Sunday, May 30, 2010

Understanding the Widow Mind. Yeah. Even We Don't Get It.

I posted this question on the Widow Chick Facebook page and after I did, it got me to thinking. I love it when I do that to myself!

The question was, “Do you ever run into times when it seems like other WIDOWS don’t understand you?” And after I thought about for awhile, I realized yes. Yes I have. Actually a lot.

I think a lot of times we assume, since we have all had this experience, that anyone who has shared it automatically knows what we have been through. But when you really think about it…that’s pretty unrealistic. Even though we have all experienced loss, there is no way we have all gone through it the same way. It would be like assuming that even though you have a license, you automatically know how to parallel park my semi.

I remember attending my first young widows support group a few months after my husband died and getting a glimpse as to how we all go through this differently. I will admit, since the loss was pretty fresh at the time, I was kind of surprised that I wasn’t able to walk into this group and that everyone there would completely understand how I felt.

It’s kind of like, the bones are there, but when you really dig deep, you start to see where the similarities end.

An obvious difference I think we have is when it comes to dating and the right time to date. One of the first people I met in that group had lost her husband years earlier and hadn’t even considered dating. Another went on a date a few months after her spouse died. You could just see the wordless exchange between those two people. One thinking, “You’re going to date? Is he even cold yet?” And the other one thinking, “You haven’t gotten any in five years??”

Then there’s the financial differences. When one person has been fiscally devastated by this loss and the other finds herself in the awkward position of being set up for life. The one who’s a little better off can’t quite understand why the other one can’t take a weekend at a hotel to get her head together and the one who sweats every time she looks at her bank balance can’t understand why the other one’s toes look so great all of the time.

And…ah yes. The biggie. The whopper.

The ones who have kids and the ones who don’t.

I don’t think anything divides a widow group more than kids. Actually…that’s probably true of most social situations. Because those of us who have kids, can’t help but link everything back to them. We really shouldn’t be blamed for it. I mean, they’re our joys, our whole world, and the reason we’ll end up in assisted living before the people who don’t have kids. But I often put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t have children. We have to be an annoying bunch.

Sooner or later the crowd at Happy Hour gets divided down the bar. With those of us sweating out how we are going to get through this experience without raising potential pyro-klepto-maniacs and those who are either disappointed that they weren’t able to have kids before their spouse died or happily decided that that option just wasn’t for them.

Either way…it’s a big difference.

I think what we all share is a general understanding. But to tap into a widow who completely understands everything you’ve done based on your own timeline and thinks, “Wow! I’ve done the exact same thing” …that’s a pretty rare find.

What it should do, after awhile and a little distance from our own loss, is give us an extra dose of compassion. We may not understand why she’s allowing her mother-in-law to live with her, years after her spouse died, but that’s based on our own relationship with our mother-in-law. We may not get why someone decided to bury ashes right away when we can’t imagine taking them off the mantel, but that’s a very personal decision. We can’t figure out why someone wouldn’t move from a house that is so completely wrong for them and this new life that’s been handed to them, but we may not have all the facts as to why they’ve decided to do that.

Losing a spouse, or just loss in general, is personal and charged with emotions and strong feelings. Most of us spend entire days just pent up with the tornado of feelings we have inside of us. It would be wrong if those emotions turned into intolerance just because we don’t 100% get why other widows are making the decisions they are. And just remember…if you completely lose it on another widow…well…you can’t pull the widow card on another widow. So you better watch it if you want to get invited back to Happy Hour.

Personally, I would direct them at my mother-in-law if she lived with me. But…again…that’s my decision.

© Catherine Tidd 2010


  1. Once again, you sum it up perfectly...I think the chief thing is to have grace toward people whose a) circumstances are/were different; b) just think differently about stuff than you do. Some people find the concept of an open casket simply awful; others don't. Some believe strongly in burial vs cremation (or vice versa). Etc, etc, etc...That's not even getting into religious differences...

    There's another divide, besides kids vs no kids: were you married to your partner or not? I was not. Then you find yourself in the position vis a vis society in general (not so much with widows, though, I've found--widows have been very accepting!) just being accepted as a widowed person. Flash the widow card? Uh, sorta. "My boyfriend died six months ago" has a different ring to it than "I'm a widow." Even if you and said boyfriend had every intention of being married by, um, now....

  2. That is a REALLY good point! Darn! I wish I had included that! I understand what you're saying. That has to be really frustrating.

  3. Trends seem to surface...

    There is the quest for peer reassurance - having suddenly have lost a majority of your peer identification in the midst of crisis, grieving people ask the "am I crazy?" question a lot.

    Grieving people also seem to want to find their loss doppleganger out there - the one whose loss is just like theirs.

    We want to be understood.

    While these quests for loss dopplegangers and reassurance may work, it may end up being dubious at best. Your loss doppleganger may have all the same circumstances as you, but not have any of the reservoirs of compassion, courage and care to share with you. Your questions about sanity might invite others to tamp you down due to their own pain or cultural conditioning. And you might be crazy with grief.

    It seems that some people are just better companions on this road than others by virtue of their temperament rather than resume. There are people who have endurance for the unresolved, the messy, the pain. They continue to show up when others get weary. These are your best friends in a time of loss.

    In a few grief groups I have been in, I get the sense that it is like entering a room full of sea cucumbers - get them all together and poke them, evisceration abounds.

    When rejection or pain has come to me from the hands of other people in grief, I am often stunned but not so surprised anymore.

    Grief makes people crazy.

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  5. Thanks. I thought maybe it was just me since I'm the only young widow I know without kids. Good to think about it in the larger perspective.