Sunday, July 3, 2011

Widow vs. Widow

She said “Well, at least you got to say good-bye.”

Anger rises in me because I see her comment as one of those my-situation-is-worse-than-yours comments.

Anger because she wants to beat me to the bottom, to claim more grief, more anger, more despondency than me.

Anger because really? Do we have to have this conversation? I’ve had it before but about skin color with a white friend who was saying that my “blackness” was different from the “poor people’s blackness.” And I had to explain that the store clerk doesn’t thing so. I still get “watched,” and treated with suspicion even with a platinum American Express in my purse.

This widow assumes that Art’s cancer gave me time to prepare. I am disappointed at the magical death image she holds. You know the one from t.v.? The one where the person looks like themselves, opens their eyes, says a few last dying but meaningful words with the last exhale.

She thinks that expecting that your husband will die is some how easier. As if I could “prepare” for the impending grief by filling up sandbags to line my life. The more sandbags the less pain.

As I go to open my mouth, to tell her my last memories of my husband are of a withered 6’6 man who went from 235 to 154, his sunken, hollow face, mouth open emanating that foul sweet smell of his dying innards. A smell that even in thought, makes me wretch.

Before I can tell her about the relief that came over me when he died that was quickly followed with shame of being relieved. Before I can tell her any of that…

I float
into her head
and see her own

I see her need to tell her story over and over and over again, to compare it to others because in her world, right now, there is no firm footing. Nothing makes sense. She doesn’t know how to get to point B because not only is she standing on completely new territory, she doesn’t even know which direction to head in to find that second point. Comparing her story to mine at least provides her with walls, something familiar, something firm, a shelter of sorts.

And it is not till I recognize all this, I back down. She can have the bottom. She can have the grief and the despondency. I no longer need it to stand on.

I am surprised for my love for her, for the way I want to hold her in my arms and let her know it will truly, truly be Ok. I want to tell her that she will find her place in this world. That she will slowly learn to lean into and live, decently, without him.

The love comes out of my right arm, through my fingertips as I take her hand. I say to her after a moments silence, “Wow, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to loose him so suddenly. I hear you.”

Because I know she simply wants
to be

Exactly what I wanted and
still want.


  1. Oh Kim, Your post is so beautiful. Every word is true. I am so glad you reminded me of the wonderful gift of compassion that losing the love of your life and best friend has sent to us.
    Big hugs to you.

  2. Kim, that’s so beautifully written and such an amazing reminder. Thank you.

  3. Big hugs to you.
    My husband died suddenly: six months later, my friend's husband finally succumbed to cancer ... We decided that we just got different versions of hell....

  4. Kim, you speak to me with you words, my husband died of cancer too! People do not always get how difficult it is to live with the threat of death over your head. For 3 years, I could not dream of any future with my husband and it still lingers. But I think deardarl above said it best. It is just two different versions of hell!

  5. How intuitive.
    It takes a lot to hold down all of that which threatens to rise up and challenge your own level of grief. I am full of admiration for your strength and identifying where she was coming from. I am still at the place where I may have retaliated - I am with you, my husband had 4 months of cancer before he died - and we knew that he was going to die. It was good in as much as it gave us opportunity to say our farewells and for him to get his/my/our house in order - once we had climbed out of the denial phase we had about 4 weeks where it wasn't too painful to talk about his death - but NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING, could have prepared me for the loss of my soulmate. I have also concluded that will never suggest to anyone that my pain is worse that their pain - because I know the reaction that rise up in me at any such suggestion. Grieving is such a solitary path. I will be so thankful when the pain subsides - it has been only 9 weeks since my dear husband died. Hugs to you allxx

  6. Kim, your post brought tears to my eyes. I was surprised recently at an event when the discussion was about which was more painful... losing someone you love unexpectedly or to a life ending disease. Even though different, it is the same... a devastating loss. I don't understand why people have to somehow rationalize death by asking these types of questions. You are right, they are just coming to terms with their grief in the only way they know how and we should take a deep breath and reach out with compassion and understanding. Thank you for reminding me that we are all coming to terms and finding our way on this journey of grief. Take care....

