Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Lonely Road of Widowhood

I started blogging as a way to emotionally survive. I've had a tough time being a widow. I don't think I've adjusted well to this life, and in fact I'll admit I'm not sure I ever will feel restored until I'm remarried. I'm comfortable saying that. It has come after a great deal of soul searching and looking at myself honestly. I'm not cut out for the widowhood life, no one is. But I suppose some of us fare the jouney better. I don't get on well living and making decisions on my own. I'm a better team player and I need and want the safety and security living in a committed relationship brings. I never liked the dating scene back in my teens, even then preferring to have a steady. I was in a marriage I worked extremely hard at maintaining and I valued it beyond measure. Every day I miss that old way of life and what I had. You might even say that with the passage of time my grief in missing my husband has softened. However, my grief at losing my marriage and the lifestyle I had, hasn't.

There are numerous reasons the widowed struggle to adapt to their new lives. We live in a society that fears/hides from death; people these days are busy and preoccupied with their own lives; exteneded families don't exist anymore to provide support, emotional or otherwise; death has become sanitized and removed from our lives since people live longer and die in hospital settings; our society expects people to handle and face their own hardships and life realities.

As I've expalined before, for me it hasn't been so much the grief that has been the challenge. What has challenged me has been the adjustment to my losses, beginning with my husband's death and then the downward spiral that seemed to occur with each subsequent loss. I haven't managed my adjustment very well. In some cases, I just plain and simple did not known what to do. We emphasize teaching our children academics through their early years. We need to add some life, relationship and communication skills training to those classes. We jump into love relationships on a wing and a prayer with no foundation on resolving conflict, much less communicating effectively. Some resiliency training or classes on handling conflicts, loss and adversity would be good too.

It didn't take long for the hard world of widowhood to come down on me. Those very early days when I was overwhelmed and shell shocked was when I encounted the least amount of care and sympathy. Teachers demanding that the boys complete assignments or take tests without giving them a short break to get their bearings, or even an extra day to finish a paper. The counselor insisting my sons serve Saturday detentions because they'd arrived late a few days in a row. I tried explaining that it was totally my fault as a grieving mom. I related that I was having trouble getting it all together in my grief and yes, we were a few minutes late to school during that early period. We weren't cut any slack - the boys had to spend some Saturday mornings at school being reprimanded for actions that weren't in my eyes their fault.

Then there was the Winter Carnival at the school just a few months after my husband died. My boys wanted to win a cake at the Cake Walk. The parent volunteers running the game knew my family well and the situation. My boys spent a good part of the afternoon and their tickets hoping to bring home a cake - they didn't. I remember wanting to scream at these parents I knew - "Just let them 'win' some cupcakes! It wouldn't take much to make them happy! Can't you even imagine what the last few months of their lives have been like and what it will be like for them in the future without their Dad? Can't you 'overlook' the rules and 'pick' their ticket from the bowl?"

There was so much fury in those early days as people discounted how I was feeling. I definitely encountered minimization whereby people would try to talk me out of how I felt - "It can't be that bad." "You just need to be stronger." I ended up feeling weak and as if something was wrong with me, for grieving in the first place, then for having such difficulty and resistance dealing with the changes death brought to my door. I desperately needed help - with finances, childcare, some time for myself to figure out what to do next, but whenever I asked, I'd get shot down. I picked up the message that I needed to handle everything by myself and that I was weak for having to ask and even admitting that I was weak and couldn't manage on my own. Now I know that this is my experience and not one that is shared by all widows.

I think though in the end that what drove me most up a wall, was the unwillingness of society in general to cut the newly widowed mom and her kids some slack. I had to perform to the same standard being held for all the two-parent families in my community and I just wasn't cutting it. Then when I couldn't measure up, I'd be penalized, or the boys would be by having to serve detentions and the like. I can come up with more examples - difficult coaches or parents on the boys' teams, my employers but I'll save my fingers.

