Almost three years ago, in the depths of grief, I decided to go online and order every book I could on grief. I figured that maybe I’d find the answer to my question: “how am I supposed to survive this?”
I found a number of great books, and I’ve reviewed them periodically on my blog. But there were a lot of terrible ones, too. Anything with a photo of the ocean on the front was usually pretty bad, and I really didn’t get much out of books written by people who’d lost a parent or a sibling. I was hopeful for the book entitled, “A Widow’s Guide to Healing” not just because it was written by an actual social worker who was also a widow, but also because people like Dr. Deepak Chopra and Katie Couric endorsed it. It had to be good, right?
I wrote a whole blog post about the problems with the book. Sure, there was some good, practical advice, and I really liked the part about post-traumatic growth, but overall, I thought it wasn’t helpful. (As I note, I know it’s hard to write a book, so I appreciate what the author was trying to do, overall. I just wish she had enlisted an editor who got it. You know who’d be good for that job? A widow! Anyway, click here to read my previous post, which includes a very long rant about why a new widow shouldn’t be pressured to give handwritten thank-you notes to everyone who attended the funeral, within the first month after loss – something the book promotes!)
In any case, I was going through my bookshelf the other day and I came across the book again. I wondered if maybe my perspective had changed over the past 3 years. Maybe, now that I had the benefit of hindsight, I would see things differently.
Turns out, there was a whole new section in the book that I’d ignored earlier. It was called, “dating, sex and remarriage.” On top of the fact that the author describes modern dating as though the reader is 85 years old (she has a number of paragraphs about the amazing new development of using “the Internet to find someone to date”) she also has all sorts of judgmental statements littered throughout this section. Let me pull some gems from this part of the book:
“Our advice to you is to proceed with caution when it comes to dating, especially online dating…..(a widow’s) vulnerability and fragility combined with a need for companionship can sometimes lead to poor choices.”
Okay, first, what does this even mean? Poor choices in who we choose to go out with? I mean, that’s dating. Sometimes we all go out with people who are terrible for us. Sometimes everyone thinks, “well, that was probably a relationship I shouldn’t have had.” I get that people are more vulnerable after grief, but that doesn’t mean you are always going to be making poor choices every time you go on a date. Grief may actually allow you to better see through the bullshit and make good choices!
Here’s another: “We know that grief can create a blind spot and it may be tricky to clearly see the real person you are dating. Usually family and close friends – for better or worse – will tell you what they think about the person you are dating, so don’t be afraid to consult them for feedback.”
This one made me laugh out loud. Oh, that’s fun! Let me call up my friends and family and have them tell me what they think about my new boyfriend! That went so well when I was 18, and I’m sure will be even better now that I’m 40! There’s no way their own feelings about my late husband will influence their thoughts at all. Do you know who never gave me advice about dating? My dad! And he lived with me while I was doing it! Do you know why? Because he knows that I am a grown woman who can make my own decisions.
And another: “We’re not trying to dissuade you from dating at all,” (BUT – the book doesn’t say “but” – that’s my addition) “most people need a period of time after a traumatic event in their life. That period is a minimum of about two years for most of us.”
Two years! To start seriously dating again? I mean, it may be true that it’s harder to date in the early stages of grief, but if you’re doing it, good for you! Apart from the obvious reasons you might want to start dating even in the (gasp!) first year of widowhood (like that you may actually want to have sex again), there’s also a very strong possibility that you might be ready for someone before the two year mark. But no matter how an individual feels, I don’t like the judgment in this statement. A minimum of two years? I dated way before that. What does that say about me?
THEN, there’s a whole section called “children and remarriage” which is mostly the author telling us her own story of losing her dad at age 5 and then her mother getting remarried, and how traumatic it was for her, without any real discussion about how it could also be positive for a kid. I’m not saying that everything is going to be easy or smooth or perfect, but damn, can’t we have at least one positive thing alongside the many paragraphs of drama?
The author writes, “This is not to say that you’re doing something reckless (by getting remarried), but it is important to take your children’s developmental and emotional needs into consideration.” I’m sorry – does she mean that I’m such a shitty mother that I don’t think about my kids’ emotions, especially as I plan my second wedding? That I’m so blinded by my love for Chris that I would ignored my kids’ feelings about remarriage or tell my kids they could never mention Shawn’s name or feel grief over losing him? Really?
Listen, I get that widows might do all of the things this author warns about. I get that some people jump into abusive relationships, become prey to bad people on the internet, marry a second husband who is crappy, and make all sorts of other bad decisions. But what I hate the most about this book, and others like it, is what it implies to widows: You should scared. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes. You need to be careful.
You know what? I think for most widows, we already think these things about ourselves! We are already fearful and worried we’re screwing up everything in our lives and for those of us with young kids, we definitely think we are failing at parenting on an hour-to-hour basis. I don’t need another book telling me to be careful. I need one telling me to be brave, take risks, and live fully.
Don’t wire money to some guy you just met on a dating app. That would be a truly foolish thing to do, but I knew that before I became a widow. I don’t need advice about how not to be stupid, and I didn’t need it in early widowhood, either. Rather than all this judgment, I needed someone to say, “I trust you, I believe in you, and I’m here for you if you need to talk. I know you are making the best decisions you can, for yourself and for your family.”