Holding Your Own in the Court of Public Opinion

By guest writer, Catherine Tidd

On my commute to work this morning (by which I mean my walk down to my basement office), I started wondering about something that seems to be a common theme with all of us widows:  The ability to overcome what other people think of us.

When our spouses die, the surrounding public seems to think it’s their right…no…their duty to tell us how things should be done.  They watch as we bumble our way into a somewhat normal existence after our lives have been completely turned upside down.  The people we know patiently wait until we “get our acts together” and get back to business as usual.

Little do they know…we have decided to close that business in order to go forth like a hippie in the 60s on a journey of self-discovery.

We get a lot of advice from the people we know about what we should do, how we should live, and the decisions we should be making. Now, realistically speaking…these people usually don’t have a leg to stand on.  Most of our friends and family have never raised children completely alone.  They’ve never dated later in life.  And most have never faced the hole that we now find in our lives.

In the face of all of these helpful tips, I’m reminded of some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten from my therapist:  Eliminate the word “should” from your vocabulary. There is no reason why you “should” stop grieving at a certain point, even though some people expect you to.  There is no reason why you “should” spend your life alone, even if it’s hard for others to watch you date.  And there’s no reason why you “should” expect your life to go back to normal when deep down you know it won’t.

Our sense of normal has completely changed.  The way we make decisions has completely changed.  Most of us now make choices with the little voice of our spouse ringing in our ears.  And it’s hard enough to think, “Well, what would he (or she) have wanted me to do if he was here?”  We certainly don’t need the added complication of wondering what everyone else thinks.

I think most of the people we know expect that there will be a time of transition from being married to being widowed.  What most people don’t understand is the change that occurs within us. It would be impossible to go through this kind of loss and come out as the same person.  I personally think that the changes are good.  We become more sympathetic to others and have a better understanding of what they might be going through.  We are (hopefully) less likely to say stupid and thoughtless things just to fill dead air.  And, thanks to the way we have been scrutinized, we are less likely to truly pass judgment on others.

I know that I’m a completely different person than I used to be.  I may walk and talk the same, but my thought processes are completely different.  That girl who would have been completely happy being a homemaker while she watched her husband’s career take off has left the building.  The girl who so deeply cared about what everyone else thinks has taken a permanent vacation.  The girl who couldn’t make a decision before she asked 10 other people their opinions is on a freighter to China, and we’re not really sure when she’ll be back.

That’s right everybody.  That girl that you went to high school with, and college with, or have spent every holiday with since she was born, has changed.  It’s not a bad thing.  I think it’s pretty natural.  Very few people have the opportunity, early in life, to really look at things…where we’re going, what we’re doing, and what the hell the point all of this is anyway…and decide what’s truly important.  Death cracks open a door and gives us a glimpse of what is important in life.  Some people choose to kick the door open and see what’s really possible, and some people just quietly close it so as not to disturb anybody.

Most of the people we know won’t benefit from this kind of self discovery until they’re much older.  Think of it this way…what we have been through, everyone will go through at some point in their lives.  It is impossible to get through life without a taste of tragedy.  We just happen to be overachievers, and have gone through it first.

The good news for all of the people we know is that they’ll have a friend who will not say a word about what they’re doing, when tragedy does happen.

By guest writer Catherine Tidd; read more from Catherine at www.widowchick.blogspot.com

Photo Credit.

33 Comments:

  1. Beverly said on August 31, 2010 at 6:50 pm ... #

    Amen.

  2. Tracey said on August 31, 2010 at 7:30 pm ... #

    Thanks! I wish those married, divorced and otherwise single could read this to have a better understanding. We’re in a club that NO ONE else can understand about unless you are in our club. I know people sometimes mean well with their advice, but instead of giving advice, it would be so much better if they just asked how we are and what we need and really want to hear the honest answer. My gosh, aside from my struggles are those struggles of my children, especially my teenage son with no father/male figure in his life. People don’t understand how important that is. As much as being an “only” parent makes us stronger, it still sucks.

  3. Cathy gismervik said on August 31, 2010 at 8:16 pm ... #

    I am so happy I found your web page . I lost my husband suddenly 4 years ago followed by the death of my mother,father and brother.When i am settling in for the night, I turn on the computer and I feel like I have so many friends that understand just what I feel. I was 49 when my husband died and every group I attended had women 20 years older than myself.Thank you for my new found friends!

