Judging a Widow? Keep Your Effing Opinions to Yourself

I’m not sure whether curse words in the title are frowned upon.

I think the point is clear.  You can keep your judgement, your disapproving looks, and your obvious vaguebook insults to yourself.

We don’t need it.

I shouldn’t have to say this.  It should go without saying.  Don’t harass a widow about how she is handling her widowhood. It doesn’t go without saying, however.  It has to be said.  Many people apparently do not have the sense to know this on their own.  I have spoken with other widows my age, and have read blogs and articles written by others, and it seems everyone has at least one person in their life who has decided they are the authority on grieving and on widowhood, and is quick to point out – emphatically – how we are doing it incorrectly.

It’s often someone we care about, or that our husbands cared about.

It’s so deeply hurtful.

Widow-shamers come in two basic camps.

Actually, technically there is a third camp, I will mention only briefly because they are well-intentioned.  We all have sweet, caring people in our lives who hate to see us hurt and want to help ‘fix’ it.  They want us to snap out of it.  They want us to join the world.  Sometimes they want us to start dating.  To these people I say we thank you for your love and support, but please understand that to try to fix us implies there is something wrong.  There is nothing wrong with being sad when your spouse dies.  We have to be sad.  We have to be sad in order to learn how to live with our sadness.  Please stop trying to abbreviate the process.  We need it.

The title of this blog is aimed at the other two types of judges.  One type feels that the widow’s handling of things has somehow harmed them personally.  The other type feels she is not being widow-y enough and is disrespecting the dead.

Here’s the thing.  Please understand this.

MY GRIEF IS NOT A PERFORMANCE I AM PUTTING ON FOR YOU OR FOR ANYONE ELSE.

Also . . .

IT IS NOT MY JOB TO FULFILL YOUR IMAGE OF WHAT A GRIEVING WIDOW SHOULD BE.

It was a revelation to me that people would take personal issue with how a woman carries out the final wishes of her husband.  Personally, I have had several people pointedly mention that they feel they didn’t get closure (whatever that means) because I cremated the body before anyone saw him.  I have not been directly attacked, but on two separate occasions, two different people pointed out that they keep thinking they will see Trey or get a call from him.  Apparently this is because I did not have a viewing at the memorial.  It was implied that I have an easier time of accepting his death because I saw his body, and that I robbed them of this comfort.

You know what?  I saw the body.  It’s not that awesome of an experience.  I wouldn’t recommend it.  At all.

Did seeing his body make it easier for me to accept his death than if I had not?  Perhaps.  I’ve never been on the other side of that coin so I do not know if I experienced some benefit from having witnessed it with my own eyes.

I can say this.  I saw him dead.  I saw how the blood had pooled in his extremities.  I performed cpr.  I wept into his cold shoulder, stroked his cold forehead.  It is now eight months later.  Eight months I have been living in the house we shared, his absence a constant presence.  Still, I often expect to see him come down the stairs.  If that is not enough to hammer it home that he is gone, I doubt that your seeing him in a casket would help you.  We each need to find our own ways to peace.  I will help where I can, but not at the expense of what I need, what my husband wanted, or what our kids need.

I also, unfortunately, had a falling out with someone very close to us.  You may have seen my post about the viking funeral at which I scattered my husband’s ashes in the ocean.  I will not get into the details here, but will say that there was a misunderstanding where a dear friend of ours was legitimately hurt when he learned I had done the viking funeral with just the kids and did not include him or any other family members.  I thought everyone had understood my intentions, but he did not and he was hurt.  I understand his pain and feel sorry for the misunderstanding that caused it, but I will not apologize for handling the scattering how I did.  I did not do it this way to hurt him or anyone else, but because this is what my kids and I needed.  The real tragedy for me is that this friend does not understand I was doing what I needed, and instead felt I deliberately misled him about my intentions.  He said some hurtful things, I responded harshly, we parted ways and now I no longer have what had been a major source of support.

The final arrangements are deeply personal and specific to each circumstance.  I could not imagine having a viewing, with Trey all waxed and painted.  It would have been awful for me to see him that way.  It would have been awful for the kids.  They also had unfortunately already seen his body.  They didn’t need to see any more of that.  Furthermore, he specifically did not want that.  He told everyone he knew and wrote in his will that he wanted to be cremated in the cheapest way possible.  He didn’t want funereal expenses to cut into the money that could go to supporting his family after his passing.  He also would have found it humiliating to be laid out that way.  I handled the cremation, memorial, and scattering exactly how he would have wanted it, and how was best for our family.  None of it was easy.  None of it.  So unless your opinion is, “Wow, I can’t believe you were able to handle all of that while dealing with your grief.  I am astounded by you.  If you need anything, I am here.  You did exactly right by him,” you can just keep your fucking opinion to yourself.

