Apparently I am Callous

But what else is new under the sun?

Dirty feet

Image by Yannig Van de Wouwer via Flickr

A blogger I follow posted about how since the dawn of the blogosphere the dilemma we life bloggers face when the issue that brought us to the keyboard isn’t really the reason we stay on the web anymore. He began as a widowed blogger following the death of his husband, and his story was compelling. Single dad finds love, marries and in short order is widowed when his new husband is stricken with cancer.

It helped that he is keen and articulate and not prone to the navel gazing rut so many life bloggers – myself at times included – can fall into. His observations were insightful and he is a good writer.

After a time, he was picked up by Widow’s Voice and became a contributor there, but after a time, he began to do what all widowed people do even if they don’t realize it: he moved on. He still called what he was doing grieving but it’s a common mistake. The grief industry is built on faulty information that is part pseudo-science and mostly anecdotal, and it is fed by a culture that labels any normal event or action a dysfunction in need of 12 stepping.

We grieve in the beginning but the moving on process is not grief  unless you count the grieving we do for the people we used to be and can’t be anymore, which is apples to oranges. Moving on is work and it’s emotionally draining at times to be sure, but it’s not grieving. I don’t know if it has a name really. But during this time, we note our losses keenly when we are faced with the effort involved with the whole rebuilding of our lives. We miss and maybe long and certainly feel sad. All valid enough emotions on their own that they don’t need to be lumped under “grief”.

So this blogger is moving on. New city, job, home and new love. Enough “new” to send even a non-widowed person into a spin, but being widowed, he has grief to file it all under even when that’s not it. However, the issue is his blogging. Being a life blogger, he naturally shares his now, which is not really the raw, visceral stuff of active grief and his freshly widowed readers noticed.

He noted their notice and wondered if it was time to retire. It’s a natural reaction. The newly widowed are not fooled by those of us farther out. They know we aren’t really “feeling it” the way they do. It’s not posing really, but it’s disingenuous to claim one is a widow when one is moving into the territory of becoming “someone who was widowed once”. It’s noun versus verb territory, and most of us get there in the second or third year.

The trouble is that we are not supposed to admit it. Doing so is to relinquish membership in the “club no one wants to belong to”, and when you’ve found camaraderie there, it’s hard to walk away from it despite the fact that you really do need more in common than dead spouses to be friends or more. It’s no different from any other bonding event that brings people together. Marriage, motherhood, employment. At some point that one thing just isn’t enough.

But, my point. You are probably wondering and at 553 words perhaps I should get to it.

I commented on his post. Someone replied to me but yet at me. “I don’t want to cause controversy” which means, yeah I do but I don’t want to own it if actually happens. And the short was that I am wrong and callously so and probably a dgi to boot. Oh, and I am “rigid” and bossy.

When I first found widow boards and blogs the thing that struck me with the most horror were those who clung to the label and the false idea that grief is a quasi-mental health issue that is more or less chronic. You would always grieve in their opinion. It was like low-level exposure to nuclear waste to read what they wrote. No way a newly widowed person could avoid buying in to one degree or another without risking the community shunning that goes along with objecting and pointing out that most widowed folk never see the need for offline grief grouping let alone online or blogging. Most bereaved people couldn’t be fingered in a line up at the year or that and a half mark. Sure, they feel sad and they miss, but as I said earlier – those are distinct feelings of their own.

Another blogger at Widow’s Voice wrote recently about being a “fraud” because she really doesn’t feel any of the things she is supposed to feel. Commenters were kind and supportive of her right to not grieve like a “normal person” but adamant that this is not they way most feel.

Which is funny.

The Internet is a small place and the blogosphere smaller still. It could be argued that those who populate it aren’t really representative of the larger population or even what is considered “normal”.

I left a comment assuring her that she was not a freak because I knew that not many others would. Surprisingly the comment made it through. The woman who moderates there is not generally open to widow views that don’t match her own or the faulty grieving model the site pushes.

And your point is? Right, I was going to get to that, wasn’t I?