  7. Well written. Thank you.
    Also, I think a common misconception is that because a spouse had cancer there was time to say goodbyes.
    Wonderful post. Thank you!

  8. I love this Kim. For two is that you are SO right, and the other is that you have come SO far. Inspiring and beautiful.

  9. Kim, your words always sing to me. So true. So strong. So kind. Thank you.

  10. Soooo very true! Thank you for putting my thoughts & feeling in words.

  11. Oh, Kim .....

    This is beautiful.
    But not as beautiful as you are, my friend.
    Much, much love.

  12. Thank you again - for putting our feelings into words! Bless you.

  13. My husband died suddenly 5 months ago and when reading about or talking to other widows who’s loss came after a long term illness, I’ve had that thought “at least you got to say good-bye.” Thankfully, it never exited my brain. It was never meant as a comparison though but rather, it was “widow language” for,

    I wish I would have said “I love you” in the days preceding your death

    I wish we could have made amends

    I wish I could have felt your warm arms holding me right up against your body

    Just one more time in the hours/days before your passing

    Had I known the end was near, I surely would have acted and spoken differently

    I would never have traded sudden death for long term illness even for the chance to have done all those things. I realize that our losses are equally as devastating as anything I can imagine. Unfortunately, my husband and I had some differences in the days before he died and in spite of being married and sticking together for 38 years and 364 days, I’m wracked with guilt over the last few. So, thank you for your understanding and compassion….the kind that only another widow can elicit.

  14. This is a perfect example of loving kindness - of the thing in my practice I search to live and I loved that you could both feel what you were feeling, yet your compassion, your love, your understanding to hear her pain despite the depth of your own. What a beautiful moment.
    What a beautiful testament to the fact that we all have things that we suffer from and yet what should bind us to care for each other is not the comparison but the fact we need each others love and comfort so much.

    You are an inspiration.
    Thank you

  15. To Anon whose husband died five months ago and is feeling guilty about issues before he passed. It would be so easy for me to tell you to stop feeling guilty, but I know you can't. My message to you is that no matter what you did, even if you were the greatest wife in the world, you would have this guilt, because it is part of the grieving process. It takes awhile, but it goes away. We are all human, and when we are trying to cope with situations which are extraordinary, and we are in shock, we can't judge ourselves for it. Our brain just goes there in a constant search for how we could have done something better or saved our loved one. It will pass. There is nothing good in revisiting the last days, but as I write this, I know you can't help it. I am a counselor, my husband was a physician, we have both dealt with crisis situations...but I ran for a grief therapist afer I lost my husband because I saw my brain taking over and I needed help. We all want to think we could have saved them, because on some level we want to have control over what happened, and we can't. You are in a very early stage of grief. To put it in perspective, I am at 20 months. You lost your husband five months ago. In my experience, you can't have any expectations at this stage about moving forward, or forgetting, or making major changes, because it is unthinkable, and I certainly didn't want to, because every change feels like it takes you further away from your loved one, and who wants that? Give yourself time, tons of it, as much as you need, and take the time to grieve. We are all so unable to grasp the future at five months that I can't believe I'm able to write this, but as time goes on it gets better and you will slowly ease into finding your path. It's not easy, trust me, but you will survive it and come to a place where you see the light. I totally feel for you because I know how hard it is. Just take things as they come. It's a slow road back from hell, but it is possible to come back. I'll be praying for you.

  16. Hey Kim - I couldn't find an email anywhere on here to contact you directly so this will have to do. I'm a Section Editor at BlogHer (for the LIFE section) and am featuring this beautiful, honest post on today's LIFE home page. Happy to send along some bling if you write me: Thanks!

