That’s my answer to the question “am I moving forward if I’m still angry?” It’s a question I get frequently from readers in one form or another. So many widows I know – both my friends and people I’ve met online – want desperately to move forward with their lives. (On the whole, most widows say they want to “move forward” rather than “move on,” since the latter seems to imply leaving behind all memory of the person who was lost.) Regardless of how a widow wants to define it, there often comes a point in a widow’s life when you begin to move beyond the initial loss.
And when that time comes, a lot of widows feel conflicted. Is it okay to feel joy again, after such pain? “Yes!” I’ve said, over and over again. Is it okay to laugh really hard, even if you cry later? “Yes!” I reply. Is it okay to feel excited about meeting someone new, desiring and even enjoying sex? “Yes!” I say, “Yes, yes, yes!”
But sometimes, it’s more complicated than saying, “there can be joy alongside the pain.” What about the times that new happiness brings complicated – or even ugly – emotions?
I don’t know a great universal answer, because I only have my own experience to draw upon, but I think that dating after widowhood can often lead to some difficult feelings. Recently, one widow wrote me to describe how she’s been dating someone wonderful but that she finds “anger coming out of nowhere.” She reiterated that the man she is dating is wonderful, but she was having a hard time with these emotions in herself. “How does one handle this?” she asked.
Reading that, I thought, “I remember feeling exactly like that.”
During my first (somewhat substantial) relationship after loss, I had all sorts of conflicting feelings. In fact, I wrote the post “Angry” right in the middle of that relationship (though I waited to publish it until we broke up)! I didn’t know why was feeling so upset in the midst of what should have been a happier time period for me, but I found I was crying randomly for no reason during my runs and barking at my children when they committed minor offenses. I was on edge.
I wrote about it a bit at the time, but I never interrogated how I was feeling, not really. I figured it was all part of grief.
But really, those negative emotions weren’t coming simply from grief. They were also coming up because I was trying to move forward.
It was so frustrating. Every time I thought I was doing better, making “steps in the right direction” or whatever, I found myself with all sorts of emotions that I couldn’t quite hold. It made me ask myself whether I was really moving forward if I still felt so much anger.
I think I was. For me, part of moving forward was sometimes feeling angry and upset when things went right. That’s so weird, isn’t it? But damn if it wasn’t true for me, and for other widows I know. I hated it, and I hated it even more when someone would try and make me feel better by saying, “it’s all part of the journey.”
“Ugh,” I’d think. “Fuck the journey.”
These feelings don’t usually last forever. As time passed, I got more used to the idea that I could enjoy time with someone new without feeling confused by it, that I’d laugh and see beauty in the world without also crying, that I’d find happiness in this life without Shawn. By the time I got involved with Chris, I had already moved through dozens of complicated emotional states, which made it a lot easier for us to date. (Would we have made it as a couple had we met earlier? That’s the subject of a different blog post!)
But for that reader who wonders how to manage her anger, I’ll say this: I think sometimes you just have to sit with how you feel. If you can, talk to your partner or a therapist or someone who really gets you. But no matter what, don’t try and bury everything. That’s never been a path to healing for me.
Nope, I’m not a therapist. I’m just a widow. But I’ll say this: I think it’s normal to feel bad emotions even when things are moving forward. In fact, I’d say that’s all part of the journey.