Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Widow Advice #11 Did They Expect Their Husbands Would Live FOREVER?

Dear Carol,

My husband was 59 when he died four months ago. He would have been 60 this month. All my friends are celebrating their husband's 60th and I feel so cheated and cheated for him.

Worse than that, so many have parents who are alive at 85 and 90 and are just losing their spouse now after a million years together. I just don't have the patience to listen to all this
grieving over people who have already outlived their life expectancy.

At least they had a good long run.

Steve and I were married 35 years but I expected at least to make it to our 50th. We both only would have been 74.

Please help me to get rid of these awful bitter feelings. I am normally not an envious person and I don't want to become one. I want to give a good example to my children. (two grown sons)

I like to play cards, but I'm not much for groups.

Poor Widow Me,

Dear Poor Widow Me, Barbara,

It sucks. I know. It's natural at four months for you to feel envious. Life is continuing on normally for everybody else in your circle. They're still here.

It's like the stork that brought Steve to earth as a baby has picked him up and flown away with him. (I don't believe in the stork. That was just an example.)

I felt that way about Jimmy for a long time. Every so often, even now, after three years, when there is a big gathering and he is the obvious gap, I still fill up with resentment. I feel it for me, and for him, and for my kids. (okay, mostly for me.) As time goes on in some ways it feels even more unfair because we've all lived that much longer.

The only way I know to ease that bitterness is to be grateful. We must be grateful for the happy years we had and remind ourselves that happiness can't be measured by time. Still, I had 33 years and you had 35. Those are nice long runs, Barbara.

I hear you - you're not into groups and I'm not either, but my old folks bereavement group taught me a thing or two. Here are just two widow stories from the group.

I listened to Gloria tell the group that her husband was 90 when he died. She seemed shocked.
I admit I repressed a laugh. Was it a nervous laugh or a mean laugh? Probably a little bit of both. They were married for 60 years, longer than our husband's lived. Right, Barbara?

I sat there and observed. Once I decided to be mature, to be respectful, her face revealed honest bewiderment beyond her grief. In a flash, it was clear to me that she honestly did expect him to live forever.

Maybe 'forever' begins to feel possible when your loved one has lived a long life, riding the bumps and beating the odds along the way. It's nearly impossible to accept that someone who has been in our lives for all of our lives isn't anymore. I learned that this day. People often feel this way when they lose their elderly parents.

Oh, and their daughter. Gloria and her husband lost a grown daughter...more than just a bump.

Group member Beverly touched me the most because she was pretty. I know that sounds shallow, but attractive people often escape life's dark clouds so when they get slammed it's a bigger shock to their system. Just my own philosophy.

She was in her late seventies, petite and fit like a golfer. Her day time wear would include a visor and a strap on (water bottle). I could easily picture her and her husband Harold (married 56 years) jumping up to be the first ones to dance at a wedding.

Everyone would comment how cute they were until they hogged the dance floor with their over practiced renditons of the Cha-Cha and the Lindy. Then, the crowd turns on them.

Anyway, like Gloria, she also expected they'd be dancing forever. A month after they sold their home and moved into a 55 and older community Harold died suddenly from a heart attack. Beverly shook her head, still unbelieving it as she told the group.

"Now, I'm all alone in an unfamiliar place and it's all couples."

Beverly's plan for the future was shattered and there was no running back to her familiar surroundings. Even my hard heart broke for her although it did occur to me,

"At least she still has her looks."

It's never easy to loose your spouse, Barbara. These women genuinely loved their wrinkled old men, the husband they had shared more than half a century with and they probably grew to depend on one another even more in the later years.

And, unlike younger widows like us, there's no dating on their horizon. However, I remember one day not too long ago as I stood on line in the supermarket a couple well into their seventies were laughing and just being silly together. I don't know why, but I asked them how long they'd been married.

She gently touched his face and said, "Three years, dear."

"Good for them" ought to be our mantra. (Don't chant it or anything...I mean the attitude) Let's choose to be gracious and open hearted. Life leads us through storms and then spins us around to face a breathtaking sunset.

You'll get there. It takes time to appreciate our lives and hopefully we have a few years on the old folks to get it right.


Monday, April 27, 2009

My Widow Advice #10 Are Widows Contagious?

Dear Carol,

I am a group leader for a bereavement group and a follower of your blog. At first, I was skeptical and concerned about you giving advice to very vulnerable women and men. But you have proven yourself to be healing to widows and widowers.

They say laughter is the best medicine and I'm not a funny person. FYI - I am going to incorporate some of your writings into my format, either by me reading one aloud or passing a ditto (do they use that term anymore?) for a take home page.

I've been running groups for eleven years and have been a widow myself for seven and I know it shouldn't matter professionally, but I feel that I've become a far better leader/facilitator since I lost my husband.

For widows seeking a bereavement group please tell your readers to ask a potential group leader if she is a widow. The empathy will abound.

Thank you for doing such good work.

Ruth, Group Leader

Dear Ruth, Group Leader,

WOW (which is MOM upside down) I am very impressed with myself that you, a professional has given me the thumbs up. I normally don't mesh well with authority figures. I come from a long line of people with attitude problems and I'm a direct decedent of ancestors not living up
to their potential.

