Monday, November 14, 2011

The Fraudulent Widow

Got this photo from here.

I have a confession to make.

And to many of you it will sound preposterous.

No doubt many of you will think that I am out of touch, delusional or didn’t have a “good” marriage.

Some of you won’t believe me or won’t want to believe me.

I am not of the widow crowd that believes that my husband, Art, was “my one and only love in my life.” I don’t believe God put me on this earth to only be touched by one man’s life or to touch, mold, distract or teach only one man.

But that’s not my secret. My secret is my life
better now that
not in it.

It is something that is hard to admit in a widow crowd cause, well, if feels almost blasphemous.

This awakening did not happen in the beginning. I cry every time I learn of a new widow because if I close my eyes, I remember those hollow, confused days. I remember the longing for his hand on the small of my back, or for my aggravation that he never called me by my name but referred to me as “Honey, Sweetheart or Baby.”

I remember wanting nothing more than to smell him again.

I remember knowing only that if I got up, I could go back to bed. And getting back to bed meant that I had done it...Lived through another horrible, no good day. And if I could live through that day, then I could do another. I knew that eventually this rising from and going back to bed would get me some place. I was unclear of where that place was. But I believed those who came before me when they said, "I promise you, it gets easier."

And then, suddenly (for it really did feel like a jolt), I would go a few days with out crying. I could plan, shop for, prepare a meal several days in row before I became that crumbly, un-functional mess again.

And somewhere, the grief became less about missing him and more about living without him, or any man, in my life. The grief changed from losing Art to losing the ground I had previously thought was so firm. It became about learning to live in the uncertainty. It became about facing my own demons now that the grief had laid them open and bare.

The grief became about me, not about him.

I was one of those wives who lost myself in motherhood, wifehood and friend-hood. Occasionally I would look up and see clearly that I had lost myself. Full of my self importance as a wife and mother, I became too afraid of what I might loose if I tried to “find” myself. So I turned away and skipped merrily (but empty) down the wrong road. My life was about making everyone happy, everyone but me.

And now that Art is not here, I can focus on myself. And I like that. I like being able to order whatever I want on the pizza. (Which I don’t do because I am gluten intolerant. Something that I have known for years, but did nothing about because it was easier to put up with a little discomfort than to try to resist the pizza, explain to everyone, every time, why I wasn’t having pizza and preparing something for myself.)

When I look at myself now in the mirror, I see someone who I not only like, but someone who I recognize! I am not the stereotypical lonesome widow, soldering on… bravely without a husband. I can’t stand the assumption that that is all there is in widowhood.

I think I am odd in this. I think that I am different so I play along, sometimes, like the good, longing widow. But I don’t long for him, I long for this new life that approaches. One filled with adventures and frustrations and vigor!

This life would not be possible if Art were still alive. I have seen how quickly life can disappear and I don’t want to spend it longing for or canonizing my wonderful but dead husband.

I do think about him every day but it’s not in a longing way one thinks of when one utters that phrase. It’s in passing, just like when I’m driving in the car and say to myself “Shoot! I gotta remember to call Christina.”

I don’t’ miss him in this life I have built. I am stronger here. I am more me than I ever allowed myself to be in my marriage. I have no one to blame for mistakes made, ramifications for decisions, or words said or unsaid.

If I am afraid, I have to have to look at it. If I don’t’ want to do something, I have to do it or find someone else to. It is all on my shoulders…the good and the bad.

And as a result, I like who I have become. I feel real. I am the phoenix who has risen from the ashes. I am gold and powerful and wise.

The ashes are what got me here, where I go from here is truly under my own power.

I have often said Art’s death was his last and greatest gift to me. Without him dying, I would not have jumped off the cliff
instead of
I am flying!


  1. That’s a post about joy and growth-two of life’s most important facets. I am happy for your newfound-ness. You inspire me.

  2. Thank you for this post! Really. Really, really. For being honest with everyone, and with yourself.

    I used to facilitate widow/widower support groups at our local Y. A few weeks into the group, particularly with the younger widows, someone would whisper, eyes cast down, "I love being able to eat popcorn for dinner." Or "Now I can sit in the breakfast nook chair that faces the yard, instead of the kitchen." It was great hearing these truths, and the truths about arguing and loving but still arguing and getting frustrated, and letting the dead be who they really were, and the survivors living for themselves. And, slowly, others would speak the same truth.

  3. Kim, I loved this post!!!! So honest, so hopeful, so inspiring.....

    After the darkest of the days passed, you have discovered the special gift that Art left for you. The desire and strength to build a not only new, but a great life. You go girl!

    I want to get there one day, too!

  4. I think there should be a P.S. on this post that says "Your mileage may vary"... I guess it is useful to let other widows know that if this is your narrative, you are not alone. I also think it's important to know that if you don't see the *gift* in your husband's death, and you don't like your new life without him, that's okay, too. You're doing the best you can, and trying to find some kind of happiness, in spite of his death. I'm not succeeding in that right now, but I wish everyone the best in their struggle to find their own narrative that works for them.

  5. "But I don’t long for him, I long for this new life that approaches."