If it were just about me and my experiences, however, I wouldn’t even write this post.  I’m not trying to put a lot of anger out there, or self righteousness.

The thing is, it’s not just me.  I have a friend who is four months widowed and has not yet had her husband’s memorial.  She is catching the same kind of flack as I did for having a cremation instead of a viewing, and family members are actually yelling at her for not hosting a memorial yet.  She has stated that they can hold a memorial if they want, whatever they need to do.  But she is not ready yet, financially or emotionally.  Still they tell her it is just not right.

I know another woman who did have a viewing but did not dress her husband in a suit.  Guess what?  People were upset.  I know a widow who had upbeat music playing and encouraged everyone to wear bright colors.  Most people were on board but, again, there were people who were offended.

We do not mean to offend.  We are doing what we need.  I’m not telling you to not be offended.  I’m telling you to keep that shit to yourself.  Telling us won’t change things, and will just make us feel worse.  As if that were possible.

Now I come to the worst of the worst — those who proclaim loudly, to our faces or behind our backs, that we do not appear to be mourning or that we are moving on too quickly or some otherwise judgy notion that comes down to the idea that they don’t believe we are really grieving.

Shut the FUCK UP!

Widowhood doesn’t look like weeping in a dark room hidden under a black veil.

Do you want to see widowhood?  Come with me for a day.  Widowhood means making breakfast and driving the kids to school, singing along with the radio, getting haircuts and doing laundry and celebrating holidays and going to the zoo and laughing and living and loving those around you.  It also looks like crying at the sink, crying in the car, staring at the wall, comfort eating too much junk food, not eating at all, fits of terror that you will lose someone else, too.  And, yes, widowhood can look like a vacation to Hawaii, or Cozumel.  I have two widow friends who have taken such holidays.  They both have caught SO MUCH SHIT for “partying it up” while everyone else mourns the loss of their husbands.

Imagine this.

Your husband dies.  You now spend every day in the home you bought together.  You cook every meal (every single meal, because there is nobody else to cook) at the oven in which you baked cookies as a family.  You keep up with the daily routine: cooking, cleaning, homework, bills, work.  You make sure you don’t run out of toilet paper or shampoo.  You make sure the kids get to bed at a reasonable time.  You wake up every morning.  You push forward every day, taking care of your family and yourself.

Now imagine you have an opportunity to leave all of that behind for a few days.  For a week, someone else will do all of the cooking, and all of the cleaning.  You will be in a new place, somewhere that isn’t constantly assaulting you with memories.  You will be where nobody knows you, where you will not have to apologize for your emotions, where nobody knew your husband.  You will have no obligations, just for a few days.

You can heal.  You can be sad when you need to and laugh when you need to and eat when you want to and sleep as much as you can.  You can call the memories when you want, and sob yourself to sleep.  You can also go out and laugh to cleanse your soul.  It’s not a woman partying her buns off because she’s newly single.  It’s a woman who needs a safe place to focus on her own pain, her own life, and begin healing.

Not that you deserve an explanation.  But there it is.

Even if a widow is not able to take a vacation, you might see a lot of social activity suddenly hit her feed.  You should be glad that she is trying to find herself, that she is reaching out to friends and engaging in activities to keep her from growing stagnant at home alone.  If your response instead is, “She shouldn’t be out having all of that fun.  She’s supposed to be in mourning,” well, again, you can keep your fucking opinions to yourself.

I used to sit at home every night, with my husband who loved me.  We would rent Netflix and share some scotch.  We would watch The Walking Dead and Supernatural and we would play Cards Against Humanity.  But he is gone now.  I can’t sit by myself and watch TV every night.  I’d like to.  I’m a homebody.  But it is not good for me to stay home all of the time, and it is not good for my kids to see me staying home all of the time.  It is not good for the kids to stay home all of the time.

So, yes, you will see on my feed that I am going to movies and to game nights, that the kids and I are going to soccer games and state fairs. We are not trying to forget about Trey.  We are honoring him by enjoying and making the most of the life he no longer shares with us.

I know women who started dating after the first six months, and women who are not dating five years later.  I know women who got rid of their husband’s belongings, and women who kept most of them.  I know women who removed their rings the first day, and women who wore them for years.

All of these women were criticized by someone in their lives who felt they were not doing the right thing.

There is no right thing.  There is only what the widow feels in her heart is the NECESSARY thing.  We are doing the best we can.  We don’t need the additional stress of trying to please you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s