  17. Reply to Anon Counselor: Thank you for your words of wisdom. They truly meant a lot to me and I plan to revisit them from time to time in the hope that they will help me get through this grief. My husband died in his sleep of a heart warning, no history, no signs. I am an RN and have spent much time trying to think of clues I might have missed, wondering why, since I've saved so many other lives, I wasn't able to save his. I know it's crazy to think this way but crazy thoughts seem to be very common since his death. Thank you for letting me know how common it is to feel guilty after the death of a loved one. It helps to know I'm not alone!....and I'm so grateful for the kindness of strangers!

    From: Anon whose husband died 5 months ago

  18. Breathtakingly sad. Tears are welling. Thank you for putting my spat with my soul mate in perspective. So sorry for your loss.

    ~Scout's Honor/Heather Murphy-Raines

  19. Kim,
    This is awesome. Truly awesome....And humbling. Thank you.

  20. Lori from San DiegoJuly 8, 2011 at 12:16 AM

    It's posts like this that consistently make YOU my favorite blogger - and you are all great bloggers on this site! However, for some reason, I relate so well to you. Again, thank you for the tears and wisdom. Hope to see you at "Camp".

  21. You are an excellent writer!

  22. This weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday:

  23. I've been that woman who thinks "At least you got to say goodbye", and I've never said it, because I'm equally aware of the horror that comes with watching a loved one dissolve. I've also heard others say, about a heart attack "at least it was quick, and you didn't have to watch him suffer". The manner of death may be different from one to the next. The pain of loss isn't. Yes, I wish I'd had the chance to say goodbye. I'm also grateful I didn't have to see Greg suffer. I wish I had more of his things around me instead of losing it all in the fire, but I don't envy the decision making people who do have all their loved one's belongs have to make.
    It's wonderful that you got to hear what she was really saying, that she simply needed to be heard. That she wasn't saying "I hurt more than you do because you had time to say goodbye", but simply "I wish I could have said goodbye". And maybe also a tiny part of her (me?) sometimes looks for the differences between the situations of the widows who have become more functional, to find some reason why you've "gotten further". "Maybe I'd be doing better if I'd gotten to say goodbye. Maybe I'd be doing better if it hadn't been so long and drawn out and if his death hadn't been held over my head for weeks/months/years".

    When it comes down to it, it really is all just different forms of hell, and we look for escape and rationalization and relief any way we can.

  24. Such wonderful words. My own situation put in between both sides of the coin. It was melanoma that took him after 7 months of hell, but I wasn't there to see the way it ate away at him. He was in Washington, I was driving truck OTR trying to make an income to support us and our home (and the children) was in Ohio. He spent the last 4 months far away from us and I got to see him twice. And we never had "the talk". And to make it worse...he never let on just how bad it was getting. He hid that from me. So when he ended up in the hospital dying it came as a shock to me because I had no idea that it had gotten that bad. By then he was beyond being able to talk to me on the phone.

    So for me...I sometimes think "I wish I'd gotten the chance to tell him good-bye" even though his wasn't sudden. A very mixed bag and my very own personal hell. Every body has a different experience even if you come across a widow who's husband died of the exact same thing yours did. It does no good to even try to compare your hell with someone else's hell. Much like I took offense in the early days with his family making me feel like my loss was less than theirs. It's all loss and the outcomes are just different for different people.

    Bless your heart Kim for being able to hold your tongue. I know it's hard to do.

  25. Very important reminder about the lack of benefit in comparing losses. I have been close to both the sudden, unexpected and drawn out, slow types of death. Both difficult. We just need to love and support each other as this writer does.

  26. OMG this is beautifully written! You have explained the feelings so well - bravo.

  27. I have experienced every detail of this in my own rebirth in widowhood. That selfless place of listening to another person's unimaginable experience without needing to compare it to our own unimaginable experience is a sign of maturity in widowhood. We are coming out of the screaming baby stage, and terrible two's, and we are learning to listen the way we needed when we were fresh. Thank you for writing this experience so well.