“People die and it sucks and all but – God, sooner or later, you have to move on!” “I’m sick of your whining.” “You’re not a victim – there are people far worse off than you!” “I’ve seen kids in cancer wards – THERE is suffering for you, THAT is tragedy.” “If you hadn’t been so high maintenance, he wouldn’t have gotten sick!” “Most widows love their husbands so much they die not long after their spouses.”
These and riffs off these themes are said to widows by people whom they thought were their friends or loving family. I’ve had variations of these said to me – some to my face, others via text message, email or on social media.
In-laws. As a widow or widower, the family of your belated spouse may take you in even closer – or may resent the hell out of you for surviving or things that occurred around the time of your spouse’s death or how the will played out or any or all of the above. I know widows who have had extended legal issues with in-laws over the wills. Others whom have had their in-laws blame them for the death. This can be especially devastating as you are trying to cope with your own sense of guilt for being alive because – as a “knowing” person said to me – “MOST widows of a certain age die because they loved their husbands SO MUCH.” Which, of course, twigs the ugly voices in my head that I obviously didn’t love him enough. I certainly wanted to die, I just mustn’t have been worthy?
Friends. There is a time limit on most people’s patience when it comes to your mourning. How long or short it is depends on a number of factors, including
- level of self-absorption
- emotional maturity
- amount they know and care about you
- what they’ve done to support you
So far I’ve found the meanest people in my life and in the lives of other widows with whom I talk are those who have done very little to support you through the hard time and have little emotional investment in seeing you truly healed and happy. These people want their world to be okay and the people in it to answer “Fine” when asked “How are you?”
This sort of shallow emotional investment and reaction is at the heart of the saying “You find out who your real friends are when…” It can hurt and shock, but in time you will come to realise it says more about the person and the depth of your relationship than anything else. I know that sounds trite, but it is knowledge that I’ve earned with tears and pain.
Family. Your own family can be great or crappy, depending on your relationship with them in general. However, one thing I’ve found (and others with whom I chat), is that you don’t want to be an emotional burden to them. They need to feel you’re going to be okay or they will perpetually worry. So, you soften edges.
All of this adds up to one message from society: we need to think you’re okay and coping. And if you don’t give us that, sooner or later we’re going to resent you or we will become a worry for you.
Here’s the thing about being bereaved: no one gets what you’re feeling but you. When your spouse dies other people suffer loss – but NOT your loss. Surviving a spouse means paperwork, and loneliness and fear and your life and future being razed to the ground and being largely on your own and having to cope with making EVERY. DAMNED. DECISION. It is NOT comparable to losing a grandma or grandpa or cousin or aunt or uncle or parent. It is not comparable to losing a child or sibling – those are unique hells. And it’s definitely not comparable to losing a pet.
It could be you’re surrounded with love and support from people you’ve known your whole life. You could be completely on your own. You could be away from family and have nice friends. You could have kids to worry about or none.
Whatever your circumstance, ensure you have at least one person with whom you can be completely honest. Whether that’s a counselor, a group or a friend that’s been there – you will arrive at a time that those around you are going to need you to be okay when you’re not.
And remember – you can be not okay for as long as you aren’t okay. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed “Grieving”. It’s about growth, assimilating what was once unthinkable and abnormal into your life and who you are. I’m finding that I sometimes feel like a teenager again – experiencing things for the first time as a middle aged person does that to you.
I am fortunate to have a dear friend who understands the pain of being widowed. And others who don’t know the pain, but care about mine.
I also belong to a group of widows that has a private Facebook group and holds regular face to face meetings. These are invaluable for letting loose – and realising that I’m not losing my mind. That I’m not a whiner. And that I am going through an assimilation process that is both predictable and unique.
If you are a new widow or widower, I strongly suggest that you look into some sort of support group. I’ve found it vital to my well-being. Especially at times when well-meaning (and otherwise) friends, in-laws and family either let you down or aren’t the ones who can help you deal.