marginalizing remarried widowed

Dana hace Yoga en la Playa

Image by via Flickr

And not with each other.

Two distance healings, a trip to the dentist and many back rubs from my ever patient and saintly husband later, I ventured back to yoga class. There is a warm yin at noon on Fridays, and I arrived early to secure my spot by the heat lamp ( heat lamp.) where I snuggled into the Maduka Lite mat, as my new and far comfier heavy weight mat made my shoulders flinch under their own power, and prepared to “let go”.

Yin is not quite restorative yoga. Restorative is about relaxing, a far more difficult thing than people imagine and part of what makes it a harder sell than physically punishing practices like Ashtanga, but yin is about space. Finding a depth in a pose that allows the body to fill in until full expression is gradually found. Despite the props, there is not a lot of ease or comfort about it.

During one of the final poses before savasana, Jade, my teacher, read to us from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjail by Sri Swami Satchidananda, Sutra 33 which discusses the four keys that open our lives to serenity and happiness.

We studied this sutra and Satchidananda’s observations during teacher training last year. Essentially, there are four kinds people and having the “keys” necessary for interacting with them puts one of the path to a serene mind which in turn promotes happiness.

Patanjali, the universe bless him, wrote this:

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

And Satchidananda reminds his readers that Patanjali was not describing some long ago world but one nearly identical to ours today because what people want and need at their core hasn’t changed. He reminds us to be happy for those who are happy in their lives because our jealousy or ill-wishes towards them will only harm us in the end. He entreats us to show compassion for those who struggle regardless of their reaction because in being kind we do ourselves a good too. He asks us to be “delighted” in the virtuous, see them for the shining examples that they are and try to imitate them for our own sake.

And then he discusses the wicked.

By wicked Satchidananda isn’t necessarily referring to the Adolfs and Wall Street swindlers of the world. He is talking about those we encounter in our daily lives who seek to pull us down because we are content and they are not. They are notches lower than the unhappy who though they may lash out truly do so without malicious intent. The wicked seek to hurt because they hurt and view our non-hurting and any advice we might give as an insult to them and their pain.

Jade went on to read the story of the Monkey and the Sparrow, which I believe I have shared before but it’s a wonderful teaching tale and it relates directly to something I recently forgot and was sharply reminded to recall.

One rainy day a monkey was sitting on a tree branch getting completely soaked. Opposite of the monkey on another branch was a sparrow sitting in a hanging nest, staying warm and dry. The sparrow saw the monkey getting drenched from the rain, and points out that even though he only has a small beak and no hands like the monkey, that he built the nice nest (home) expecting the rain. He also points out that Darwin said the monkey was the forefather of human beings, so why hasn’t he used his brain to build himself a house? The monkey made a terrible face, and yelled at the sparrow for advising and teasing him, and then tore the sparrow’s home to pieces. The sparrow was left to fly out and get drenched in the rain.

There are four keys needed in life to deal with the four types of people. Friendliness, compassion, gladness and disregard. If we are friendly to the happy, compassionate to the unhappy or sad, glad for the righteous/good and disregard the wicked, serenity of mind is ours and with that happiness.

Lately, I have been commenting on a blog written by a writer who was widowed but is long since remarried. Though he blogs about many things, he would occasionally write about his widowhood and this prompted women who are dating or married to widowers to email him with their questions regarding their relationships. In response, he began to answer their questions with a post every Wednesday.

I have replied and mainly just shared my story and opinions in an advice-free manner. Sharing from a personal perspective without judgment or placing oneself as an expert is the safest route when the medium is the written word. Mostly because people in general are such poor readers it is easy to be misunderstood.

The topic last week was on second chances. Widowers who’d established relationships. Pledged love, fidelity and a future, and then pulled the old “it’s not you: it’s me. I need more time to grieve.” It’s really no different from the divorced guy who suddenly realizes that his ex and their marriage have made him rethink commitment and not in a positive way. Or the never married guy who’s been “so hurt in the past” that he can’t bring himself to commit – even though if he could commit to anyone, it would be you.

Men who are … douchebags … um … wicked are so, regardless.

I threw in a sanitized version of my opinion along with my own story about readiness and moving on.

The end. Except not.

A widower found the blog. Even though the Wednesday posts are clearly marked and have nothing to do with being widowed personally, he felt maligned because it wasn’t promoting grief in a way that worked for him, so he came in swinging.

Mostly at the blogger but a bit at me. Probably because the blogger and I are remarried widowed, who are clearly in the “loss happens, you cope and then you move on”camp. The widower is new-ish and still very much invested in the idea put forth by the grief “industry” that promotes self-help, processes, journeys, and the idea that grief is never-ending. Which isn’t true but you can’t tell that to someone still in the thick of it. Time and distance move us all away from the idea that we will hurt like bastards forever. It’s not the grief but the rebuilding that convinces people to cling to that notion. Mourning is less work than moving on.

