Since the sudden loss of my husband in 2008, I have surrounded myself with likeminded women; tribal comrades who “get me” with a nod or a knowing look. I find this comforting.
There are Facebook groups for widows and Twitter feeds about navigating life in the absence of a soulmate. I find these helpful.
A common thread is the tendency for others to avoid us.
This hurts. We feel alienated. We become less willing to tell you how it really is.
“Once you’re back to normal,” one person cautioned me, “things will fall back into sync”.
What does “normal” even look like?
FACT: There is no returning to normal. Death is a watershed moment. A seismic shift into Bewilderment. It’s not a “journey” either; it’s a hardscrabble slog through uncharted territory.
Death is a watershed moment.
A seismic shift into Bewilderment.
Within days of Roger's funeral, I was told I needed to get right back to work. Being a chronic people pleaser, I did what I was told, and regretted returning too soon. I was emotionally catatonic, unable to make the smallest decisions.
Complete strangers would approach me with something I call “comparison stories” and these were not helpful.
Such as: “You should be grateful your husband’s heart attack was fatal; my husband is hanging on by a thread and I never know when his heart might fail…can you imagine what THAT is like?”
Um, no. I can’t. But thanks, anyway, for holding space for my pain (this sentiment delivered internally, with dripping sarcasm).
But then there was this one friend who materialized like a gift on my back porch. She stood at the threshold and prayed for a buyer - - just the right family to come up the hill and occupy this sprawling acreage with woods and a pond and a barn. A 100-year-old homestead holding laughter in the walls.
I was blown away by her kindness; her refraining from advice and supplying only affirmations. Prayers. Quiet, practical support.
It’s probably true I’m an unruly widow, a rogue variation of who you may think I should be. Sometimes I can be impulsive, often ornery, and emotionally wobbly.
Trouble is, I have no desire to contort myself into another’s definition of “widow”. The business of loss and grief is a messy one. In the end, the shattered pieces look more like a mosaic, less like a well-ordered timeline of “stages”.
A Grief Mosaic
Everybody’s different. Loss is deeply personal to each individual. Some of us will appear crushed, some brave, some stoic. We put on our game faces and go out into the world.
One day at a time.
We’re not asking you to understand us; we’re simply wanting you to walk alongside us on the confused, zig-zaggy pathway of regrouping.
Also, bring snacks please.
What widows really want, is for you to hold our stories. Listen to our ramblings, even when we make no sense.
Listen – not to fix – but to support. Without judgement.
Please do not hold us to a tidy grief timeline. Grief is not linear. Grief is explosive and unpredictable, splintering us and shattering our once-imagined futures.
Grief, kindly, is also an anthem of Resilience.
A soft patchwork quilt of memories.
Maybe, at the end of the day, we are not “widows behaving badly”, but human beings carrying painful stories.
Can you cut us some slack? Would you simply sit with us and bear witness to our pain? Allow us, please, to be messy.
A fellow sojourner once said to me, “I just wish I could spill my stories on the floor and then have another person pick up the pieces, hold them to the light, and see the beauty in my memories. That’s all I really want.”
She’s right. A grieving person needs you to hold space for them. Not to fix, not to advise, and especially not to correct.
Simply to listen. And maybe bring snacks.
The years have loosened my grip on expectations. I’m less apt to be offended by random comments; rather, I have deeper empathy for that person’s story. Because “death” manifests itself in many ways: loss of a job, divorce, financial hardship, wayward children, and detoured dreams.
My gaze has softened into pastels of acceptance. The view from here is manageable, even joy filled.
Pardon me if I sometimes behave badly. This, too, is part of being a widow. You cut me some slack; I’ll float you some grace.
We’ve got this.
And if you find yourself wandering the colorless landscape that has no spouse, no hand to hold, no snacks to share … please know I will walk beside you. In solidarity. In a quiet knowing, a thundering empathy.
As seen in SILVER, a magazine for seniors in Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania
Published January 2023