Not Getting It

Young widow, 1851

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Although I rarely “widow” blog anymore, this blog attracts a fair number of the grief-stricken, who comb through the dead spouse tagged posts or even go back to the deepest corners of my archive and read every single post I wrote in the first two years. And I read griefy stuff here and there myself, mostly people with whom I am acquainted to one degree or another.

There is a blog called Widow’s Voice that showed a bit of promise in terms of balancing the diversity of grief experiences and I would read, comment if I felt inspired, but over time, the site went “party line” as it evolved into a business/career for some of the people involved.

And by party line, I mean it promotes the idea that widowhood is a borderline mental health issue that can be managed over the course of one’s life though never cured. It supports the idea that widowhood is a persona rather than the fact that it is merely one of the less fun life events that a person experiences, deals with before moving on to a hopefully more fun life event.

Recently, one of the bloggers wrote a piece on “getting it”. In widow speak, people who “get it” are those who understand that widowhood is forever and that it’s a delicate condition which should inspire your inner widow to bleed copious amounts of pity indiscriminately. It’s played off as empathy, naturally, but it’s pity – for yourself and the newly widowed – that’s really being promoted.

People who don’t “get it” are the non-widowed because how could they ever imagine such a thing, or begin to have the slightest glimmer of understanding, if they haven’t “been there” themselves? Don’t Get Its are likely to provide solutions and problem solve instead of  mindlessly drooling pity and acceptance of bat shit crazy actions or thoughts. Don’t Get Its are mainly uneducated – though this is rarely a good enough excuse to keep them from being scorned and ridiculed.

But the author of the post, someone I recall from my YWBB days with little fondness, wrote about – gasp – discovering that Don’t Get Its existed among the widowed. Shudder.

Not that she was making judgments. She clearly states –  That’s neither a negative nor a positive statement. It’s just an observation. My observation.

But a calculated and cutting one and then she goes on to clarify that the number of widow idiots is small though it apparently includes her widower boyfriend,* and that it’s mostly a phenomena of being years out and remarried.

The audacity of some of us. Letting time actually heal our wounds and then moving on. Hand the smelling salts to Aunt PittyPat.

I tried to leave a comment on the piece but the widow (not really as she is remarried too) screens her comments and doesn’t post ones that contradict the blog’s thing of “anything goes as long as its sufficiently brown-nosing and dripping with pity”.

Do I get it? In terms of being newly widowed and learning the ropes in the first year or so, I do. It’s brutal and people without support networks are more the norm than not in North American society, which makes it harder. We are also a death denying/fearing culture and this complicates matters.

But people who are farther along and still leading with their widow foot? I don’t get them at all. Why make loss and grief your identity? Why the need to solicit pity? Why blame every disappointment on the totally unrelated death of your spouse? Why still read between the lines of everything the people around you do or say and interpret it as a slap? Why feel sorry for the newly widowed and encourage them to take more time in the depths of grief than they normally would have but for your misguided “help”?

And frankly, I feel misunderstood and judged. Not a positive or negative? My ass.

It is the same old tripe message that implies that those of us who move on must not have had good marriages or loved our spouses.  And don’t get me started on the whole “soul mate thing”.  One widow’s comment on the post actually put forth the self-serving notion that people who move on never experienced real love. That their marriages were inferior and lacked the special magic that allows them to “get it”.  They were to be pitied.


If I am pragmatic, I must be unfeeling. If I don’t agree with coddling or condoning questionable mindsets or behaviors, I don’t get it.  If I think you are wrong, my marriage must have sucked.

But I do get it, all too well. I just don’t agree and that’s not the same thing at all.

If you want to make a living off your misfortune, you are hardly an anomaly. If you chose to work through your “issues” by pursuing a grief-related career, I’ve met more than a few people who’ve done just that. But don’t disingenuously smear those of us who’ve put our loved ones deaths into the perspective of our own lives and choose to rebuild off the cemetery. And don’t make assumptions about boots you haven’t walked in.

The only eyes we can actually see out of are our own. Myopic as they may be.

*Though she doesn’t  mention what he thinks about being lumped with those of us who clearly didn’t love our late spouses and/or had marriages of questionable soul-mate status.

25 thoughts on “Not Getting It

  1. I really liked your piece. I’m only 8 months in. Adored my spouse. But what a dishonor to him to wallow in misery all the time. Trust me, I get sad. And I go with it. But I don’t stay there. Cannot afford to. I have kids, things to do. He’d want me to be happy. I have even dated a little bit. He died. I did not. I’m still here. And he is not coming back. So I’m going to keep on going. Not going to wear the widow badge. And whoever thinks I didn’t love my husband, just did not know us. Screw them!

