Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Widows Gone Crazy

My youngest son's best friend's dad died of cancer a year before my husband. The friend's situation is a little different. He had an older brother and sister high school age - now they are out of college. And his family owned a restaurant in Chicago. Just different family dynamics and circumstances.

My oldest son's girlfriend lost her mom a year ago, also to cancer. Her dad has started to date and she is upset that the new girlfriend who used to be their babysitter is only 35. In a perfect world wouldn't it have been nice and easier if her dad and I had felt some attraction and fallen in love!

Somehow, I don't think these friendships and connections with my sons are arbitrary or coincidental.

This recent spring break my youngest spent a lot of time with his friend and mentioned concerns about his friend's mom. She apparently lost her cool and yelled at a group of the kids when they stopped in the house, demanding that they get out. I replied that I could understand a mom getting frustrated with a bunch of teen boys barging into the house. My son's reply was that I never would have made a scene and yelled like this woman did even if I had been upset.

He also related that his friend thinks his mom has "gone crazy." She no longer works in the restaurant and has leased it out to another family running it. But she is apparently working doing some kind of rehab on houses. My son further revealed that his friend is very worried about his mother - her actions are erratic and she has thrown the friend out of the house on a number of occasions - overnight! I'm not sure how to reply to that because that is endangering a poor 15 year old kid who had to go to a friend's house to spend the night. But I also don't know all the details except that this kid is very nice and mild mannered - not a trouble maker at all.

My son further observed that his friend's mom does appear crazy and out of control when he is over at his friend's house. He added that she looks haggard and much older than her age. I think I said something like, "Well, widowhood will do that to you" and he came back with the fact that I don't look as bad as she.

Poor woman. Over the years I've had fleeting thoughts of wanting to get in touch with her but of course time has always been at such a premium. I didn't really know her - she wasn't in my circle of super-involved PTA moms that I hung with. But as it turns out, all those "friends" fell by the wayside in my life as I became less and less able to volunteer and be active outside my own home.

I don't know all the details of this woman's life in the past seven years. From what my son has said every once in awhile, I knew she had a boyfriend living in her home for a couple years, although they are no longer together. I've heard talk of her wanting to sell the home because the oldest were in college. Just bits and pieces of another widowed mom's life while I was desperately trying to keep my own together.

But I do get the craziness - I do get that this curse of widowhood can lead to it. I am beginning to think that I may be going crazy too! There is only so much stress, pain, disappointment and hardship that some people can take. Maybe she has reached her limit. Maybe I am close to reaching mine.

Hearing about this woman had a profound impact on me - it was like a shot of reality hitting me. Sobering and scary. Real and honest. I am getting sick of making such an effort to be hopeful and optimistic. For some of us, widowhood just plain and simply sucks and I don't want to sugarcoat this anymore. My life has certainly remained pretty difficult and it is a draining challenge to continue to face the days, let alone the future.

I have come to believe that widowhood can make you crazy.

I dropped my oldest off at school and went by a house in our old neighborhood where a widowed woman lived before she moved a couple years ago. She was a fanatical gardener and when I took walks I used to stop to chat with her as I went by. She revealed that widowhood had made her terribly lonely and she gardened to fill the gap. She laughed as she showed me the little pond she'd added, admitting that she might be getting a bit "crazy" with her obsession. Now, as I look back to what I know about her I feel sad and somewhat frightened about my future too.

All those negative portrayals that exist about widows - you know, the women who own too many cats or the ones always threatening the kids who run across their grass. It makes sense to me - how the loneliness and heartache can make someone bitter and cross. I have even found that my social skills have gone down because I have lost opportunities to converse on a daily basis with an adult. No wonder an older widow might become scared and reclusive.

For whatever reasons I think it is easier for men to pick themselves back up, dust themselves off and start dating women 15-20 years younger as seen by my son's girlfriend's own father ! I have read that men can more readily distract themselves from hardship and difficulties. Be that as it may. I saw a woman about age 60 go into Pizza Hut with a book in her hand when I was there picking up a $10.00 pizza for the boys. I had to give her credit for dining in, at a Pizza Hut no less. If I were on my own I would have taken it home and eaten in front of the t.v. This also bothered me a little. I told my close girlfriend about it and joked that if we are still single in 10 years we'll move into a luxury townhouse or condo together.

