Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Emotional Isolation

As I start back into the work force, I have been thinking about how my not having worked outside the home in recent years increased my physical isolation. This got me to thinking about the emotional element of isolation as well. I came across the blog of a mom also widowed at the age of 44. She quoted a statistic that only 3% of married people will lose a spouse to death at this age. That small a percentage really got to me!

I've tried obtaining statistics on how many widows/widowers are out there, particularly for the age group of 40-50. I came across the figure of 16% somewhere but that seems pretty high. I'll keep at it for my own satisfaction. I'm trying to prove, I guess, that with all of our medical advances, today there are not that many people dying in mid-life. At age 65, the numbers dramatically increase.

Point being, when you're widowed at this age, there aren't that many other people out there walking in your shoes. And that results in a great sense of emotional isolation. In my personal experience, it has been very frustrating to try and explain the extreme impact of my husband's death to others. Unless these people had experienced death intimately (didn't have to be a spouse) it just always felt as though I was talking to brick wall. People would nod sympathetically, but I could tell they didn't really fully comprehend the depth of my pain. They seemed perplexed. Oftentimes, I'd hear criticism about what I was doing wrong and that always increased my grief. I felt criticized for grieving or that people wanted to take my grief away from me. "Let me at least have my grief," I remember thinking. "Don't rob me of that right too when I've already lost everything most dear to me."

Being unable to convey how you are truly feeling brings forth such desolation at another level. I questioned my sanity. Was there something wrong with me? Why were so many people disapproving of my sorrow? At this point you have two options. 1. Stop expressing your innermost feelings to others because of the discomfort it brings. or 2. Keep doing it and irritating those in your life. Either way ends up with negative consequences.

It is imperative to get out there and connect with others walking this path. Surprisingly, I found very few available grief groups considering I live in such a large area. Some of the groups had disbanded, others focused mainly on the divorced. I did attend such a group where there was one other widow. We had a hard time up against the bitter, divorced moms. We didn't fit in and the overriding belief was that we had it better because our husband's were out of the picture. These moms were dealing with deadbeat guys and spent the two hours bashing them. The poor other widow and I just sat there shaking our heads and crying. We wished to have a guy to be bashing! Even a deadbeat one!

If I had to do it over again, I would have made a more vigilant effort to get involved in a grief group earlier in my widowhood. Walking this road on my own proved to be too daunting for me. I needed the connection and support such a group would bring. What eventually saved me was finding a counselor specializing in grief and life transitions. I had someone I could share with openly and honestly. She validated my experiences and emotions. This is the key - validation. To know that what your are going through and feeling is normal. And that is not possible when you don't have contact with others in the same situation.

Blogging for me has been a lifesaver. As a super busy mom of teen boys with precious little free time, this mode of contact with the outside world has greatly reduced my emotional isolation. To be able to connect with someone else out there who totally understands where I am coming from. To know about someone else's experience and to totally relate because I've been there too (on the exact same page). It would be nice to have someone to go out with for coffee, dinner or a show - a fellow widow or widower. A physical connection ultimately brings more to a relationship. But I'm grateful for the connections I do have in this mode. It is my lifeline as I continue to swim to shore.

Today I am grateful for:

1. The entire blogging experience.
2. That my oldest passed his Chemistry final with a C+ - this was a class we were concerned he would fail! So he passed and will not have to go to summer school!
3. The temperature warm up.
4. Hot, soothing showers.
5. Being forced to slow down in winter. It is a time to reflect and recharge.


  1. When I first lost Joe I immediately sought out a grief group. I showed up at the appointed time and much to my dismay there was NO ONE my age in the group. They were all in their 60's and 70's. Yes, while we had the loss of a spouse in common, NONE of them were facing any of the issues that someone our age faces. Kids and working and all of the stuff that goes into young widowhood. I never went back and found a group online that I had lots in common with. Some of the people in my online group are now very close friends. We have helped each other through the darkness that we were experiencing then and now.
    I thought at first maybe it's because I live in a state where the median age is much higher but even going through a local hospice I was told that widowhood at our age is just much rarer. So I am thinking that the 3% quoted could actually be accurate.

  2. Kelly - I would have been uncomfortable with that group too because of the age difference. I think that the really young widows gravitate to one another, as do the mid-lifers. We need to be able to connect with those facing the same issues and concerns.

  3. I agree. Grief groups are supposed to support one another. You can't support what you don't understand or aren't experiencing. I have been blessed with a wonderful group and now I've found all of you!!

  4. Kelly - I agree as well in regard to having met a group of great on-line people.

  5. I had the same experience my first time out with a grief group. Everyone was very nice, and very accepting, but most had been widowed later in life. I stuck it out for about a month, then had to accept that it wasn't right for me.

    I also struggle with people wanting me to be doing better than I am. Whatever that means. It's funny, friends are learning that all this is much more difficult than they imagined. At the same time, I do feel like I get more reinforcement when they perceive me to be "doing better."

    1. Dan, I fully understand what you mean when you say about getting more reinforcement when people perceive you to be "doing better". Though I realise that your comment was made over 3 years ago, it has been a little over a year for me and I don't feel very "far along". I miss my husband's presence and have a very difficult time when I think of his body in the grave, even though I know he is in Heaven. There isn't a widow's group where I live, except for a group of 80+ year olds and I am 51. I am sure you are coping better now that was three years ago you made this comment. For me, one year of shock has turned into the second year, and I don't feel very much change, just the same regret that he is not here to love me.

  6. I wish someone would define "doing better" then I'd have something to shoot for, lol! I have to find humor in something and generally I find it in people's total lack of ignorance to widowhood. I could design a line of greeting cards and buttons that would reflect this. Some of the stuff that has come out of people's mouths over the past 3 years still leaves me stunned. Then I stop and think about it from a distance and some of it is just down right funny.

    Button: Warning: Widow. May have a tendency to break into tears or laughter for no apparent reason at any moment.

  7. I appreciated how you compared a spouse to a cheerleader. Even when I was married to a relative louse, I felt like I was on a team, and that it was us against the world. There's comfort in that. You captured it nicely in this post. I wish for you that it was "captured nicely" in your life, too.

  8. Button:Warning: Widow: Too young to be a Widow and a Grandmother.In search of grief group.
    Married 27 years two children 27 and 25 three grandchildren 8,5 and 17 month old. My husband died at age 48.It will be four years know in June.When I became a widow i was 44.I have a better chance of finding a needle in a haystack rare group in deed