    More of us felt this way you think. but as you say, it's easier to not say so because you risk not belong to the club anymore if you do.

    It's normal to want to move on and look forward.

  6. Wow, I didn't know you could read my mind. When we married I was only 18 and over the next 28 years we grew up together and the last 10 years I was mostly his caregiver. Until I slowly started coming out of the fog I hadn't realized how much I had let his wants and needs take over. I no longer even thought of what I wanted or liked. I am slowly taking the time to let myself figure out who I am now. And yes sometimes I want popcorn for supper, or ice cream. I spent years doing what was best for him and our son. Now it's my time. Not that I don't wish everyday that he was here beside me while I am figuring all this out, I know that the answers would be different with his influence.

  7. I've had to read this post twice now because I must say, I felt some shock reading it. However, I fully understand the line that "the grief became about me, not about him." I think that happens to all of us, because the grief is about us also. It's the end of a marriage, a partner, companionship, sex, intimacy, a co-parent, a big chapter of our lives. We grieve for all of that, plus the loss our children have experienced. The grief of losing our dreams for the future, our security, safety, our whole history together. We grieve for many things when our spouse passes. It would be nice to have a magic wand that could erase all of the things we love and miss, and only remember the less than perfect aspects of our life with our spouses. That would make it so easy. I'm always happy to see someone find happiness. It's a different perspective from anything I've heard, but you are being honest, and you are brave to do so.

  8. Although, I still long for my husband, I still do not make him a saint. Life with him could, be both difficult, although the joy in being with him out weighed the difficult part. I still can find the postive ways I have changed despite, missing him. Not everyone experience in grief is the same. I am started to attempt to date, some would see this as my not really loving my late, husband, but that is not true, even after 2 years. I still miss him everyday, but you can not have a real relationship with a dead man. I can almost hear him say! He made me promise to find someone to love- so it has made the transiton for me easier,because he wanted it. I even got a sign from him I was doing the right thing, when the matchmaker called and asked me if I would like to attend a matchmaking dinner party that actually will fall on his birthday! Of course I said yes, it was not the first time that something remarkable fell on his birthday!The year he died. I gave away his truck to a young man who really needed a car and he actually came to pick it up on my husband's birthday- which happened to be the young man's 16th birthday too! How is that for a sign!

  9. Great post. It is very easy for women to become subsumed by men, even wonderful and loving men. I don't know about you, but I grew up with the Cinderella myth: the prince comes along and rescues you; a message that is basically disabling. When I lost my prince, I was just left with me (and two young kids) and there is something truly empowering about surviving that loss and going on an adventure all alone with a different kind of map.

  10. I have felt some of this too, Kim, but haven't been able to verbalize it. I start with "I loved him but..." or "My marriage wasn't BAD, but..." and then just trail off, feeling like it's just not okay to feel as though there is anything good about his death. I wish he hadn't died, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't have some excitement for the future and some satisfaction in living life the way I want to live it without compromising.
    I think I allowed myself to exchange some of my wants and needs for his. I lost some parts of myself in my marriage and I'm finding them again. Without his influence. Which is scary but exciting too. I am learning who I really am.
    And a phoenix is exactly what I picture when I think of this process.
    No part of me is glad he's gone, but his death did force me to jump off that cliff, too, and if I hadn't, I'd never know if I could fly. Turns out I can.

  11. Amen! You have written what I am scared to say out loud. I still love my husband. I would never have chosen this life without him- but I like my life. I tried to voice this feeling last summer, but I could never find the right words. I have three young boys. We participate in 4-H. My oldest shows sheep. I had to relearn how to back a horse trailer, how to build fence, how to juggle EVERYTHING in our lives in order to participate in our county fair. After we got the sheep checked into the fair and returned home with the trailer- I was sitting in the driver's seat and pondering how AMAZING it felt to have done it all by myself. I like this woman I have become. She was always in there- just never forced to come out and play. There are times it's a relief to not have someone waiting for me at home. I can stay out as long as I want. If I want to feed kids ice cream for breakfast- there is no one to object. It's a good life... despite the grief.

  12. Thank you Kim for Post. It was very different and the comments made - well any single one of them could of been one that I had written - they all have meaning for me. I wear a Ying Yang that I purchased in hong kong after my husband's death. Well I would of happily never gone to hong kong or anywhere else in the world because my life would of been different if he was still alive!None of us here would be reading these posts right now if our loves were still alive. His ring would be on my finger still instead of after three years finally getting into the saftey deposit box. (that was a huge process - from finger- to neck- to always having in purse)- another days topic-I'm sure.
    When he was alive he also appreciated symbolism of the Ying Yang - there is nothing that is 100% anything, we had them around our house and he would of liked that I bought the necklas for myself so I wear it with his death in mind..actually with life in mind.
    Sometimes the pain of his not being by our side is still percing the very center of any joy we experience.
    Not where you are yet Kim but it gives me some place to strive for. He could not be my one and only love- he was the one that I was lucky to find and make a life with. I am just finding some peace and gratitude after three years that we had been so very lucky and found each other at all- how lucky we were that we had over 21 years together. There is no one that can give me the life I so wanted to go back to (so did he) since the second his cancer diagnosis was given to us all we wanted was our old life back- many nights spent together missing "The Way It Was" he did not choose to die- I did not choose to have a future without him in it and I believe there is a different love and life for me to discover...when I am ready or not...never again will I be dependent on my life being about one other person again. OK- not sure how that works but you get that I do not want to ever be in this much pain again- not sure I could survive it.