But I don't want to be alone. Yet at the same time, right now I don't possess the energy or optimism to date or get out there. There has been too much pain and it is still there, too close to my heart and spirit.

I think about the woman gardening. If I had been in her shoes with two grown-up sons, which she had, what would I have done? Probably done some volunteering in the community in lieu of the solitary gardening. I suppose I would have eventually made efforts to meet a gentleman - maybe taken some cruises or trips. But I shouldn't be talking because right now I can't even muster the energy to try and create more social options in my life be they with men or women! This widowhood has the strength to rob us of opportunities and desires - to leave us heartbroken and broken in spirit. And the supreme power to make us crazy, hopefully only temporarily.


  1. I don't think it's widowhood. It's being alone. The reason doesn't matter. Being alone is not a natural, easy state for most people. We can train ourselves to endure but if it's not something we like to begin with, I don't think all the practice in the world will change our feelings about it.

    Crazy? That's subjective. Your son's friend's mother might have stresses unknown to her son or her son. Stress can make anyone wobbly in the personality if it goes on long enough.

    My late husband's mother was widowed at 33. She settled into a reclusive lifestyle that favored pessimistic views and she felt her loss entitled her to feel and act on feelings with impunity. She is completely alone today. No friends. No family. What might her life have been if she'd tried a bit of optimism? Not knowable, but probably better.

    I think too that some people can't help but always return to the light side and look, hope, for better days. It's who they are at their core.

    No harm in admitting that life is tough and not fun when that's the reality. Being realistic is a good character trait, but it doesn't cancel out wishing and dreaming.

  2. wow. i am not sure how to express what this made me feel though i feel compelled to say something.

    i guess i am the middle-aged widow with grown children who lives that very isolated life. much like your former neighbor with the garden, i know if i had been blessed with a little house with a yard, plus get to stay there, i would spend my time doing the labor to create a lovely yard and gardens. i would also spend some of that little bit of money to buy oils and get back to painting, glass for the stained glass, and fabrics and threads to make tapestries.

    i am not sure if a widow living alone filling her time constructively and creatively should also be stuck with the label of crazy, but society will always see what it wants to see.

    i feel compassion for the widow who is falling apart. i hope someone sees her crisis and helps her so that she does not face her fears and worries alone. i know men have it vastly different than women and since i had the luxury of parents who did not find any value in me, i was raised to accept a solitary life if that's what it would come to - which, by the death of my Dragon, it has. in a backhanded way they did me a favor.

    i know how strong widowhood can be. i understand its power. beyond the people that hold the power over my life right now because of my financial situation, i do not vest in anyone who does not care about me, not for very much or for very long. i give a little more than i receive to show the possibility of a friendship with me, but i will not be someone's doormat. if that means i will be alone, then label me a crazy widow. i was liked and loved by my husband for exactly who i was. i will not change myself to fit the expectations of others simply because he died.

    i know what it's like to be heartbroken and exhausted. i have hit a terrible wall of late and i cannot seem to find my way over it. but to now have to consider that people who see me will be so judgmental that they think i am crazy - for being so isolated now - for visibly grieving so deeply - all i have to say to them is "keep walking past this part of the zoo."

    i hope you find peace.

  3. wNs - This was not meant to be harsh or critical toward the widows mentioned in it. I feel tremendous compassion for them. The point of this post was to present my belief that the state of widowhood CAN alter one's personality and lifestyle. I know I am beginning to feel like I am losing my sense of stability and normalcy after 6 1/2 years of this.

    I, of course, find no fault with a woman who is leading a fuller and productive life by gardening. However, she admitted to me that the only reason she was doing so because she was extremely lonely and needed something to occupy her days. That part made me sad because she seemingly was unable to find ways of to socialize more.