I think this is what I struggle with the most. That we live in such a black and white society that can't or is unable to make an exception or two. Really, the positive power that would have been released and magnified by the stingy parents running the Cake Walk would have been far greater if they'd let my sons "win" a cake, than whatever lesson they were trying to prove by sticking to the book. Our society is so dead set on treating everyone on the same level. Maybe part of my hope in blogging has been to show a bit of the grey that exists in people's lives - that even after the first few years, the aftershocks of losing a parent/husband are still vibrating.

How will "The Untouched" even know a fraction of our experiences if we don't tell them? I once read a comment by the famed and elegant interior designer and author, Alexandra Stoddard. She was a single mom for two years following her divorce when her two daughters were quite young before remarrying. Her comment was that she just has the most ultimate amount of respect for single parents, having been there herself and knowing what that reality entails. I think most people must have some concept of the hard reality of single/only parenting but sometimes I'm not sure why it is so difficult for others to extend some sympathy, comfort and caring. Maybe to ask for understanding is impossible because unless like Alexandra Stoddard who has been there, people don't know what it is really like unless they're there too. But certainly sympathy can be extended and kindness.

Those traits seem to me at least to be rather lacking in our society now too. What happened to that "Random Acts of Kindness" movement from some years back?

I blog for the emotional connection I receive from interacting with other widows and widowers. It has been my saving grace. The first time I communicated with another widow my age who was griping about having to handle the winter elements (shoveling, scraping) on her own, I felt an actual high - I wasn't the only one out there in the universe grumbling about taking out the garbage by myself yet again. But I also blog to relate my life in the hopes that maybe someway, somehow a reader will gain a new perspective that will lead to a positive outcome in some way toward a widow or widower in their life present or future.

I'm reminded of an incident that happened a few weeks after my husband's death. Our property was a double, heavily-wooded lot with a major amount of raking that needed to be done every fall, taking weeks to complete. That first fall I wanted to do it myself because the physical exercise helped me with my grief - I could think and work at the same time - it was a very therapeutic activity for my healing at that time. Now the neighbors all knew my husband had died and I'd received sympathy cards from them. One afternoon I stood astounded as I watched one neighbor use a leaf blower to blow the leaves from his yard into my backyard. I was outraged but if I hadn't been suffering from some PMS probably would have held my tongue. But I approached the guy and called him on his actions. He stood in front of me, leaf blower in hand and flatly denied blowing his leaves in my yard. I remember replying, "I've just been standing here watching you do it - what a terrible thing to do toward a new widow." He didn't reply.


  1. Hi.

    I really, really enjoy reading your posts. Our situations are very similar and reading your posts helps me through alot (my blog is more of a "bitch" session for myself...LOL).

    In any case, I wasnt to tell you about this camp my daughter just attended. I know your boys are a little older, but there were plenty of teens there too.

    The camp is Comfort Zone.

    It is the largest national bereavement camp for kids 7-17 who have lost an immediate loved one. It runs completely on donations so it doesn't cost you a cent. AND for those parents who have to travel a distance, the camp will put you up in a local hotel for the weekend and I believe pick up you meal tab too. This might be a great opportunity for not only your boys, but you to meet parents in your situation (I met mostly widows). I just thought I would pass this info along!!!

    Best to you always!

  2. Thanks so, so much for your very nice comments! I will look up the camp info. you provided. I know these posts sometimes come out as bitch sessions for me too, but without them, I truly am not sure where I'd be right now or what I'd be doing. I hope you gained some good tips and strategies when interacting with the widows you met.

  3. I have been a widow and I find that I resent people that are married. I think that they are taking their marriage for granted--especially the people who cheat on their spouses! my husband died suddenly at home and the memory of finding him dead and performing CPR (even though his body was cold) will haunt me forever. He was a beautiful pianist and there is a grand piano waiting to be played in the living room. I miss him but I really would like to meet someone else for companionship but noone seems to measure up to him.

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  5. Hi. Your blog came at a time in my life when i needed someone to tell me that feeling lonely and lost is ok. I lost my husband 4 years ago to heart attack. Everyone kept saying that i should be strong for my two kids and now my life should revolve around them but what about me?i dont want to be strong. I want to be hugged and told that everything will be fine. So i pretend to be ok the whole day and cry myself to sleep at night Sometimes i wonder when will this torture end