  13. It has been 3 years since my husband of 40 years died and I would take him back in a minute. I still can't believe that he is gone forever. He wasn't perfect, but I loved him so much! We met at age 16 and 17, but didn't get married for 6 years. We were young 60 year olds when he died. I've always been a very strong and independent woman. Our marriage wasn't always easy, but i would welcome him back with open arms anytime. I still miss him so much. I would rather have him than any future adventure. But I realize that we are all different and I applaud your honesty, Kim, but I can't imagine myself ever feeling that way.

  14. This is a great post, Kim. And while not ever widowed person will feel this way .... or even be able to admit it if they do .... I'm proud of you and thankful that you feel strong enough to say/write it. That's huge!
    I also think there may be some small part of it that may resonate with everyone. Jim was not a saint, by any stretch of the imagination .... and we certainly had some rough times (you can't really get married a year out of college and then proceed to have 6 kids in 10 years without experiencing some rough, and very lean, times). But over the years we learned how to communicate better, put each other first over the kids .... and to have a really great marriage/friendship.
    I cannot honestly say that my life is better without him, and I'm not sure that I'll ever get there. But I can say that my life is good .... and good in ways that it wouldn't have been if he were still here. I've enjoyed learning more about myself, though I didn't have a whole lot to learn. Jim was a great husband who supported everything I ever did/attempted/tried/succeeded at .... or failed. He always made sure that he, as well as I, knew who I was as a person .... not as merely a wife and mother. I always felt independent and encouraged. But, I have grown more so in my "after". I've tried things that I might never had tried had he not died. I've failed at some of those .... and I've succeeded at many. I've learned that I'm stronger than I ever thought I was and I've become more laid back and flexible about the future and what it holds.
    I have to admit that I love doing what I want to do, when I want to do it ... and I don't have to ask anyone's opinion. I love being able to pack a bag and head out somewhere for a weekend .... sometimes at the last minute. I love feeling the freedom to explore other options in my life .... and to discover passions I may never have seen "before".
    But the best thing in my "after"? The very best thing?
    Easy. The fact that I now have TWO Master closets and they're all mine!! Hands down, the easiest answer. :)
    Yes, this might pose a problem, should I ever decide to marry again, and I'm not sure how I'd handle it .... other than to make the next guy move his clothes into one of the empty kids' bedrooms. :)
    Shallow? Yes. Selfish? Oh, you bet. Guilt-inducing? Nope. Not at all.
    But then, that's just me.

  15. Holy shit Kim you rock....this post helped me so much today...Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Maureen

  16. Kim, I can certainly empathize with the "fraudulent widow" term. My husband passed away less than 6 months ago. He was a quadriplegic for the entirety of our 17 year marriage. We loved each other tremendously, had the greatest time together, and we were best friends. But there is no doubt that my life, my entire self, every minute of the day was dictated by him. His health over the last 5 years deteriorated and brought our leisure time to a few limited hours once or twice a month. His last year was spent entirely in his bed. We were trapped in one room of our new house for the remainder of his life. He passed away peacefully at home, and from that moment I have struggled with this new freedom and the countless hours of free time. It is only in the past few weeks that i have begun to see that in his passing my husband gave me a gift. Using this gift appropriately is what i am struggling with now. and i also struggle with the guilt i have for enjoying my new free time

  17. To anon above whose husband passed 6 months ago. God bless you a million times for being there and for loving him. It takes an angel and a very advanced soul to love in such an unconditional way. I understand your conflict about your free time. My husbands' illness found us housebound for at least four years, as he could not be left alone. I thought we were as close as any two humans can be, but our bond forged even closer during the illness. When he passed, I had the thought that my freedom was paid for with his life. I have never experienced any joy of any kind about his passing or the freedom it gave me, because the freedom was empty without him next to me. After two years, I still feel this way. I'd rather not be free and still have him with me, and every minute that I took care of him was sacred. Many people will not understand this statement, but as you went through even more than I did, I'm sure you understand. Your love together achieves a spiritual level that cannot be described in words. I am grateful to God that he gave me the strength and resilience to care for my husband under very stressful and heartbreaking circumstances, and in my daily prayers I continue to thank him to this day. To love a person with all of your heart when they are so diminished, but you can still feel their love and see into their soul, is a great heartbreak and a great gift all at the same time. God bless and keep you, and know that your love for him will stay with him for eternity.

  18. A few weeks after my husband died, I went to an "All Souls Day" Mass. The priest said, "He has died so that you can live", this sticks in my mind. I, too, lived for my husband and daughter. Many times. over the past 2 years, I have wished that I could have been a stronger person, as I now am. I think that our life together would have been different. But, I don't want to dwell on the 'could haves' or 'would haves'. I, too, am living my life now how I want to and trying to do it without a lot of guilt.