  2. I apologize. After re-reading your post, I now realize you were talking about a totally different “blog”. When you later mentioned YWBB in your post, I got confused and thought that was the one with the post you were referring to. Feel free to delete my previous post and this one as they are apparently not relavent.

  3. I thought your post was a little harsh. I do not know which post on YWBB fueled this blog post, but I post on YWBB and yes, there are a lot of posts about DGI’s, but how far out are the people posting on DGI’s. We’ve all had to deal with them, but many of us know that we can’t forever blame every little thing that happens in our lives on DGI’s and although many of us have participated in posts about DGI’s on at least one occasion, many of us do move on and realize that there are DGI’s in almost every aspect of life and that it is just not productive to continue to complain about them on those kind of posts.

    Frankly, I find the idea that you would be so harsh to a group of people who are still finding their way a bit unseemly. I thought the whole idea of YWBB was to accept that people have their own timeline for dealing with grief, not your timeline. It also sounds to me like this post is coming from a place of sour grapes and not of constuctive criticism.

    So what’s really eating you?

    1. I am not sure where you got the idea I was writing about the board. This post was a response to a blog post by a widow whose about four years out where she basically accuses the remarried and the years out of being insensitive and DGI.

      I don’t know what is going on in YWBB world these days. I found the place to be fairly mainstream and party line in terms of what is acceptable for timeline, proper ways to grieve and moving on. Some people were more rabid than others and the number of people who give really good advice or are an example of healthy (the term being relative) ways to cope and move forward were relatively few. I made a few friends, met my second husband there and now it’s not part of my life.

      I read a few widow based blogs. Mostly of people I am friends with but this particular one is meant to be a place for sharing experiences that mostly the newly widowed (less than a year) can relate to or give hope to. This particular blogger used her post to pick a bone with commenters who are farther out – as she is – but who take issue with the way she portrays widowhood for those whose losses are not newly minted. It was a personal jab. And since this is a personal blog – as opposed to the self-help that the one in questions puts itself forth as – I commented.

      She insulted me. I responded. Period. Don’t read things into it that aren’t there.

  4. I’m enjoying eavesdropping on this conversation between the two of you.

    Ann, I giggled at Can we agree, at least, to retire that particular load of crap? and the line preceding it.

    Supa, you’ve got a pretty pithy little saying there: I get it, but I choose to get past it.

    I think that’s the rub: So many people don’t know HOW to choose to get past it, whether because of fear (of the unknown future, of “forgetting,” of failure, of the monster under the bed) or because they don’t have the inner resources to do so.

    Western society is extremely extroverted: We don’t know what’s within us, we don’t know how to talk about what’s within us, we don’t know how to look at what’s within us. So when confronted with something like widowhood, which tends to eviscerate whatever is within us, MOST people — both the widows themselves and those around them — are really unable to respond on anything but the most superficial level.

    That’s why aphorisms abound; that’s why brushes get slobbered with paint and smeared around in huge broad strokes; that’s why people need to know what is NORMAL and feel free to rail against that which is out of the normal.

    Regarding “always” and “never” — Nick and I used the two words as a code. When one of us said that in a discussion, we always emphasized the word. It was our way of saying we KNOW that it’s not always, we KNOW that it’s not never, but dang it sure feels like it. Just an aside, because it made me smile to read Supa’s line about that.

    1. Totally welcome to “eavesdrop” and jump in whenever.

      I think what Supa and I do agree on is what you point out. People want to know that they are “normal” in terms of their feelings and reactions b/c being “normal” is a relief and b/c it gives them a time frame, which is so important when the world collapses around you – knowing that it will end someday. That this particular life event ends somewhere different is not what people expect or hope for even but it does no one any favors by pretending that this doesn’t change us and that by the end of the beginning, we are changed again.

      Superficial is a dead accurate assessment of people when it comes to just about anything.

  5. Hmmm… I guess you’re right that there are some points I wouldn’t have picked up on in her piece…. points that for all I know may be aimed at you and I.

    As for getting it: I really think I am really turning into a DGI again, not just someone who gets it but chooses to get past it. Does that make any sense?

    Statements like “I will never be a jerk again” are just stated so they can be busted wide open.

    I wish no one would ever say “always” or “never.” (Oops!)

  6. Actually we can more than agree. It’s a very stupid belief. And I do agree that many people share this “tired myth,” but I also don’t take it seriously. I’m a lot more worried about other issues that hold people back in peer support.

