Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Everyone Has Their Problems

All gourds are not the same even if they are all gourds - just like "problems."

I've been wanting to write about the subject of this post for awhile now. How so often during my widowhood I've heard the comment that "Everyone has their problems." It is one of those platitudes I have grown to hate. And another platitude I have come to disbelieve. First of all, why are platitudes tossed around so freely, especially at the newly widowed? Over and over I heard that one about time healing all things. Yet the people telling me these words had never been widowed so how would they know? Actually, I have come to think that the platitudes exist because people are uncomfortable dealing with us and our loss. Platitudes are handy lines in people's back pockets when they struggle to come up with something to say. They sound encouraging and helpful. But I have found them to be empty and meaningless for the most part.

I find the "Everyone has their own problems" response actually very dismissive to us. It is a put down that glosses over the issues and pain we may be dealing with. It implies that we are wrong to focus on ourselves and our own immediate problems. It has always made me feel guilty and upset with myself whenever someone has said it to me. I end up feeling like I'm not strong enough to handle my own conflicts and that I shouldn't tell anyone about my real emotions. Which of course is all bunk. Because the number one healthy thing a person grieving can do is to relate their feelings to others or through blogging, journaling, grief groups or individual therapy. And what the grieving really need more than anything is acknowledgment of where they are and what they are feeling and dealing with. People giving platitudes aren't listening or responding to what we're saying. Too bad that when people tell us a platitude they really think they're giving good advice. They can rest easy that they have done their part without too much discomfort, effort, or thought on their part.

But now on to the actual meaning behind "Everyone had their problems." Of course, everyone does. Widows had problems before they were widowed. We got into fights with our spouses, money was tight, kids acted up, there were conflicts with co-workers. Yes, we know all this and we've been there. However, comparing widowhood to a "problem" doesn't cut it in my book. How can you compare the totality of the widowhood experience and life with someone stressed out by their kitchen remodeling job? Or with the tension that comes from someone deciding to go back to school or start a new job. Yes, caring for aging parents is a drain. I've been there with both of mine as a widow no less, so there wasn't a hubby to share household or child rearing responsibilities with as I also took on those with my parents.

Widowhood involves loss after loss - loss of identity, loss of a life partner, loss of a best friend, loss of a co-parent, loss of a social network, loss of a financial position, loss of status, loss of a helpmate, loss of a sexual partner, and even more. Other "problems" that widowhood is lumped with don't involve losses, e.g., going back to school is an overall gain. My experience has proven that losses are harder to bounce back from because not only is there the grief to deal with, then there is the job of having to rise back up from the loss. Something is taken away leaving one with less than they had before. Therefore they aren't as whole as they once were. And that takes on another whole aspect of having to readjust to a very new discombobulated life.

Well, that is my two cents on this matter. Widowhood is a very complex, intense situation with multiple layers, stages and dimensions. It is a totally unique experience for each person faced with its reality. It is far more complicated a "problem" as compared to other problems although the statement "everyone has their problems" implies an equal rating for the life transitions faced by people. Going back to school, having a toddler, getting the kitchen remodeled, feeling the strain of starting a new job are all time relative transitions. But widowhood isn't over in the two years it usually takes to get a master's degree, as I can attest. Many of us are dealing with issues years past the death of our spouses that are offshoots of this initial loss.

I know people who say these platitudes really can't have a comprehension of the total widowhood experience. Because if they did, they'd never spout them off in the first place.It would be nice though to encounter more people in our lives who take the time to put some thought into what they say. But I guess that would involve really contemplating the lives widows face and live. Not what people want to think about or imagine. But I hope that people's understanding will increase in the future.


  1. WITM: There is nothing more that I can add to this except -- YOU ARE SO RIGHT!!!! What you have expressed is what I feel also. Thanks for the courage to "speak" out!!!

  2. Beth, I know we're on the same page about so many things. Thanks for confirming there is another person out there sharing my views. I've been thinking about you with all that is going on with your parents and the house/move/sale, etc. Hang in there and know that I'm wishing you well and cheering you on because I've been there and I know it is a tough place to be on one's own. I know that when I was going through the sale/move of my home and helping my parents I just wanted more than anything else some acknowledgment and recognition that I was handling it on my own, doing as good a job as I could. I realize it's not much to pass on via long distance and a blog post, but I do get what you've been facing and hope your knowing someone out there really does understand more than others can offer you a bit of encouragement to keep on keeping on...

  3. I don't know if you're familiar with the Holmes-Rahe Scale of Life Stressors, but losing a spouse is the number one highest stressor of all. You're right: it's more than one loss, it's many kinds of loss all wrapped up together at one time.

  4. Back when my late husband and I were courting, I remember struggling to accept the risk, actually the statistical likelihood, that this man would predecease me. He was 11 years older than me. I accepted that risk, and was still shocked when it actually happened! I didn't anticipate widowhood at 52! But how grateful I am that I had the opportunity to love him. I agree with the H-R Scale of Life Stressors. Spousal death is #1. In all the ways you describe. I guess I'm grateful that it softened my heart for others. Six years out I still often don't know which way is up and which is down. It's lonely. It's hard. It's relentless. It's final. It isn't a platitude! That's what I like about chatting with other widows. No platitudes!!

  5. Thelma and Flo - I am aware of the H-R scale of life stressors and wrote a post about it some time back. Flo, I like your basic words here - "It is lonely, hard, relentless and final."

  6. Girls I so agree and on top of that the only people who understand that and show extended compassion and understanding seem to be fellow widows. So glad I found your site. It's 4 years since the sudden and unexpected death of my husband and in many ways I feel worse now than I did at the beginning of all this.Love M

  7. M - Appreciate your comments. I started blogging because my family and friends just didn't get it and I had to have a safe haven to escape to where I could tell it like it is. Maybe your point of how it can seem/be worse years after, is what people out there need to have more understanding about. In my case, all those yummy casseroles I received the first weeks of my widowhood were tossed. But I sure could use some of that comfort food now! Just someone/anyone acknowledging that widowhood years out has its own pain and challenges.