Grief Loss and Bereavement

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.

Day 150: And that's that.

Image via Wikipedia

The Divorced and the Widowed normally agree to share a thin isthmus of common ground where the idea that each state marks a loss of a marriage is concerned, but while the Divorced believe the losses are slight variations on the same theme, Widowed adamantly object to what they see as a presumption.

Divorced feel that mourning the end of a marriage with its letting go of hopes, dreams and an intimate enduring relationship mirrors very closely the process that widowed must also go through.

“Except for that dead body in the room,” widowed counter.

And they are correct.

Let the howling protest of dissent begin.

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Image by jeff_golden via Flickr

And you know what I am talking about widowed people. That handy-dandy “get me out of anything” excuse that your late spouse bequeathed you by merely dying young. It’s a temptation that is almost too much for any widowed person to resist, using the aftermath of their spouse’s death to guilt people into … anything really. The widow card has few equals, and even fewer betters, when it comes to manipulating others.

Did I say that? Out loud?

Yes, I did. Pulling the widow card is a blatant form of emotional manipulation*. One that we all have used but is frankly always wrong. Sorry, to rain on you with reality, but no matter what the situation was – applying guilt liberally as a remedy isn’t going to earn you gold stars in any version of the afterlife. People who’ve been played by a widow know full well they are being strong-armed, and even when they go along with it out of misguided sympathy, it probably didn’t keep them from resenting you for it.

But what I really want to discuss are not the times you pulled the card to wiggle out from under a late fee on the Visa or sneak away from work a little early. I want to discuss the completely inexcusable practice of using widowhood to gain the upper hand in an intimate/dating relationship.

We’ve discussed (oh, okay, I’ve discussed at you) the concept of being ready to date again. When? Why? How? And I touched on the real need to be ready to engage with another person equally and honestly about where you are emotionally and what you are really looking for and expect. It does no one any good to go into a dating situation when you are still inclined to use your widowhood as a means to distance yourself emotionally or “hog the remote” where the pace and direction are concerned.

One of the biggest widow card offenses I’ve noticed in my travels here and there in the webosphere of widowed and those who date them is the “I need time”. Or space or a Tardis perhaps. Because intimacy with a new person after you’ve lost the old one to death can stir up some (or a lot) of conflicting emotions.

Know this – if you are really sure that the new person is “the one” and love them for them, conflicts become details to be tackled one at a time and without the need for space. Indeed, taking a “break” is very anti-relationship. You can’t work on a relationship with another person with just yourself. The other person’s input and presence is requirement. Relationships can’t grow if one of you is constantly heading out into the woods for a retreat or to commune with (and by commune, I mean wallow) in grief.

Men, and women, who pull the widow card version of “give me time” and tell you that they will “be in touch” are screwing with you.

And I can hear their screams even as I type this:

NO, we are not using the unfair advantage our grief gives us in the sympathy department to make sure that we have the most say in this relationship because our feelings are the more delicate … and important … and that we feel we should be the only voting members at the table.

But they are.

Society, grief culture and the ever-growing battalion of widowed aids via message boards, websites and organization (not to mention the support groups for people – mostly women – who date widowed – encourage widowed ( and their new partners) to look at their situation as a “condition” that needs to operate outside the standard boundaries of how “normal” people are expected to behave when dating.

If a divorced or single man says, “I need space.” Nine times out of ten he is dumping you. Disingenusously to be sure, but weaseling out nonetheless. Widowers are men. They know the manly ways out of relationships that are past their freshness dates or simply aren’t good fits. And though the nine out of ten may actually be eight out of ten for them, “I need space” that lasts for longer than a week is still “I’m not into you anymore”. Grief might be the excuse he is giving himself to make him feel better about having lead you on, but it’s still a widow card. And it is still manipulative of him to use his dead wife to avoid telling you that things are now “off”.

Widows also use the widow card to keep their dates in line. To train them to expect overbearing and callous behavior of their late wife’s family and friends or not be impatient about the non-parenting they are doing which has led to unmanageable and manipulative children (of all ages). Widowed who like being the only one in the driver’s seat will “card” their significant others into putting up with always being second or third on the VIP list, being okay with shrines to the late spouse, tolerating occasional, or regular, “grief retreats” that require radio silence that can last days or weeks or months. After which the widow card is good for  “get back into your graces as though I haven’t been a complete asshole” use.

I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it. Grief is no excuse. Despite its handiness and usefulness, it’s wrong to blackmail others emotionally, and the farther out a widowed person is from their spouse’s death – the less okay it becomes**.

Some people have a different take, but some people enjoy (thrive even) in drama and the stew of high school tinged drama. All you have to do is watch reality tv to know the truth of that.

So widowed folk, if you are ready to date – or are dating – it’s time to put away your stash of widow cards, man up and do your date or new SO the same favor you did for your late spouse – play fair. Be emotionally and physically available for participation in this relationship you are creating. It’s foundation will only be as strong as you choose to make it.

To those dating/intimately involved with a widowed guy or gal, hold them to the same standards you would if they didn’t have this tragedy in their past. Their feelings are not existing on some higher plane than your own. If they need time and you are inclined to wait on them, don’t be conned into something open-ended that leaves you hanging. Set some rules. Ask and expect for your feelings to be taken into account. Don’t be a doormat.

*And I did this. Used my widowness to weasel and manipulate. Especially in that first year and I did it because it works. I did not use it while dating – much – but beware that all widowed people know the power of a dead spouse. All.

** And I don’t want to hear about the total bullshit “latent grief” thing. It doesn’t exist. Some people will use old tragedy to avoid dealing with new hurts but that doesn’t give standing to the idea that grief can be buried and resurface like some zombie in B movie.