Sunday, July 11, 2010

Beyond Comprehension

I watched Dateline on Friday night and it was about a man accused of murdering his daughter, who was around 12. Now the guy at first adamantly denied the charges (he made over 600 denials) but later admitted to the deed after intense and grueling police interrogation. The DNA found on the poor girl did not match the father and was matched with a sexual predator who had made other attacks on women in the area. The father's testimony and reenactment of his confession was found to be totally inaccurate with the facts of the crime scene and forensic evidence. The leading expert in false confessions determined this was a case of an innocent man falsely admitting to the crime. The prosecution's theory was that the father knew the sexual predator and "arranged" for the murder. The sexual predator said he had never met or knew the father until they were linked together in the case. He said the father was innocent but remained silent on his own involvement.

I relate this utterly sad and horrible story because of the verdict of the jury. Despite all of the evidence proving this father's innocence, they still found him guilty because they could not get around the fact that he admitted his guilt to the crime (a number of times). They believed that an innocent man, especially a father, would go to his grave proclaiming his innocence. They were utterly unable to comprehend how a man could be manipulated or give in to a crime he did not do. This was despite the fact that the police had told the father they had proof he did so and they also "prompted" him in his confession. The jury was simply unable to imagine what the human mind is capable of or what another man can do under horrendous pressure, strain and events.

Dateline asked the false testimony expert about this and he shook his head and said there are numerous cases on the books of innocent people admitting to crimes they didn't commit. It happens. Just because we can't conceive of it, doesn't mean it isn't capable of happening.

I thought about this relating to widowhood. I get so frustrated trying to explain what this life is like and largely I am misunderstood or blown off. I think the prevailing attitude is that widowhood can't be that bad, I'm making more out of it than I should, and I'm too much of a compainer. I've come to the conclusion that my efforts to explain myself, my feelings, frustrations and my life are pretty much in vain - unless I'm talking to another widow/widower. It is beyond the realm of consciousness for people to get me and what I try to describe, especially how drained and tired I have become.

The jury was so stubborn and steadfast in their belief. Because they were unable to comprehend it being any other way. For an innocent man to admit to such a despicable crime doesn't make sense. Therefore, it can't be. They were so rightous, so certain. I felt frightened at the end of the show of how innocent folks do get sent away for crimes they didn't do. Sometimes the innocent are wrongfully punished. I was also scared of how people can come to false determinations based on their own limited knowledge and biases. And I am worried too that there seems to sometimes be a limit as to what the human mind can comprehend and understand. That there can be a lack of compassion and empathy toward others.

I guess I will recall this jury the next time I am met with a wall of resistance when I try and explain some aspect or another of widowhood. Some things are impossible to get unless we have lived them or are living them.


  1. I have to agree that no one can understand what being a widow is really like unless they have really lived it. The last 10 months have totally sucked for me and I just get tired of some people saying they know how it is because they have seen so and so go through the same thing. I get tired of explaining that it isn't all the same and until you live it you don't understand.

  2. I think there are stereotypes of widowhood that everyone reacts to, but of course you don't know what it's like until you are there yourself. Probably any phase of life is the same. You think you know about motherhood but not until you're up at night with a colicky infant or until you see your baby take its first steps. Within the world of widowhood, we're all different, depending on our age, the circumstances of our spouse's death, or relationship with our spouse, our support system, and our own way of coping. So it's probably impossible to explain to those on the "other side." Sometimes we don't even understand other widows. One of my friends lost her husband last week and she asked me if it will ever get better. It will but it will take time and it will never be the same.

  3. Is it beyond your realm of consciousness to beleive that there could be some people that you envy while sitting at the ball field may not be as lucky as you think? Just because someone is part of a neat 'package' you look at them and resent them - thinking their life is so much better than yours. Maybe those couple of hours at the ball field are the only hours that they don't fear for their lives, maybe there is domestic abuse (insert many different scenarios here....) . Maybe, I am sitting on the sidelines at one of the games you are talking about - terrified, yet talking to the other people about mundane things - all the while fearing that I am saying or doing something wrong and will pay for it later. One thing I have learned is that everyone has a story. Is it possible that you are so deeply involved lamenting about how bad things are for you that YOU yourself are lacking compassion and empathy for others?

  4. Anonymous - I know each and every family at the ball field because we've been playing together for years and so yes, the neat little package saying their lives are nice, tidy, safe and happy is correct. I know virtually no one who has experienced the amount of hardship I have over the past recent years - I know no one who has lost their home or is now facing financial hardship. There are almost no divorced folks living in this town.

    Yes, I feel I am quite a compassionate person and that I do look at the entire picture and below the surface in regard to other people's stories. I have every right to lament and feel sorry for myself. No one else gives a darn and in my experience there has been very little compassion or understanding shown to me. The least I get to do is vent in a blog.

  5. Thelma - I agree that every widow has her own story based on her life situation. And yes, I will also admit that there are times I have had trouble understanding another widow's perspective because she was older/younger or not actively raising children.

    Sarah - Thank you for commenting. I'm sorry for what you have faced the past 10 months. We just all need to have a chance to explain to others how we are doing and what we are feeling without being cut off by someone saying, "I know how it is."

  6. Does anybody every really know what people's lives are like behind closed doors? Why does it matter anyway? Does other people's happiness impact negatively on your own unhappiness? The jealousy you are feeling, although understandable actually speaks of a lack of compassion. I remember your speaking about another woman some time ago who was alone and 'nuts', why didn't you reach out to her?
    I have learnt long ago to give up thinking about life's fairness or otherwise. All I can do is hope and make plans for my own happiness.
    Have you considered what you would replace that resentment in your life with if it wasn't there?
    Does holding on to jealousy and resentment actually provide its own reward, and keep you in an endless cycle of grief? I don't know the answer, but you seem to be clinging to thought processes that are bad for you, and I wonder why?
    You feel you have every right because your situation is worse than others, well sorry it is not worse than mine, but that doesn't mean I don't feel for you and wish the best for you, but wanting you to heal and see towards the future is not undermining or disregarding your pain, and maybe you need to think about why you are so resistant to that.

  7. Julie - Too bad we cannot talk together in some fashion nstead of this fragmented style because it is limited and only captures a glimpse of where we are at at a certain point in time. I do believe that people are capable of being not only compassionate but also envious and that these emotions can even occur at the same time. We get angry at our loved ones but that doesn't mean we still don't love them. Feelings are complex and can exist in many shapes and forms. I'm only human. I'm living a very tough life right now, one that would have been unimaginable to me a few short years ago. When I'm interacting in a community that is largely unaffected by divorce, death or the Recession, yes, it does result in giving me some pause. I'm not a Pollyanna but putting my feelings out there to deal with and work them through. And I don't think I'm the only widow who has ever struggled with feelings of resentment and wondering why me? Therefore, I am not afraid to being this up.

    My "Crazy Widow" post seems to have caused misunderstandings. I only brought up the widow I'd met in my past when I was young with babies and in grad school plus working (pretty unable to reach much out to her) as an example of how people misjudge widows and stereotype them. I never thought she was crazy. Just that others could assume she was.

    I don't mean to sound defensive here, just explaining myself. You always give me a great deal to reflect on when you comment in a tough love kind of way, I might add. I am facing the ugly emotions of resentment and jealousy right now. I can't just wish them away. I have to deal with them and it is hard. I'll keep thinking about what you've related and see where it takes me. Just not sure right now how to replace these feelings with ones that are more positive. You can't get from one place to another without taking some steps in between and those steps are what I need to figure out right now. Feel free to add any suggestions that have worked for you. I'm not at the place you are and I admire you for that. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.