  4. Kathi said on September 1, 2010 at 12:05 am ... #

    Amen to this article! I totally agree that, after being widowed, I have learned not to judge others at all, but instead to stop and consider the position the person is in, how (most likely) I’ve never been in that same situation, and I have no idea what I would do in their place, and have no right to pass judgement on the decisions they make. And, I agree with Tracey that is would be GREAT if those around us really wanted us to honestly tell them how we’re feeling and what we need. But I have found that, 4 years later, many think that my grief should be “done” and my life back to “normal.” Because of that, I still feel most comfortable with I am wiith other widows, because they “get it.”

  5. swissgirl said on September 1, 2010 at 8:35 am ... #

    I would like to forward this to everyone i know.. full stop.

  6. Catherine said on September 1, 2010 at 4:36 pm ... #

    Hey everyone! Thank you for your comments! It’s hard enough to accept how we are changing without “outside influences” isn’t it? One thing about this experience…it changes you and really gives you a glimpse of the big picture. What we all choose to do with that is up to us! (((HUGS))) to you all and I wish you the best of luck with your journey!

  7. lea said on September 1, 2010 at 6:57 pm ... #

    Thank you for putting your words out there. You said it perfectly.

  8. Kimba said on September 1, 2010 at 8:06 pm ... #

    The reader thanks the author.

    I found this link on Facebook, posted by a family member who just lost her husband to the war in Afghanistan. While I hesitate to compare the two, I just lost my husband of 30 years to his mid-life crisis.

    Each loss is painful in its own way and each one attracts painful comments from well-meaning family and friends but each can change us in a positive way.

  9. Mary said on September 2, 2010 at 2:06 am ... #

    I happened to make a friend just months before losing my husband, she had lost her husband 3 years earlier. I felt so sad for her and looked forward to our every meeting, to see how she was doing. When my husband passed suddenly one year ago, she walked up to me at his service and has been there for me everyday since. I feel blessed that she came into my life when she did. I dont know how I would have made it through, she listened to me cry and talk about my saddness hour after hour. She is still there. My oldest friends dont call much, they just don’t understand our loss. We shouldnt be widows with children left to raise, but we get up everyday and get through our day, laughing and crying less.

  10. Ann said on September 2, 2010 at 2:31 pm ... #

    I found this site because I was dating a widower with a son who I was trying to connect with. Well, we have parted ways in large part, I beleive, because the man was not ready to accept me for myself, instead of a replacement of his beloved wife.
    However, Hello Grief, and in particular this article has addressed many issues of my own Grief for the ‘loss’ of my mom to Alzheimer’s 10 years ago, and the loss of my marriage to divorce three years ago. I am at an interesting junction where my old frienships have all but evaporated, my two brothers contact me only on holidays, and launching into my passion (painting) has cause me much self reflection that has caught me off guard. I think really good things lay ahead, it takes time and if it not for new gleaming support framework available like this one, well… I would be very lonesome waiting out my own time to settle elsewhere and start anew. Thanks so much.

  11. Catherine said on September 3, 2010 at 10:21 pm ... #

    Ann–

    I loved your comment. You’re right…this article isn’t just about change through grief, but accepting ourselves for who we are and letting go of the idea that we need the approval of others. It sounds like you are starting on an exciting time in your life. Congratulations on discovering your passion and going for it! It’s what most people dream of doing.

    Best of luck to you on your journey of self-discovery. It sounds like you’re off to a great start!!

  12. Joanne said on September 9, 2010 at 11:35 pm ... #

    Wow! Beautifully said! Perfect as a matter of fact!

  13. Lana said on September 13, 2010 at 8:39 pm ... #

    I lost my husband 3 1/2 yrs ago at the age of 52 to an abrupt heart attack at the airport as we were returning from a long overdue vacation. I held him in my arms as he took his last breath, and for that I am grateful! It has taken me this long to accept the fact he won’t come home any longer. Now I need to find “who I am”! That is not easy……

  14. Catherine said on September 14, 2010 at 7:18 pm ... #

    Lana–

    It is NOT easy. But it can also be an exciting journey. I’m so sorry for your loss, but I wish you the best of luck in finding out who YOU are. Sounds like you’re ready. :>)

  15. Marlene said on September 15, 2010 at 1:16 am ... #

    How true this is. I knew me as a me. Then I got married to the best person ever. I got to know me as a we and I was very happy with that. Now since my husband passed away I am learning the me all over again. There are somedays that I am not to happy with that because I still want the we.

  16. Jay Cosnett said on September 15, 2010 at 6:11 am ... #

    Catherine! I’ve said this before, but now it is getting *quite* out of hand! *When* are you going to stop reading my mind and broadcasting it all over the Internet more eloquently than I *ever* could?? I mean, who died and made you the voice of all widow(er)s? Wait. Don’t answer that. 😉

    Utterly fantastic. Thank you!!!

