Sunday, October 23, 2011

Guilt of a Happy Widow

Got this little Nutella freak from here

“Hey! How are you?” she asks.
With that question a hand is placed gently on my upper arm. Her eyes are round, her voice soft and kind, as if she were talking to a person who is old.
I wonder “Do I look ill? Is the lack of sleep that apparent?”
My friend wants to know, to
… know
how I’m doing.
Only her assumption is that I’m not doing well. After all,

And all I want to do is smile and say “I’m doing….

GREAT! Today, the kids got ready for school by themselves and this included Langston (age 14) folding his laundry. The very same laundry he put into the wash AND the dryer by himself the night before.

I had to tell Ezra this morning as he dilly-dallied over his breakfast to “put down the book or I’d have to take it away from him." This same child, 2 months ago, I had to cajole into picking up a book.

Pallas is using me as her confidant (I know this will change) she comes into my room and we talk about friendships and bodies and nail polish color.

Me. Well, I closed my business and I feel free. I have an informational interview next week and you never know where those end up! Our new place is great. I like that there aren’t all these places to disappear to. If Langston is not in the great room then he’s in his bedroom or the bathroom. That’s it. No where else to look for him. And did I mention that it was 75 today? And I wore shorts that I couldn’t fit into when Art was alive because I am now healthy skinny not a holy-shit-my-husband-is-dead skinny? “

I want to tell her all of this. I want to go on and on and on to show her the other side of widowhood, the side that is beyond just getting through another day.

But I don’t. Because I also don’t want her thinking that it’s all OK again. I don’t want her to walk away from our conversation thinking I am “over” Art's death.

And then I feel guilty. Guilty for feeling good..

Guilty for thanking Art for dying. Without his death I would never have become 70% fearless. 89% authentic, and 100% alive. I really like all the ways I have been pushed to grow and expand and live.

Guilty because the kids and I are actually ok. We laugh and have fun without him, without thinking about him.

Guilty because the intense bouts of grief come further and further apart from each other. I can go weeks without crying about him. I can go days without yearning for him.

Guilty because most of the time, when I think of him, it is with sweetness, laughter and a deep sadness that doesn’t overwhelm me.

And honestly part of me doesn’t want to disappoint her. I want her to know that as a widow my life will never be "back to normal." I want her to know that I am still different from her and she absolutely CANNOT complain about her husband to me. I want her to know that it’s still a struggle – just less and less of one.

So instead of answering her, I simply change the subject.


  1. I'm genuinely happy for you that you have reached this stage. You have come a long way in your grief journey towards the new you. Perhaps someday you will even be able to hear others' in their struggles with a spouse without the jealousy that now blocks your understanding.

  2. Kim! Thank you SO much for giving voice to this! The conflict you reveal of how to respond is SO palpable! I mean, you nailed it: The LAST thing we want our non-widowed friends and acquaintances to think is that we're "Back to Normal." (Our widowed friends know that's impossible, so no worries there.) But, at the same time, grief changes, over time. We don't "get over" losing our spouse, but what that means for us, day to day and year to year, changes. And it does, mostly, usually, hopefully, get less horrible. We remember more with fondness and less with devastation. We laugh remembering the good times more than we cry about the fact that there won't be any more, at least not with them.

    But that sort of "both/and" duality is not something easily conveyed in a quick convo, and if someone has been intimate enough with our journey, they probably aren't putting their hand on us and asking, "How ARE you?" So it's tough. Sometimes I want to say, "Read my flippin' blog! It's COMPLICATED!" But of course that sounds more than a little self-absorbed and self-important. So we usually try and strike that balance--not TOO gloom and doom (unless that's where we're at) but not too sunshine and puppies, either. (Unless, again, that's where we're at.)

    And the guilt... YES. I wrote a post sort of about that a while back. 19 years of marriage gone and I'm happy because I've got a new... Job? House? Boyfriend/Girlfriend? I mean, those are important, big things, but how superficial and lightweight does that SOUND?! Ick. Of course, it's NOT--we will never experience joy of any magnitude if we do not welcome it where ever and how ever it comes--but still. We FEEL like we are doing our late partner a disservice. So that's a real struggle, and good to see you write about it so well.