Grieving and moving on are highly individual for the most part but the fact is that most people don’t spend their lives doing either. They tackle one and move to the next in a relatively expeditious manner. If human beings weren’t able to do this, we’d have perished as a species before we even got started. It’s wrong to tell people grief is something that it is not or to lead them into self-fulfilling prophecies by misrepresenting where you are really at in the process. Telling people there is no right or wrong and yet clearly saying the opposite with what you write or how you present the facts is not being helpful.

Most of the struggle I had in the last three or four months of that first year of widowhood are directly attributable to the bad examples and just plain wrong information I was provided by widowed people who were years ahead of me. Granted, a generous handful of these people were mildly dysfunctional to bat-shit crazy even before their spouse died and so perhaps I am judging them too harshly. But some of them were simply using the venues for purposes unknown though being helpful couldn’t be truthfully numbered among them.

Both the Widow’s Voice bloggers I mentioned seem genuine and I think their views and struggles in the moving on period are valuable. I wish them well and hope they blog on, remembering though that at some point it’s not grief anymore. Not really. Not the way the newbies live it, and there comes a point when you aren’t doing them any good wearing the widow mantle as though it were a tiara. It’s like the high school prom queen who never really got over graduation and growing up.

8 responses to “Apparently I am Callous

  1. I think it’s valuable. I found your blog about a year ago. My husband had died suddenly and unexpectedly three months before that, and I was reeling. I can’t tell you how much it meant to find a voice saying, it won’t be like this for as long as so many people are saying it will.
    At his memorial service, a high school friend showed up. She had been widowed three years before (we’re in our early 50s.) She hugged me and said in my ear, “It doesn’t get any better.” I pulled away. My first thought: I want to die, too, then, because I can’t live feeling like I do now forever. But even then a part of me knew that couldn’t be true, unless you choose to wallow.
    So here I am, a year and three months down the road. It is better. Not all better- it was an incredible shock along with the loss. But better, and it helps to know it can keep getting better, if I let it and am willing to do the work.

  2. First time here, and this is exactly what I needed to read today. At 3 years out, my grieving is much different now. I no longer feel I can contribute appropriately at the Hospice group meetings, or at my local widow/ers social dinner group…. I still see my shrink, but we are now digging deeper into my “stuff” that has always been a part of me.
    I’m starting to realize there can be more than one happy chapter in my life book.

    -Ish
    wanderoke.blogspot.com

    • You’ve reminded me of something I have noticed but never really written about. Widows hit a mid-point, like the two to fourish year range, when they either realize that the widow thing is over or they print up business cards. If you are going to do any real damage to those freshly widowed, this is where you’ll start.

      Distance and the ability to own your new life is what I have noticed the best of the “widow mentors” possess. They don’t play down their new life, whatever it is, and they don’t recite trite rules or even really suggest that there are rules at all. They share their stories. They offer warm fuzzies and reassurance and they remind the newly widowed that the most important thing is taking care of themselves.

      I’m glad you stopped by and left a comment today. I am glad to hear that your book has happy chapters rather than just one.

  3. It is very sad to me that newer widowed (and those years out who are clinging to their widow persona) cannot see the inherent value in being able to read the experiences of those who have BTDT, but are moving on in a healthy manner. You would think they would appreciate the fact that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and actual proof that sooner or later you reach it.

    You and I came to know each other from a forum for GOW/WOWs. I have wondered sometimes if I still have a place and purpose there, because DH and I simply do not have issues anymore relating to his widowerhood or LW. We have worked them through and moved on. But every time I am able to tell a newer member, “yes, I know exactly how you feel,” and can offer examples from how we got from there to here, and I see that newer member encouraged by the thought that there are many of us who have made it through that stuff to a happy, healthy relationship … well, it is fulfilling to say the least, and reminds me why I am still there posting away.

    It would be my wish that people participating in the blogs and boards you have mentioned would also see the value of a further – on perspective. It does not sound very hopeful, but I will hope nonetheless, for the sake of those newly bereaved who have not yet been sucked into the ongoing mental issue theory.

    • I think the difference lies in the intent and motivation. If you are simply sharing experiences without promoting the idea that there is a right vs very wrong way and you are not obviously messed up personally. You would not believe the number of old time widdas who count themselves as mentors but whose personal lives and general personalities scream “I am totally messed up. Do not follow me.”

