When I went to the library a few weeks ago, I found a book called Happily Even After: A Guide to Getting Through (and Beyond) the Grief of Widowhood by Carole Brody Fleet. I thought I should read it, so I checked it out.
I had no idea that I would enjoy it as much as I did and feel validated in my feelings the more I read.
The first part that spoke to me talked about what defines a widow. The book has a question and answer format. A divorced person asked if she could technically refer to herself as a widow. Here’s how the author responded:
“As are many of the answers surrounding this particular widowhood journey, yours too is a “yes and no” situation. Technically speaking (and be aware that this is only technically speaking, since you were divorced from your husband, you are not “technically” widowed. This pretty much pertains only to things like filling out forms at doctor’s offices where you would indicate your marital status as “divorced.” However, as we all well know and as previously discussed, the heart is not governed by technicality or paperwork and it is perfectly normal for you to be experiencing the same kinds of emotions that a “technical” widow fees. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, i.e., “Well, you were divorced,” as though it were no big deal.”
I have had well-meaning (I hope) people in my life say that same thing when I have described feeling widowed or referred to myself as a widow. I know it wasn’t said to be cruel. Those other people just don’t know how offensive and unsupportive it is to hear. (Yes, two significant others have said it.) I may not have been married to my child’s father when he died, but ten years with him means I feel like a widow. And it is a big deal.
It’s been nearly 4 years since Ex’s death, and I’m still dealing with it, which brings me to my next favorite part of the book:
“Isn’t it so incredibly easy for other people to decide not only in what manner, but for how long, you should be grieving? Well, guess what? You are the boss here. This is your healing journey. No one gets to decide for you when to grieve, how to grieve, and/or how long it “should” take to grieve. And yes, people do say seemingly stupid and unbelievably insensitive things at the wrong time…
Out of all the friends and family who are telling you that you should be “over it” because it’s been “x” amount of time, i.e., whatever time parameters that they have designated appropriate for your grieving, how many of them are also widowed and have endured the suffering, the pain, and the loss in the same way that you have? I’m going to take a wild guess and say none.
In fact, no one else is qualified to dictate to you when you should be “over it” and that includes other widows! As we have already learned, people want you to be “over it” because (a) death in general is an uncomfortable subject and (b) it’s easier for them if you are “over it.” They are uncomfortable with your grief. It is very easy for everyone else to tell you that “Time is all it takes” when they’re not in your position.
It is true that time helps the pain take its proper place in your heart, but the experience doesn’t ever truly leave, and who wants it to? There is a very special place in my heart that will always belong to my late husband. It obviously doesn’t mean that I didn’t have the room, the desire, or the capacity to love another (because we all have that ability), but I don’t ever want to “get over” my late husband and the life that we shared together. Instead, as you will learn shortly, you don’t get “over it,” you move forward from it.”
I have had people express to me that I should be over losing my ex-husband. But I’m not. And hearing people say that makes me want to roar in their face like a lion. I’m not over it. I’m moving forward from my grief and the experience of losing my ex-husband. Thankfully, no one has told me they expected me to be “over it” in quite some time, a couple years. Am I in a good place with it? Yes and no. I’m getting there in my own time.
I think it would be easier if I didn’t have a child who still remembers and idolizes his and wishes for his daddy, but I don’t know. I have only my experience. I don’t know what it’s like for others who lose their spouses and don’t have children. Maybe it’s just as hard but in different ways.
The next part of the book spoke about dealing with anger. It reads:
“Through your anger, and though it may at times be difficult, please always remember that your husband did not willingly “leave” you.”
Okay, I thought, but mine did.
The footnote reads:
“For those of you who are suicide survivors, please take note: I also fervently believe that your spouse did not “choose” to leave, although the death may have been by their own hand. Generally speaking, a suicide victim sees no other way out of their own personal pain. In other words, it’s not that they wanted to “leave,” rather, they felt that there was no way to stay.”
What an insightful way to word it! What a dark and murky place to be in your own head, though. “No way to stay…” I get it. Okay. He didn’t want to leave. I’m feeling better already.
The next bit dealt with viewing crying as a setback in healing. The author listed many occasions that she had celebrated with her daughter in the years since her husband died. Then she writes:
“Guess what? I’ve cried virtually every time because her daddy wasn’t here to see it. But did I ever once feel as though I was having a “setback”? Absolutely not.”
For me, it wasn’t so much the setback idea that rang through but the crying at things the author’s daddy missed. I do that at big events, like the first day of school every year, and small events, like when Little Guy put away the rack of clean dishes in the kitchen the other week without me asking. He’s just getting so big and Ex misses it all. That’s hard for me. It felt good to know that I’m not alone in that and that it isn’t weird to still feel that way. I probably always will.
In my two relationships since Ex died, I have always had a fear of losing a significant other again. I have called this fear irrational, but after reading this book, I think it has some logic. Others have felt the same way and the author responded with these words:
“You are perfectly justified in your fear of losing love once again and the age at which you lost your love really doesn’t have anything to do with it. You lost your husband and the life that the two of you built was ripped away from you. Furthermore, we are all aware of the statistics that tell us that generally speaking, women outlive men. The reality is that if you commit yourself again, you have to face the possibility that you could wind up a window once again, a scary prospect to be sure.
While I certainly share that fear with you, at the same time, I could not see myself letting fear stand in the way of any happiness to which I —and every single other woman out there —am absolutely entitled. Should you choose it, that happiness also includes love and I don’t believe that fear deserves to be given the power over anyone’s destiny of happiness…
Don’t allow fears of a repeat of the widow experience paralyze you—that’s a surrender of power and fear shouldn’t be given that kind of power. Above all, remember what I said earlier, being courageous doesn’t mean, “Don’t be afraid.” The real definition of courage is being afraid and going forward anyway.”
Sometimes, I find this easier said than done, but it’s a good reality check.
On giving up on dating, (which tempts me some days. I won’t lie,) the author writes:
“Giving up means that you have resigned yourself to a life that you did not choose. Giving up means that you are letting other people (losers) or circumstances beyond your control (death) decide your destiny, which is completely unacceptable. Instead of giving up, get back up! You did it after your lost your husband and you can do it again now.
After reading this book and talking to few close friends, I know that I am entitled to an abundant life which includes companionship. We are all entitled to that. I deserve that, just like everyone else. The man for me is out there and I, the woman for him, am here. I’m still here living on this earth, and I’m going to make the life I want and am entitled to have.
I deserve it, and so do you!