Had I not bothered to reply. All would have been well. But I made the mistake of explaining*, which is advice by another name and voila – a flaming hot comment thread.

And then I got irritated because the gentleman pulled out the tired “denial” thing to explain my inability to admit how right he was.

Denial. Irony abounds.

But thankfully, Patanjali has set me straight via yin class. All praise Yoga! Thank you, Swami Satchidananda!

*When you make the mistake of explaining, the other person will see it as defensive and begin deconstructing your explanation line by line, giving themselves the advantage of pulling things out of context and spinning it. At this point, you’ve been played and should walk away. A sad/unhappy person won’t bother to do this by the way, but a wicked one will.

UPDATE: The angry Widower wrote a scathing blog piece attacking the “industry” that is building up around the women who date widowed or GOW’s, as they call themselves. They have blogs and message boards and websites, which are almost identical in the defensive, selfish stance that widowed take. They share the misguided belief that grief is some sort of mental breakdown rather than a normal human experience. They just come at it from opposite angles. Both groups? Could use a bit of reality dosing, but it won’t happen because they group together and reinforce each other. Interestingly, a blogger/self-help writer was the target of the Angry Widower and she was quite unkind (snarky really) in her assessment of him when she found out and wrote this reply. I tried to leave a comment to the effect that she was misrepresenting grief and that men who play games do so for reasons that cross all types (widowed, divorced, and never-marrieds) because the reality is that widowers who love women – marry them and those who don’t act like douchebags until the women in question wake up, respect themselves and find someone better. She deleted my comment. As on the widow blogs, I don’t fit with the promoted view that grief is a syndrome in need of 12 steps. The irony is, of course, that these two groups are just the same and the people who cater to the delusion aren’t all that dissimilar either.

With humble apologies to Stuart Smalley/Al Franken, I will continue my spring cleaning here.

I don’t think anyone really hates me for having come through the hard times that I have because to have my life as it is right now, one would have to be willing to have lived all that came before – from day one. Our society has such a perverted view of what life after tragedy should look like that too many of us feel we have failed if we haven’t muscled our way through the bleak days to that happily ever after of the movies. If we don’t write a book or give inspirational talks in high schools and churches or if our lives haven’t morphed into block-busting films with Julia Roberts playing us and riding off into a CGI sunset with Brad Pitt or Tom Hanks, well then perhaps we just didn’t try hard enough. Dangit! Our lives just aren’t near as great as they were before when we used to be able to perform concertos and write inspirational literature in between our steady gigs as sex kitten wives and practically perfect in every way moms. What? That wasn’t you either? Good to know.

This fantasy life that doesn’t even exist on television anymore still seems to be the ideal we superimpose over women who appear to have all that we don’t. I was one of those envious types long, long ago in my pre-wife days. An especially good friend seemed to have the kind of life – wonderful husband and marriage. Perfect figure. Everyone loved her. Or that’s what it looked it standing on the sidelines. I imagine her version would not match my imagination. She is remarried now and truly happy. Her first husband is in prison for the murder of their son. 

Change is one of those givens of existence that is inescapable, and yet it is one of the things that most surprises us when it happens. The givens in life have a way of catching us off guard and upending absolutely everything because we all seem to think that we are the exceptions to the rule. Death is the biggest given of all, impacting every fiber of our being and reverberating out like water ripples from a stone breaking a calm reflective pool. With time and hard work, most of us fight our way back only to discover we are not the same. Some embrace the changes. Some lament them. Others crumble. 

Regardless, change in any form is not welcomed by many of us. Growing up, I was the fat sister. My two younger sisters were very thin with tiny waists and perky breasts whereas I was flat-chested with tummy rolls and thighs that rubbed together so much that the inseam of my pants wore thin from the friction. Eventually with a lot of work and self-reflection all that changed and my sisters have never really been okay with this even though I was merely normal weight as they were. Now that they are both heavier than I am, they are even less pleased. I get told to “eat” a lot and am scoffed at when I decline things that they both know I can’t eat because of my allergies. I seldom visit now that I am not inspected and found wanting. I am too thin. My hair was too blond the last time. This particular change is now closing in on two decades, and it still upsets their apple carts because it’s threatening. Whenever the original terms of any relationship are changed, the party not in control will probably not like it and let it be known. 

