Widow I wear?

Losing a spouse messes with you in so many ways. Some are very weighty issues, and some seemingly shallow. This past week I had a social week, including an invitation from friends of my husband’s to meet for dinner. As I got ready, I found myself getting very stressed about what to wear.

I’ll admit, figuring out what to wear is not a new issue for me. I like fashion, but I also like to feel that what I am wearing is “appropriate”. For me, continuing to put effort into how I look seems to help in my healing process. Even when my husband was ill, I tried to at least put on the “appearance” of outward “positivity”. And after he died, I knew I wouldn’t be showing my grief by wearing black, it just didn’t feel right. I guess it’s a crutch, a false bravado, that if I try to look good, I will eventually start feeling good – and though seemingly superficial, it’s one I am clinging to for survival.

But my pesky mind can never leave well enough alone. And while trying to figure out what to wear, I started thinking about how getting dressed “as a widow” just isn’t the same as getting dressed as “the person I was before”. Ahhhh, gotta’ love the mental anxiety that grief can bring to every situation. It plagues me on a daily basis. I keep telling myself, “what’s the big deal?”, don’t get hung up on terminology. “Widow” is just a label. Yet every time I get dressed I find myself stressing over the following:

1) Looking like crap – because then people will really see my inner agony….
2) Worrying that I look “too good”, because that would imply I am also feeling “good”, and somehow don’t care that my husband died…
3) Even worrying that I am dressed too “sexy”, because that would imply that I am already looking for a replacement…

And inevitably, these minor anxieties get me thinking about bigger things. Like how we, as individuals, react to and face loss/tragedy in life. How a loss might – or might not – affect small things, such as getting dressed, but also affect “big”, non-superficial things, such as “beliefs”.

I think a lot about Christopher Hitchens, renowned atheist. He died of cancer over a year ago, and one of the big questions that he kept getting asked, after he found out his dire diagnosis, was whether it had changed his beliefs (or lack of belief in god). I heard an interview with his widow recently, and she talked about how ridiculous that question really was…why would it be any different for him, “as an atheist”? Most people don’t suddenly throw out everything they have believed in, (no matter what it is) at the end of their life. After all, isn’t that when you need your beliefs the most? To give meaning, validation, and COMFORT as you approach the unknown?

My husband was reading Hitchens before he died, he even brought a book to Hospice. He knew he was going to die, and he accepted it, as a fact. He didn’t start wondering about god, or questioning his beliefs, he simply accepted the facts, and the unknowns. My dad was exactly the same. So “pragmatic” about beliefs, and dying. And I’ve always felt the same way. Or so I thought. Trying to come to terms with the “reality” and “unknowns” of where my husband is now, has my beliefs completely shaken. I mean, if I don’t believe in “heaven”, then why do I keep looking to the sky in search of some “sign” of my husband? It’s overwhelming.

So for today, I think I’ll embrace the challenge of what to wear. It might be a thick warm coat called “pensive widow”, and I can only hope it will keep me warm through a winter of disbelief.

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10 thoughts on “Widow I wear?

  1. After my husband died I didn’t leave the house for about 4 months. I was unable to make a decision of any proportion. I was fortunate perhaps that everyone we knew suddenly and apparently scattered to the 4 corners of the earth and I heard from no one and didn’t have to decide what to wear to anything.

    I too dislike the label WIDOW. But that is what we are right? I certainly never imagined life would turn out this way. That I’d be a widow before I retired. Its a “special” label people place. Almost as if to say, now what do we do with them? They are one/single/alone and won’t fit into our foursome anymore. Or some such rot.

    When asked if I’m married I simply answer YES. To a dead man. That stops them for exploring further.

    What you wear doesn’t matter in the least. Or it shouldn’t to anyone but you. Wearing black, that’s what widows are supposed to do, right? Who says? But if you don’t then you’re not appropriate. According to whom? Screw them all they are not living your life and are not entitled to an opinion about it.

