I went on Amazon the other day and put in “widow book.” Now that I’m emerging – just a tiny bit – from the fog of the first few months, I’m trying to figure out how to make my life work. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about loss and grief. I talk to everyone and I keep going to different types of therapy. I know there’s no magic answer, but I figure it can’t hurt to just try everything I can to help ease the pain.
Anyway, Amazon recommended this book called, “A Widow’s Guide to Healing,” and so I bought it. I’ve spent the past few nights reading it. There were some good parts. I really appreciated the discussion of post-traumatic growth, for example. But then there were the other parts.
For example, in the first chapter, which is titled “the 411 on surviving the first month,” there is a section (in bold) called: “Tasks that Should Be Done by the End of the First Month.” First off, I can’t believe that there is even a list under this title. If I had to list the tasks that needed to be done a month after losing a spouse I would list one thing – SURVIVE. But I digress. The book has nine things that need to be done within the first two weeks and six more things that need to be done in the two weeks after that. Some make sense, but then there is this awesome one: “Prepare a list of people who need to receive acknowledgements of flowers, gifts, or condolences. You may want to send a note or handwritten card to everyone who attended the funeral or sent flowers.”
What. The. Hell.
As if widows – especially young widows with kids – don’t have enough to do, I’m expected to send a handwritten card to everyone who came to the funeral, sent flowers or gifts, or merely told me that they were sorry? And I need to do it within the first month after my husband dies?
It gets worse. Still in the first chapter, the authors ask, “how long will I feel bad?”
They answer their own question. “It will take at least two years to begin (emphasis mine) to make a recovery and begin (again, emphasis mine) to transition to the next phase of your life. Many widows we interviewed for this book told us they were in their fourth, fifth, or even sixth year before they were starting to feel ‘normal’ again.”
Well that’s encouraging.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll never get over the loss of Shawn. But the idea that I won’t start to heal until 5 or 6 years from now is terrifying. I’m not even sure why I kept reading past the first chapter, but I did. A few chapters later, I came upon this gem:
“If someone asks you, ‘how are you?’ you may take this quite literally and start telling them about how you are really feeling, sharing your misery and loneliness. But, nobody really wants to hear how awful your life has been since your husband died.”
Really? They don’t? So I should just plaster a smile on my face? That seems healthy.
“While it may be difficult to keep your negative thoughts and feelings to yourself,” the authors write, “it’s important to ensure you’re not inappropriately pushing your grief on everyone around you as well.”
Dear Lord. I think I’m doing just about the opposite of what this book is instructing me to do. I’m using all my time to tell everyone about the grief that I feel, rather than smiling politely and writing those damn thank-you notes. At first, when I read the book, I felt like it was just fluff, something to ignore and move on from.
But then, I started really thinking about it. Why must we tell widows – or really anyone experiencing grief – that they must hide their grief? Why must our grief be managed with thank you notes and kind smiles, rather than felt in its raw sense?
Why are we so afraid of grief?
In other places in the world, grief is not hidden. In these places, grief is more public and it is more acceptable to share that grief with others. But here in America, we seem to want this sanitized view of grief. The young widow will be sad…but not too sad. She will be able to cope with her life…but she certainly won’t start feeling better anytime soon. She will remain in the confines of what society wants her to be…no longer sad, but not happy either.
Well I’m sorry. I’m not going to follow this guidebook. Obviously, my blog is probably the opposite of what this book’s authors would advise, but I hope that my writing is helping people to talk about grief and loss. I know it’s helping me process my own pain. And even though I’ve just read that I shouldn’t think about having any sort of normalcy for a few years, I am still going to laugh with my friends even if I cry with them as well. I may even (shockingly!) cry when I talk to strangers.
But maybe – just maybe – all that talking and crying with everyone around me is helping me heal. Maybe the reason that it takes some widows 5 or 6 or more years to begin their healing is because they are expected to keep it hidden, or at least perfectly curated for a public audience. Maybe, rather than writing thank-you cards, we should encourage widows to ask for help and share their stories with tears and heartfelt remembrances of what they’ve lost.
Finally – just so I cover my bases – I truly appreciate all of you who came to Shawn’s funeral and heard my eulogy and sent flowers and contributed to my kids’ college accounts. You may never get a handwritten note, but all of those things you did for me made me feel like the world was wrapping its arms around me and my kids. But it wasn’t just the tangible things that were great. I also really appreciate all of you who let me cry and laugh at seemingly inappropriate times and asked for more stories about Shawn. I appreciate those of you walked with me through the pain, even when it wasn’t pretty. More than anything, that’s how I’m starting to heal.