A while back a very wonderful woman I met through the widow board expressed her sorrow over not being able to give back some of the wisdom and comfort she had received there to newer members. She felt that because she was remarried, her words were disregarded. She was no longer perceived as a fellow widow. She was all better now. But the truth is more complicated. When widowed people meet other widowed people it is their mutual loss that brings them together on a common ground called grief. A widowed person then who moves on, whether it is into a new relationship or simply a new way of living with grief as a component rather than a driving force, is changing the nature of the friendship or acquaintanceship. Those not ready, or inclined, to move on will feel threatened and even betrayed.

One of the most insulting things that occurs when a widowed person falls in love and decides to marry again is the perception all around that he/she is now officially “over it”. The late spouse is just a blip on the road, seldom thought of and certainly no longer mourned. This reaction is most noticeable in friends and family. Most of whom are relieved because the new relationship frees them from worry and feeling responsible for the widowed person. (Widowed people face a certain amount of kid-gloving that frankly made me feel like I’d been brain-injured. People spoke to me more slowly and gave me these long doe-eyed looks that were actually a little scary.) There can be a certain amount of resentment from those who believe that the widowed person’s love for their departed one was not quite up to Romeo & Juliet standards – it’s not just Hindus who think a crispy fried widow is the best kind of widow but, by and large, the sense that all is now “normal” and “okay” again is palpable. 

And then there are the widowed friends/aquaintances of the widowed person. There are two camps. Remarried widowed who know what is about to come and are sad to see it happen but can’t quite put voice to the marginalization, even ostracization, that they know is coming having been through it. Being married again, a widow loses status and voice within the “community” because they are no longer perceived as being widowed. In the other camp are the widowed still. Dating or not. Interested in marrying again or not. The common view is that you are a widow only as long as you are alone and suffering. Heavy emphasis on suffering. Heavier emphasis on alone. They don’t give merit badges for number of lonely years out from the loss that one spends with degree of difficulty added for manner of death and number of children left behind to be dealt with – or maybe they do, and I just wasn’t widowed long enough to earn one. The remarried are not allowed to use their previous experiences with grief, the lonliness and the despair as entry into the widowed world. Remarriage has cured them of that and in doing so wiped those memories away.

Mourning is equated with love. Remarriage is equated with not having loved at all or been with one’s “soulmate”. A particularly vicious idea, it attempts to negate everything that is true about the remarried’s previous marriage in order to make another widow feel better about their own situation. It reduces everything to some sort of contest with shifting rules of dubious origin. Hardly helpful and rebuffing of any attempts for reasonable dialogue. This is especially true of what happens to people who remarry within the first two years of widowhood. Even though half of all widowed people under 55 will remarry and many of them within the first two years, they are still regarded as anomalous freaks, or worse, by their peers. 

Will was my first husband. He is Katy’s father. I loved him. I spent years watching him dissolve in front of me with very little sympathy or emotional support – mainly, I now know, because we are not taught how to help people when they are dying or their loved ones. I didn’t even have him to share the gut-wrenching moments with due to his incapacitation. I was alone. And like Atlas supporting the world around us on my breaking soul. I haven’t forgotten a moment. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t remember things. It would be easy to call up the tears, curl up in a ball and sob until I couldn’t breathe. It is a grave insult to me and to his memory to suggest that I am “all better now”, and yet it happens.

In our society we are quick to pronounce wellness and fitness. Remove a child from an abusive situation and be baffled by the lack of improvement in behavior. Clap a band or two around someone’s stomach and wonder why they still have food issues or body image problems. Remarry after being widowed and expect them to have forgotten what it was like to have irretrievably lost part of the cores of their beings. 

The gamut of life’s problems parade before you when you are a teacher. The longer the time in the classroom, the more you will see. After Will was sick and then again after he died, I began to look at the children and their families in a new way. I saw that most difficulties stemmed from a lack of communication and a refusal to take responsibility. Neither are easy skills to master, and so I became the teacher that the other teachers loathed because I gave more rope instead of just enough to tie into nooses. People come to their epiphanies in their own good time. Little by little I learn that this approach should be extended beyond my first limited use of it. 

I am not happy because of what the scale says. I am not happy because I have remarried. People do think that about me however.  I am happy because I choose to be. Every day. Because life is basically good regardless of the obstacles and pain and disappoints that can occur. And that was as true back in my caregiving/widow day as it is now. I am a work of art. A work still in progress – but my own nevertheless with all my faults and warts.  And I am an example, though I don’t really try to be any more, regardless of whether some people approve of me or not. We are all examples really. We find our own mentors in life. We choose the paths we want to be on and the people who will be accompanying us. We are responsible for where we are and where we are going.

Comparing ourselves to others is a waste of time that is better spent on ourselves and the works in progress that we each are.