    Just don’t be your own worse enemy and get stuck on minor details like what to wear. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Your husband loved you not the clothes you wore.

    However, if its easiest for you to only focus on that, more power to you! If its cold wear shorts. Hot? Wear a jacket. lol We always know someone is crazy when they are dressed inappropriately for the weather. If folks think you’re crazy they will either give you wide berth or pity you. Either way they will be glad its you and not them that is suffering.

    Good luck on finding the perfect widow shroud to wear in public. (sarcasm, I apologize)

    • rosechimera, thanks for reading my blog, and commenting. I am new to blogging…and to being a “widow”. You are right, there are so many details that just don’t matter in the bigger scheme of things. But sometimes it’s the juxtaposition of those little things, with the big things that can be so confusing. And the horrendous “number’ that grief does on one’s brain! I have never had anxiety before, and it’s really annoying to have it now. But as to what other people think, (about me, or what I wear, or may “status”), you are right, it doesn’t matter, and your answer to the being married question is truly funny. I like your attitude, humor, and sarcasm, thanks for sharing it.

      • It is hard, those little things mixing with the big things. Or is it more the little things are now big and vice versa?

        For example: I remember the first time I had to take the trash cans out after my husband died. A few days later. I started sobbing. Why? Because that was the only chore my husband had. The only thing I asked him to do and he just didn’t. He may have taken the trash cans out 3 times in the span of a year.

        But that night, bringing in the cans I realized it was such a stupid little thing. He doesn’t do it? I will. But it pissed me off! Every single week!

        Bringing the cans in I wished so damn hard that I had him back again. Give back to me, wake me from this horrible nightmare and I promise never to give a shit about the stupid trash cans ever again!!!!

        That’s what I meant about little things turning into big things.

        We just cannot anticipate what shards of glass are there waiting for us to stab us in the heart. We cannot anticipate because all of “it” life…is made up of 1 billion painful shards. I want to anticipate to be able to avoid!

  2. I’m writing this with the humility and understanding that I have not experienced what you have, so I do not even begin to presume that I “understand” what you’re going through. All I know is a memory I have from when I was around 20 and my mum was talking a young widow. She (the young widow) was in her 30s and her husband had unexpectedly died just over a year before. Her hair had turned grey virtually overnight. I was privy to the conversation between her and my mum. She was telling my mum how stressed out she was that all her friends were telling her that it was time to take off her wedding ring (which she still wore) and “move on” with her life. But she didn’t want to, or couldn’t. I remember my mum asked her, “Do you believe your husband is out there somewhere?” And the woman said, “I don’t know.” My mum asked her, “Do you still feel married to him?” The woman cried and said, “Yes.” My mum said, “If you feel married, then you are. Wear the ring. Wear it forever if you want to.” Those words meant so much to the woman. Maybe it wouldn’t mean the same to another woman in her situation, and the “ring” may not necessarily be an issue for every widow; but this particular woman wept with such relief that someone had acknowledged that it was ok to feel the way she felt about what was important to her.

    I believe that grief and bereavement can be classified as a traumatic experience. When people suffer a trauma, their mind will struggle to cope however it can, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. People who suffer other types of trauma seem to be given more tolerance and patience than widows and widowers. Just because most of us will experience this at some point in our life doesn’t make it any less of a trauma. The effect on our mind is the same. It’s an assault to the nervous system. And like with any trauma, I don’t think there’s any “right” or “wrong” way to deal with it, or any time limit on how you feel what you feel. Your thoughts and behaviour might seem unusual, but as long as you’re not breaking any laws or hurting anyone, however your mind chooses to cope with this experience is right for you, as a unique person.

    For any widow out there who is still holding onto her husband in any way – you know what I mean – I would say this: If nuns can be married to Jesus who died 2000 years ago and they never even met him, then a wife can certainly be married to her actual husband whether he is here or not.

    There was a time in my life when I was deeply sad. Not due to grief, but for another reason. I struggled with it for a long, long time. One day I decided, “I am a sad person. That’s just who I am now.” Somehow that gave me a feeling of relief. I stopped struggling to be “fine”. Eventually that feeling went away and I’m not a sad person anymore. But when I stopped struggling, it helped.

