I've gotten dozens of e-mails telling me they are happy I am changing this to an advice column and they sent me questions I will print here each new entry. Here is the first one:
You are amazing and have helped me so much. I think an advice column for "Poor Widow Me" is a terrific idea. I've e-mailed you before and I may be of those too pathetic to print, but here goes:
My husband Phil was only 53 when he died of pancreatic cancer almost a year and a half ago. We were married 30 years and most of the time we were happy. My son is 29 and he tells me he dreams about his father several times a month.
My problem is that for a long time I never dreamt about Phil and I felt terrible about that. Suddenly, this week I've dreamt about him twice. It turns out I was happier before the dreams because these dreams were really nightmares.
They both had Phil being mean to me. The one that upset me the most was the one where he was dressed like Abraham Lincoln with the big black hat. He was criticizing the new sofa I bought. (in real life I did buy a sofa) He shook his finger at me scolding me.
I woke up as I was jumping up and down trying to knock the Abe Lincoln hat off his head. I know you're not a dream interpeter, but maybe you can help me not to care so much about these dreams. You always seem to have a funny spin on things.
Charlene, (Another Widow)
Dear Charlene, (Another Widow)
I'm glad you mentioned dreams to me because I, too, didn't dream of Jimmy until it was about 8 months and then again about 6 months ago two times. None of the dreams were pleasant. None of them made me feel...oooh, for a short time I feel like I have my Jimmy back.
When my friends asked me what my first dream was about I was reluctant to tell them. I was afraid it would make me sound angry and resentful. I told them anyway.
It was during a period when I was trying to sell Jimmy's limousine company. I was sitting in a theatre in a perfect seat, the center of row five or six from the stage. All of a sudden Jimmy appears and tells me I should move to where all his employees are sitting.
I didn't want to sit with them, but I listened to Jimmy and in the next scene I'm in a terrible seat seat all the way to the side and I'm straining to see the stage. In the dream I'm annoyed with myself that I listened to him.
My friend Richie laughed and said, "Here you are trying to distance yourself from those company people and even in your dreams you can't get away from them."
Boy, Charlene, was I relieved that he translated it that way. I took it to mean that I'm proud to be making decisions on my own and needing less and less imput from Jimmy.
Here you are having made a decision to buy a new sofa, normally something a couple would choose together. Good for you. In many ways it must have made you feel great. You're changing your enviroment, something I did, too...some widows move, others redecorate.
The point is I believe as our lives move forward we feel confusion that our grief is at odds with our growing sense of ourselves. It's not exactly guilt we feel, but something close to it.
For a spoiled brat of a wife like me who made dinner by calling for reservations little by little I saw lots of things my husband took care of are not all that complicated. I just never paid attention. No need.
As newscaster and snappy dresser Diane Sawyer said, "There's no subsitute for paying attention."
Lots of widows wrestle with feeling a sense of pride for each small personal triumph while it's colored with a sense of shame. It's normal. It's healthy as we begin to live in the world without the support of a husband.
You're no doubt feeling, "What would Phil think of this couch?
"What would Phil think of me spending the money to buy it?"
"How would Phil feel about me replacing the old one that has all the memories? (and stains)
Well, just wait when you start dating Charlene, and see how it feels to be feeling,
"What would Jimmy, er, I mean, Phil think about me sitting on this couch with another man?"
Anyway, I explained this weird combo of feelings to my friend Jade.
She got it and re-phrased it like this: "I understand, Carol," she said. "Everything comes with an oy."
Oh, by the way. I wouldn't be concerned about the Abe Lincoln get up. It must reflect all the stuff in the news about Lincoln/Obama. You've internalized it - just like if someone sticks your hand in water while you're sleeping - you'll pee in your bed.
Hope this helped. Best to you in 2009 - let me hear from you again.
Carol - PWM