  17. Tom Dean said on September 15, 2010 at 11:38 am ... #

    Even though my Wife and I have not experienced what you have, we understand from a much different but, so similar tragic event, we losty our Son because of a incompetent truck driver. Our Son was an Officer and only 24 years old. It has been very difficult for my Wife and I and Jarod’s Brothers and Sister, we can never forget but, we try to continue a life as a Family, our closest friends know we are different, we have changed, what we see, hear and do on a daily basis is not and never will be the same,ever again.Everything you said I personally can see as now normal, we have become more simpathetic towards others with problems that relate to ours. And please,Stop asking us when we will be able to get on with our lives, because we have, you just have’nt noticed ! One day at a time.

  18. Leanne Heggen Eckstein said on September 15, 2010 at 6:25 pm ... #

    This is a great article. At 26 I was widowed, then remarried 3 years later. At 31 I was widowed a second time. The first time I gently closed the door (as the article said) but the second time I kicked that door open and discovered life. The first was a US Army CID Agent, the second was a US Army Parachute Team Captain, and both were such sudden deaths that there was NO warning and no time to prepare. My biggest regret in life is that my children had to suffer through these losses as well–I could not protect them from these tragedies. We have had to travel the road to healing together and it made us such a strong family unit. It is a true journey of discoveries.

  19. Catherine said on September 20, 2010 at 11:55 am ... #

    Dear Tom…

    I loved what you said: “Stop asking us to get on with our lives because we have you just haven’t noticed.” Isn’t that the truth???? You may be moving forward…just as different people so others don’t see it the same way. I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a child is not something ANYONE should have to go through. It sounds as if you have a strong family and I’m so grateful for that.

    And Leanne…

    TWICE?? How my heart goes out to you! You’re absolutely right…going through it ourselves is hard enough, but watching our kids go through it is double the heartbreak. I’m so glad that you’re kicking that door open. I can’t wait to hear what you find. Thinking of you….

  20. Anonymous said on September 21, 2010 at 7:15 am ... #

    Thank you for this post. I wait for this empty feeling that surrounds my heart and soul to begin filling, never up but just a bit less empty. My husband of less than a year died in my arms May 4th. The community where I now call “home” altho moved here to be with him, has been outstanding. He was a much beloved teacher and coach. All the articles and tributes make me even more proud to be his wife. But the greatest gift he gave me was his unused sessions in yoga. This gave me peace and calm during this storm of grieving. I not only will be working at the studio but it has become a mentally healthy outlet for me too.
    Blessings to all who grieve lost loves.
    Namaste

  21. Joan Boughton said on September 21, 2010 at 7:16 am ... #

    My name should have been below my Namaste

    Joan

  22. kerry neuberger said on March 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm ... #

    Thank you for the post! I’m blessed to live in a wonderfully supportive community and have amazing friends and family. My husband passed away almost 3 months ago. One friend said to me – but when you are with all of us it’s ok isn’t it? There was no way to make him understand that even with all of them, I’m still alone – there’s not that person just to make the eye contact with, etc. I had known me, fought it but got used to knowing the we – now it’s figuring out the me again – even when I still feel a part of a “we”.

    The best are the girls that just show up with a bottle of wine, beef sticks and cheese – and bring their kids to play with mine.

  23. Me said on May 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm ... #

    Perfect “to go forth like hippies in the ’60’s’ on that journey of self-discovery.” That line caught me completely that is exactly how i am beginning to feel. Thirty-two years with someone and now I find myself asking myself “who am I”? Some days i feel like wow this is kind of ok and other days its like this is so not ok but i must constantly accept that my husband is dead and i must move through this grief. I never felt a feeling in myself whenever i heard or used the word “husband” yet now when i hear the word it sends chills all over me. My grief, It’s the elephant in the room and i’m the only one who sees it and feels its presence. I’ve got to just give time time. Thanks for this site it makes me feel less alone.

  24. Lauren said on November 11, 2011 at 12:55 am ... #

    Thank you so so so very much for this post. You have no idea how comforting and relatable this all is. Thank you.

  25. Linda said on February 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm ... #

    I lost my husband of 38 years suddenly 3-1/2 years ago and still hate the word “widow.” Moving on for me has come in bits and pieces – learning to operate the John Deere, doing some remodeling on my own, etc. but it’s obvious I’m not moving on fast enough for my family. They don’t understand my tears when a memory envelopes me. A guy-friend I had over a few times for dinner wanted to know why I hadn’t removed my husband’s pictures. No more dinners for him! Thank you for writing what I’ve been feeling.

  26. Lupe said on June 1, 2012 at 2:22 am ... #

    I just lost my husband just 6 weeks ago. You article really touched me. Thank you.