    I feel deeply for you. Whatever you’re doing is right for you. Try taking a deep breath and just saying, “My mind is coping. It knows what to do.” And then, just float.

    • What a compassionate response…thank you. I do feel that a deep loss, (like that of a spouse, or child, even friend, or parent) is a trauma. Based on my own experience, and what I see other widows going through, it is clear that the mind goes into coping mode, just as you described. I often want to say to people, “Bear with me. All my neurons are currently busy fighting ONE fire. It’s called grief. Need something else from me? Get in line!”

      I have gone through other tough times in life, and during those times, I know I experienced some level of grief. But none of it compared to this overwhelming experience. So I do often wonder about how our society could better prepare us, or better help integrate the process that bereaved people go through. Until my own very recent experience with it, I never would have known what to “do” for others…and never would have understood how debilitating it is.

      In my mind, I understand that “letting go” of the struggle is a huge part of healing. But it’s a very frightening step to take, because it requires me to “accept” the loss. And I think that’s the hardest pill to swallow. But I am trying to trust my inner abilities to lead me through this as best as I can.

  3. I think you’re wise to trust your inner abilities to lead you through this. If holding onto the struggle is what you need to do right now, then just go with it and hold on. Whatever you’re doing is right for you at this point in time. Sometimes it’s virtually impossible for the brain to accept something. It just needs time, no matter how long, and that’s ok. I can’t imagine it. For some reason, it’s like we’re all supposed to go through this dreadful pain at some point whether it’s a spouse, a child, a beloved parent. My husband worries about his mother because her health is not good. Sometimes he gets very afraid when he imagines that one day she’ll be gone. It’s hard to know what to say to him. The only thing I could think of, was that life seems to require this of us for some reason, this awful unspeakable suffering. The only way to avoid it is to never love anyone for your whole life. That way, you don’t care when they go. But I think that would be a terribly empty life and also completely unnatural. We are made to love – children, parents, spouse. Apart from that, I don’t know. But I know we are made to love.

  4. You are so right. (I can relate to your husband’s worries. I felt worried about my father for several years…yet there wasn’t anything I could do to prepare.) Your thoughts on love reminded me of this Buddhist quote: “In the end, these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you learn to let go?” Loving deeply and fully means that one day, you will have to let go as well. It’s inevitable. But boy, is it painful…Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I am enjoying your blog as well.

  5. This is great. I remember these times but I could not get it together to write.
    Come join us at WidowedVillage.org … you can “mirror” your blog posts there and meet a whole new group of people. We’re nice. 🙂
    X
    Supa

    • Thank you Supa! Your blog really helped me as I found myself on the lonely path of being widowed…I think that’s where I found links for WV. Thank you for continuing to provide support and community to so many of us.

  6. Hey there – I came to your blog through your comment on Fresh Widow’s Go On review post. I don’t have any particular wisdom to impart, save to say that my husband died of cancer in June 2010 and that I have somehow come through the time since then to a place of, well, I can’t say “joy” or “complete happiness” or even “contentment,” but of much, much less intensity of pain. It’s been a hard slog (and has been helped by therapy, a lot of blogging, and antidepressants), but when I was where you are now, I thought it would never, ever get better. Some wise people who’d walked that road before me assured me that I would not always feel as I did then, and I’m beyond thankful that they were right.

    I’m an atheist, I’ve been one all my life; my husband was, too, by the time he died. I’ve never for a moment felt the slightest twinge of a need to amend my views. I guess to some extent I envy people who believe their loved ones have moved on to some better place and are watching over them and will meet up with them again someday, but my brain just can’t fathom believing that to be so.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents’ worth. I’m going to add your blog to my list on my own blog at http://theendoftheworldandwhatfollows.blogspot.com/ if you don’t mind: your writing is beautiful.

    All the best,

    Karen

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