    I have reached a point of having extreme difficulty in feeling hopeful and optimistic. This post was a way to try and process that along with a future one. I am seriously contemplating stopping this blog because I have hit a wall of despondency and I do fear I am setting myself up for a life of bitterness and resentment. I do believe that people have a limit as to how much they can endure and I fear I have reached mine.

    Again, the point of this post was not to be down on anyone specifically but to enlighten those out there about the serious, detrimental effects of widowhood.

  4. Annie - I think you raise a good observation about living alone and loneliness in general. However, what I am observing is that it is mostly the widows suffering. I know a number of divorced people and they don't seem to be dealing with the same issues.

    Anyway, that is more to think about. I appreciate your ending comments about hope and optimism. And also agree with you that there is nothing wrong in being realistic about one's situation. "It is what it is." Some of us have a lot of difficulty harnessing optimism though, especially when the chips are so down.

  5. you are 5 and a quarter years my senior on this journey so you have a more veteran perspective. i stand corrected.

  6. wNs - I don't feel you need to stand corrected about anything. We all have our reactions, viewpoints and beliefs related to who and where we are. I am just an average, middle-aged mom trying to muddle through life and do the best for her sons. I have found that I've gotten a tremendous amount of wisdom from those who have more recently lost their spouses - I'm not sure having more years at this makes us any better - in fact, it may serve as a hindrance because I am becoming more jaded and bitter.

  7. How can you not go a little crazy? Not only suddenly becoming a widow and losing the one person who helped keep your world together, but then being faced with financial problems and having to move? I think you are doing a pretty fine job in maintaining your life.

  8. Thanks Judy for your very kind words of support.

  9. This post really hit me. I feel as a widow, I have no right to judge another widow on how she handles her widowhood. Grief is a journey that is as individual as a snowflake. While there are similarities in each person's journey, each situation is unique.
    Society has certainly mislabeled widows as you noted. I can remember an old Television show called "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir". It was about a widow who saw the ghost of an old sea captain. This post made me think of that show.
    Your gardener neighbor, she strikes me as someone attempting to do something positive to fill in the void that widowhood leaves. I guess that could be said of the "cat ladies" as well. There is a fine line between what is perceived as normal and what isn't. We all have the ability to cross it.
    As far as isolating ones self, I see how it often times becomes a necessity for some of us. I for one do it because at this juncture everyone else feels I should be 'over it'. They judge my grief and try to direct it. Rather than subject myself to that, I prefer to be alone.
    Just today someone made the comment about my being tan. I have been lying out lately. It makes me feel good. I am trying to take some interest in my appearance. I have my Dad's funeral coming soon and I would like to at least look like one of the living. My friend insinuated that I was doing to 'impress' someone I might see when I go up. I'm sure the look on my face said it all. She doesn't get it and I can't expect her to. Crazy? Maybe!! I can live with that label.

  10. Kelly - I'm sorry if this post came off sounding critical of other widows. I don't judge people period but was reflecting on my son's comments about his 15-year-old best friend worried that his widowed mom had gone "crazy." That was the word this young man used to describe his mom and I went with it.

    I am so glad you are thinking of yourself and doing some tanning. I do get what you mean about wanting to isolate - it is a means of mental preservation, I guess. I don't think of myself very much and should make more of an effort. Maybe that is part of the answer here. That we need to listen to our own heart and soul. Forget what the world thinks and the people in it and go for what we need and want - like the woman gardening.

    I hope you are holding up with the situation involving your dad and family.

  11. I too have hit a wall of despondency-also losing my sence of stability and normalcy, after 8 yrs. Widowhood CAN and does change ones personality and lifestyle, especially for those who did not & do not have strong emotional/familial support along the way to help them keep in touch with human kindness. Lots of strangers around, clerks who say 'have a nice day', etc., but..... Yes there is a limit to how much one can endure,real loneliness and often financial woe-fear creeps in and the spirit gets weary - the feeling of going crazy is a real feeling - often it is labeled 'anxiety, etc.' I crashed emotionally -no one around to offer support except two young sons who tried to help. I was/am so scared that I could hardly think. CRAZY?(it used to be called "being sick with worry". All of what is written here is real enough for all of us. Widowhood for most of us 'stinks'. Optimisim and hopefullness become elusive, especially when 'society' has rules and expectations and deadlines for the 'get over it', snap out of it' thing. We here all know how much our loss effects our lives, our kids and our self image and confidence. Peace to us all.

