aware that even after remarrying, ghosts from your previous life remain. I don't think many people get this. When I remarried, Husband #2 felt I could just erase my past life and grief. He felt he could just replace and make me forget about Husband #1. I am so grateful to know there is someone out there who gets all this - that grief is a process that we will probably be sorting out the rest of our years. Thank you for your comment.

  3. Here's a question for you both. Today (April 7) would be our anniversary. Do you still count anniversaries when it's only you?

  4. Great question! It got me to think. I really wish I still celebrated anniversaries but I never really did in the first place. My life became so busy after my husband's death that I would find myself thinking about anniversary dates, days later. And this is pretty bad because we married on 10/20, he was born on 10/23, and died on 10/25! I think I may just subconsciously try to block out all these dates when they come up!

    I think acknowledging anniversary dates has great significance and is a tribute and honor to the person you loved. In a way, honoring your husband would also honor you and your life now in the future because it is giving tribute to someone who was an intimate part of your life and shaped who you became (even if that journey involved loss and grief).

    My grief therapist suggested that I come up with some kind of personal ceremony to signify the end of my marriage and I think we could have the same principal for widowhood. You've got me to start considering that just because I haven't done anything formally in the past doesn't mean I can't have some sort of recognition for my deceased husband now. And it could be any day I choose - not just one that is on a particular anniversary.

    That all said, I believe that it would be lovely and dear to have some kind of recognition for deceased loved ones on certain days even if it involves just reminiscing about that person and sending them your love. I know that on occasion I still talk to my deceased husband so how could you not "count" an anniversary as it comes up? I'm beginning to believe that despite what society wants us to think, our loved ones remain integral parts of our lives even after their passing. So counting the anniversary is appropriate - just because they're not with us physically doesn't mean they still don't impact our lives.

  5. lovely comments, thank you.

  6. WHY are you taking advice about your emotions from an accountant?
    WHY are you taking advice from a man who has been sexually inappropriate with you?
    I don't care what the practical implications are -- I would dump the accountant. AND I would report him. I understand if you don't feel up to being a hero (what an awful duty) but for heaven's sake keep yourself safe.
    You are a counselor: what would you say to a patient who came to you with this situation?

    You are obviously superstrong and have dealt with huge losses and handicaps. DON'T keep these negative dynamics alive. You deserve better!


  7. Thank you for your concern. But I've made the decision to let this go because what happens if I am audited after I've reported this guy? He hasn't called or bothered me since. I am putting out too many fires now to call in the authorities to have to deal with this on that level.

    I wasn't firm enough with him last year when he just pestered me for dates. I thought I'd never see him again. This came up this year when I was totally grief stricken and immensely worried about paying my taxes. In all honesty I was not in shape to take the guy on. Maybe that is a cop out answer but for now I've put it behind me and am glad I have a year to figure out where to go for next year's filing.

    My grief counselor told me that I need to work on defending myself/standing up for myself. That is a work in progress. I hope next time something like this comes up I'll be better able to do that.