    I reread Janine’s post and I guess I don’t quite hear her saying anything about the quality of either first or second marriage. She says that she’s afraid that becoming a DGI — becoming “one of those people” who says tactless things — will mean she’s less compassionate. She’s afraid that this will mean that her loss will leave her, and that change will mean she is less connected to her late husband. Yes, I have heard many say this — and I don’t see a shred of logic in it — she’s expressing her fears. It’s not true of course, but since when do emotions have to be “true?”

    I hear her saying she is clinging to her loss. But I don’t hear her saying that she will cling to it forever. And I don’t hear her telling anyone else what to do.

    Maybe I’m not reading between the lines, maybe I’m not critical enough, maybe this is part of your prior relationship with Janine, maybe I’m too big a part of the problem to see it.

    I see a lot of this space is taken up with conflating emotional and rational topics, and I try not to do it when I criticize or respond. I try to understand when an emotional argument is being made (as in this case) and I tend to hold those to a much lower standard. It’s like trying to correct the punctuation in a free verse poem. Not applicable.

    You and I have talked about this distorted perception of the DGI’s vs. everyone else, and it’s about being judged. I think you and I agree on a lot of this, that creating this distance isn’t good for anyone, and contributes to further isolation. Widowed people are so sensitive to hearing judgment in others’ flawed and limited perceptions and experiences when no judgment is intended. But is that what you’re doing too, by hearing Janine’s testimony as a set of rules?

    I admire your toughness, your perspective, your intellect, your willingness to speak up but I just don’t hear that myth in Janine’s post. And I think I agree with you on most of the “phenomena” of this little niche of culture though I may often come to different conclusions.

    None of us sees with an uncolored lens, and mine is far too often green. You’ve raised some interesting issues as always and I will try to write my thoughts out more cohesively, as a newly-re-minted DGI myself.

    And I’m sorry your comment was deleted. That’s the kind of thing that upsets me, too, even though I know it’s part of the blogging game and I may do it myself one day.

    1. She used pretty specific examples of “certain widows” – the remarried kind, years out. And the whole thing read disingenuous to me. She’s pretty far out herself. She’s in a relationship. She’s found a niche in blogging as though she was just widowed yesterday. It’s her conflict, but I take issue with being her foil. She can pretend that things don’t really change but don’t paint the rest of us as DGI. It’s not DGI. I get it. You get it. We just choose not to live there anymore. Mostly because it’s inappropriate. It’s like wanting to have the spotlight back when you 15 minutes are up and doing whatever is necessary to snatch it away from those who have more right to it b/c of where they are.

      It doesn’t matter about the comment b/c I have a blog where I can go with my opinions, but I wonder how many newly widowed -who are outside the box – get shut out there?

  7. Wow, a comment will simply not do justice to the conversation we could have on this topic, which would take days and weeks, and take far more time away from our current, real lives than we would ever want. Suffice it to say that I think you are painting with a pretty broad brush, that I don’t think (from our prior conversations) that you find peer support completely useless, and that I dramatically disagree with you about how many “careers” are being made.

    Also, that I am becoming a DGI again, and I’m okay with that. 🙂

    I guess like Alicia, I agree with you on some things, and not on others, and I have enough respect for you (and I hope you do for me) that we can tolerate the differences even for the sake of our online-only friendship. Heck, the conversation is way more fun this way even if I copped out by writing a short comment. Happy to take it offline… if you’re got the time, I’ll find some, too… 🙂

    1. Well, the post that got me started on this tangent was broadly painted too, but I don’t think I am too off-base when I point out that moving on – especially if it involves remarriage and losing patience with those who like to paint widowhood as some sort of eternal hell on earth to one degree or another – is frowned on in widowland’s online game.

      And that some people find callings/careers is not something confined to just the widowing aspect of grief. I have witnessed other losses morph into life’s work – which is noble and nothing wrong with it unless your investment means you aren’t able to recognize that loss/grief are individual first and group experience (possibly) way second.

      But the thing that prompted me to write – in addition to my comment being censored on the offending post – was the author’s tired, mean-spirited use of the myth that good widows mourn their perfect husbands and wonderful marriages forever while bad ones move on to replacement husbands b/c their late husband’s were ill-suited to them and they are basically cold hearted cunts anyway. Can we agree, at least, to retire that particular load of crap?

  8. I am amazed at the number of people who hang on for dear life to an event in their life that they think defines them. I just had a discussion, albeit about different life experiences, with my daughter about how some people cannot move on from an event that they take on as an identity. Most of my friends today, in every arena, have no idea about a life-changing event from three decades ago. I am who I am now and, while that played a significant role in setting me on this path, it is not how I identify myself.

  9. I guess I fall somewhere in between.

    I have no patience for the perennially complaining all-about-me’ness that some of the on-line widows carry around. Yeah. I get it. I did it, too, for a while. But after a while … enough already.