  27. Kristlle Krueger-Aguirre said on June 16, 2012 at 5:21 am ... #

    As Father’s Day grows near and my wedding anni-6/19 I dread the month of June. My 9 Yr old son & 16 yr old daughter are signed up to attend the next camp comfort here in california. Oh how I wish I had found this site sooner. But never the less, I have found it now and am truly grateful. As 7 yrs have passed since my husband was killed…since that horrible day April 3, 2005 I’ve lost 7 close family members as well…including my best friend and my own father. The grief comes in waves…holidays are easier then harder at times….as I read the article above…I simply sat here sobbing because for the 1st time since my husband died, every word was if it was from my own brain and heart. I’m truly grateful from my heart for having the opportunity to read such well writen powerful words…..THANK YOU. now if only my family that remains could read this….maybe they would gain insight and understand that what I’ve said for years is not so crazy after all.. with great love & respect.

  28. Terri said on July 8, 2012 at 6:06 pm ... #

    I found this article on twitter right when I needed it. I’m still on the front end of this experience. My husband of almost 29 years is still alive, but is in hospice care and if he survives the year it will be a surprise.

    He now has his third malignant brain tumor. After he had the second removed in ’09 he decided that he didn’t want another surgery. Early this year he decided he didn’t want any more chemo. An MRI in May is showed the tumor barely visible last year, was significantly larger. He is prepared to move on, and is at peace with his decision.

    One of the things I’m struggling with is people trying to get us to try some treatment, supplement, diet or healer. “I have a friend who has worked miracles” “I know this guy who has cured (fill in the blank) many times” “My friend was given 6 months to live and totally changed her diet, that was thirty years ago.”

    What I hear in the quotes above is “Why aren’t you fighting?” “Don’t you want to try everything?” “Don’t you care that your husband is dying?”

    I understand that they’re just trying to help, and that they mean well. But it’s really hard to hear.

    Thanks.

  29. Sue said on August 4, 2012 at 9:52 am ... #

    This has made me feel a whole lot better and I may have found that ‘club’ that I have been desperate to find. I have just survived the first 4 weeks with a 5year old and a 9year old after losing my husband to a stroke at the age of 43. I know exactly how you feel Terri and went through a roller coaster of emotions and comments from well meaning friends when the doctors decided to withdraw treatment. People couldn’t understand why I was so calm and relieved at the decision all I knew was that it was what he wanted and was right for all of us.
    I want to go and do things and explore this exciting new world that I haven’t seen for 20years, but almost feel bad for wanting to do it. My friends are all back in their ‘normal’ lives, dropping me messages when they remember me and telling me they will be there for me, but I am not sure I want the old times, memories yes, good times yes, but the old times will never be the same again so there is no point in trying to continue. As my hubby’s best friend said at the funeral, it will never be alright but it will get better. He is the only person who truely understands what has happened (being there every step of the way with me) and my desperation for finding a new way in my life! I will never forget my hubby and the grief is like a brick wall at the moment, but when there is clarity in my thoughts I am desperate for the new me to escape and start to form!

  30. Karyn Krueger-Woolsey said on December 23, 2012 at 11:40 am ... #

    Its kinda like a word from the Lord in my eyes finding this site on my daughter Kristlle 36th birthday. I also have lost many loved ones these past 7 yrs including Kristlles Father.The hardest and most tramatic thing I have went through except for my son 21 years ago of SIDS.My daughter is a remarkabley strong woman. Just as all of you are. With that being said I am so glad for all of you and your sharing. Respectfully Karyn Krueger-Woolsey

  31. Michelle said on May 9, 2013 at 12:16 am ... #

    I just came across this site and can’t stop reading. I lost my husband almost 8 months ago and could not explain to anyone how I was feeling. I feel like a hippie in the 60’s and probably will continue to be like this for the rest of my life.
    Thank you for assuring me that I am not alone.

  32. Mary Beth said on May 10, 2013 at 6:50 pm ... #

    What an excellent article!

    My first husband and our only child, Joseph, died in a private plane crash 14 years ago. Joseph was nine. I’ve been remarried for almost 10 years; my husband’s wife died of cancer and I have three nearly grown step-daughters.

    Even after all these years, I resonate with all Catherine wrote.

  33. Ed said on June 22, 2014 at 6:32 am ... #

    I lost my wife to pancreatic cancer on May 11, 2014, she was only 52 and I 53. I have tried so hard to put my finger on the emptiness that I feel and get confused over others inability to feel what I feel so easily. This article has touched me and I realize I am not alone on this journey. God bless each of you who have or are starting this journey as I am. It is a fraternity that only we can understand and appreciate the wisdom of those who’s lives have changed in the blink of an eye as my life has. Thank you.

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