  12. Anonymous - Your words are very heartfelt and so well-stated. You summarize in a paragraph a great deal of observation and truth about widowhood. I hope your anxiety has lessened and you and your sons are doing the best you can right now.

  13. My husband died 6 months ago after 45 years of marriage and as much as I detest being alone, I guess in a lot of ways I prefer it. Bob died in August so I had to endure the fall without him and looked forward with dread to all the holidays, and am now dreding Valentines Day and our March anniversary. I have joined a few groups, play indoor golf for the winter and have some friendships, and have daily communication with our daughter, but that is only a fraction of the time remaining. The rest is up to me and it isn't easy and seems to get harder with each passing day. The evenings and nights are most difficult and if you are not married, you must spend that time alone. I can't imagine wanting to spend all my time making conversation with friends non-stop anyhow. I prefer marriage. Even if I was doing what I'm doing now all by myself, I wouldn't be alone with Bob in the next room...knowing we would soon be snuggling up for the night.

  14. I read this today and was relieved to find that I was not alone in feeling this intense and difficult isolation. I actually searched on the internet for 'six years of being a widow' and thought nothing would come up. That alone indicates a degree of longing for connection, I suppose. Being middle-aged and alone after a long, happy marriage, with companionship and pleasure, is exceedingly difficult. Isolation becomes a relief. Home is solitary, but socializing is too. You constantly have to deal with the gaze, the 'how ARE you' and the awkwardness of couples who pity you. (I resent being pitied, though I understand it) It is a relief now to go home and close the door. For the person who started this blog, I understand your fears for the future. I have some sense of how you feel, and the woman who is perceived as 'crazy' may be the honest one among us. Still, I find I love life, most of the time, and occasionally I have hope. Hope is not the same is optimism. Optimism is not what anyone should seek. It is childish and unreal, especially for us. But hope is something worth cultivating.

  15. It is interesting to come back and reread a post written over two years ago. What is even more interesting is to recognize that I am currently feeling tremendously lonely, on the verge of becoming an empty-nest-mom. I appreciate the comments left by recent readers. With the passage of time I am finding that people aren't sympathetic. The prevailing criticism I pick up from people in my life is "What is wrong with you that you couldn't pick up the pieces better - find a new career or new man and rebuild a life?" So now in addition to feeling that I'm going crazy I get to deal with huge issues of failure and incompetence (as a woman, even as a human being). That is tragic!

  16. Hello,

    I understand this feeling you describe. You are not a failure. You are enduring one of the most traumatic and painful experiences a woman can ever have. Only those who experience it know. I understand the loneliness. That becomes more intense, and sometimes I think that there is no end to it. You simply get used to it.

    I hope that it is some small consolation if I tell you that for me, the second and third years were the worse. I am sorry to give you this bad news, but it is true. The numbness wears off, and the friends disappear. People criticize and become impatient. 'Do this, do that' or 'why don't you X or Y' or 'you should get out'. How easy is it to go out alone at night?? No one thinks about that. Those are the years that I felt most "crazy", and I had to avoid people like that. I had to find new people, which is not easy. You feel terrible, and yes, no one understands this pain. On top of our loss, we endure criticism, judgement, a lack of empathy, the loss of friends. I too feared I was going crazy, and that I would fall apart, even though I worked every day in a demanding job. It still happens to me, but not as frequently. My craziness is probably more the result of being alone for so long.

    My children have been forming new lives, and I live alone. That happened almost immediately for me. Being alone in a house is hard. So much is expected of a woman. And deep below the surface, we are in such pain. In America, we hide it.

    If there is a country or place you always wanted to visit, and if you can afford it, it is worth going. You don't need to go far, or for long, but treat yourself to something. It is not a cure, but it can help a little to see beauty. Only a little. It is important to have one or two people to talk to. I had that, and I am grateful. It saved me.