    I have no patience for the “do whatever makes you feel good” mentality that exonerates all kinds of bad behavior.

    But I also feel like a core of my heart will always be Nick’s widow, even if I remarry. I do believe that nobody who hasn’t been through it can ever really “get it.”

    I don’t write much about widowhood and grief anymore, except when they burble up to the surface because of something else that’s happening. I don’t go fervently seeking widow blogs anymore, although I may stumble across a new one from time to time. I rarely visit the blog you mention because I just don’t relate to the tone of most of the entries. I did respond to a recent entry about writing thank-you notes; but I was taken aback by the level of anger in all the comments. Not just the screw ’em all anyway mentality, but the anger underneath.

    This comment is getting long enough, that I feel like I should make a blog entry of my own, but I don’t want to! The last thing I want to say, though, is that I’ve removed membership from all those Facebook widow groups. Most of them I never joined to begin with, but I’d joined a handful at the beginning. The only one I’ve stayed on is Supa’s, because I see her as a “friend” — at least as much friends as you and I are, through blogging.

    I didn’t want widowhood to be the center of my FBook identity. And I don’t need the touchy-feely ((( parenthetical hugging ))) “friendships” that all those pages seem to be promulgating. I have my network of widows from the board whom I depend on and count as true friends of the heart. But since we’re all well beyond “active grieving,” widowhood is no longer at the center of those friendships. We’d be friends even if we weren’t widows — even though we met only because we’re widows.

    So … I’m betwixt and between. If you know what I mean

    1. Yeah, I know. Sometimes I can’t help but reply to a post here or there, or feel like I should “give back”. But what? And to whom?

      The thing that pokes at me though is the way we are expected to fit into neat stereotypes for the benefit of others. No one is that two dimensional. I took the post personally b/c it was meant to be taken that way, but this is my last word on the megalith that has become the widda business online. The links are being cleared and FB folk/groups are being culled.

      Thanks for being the response of reason, friend.

  10. Ann, after reading this I realized that I was in the “Don’t Get It” group. In 1989 when my partner died it sucked, I cried, and then I got on with my life. Now some people might say my situation was different because we weren’t married, but it really wasn’t. I would not have been honoring his love for life, his energy, and joy in living if I didn’t get on with my own life. Besides as a gay male there wasn’t much of a support network for those of us who had lost a partner in those days, and the thought of going to a group with others who were grieving just did not appeal to me, and I guess I just don’t have much patience for people who keep playing the “poor me” card. And not really being out to my family at the time (they thought I had lost a good friend) meant that I didn’t have that support group either, but that was my choice at the time. So really the only choice that I had, and it is one that I don’t regret, was to get on with my life. Being a victim and playing for sympathy for the rest of my life is just not who I am. Life is just too short not to get on with it and live it.

  11. Wow. I had to read this one a few times. I haven’t heard that kind of perspective before from the widow community.

    Gave me something to think about.

    1. Probably because it’s censored or simply ignored by those who promote the “community”. The main reason though is that most widowed never venture online and their lives don’t screech to a halt long enough for them to consider it.

      But I write. And online is my “office space” in some respects. I also don’t write specific posts often enough to attract the attention of the newly widowed.

  12. This post is the main reason I actually started to follow your blog. If I were closer to Canada I would look you up just to give you a high five.

    I’m most definitely a “Don’t Get It” in the widow circle. Ive studied psychology, I work in healthcare, and I am a human being and since we are offering up opinions here… in my opinion it is truly MORE unhealthy to live with this persona in our life stories.

    We are what we make ourselves. For the weak minded, grief is simply something to grasp and hold onto to define their weak minds and provide an excuse to not move on, to be sad, etc. etc… For the minds that function as they should, death is a part of our life cycle. It is part of nature, it’s all around us. It is what we will be for goodness sake.

    People ask me all the time what it was like and repeating the comment above… that’s exactly what I tell them… “It sucked, I cried, then a few days later I picked myself up and moved on with life.” The end.

    I got tired of YWBB and all the self help guru’s out there after a VERY short time and stopped frequenting them… I’m glad I did because I would probably be overly opinionated if I still paid attention 🙂 Probably the best thing I ever did too, being as I am happily remarried and my life is different now… and I wouldn’t trade any of the life experiences that have led me here.

    **cyber high five**

  13. Dooce said, “It sucked, and then I cried.” The next part must be (for me, anyway), “And then I got on with it.”

    In the first week after Willis’s death, I had the very clear thought that he had died, and I had not, so my job was to live, fully. And I have been.

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