      And, the other thing is if you are speaking from fact and not fantasy or anecdote. An example is the worn out “It takes x to y years to completely deal with your grief and feel normal again.” Aside from the begging of the question “what’s normal”, it’s not based in any fact. Despite that the real measured by actually researchers fact is that only 10-15% of bereaved are still stuck past the year and change mark, widow culture via message boards, blogs and organizations still reject the notion that most people are just fine and most of the time without doing anything at all (like counseling for example). They also reject the idea that distractions are helpful and positive and that making plans, setting goals and generally forcing themselves to move on is what successful bereaved do.

      There is value in experience, but you have to be honest with yourself about whether or not you are cut out for it. In the real world of counseling, they are required to go through counseling themselves in order to ensure that they are mentally and emotionally healthy enough to help people with their issues. It’s a way to weed out those who want to feed their own issues with other people’s energy and problems.

      I question often whether or not what I do at DAW is valuable or whether or not I should just stop banging my head against grief culture on the web.

      • I don’t know about the head banging aspect – it can sometimes feel like that – but I think your contributions at DAW have a great deal of value. You offer a unique perspective quite often and things that the rest of us never thought of.

        I often go back and reread my posts, before posting and after, asking myseld if what I am trying to offer is helpful input from the viewpoint of someone who is several years out from the usual issues, or just experiences that are no longer applicable if they ever were. Hopefully the former, although I have certainly posted stuff that turned out to be a bad call in hindsight, based on the way things ultimately turned out.

        I do know my genuine hope is to help as much as possible, so I go with that, and on days when I cannot find anything nice to say (or find myself wanting to say something quite sarcastic), I make myself bow out until I can be constructive again. It does require days- long breaks from the forum at times.

  4. Wonderful post. You put in words what I think is so hard for many of us “widowed persons” (widow/widowed.. noun or verb) to articulate. Being a “widow” vs. being someone “who was once widowed” are very different labels and I think it also has a lot to do with identity as much as the process of grief. And personalities, too. You are absolutely right – if we were bat shit crazy before, we’ll probably act the same way as a grieving person. Or… not. Sometimes life events change people and they see the world through a very different lens.

    One of the things that struck me through my own process of grief was how much people clung to the label of widowhood or “actively grieving person” long past what one might find would be an acceptable amount of time to grieve before truly “moving on.” (I’m talking 10+ years). Example: the leader of our widows support group, a widow herself, was still telepathically talking to her dead husband every day, and he’d been gone 12 years. I looked at her and thought to myself – I don’t want to be where she is in 12 years, let alone 1 year!! and it actually was an inspiration in it’s own way for me to get my grief act together and move on more quickly.

    But here’s another point, and I think it’s an important one. I do think that those of us who were widowed long ago and have successfully “moved on,” can serve as role models for the newly grieving. Everyone wants to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel – whatever shape that may take.

    And I don’t call that callous. I call it living.

    • I agree that those years along can be excellent role models but only if they admit to the life they are currently living without couching it in terms that imply they still grieve actively. You are right that some cling to the label – why is beyond me – but seem to think that unless they are widow foot first, their example or advice isn’t as valid or important. It’s very important to be proud of the fact that you’ve rebuilt your life and not apologetic about it. Own your new love without qualifying it (oh, that makes me crazy when people can’t simply say “Yeah, I’m dating, serious or remarried and it’s good. I’m happy. I love him or her” without tacking on the “but I will always love dead spouse” or worse, “but dead spouse was my soulmate”. That last one has to be the most hurtful thing a person could utter when in a new relationship or marriage. Can’t even fathom publicly labeling my new husband “second best”.

      That 12 yr widow of yours reminds me of the very first widow group meeting I attended. There was a woman, 3ish years out and remarried for two, who sat there and bawled like her late husband just died yesterday. “I know I should be happy, but I just can’t.” Of all the widowed in the room, I was the “youngest” and sometimes by years and years and every single one of them – aside from the friend I came with and the group leader – wept and wailed and felt empty. It was horrifying.

      I really should blog a list of the most unhelpful and possibly damaging things you can say to a newly widowed person.

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