    And I'm sorry but I do feel the need to respond to "HotExpressoCards"--I certainly can't speak for Kim, but my take on what she wrote is very different. I don't think she's talking about jealousy at ALL--how I feel in those situations isn't jealousy (wanting what they have), it's anger. I'm angry that they are taking what they have for granted. That they are not appreciating how stupid and petty and silly their complaints sound in the big picture where they could lose it all in an instant, especially when they are telling it to ME, who KNOWS this! Shouldn't I be a living, breathing reminder that they should complain less and start appreciating more? The "understanding" that seems "blocked" is theirs (not realizing how petty and stupid they sound, complaining about their spouse to someone who's spouse is DEAD), and yours, for assuming that our not wanting to hear their complaints could only be motivated by wanting what they have.

    At least in my case, I LOVE to hear friends talk about how in love they are, or how wonderful their partner is, what a great parent, etc. Sure, I get a twinge of "wish I still had that," but I'm not jealous of their happiness. I know how hard marriage can be. I KNOW that it is never just a walk in the park. I want to CELEBRATE when someone appreciates what they have. But when they DON'T see, when they take for granted, and then have the insensitivity to dump it on me, well, they may indeed get more than they bargained for, but it won't be motivated by jealousy. But that's just me.


  3. Kim, I think you expressed the sentiment so well. I have found myself in a similar situation.... Feeling guilty for having fun, forcing myself to have my own adventures and having a good time... (as much as they might simultaneously harbor feelings of lonliness)... to live life for the BOTH of us... and yet also feeling like these adventures spell out to the world that I am "over" my husband's death. Sometimes, after these days filled with adventure and fun, a "compensating day" comes at me and I feel down... guilty... lonely. But I also know that we all process our loss differently. I know that I NEED to stay busy... call it a diversion, or merely needing the normalcy of daily life. Some can sit in the grief day in, and day out - not that staying busy blocks out the grief. But the expectation of grief (or lack thereof, depending on the day) from others... sometimes that is the hardest to process.

  4. First of all, Jay, I think what you are talking about is semantics. I don't think she meant jealous, per are making too much out of that word. Yes, we all get that feeling when someone talks about their husband/wife in a negative way. It should have it's own is neither jealousy or full on anger....We all had those feelings about our spouses at time or another, both jealous and anger. If we are honest. And I also don't feel the need to soften any remarks when someone asks how I am doing. I say I am getting along.....I am still sad but getting used to it. And that is the my case. I'm getting used to being alone in the house and not going out...I still cry at times, but I will never be okay with any of this. However, if I was to feel happy or forget for a few minutes that my life pretty much ended when he died, I wouldn't apologize to anyone for that.

  5. In regard to the "jealousy" comment, I think the missing word is "insensitive." I would compare it to bragging about how wonderful motherhood is to your friend who would give anything to have a baby but is unable to become pregnant. Many of us who have stood by our spouses side during serious illness and then experienced them passing away have heard just about every insensitive, ignorant comment in the book, so I think we have our fill of it early on and become more hypervigilant about it. Once you have experienced such a deep, enduring hopelessness, it is true that other peoples' complaints often seem so petty by comparison. It is not a lack of caring about them or trying to minimize their issues, we just literally can't process it anymore. So if these folks can display some sensitivity and take their issues to their therapist or one of their other friends, it would be very helpful to those of us who have walked in hell and are trying to walk back out of it on this long, painful journey.

  6. You know what? I still can't stand to be around married people. Jealous? Insecure? Wacky? Probably a mixture of all those things and a whole lot more. I was once one of "them." I even, almost, became one of "them" again, but, alas, I was dumped. Being alone, without an adult companion to share life with after you know how sweet life can really be, is a very hard road. Yes, it is.

  7. I lost my husband 6 months ago. Can't imagine what purpose there is to being a widow. Most widows are miserable, objects of pity. Younger men try to hit on me. Men in their 60s seem to be a conglomeration of urinary, prostate, chf problems, early Altzheimers very romantic. On line dating profiles reveal incredible selfishness misogeny. or the quest for a sugar momma. Is there a purpose in being trim . well read,zesty and in early 60s?

  8. It's great to share with people who get you. The fortunate,those without loss of soul mate,can only imagine our reality. 1) daily talks with your late husband's picture,summing up the day's events.2) the emptiness of Father's Day, birthdays. 3)Not wishing to die,but looking foreward to a joyful reunion. 4) Listening to Ground Control to Major Tom, he was USAF. Thank you David Bowie for this anthem to love, patriotism, spitituality and loss.