I certainly appreciate you taking the time to write to me. Thanks! Interesting that you feel you're a better facilitator since you've lost your husband. As you suggest, of course there is the empathy factor.

But you say to look for a bereavement leader who is a widow? I have yet to find one who is not a widow. I have a little theory about that.


My one-on-one shrink Mean Jean was widowed at 43. She used to say, "Just like the hair club commercial says, I'm not just the president but a member as well." Like you, Mean Jean wasn't funny, either. (no offense)

It occurred to me that at the time her husband died she was already running groups and in private practice. Harriet, my first group leader was a widow for four years. And, my second bereavement group leader became a widow five years ago smack in the middle of her practice.

Could there be something in the air that these shrinks breathe in and bring home to their unsuspecting husbands? I don't mean to make you feel guilty or anything, Ruth, but just being
a scientist here.

Most people become active with causes after they are personally affected. Right? Think about
John Walsh, the cute guy in the black leather jacket who kind of looks like Steve Wynn...anyway he started "America's Most Wanted" after his son Adam was abducted.

It's a natural cause and effect. Could Harriet, Mean Jean and Annie and you have affected the cause?

I wonder if I'm on to something. You must admit 4 out of 4 is pretty suspicious. I'm tempted to do a more extensive survey to uncover how many bereavement shrinks who lost their husbands were in close proximity to widows. Wait...Wouldn't that be 100%? I guess my research should include which ones did not lose their husbands. Yes. That's more like it.

Perhaps, Ruth, you'd like to join forces with me in this research project? Much is at stake. If this gets out we widows may be forced to wear a gigantic W when in public places.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Widow Advice #9 Chocolate Cake & Liver

Dear Carol,

I've read that you were in two bereavement groups. I think part of the reason you had an adverse reaction to them was that you had a preconceived attitude.

You must go to these gatherings with an open mind. No body is perfect and while it's nice to make friends that's not the purpose of groups.

A Good Group Experience

Dear A Good Group Experience Terry,

Your 'know it all' letter makes no sense. My last group experience was a parenting group thirty years ago. Comparing that to the bereavement groups is like chocolate cake to liver and guess which one is liver? I have no idea what makes you think I expected these experiences to be similar.

My daughter, Jackie was 18 months old when I joined the Mother's Center, an organization designed to ease young mother's isolation and to emphasis that we are all "good enough mothers." Fortunately, Susan Smith and Andrea Yates weren't members or the Mother's Center would have had to close it's doors.

Anyway, back then, we sat in a circle (that hasn't changed) worn out from chasing young children around and fighting with our husbands about how we didn't feel like having sex with him because the kid finally stopped hanging on our breast and fell asleep. The last thing we
needed was to listen to a grown man whine and then breast feed him and his scratchy mustache.

I did not join to make friends, although I did. The group members I hated the most were the perky ones. They would introduce themselves:

"Hi all! My name is Susie and I'm married to Brad and we have two wonderful children, Jason and Jennifer. I used to work in the deli, but now I'm a stay at home Mom and I love it!

I no longer get a discount on cold cuts, but I still get to make sandwiches in my very own kitchen! In my spare time, if I have any, that is ("snort-snort") I enjoy making placemats."

As expected and as you know, Terry, the bereavement group had a somewhat less bouncy atmosphere, which normally I would prefer, but true, I wasn't prepared for introductions like:

"I'm Eva. It's been six months. My husband Charlie wasn't well for some time and the doctors put him through all kinds of tests and when pancreatic cancer was discovered we knew he would
have to have chemo. He lost so much weight and was really really weak, although he managed to come to our son's wedding but he wasn't strong enough to dance. His mother told me...wait, I'm sorry, am I talking too much?"

"YES, Eva, stop! I said to myself. The group leader told her, "Please go on. That's why we're here."

Is that why we're here? I remember thinking. To hear horrible stories? There are no happy endings here. Soon it will be my turn to tell my horrible story. How will I do that? I'm not even convinced it really happened.

So, Terry, yes. I was unprepared for all the pain. I couldn't deal with so much disclosure and had difficulty revealing myself. I'm not a good group member like you are, but at least I'm not a bitch.


Monday, April 20, 2009

My Widow Advice #8 What Do Widows Talk About?

Dear Carol,

I've had a very positive bereavement group experience. My group was comprised of wonderful, strong supportive women who I just knew after the first meeting would be my friends. (not all of them, of course - but four of us have formed a bond.

After the tenth and last session we decided to continue meeting once a week casually for dinner. That was such a huge success and since we are all in our sixties and retired we began doing more activities together.

We all live on Long Island so we go into the city for a matinee on Wednesdays and sometimes on the weekends and we often have each other at our homes for occasions.

My problem is that this has been going on for several months and two of my old friends who are not widowed are jealous. They complain I don't have time for them anymore and are constantly saying that there is nothing more important than old friends.

I've been widowed for just over a year now and while I love my old friends and appreciate that they've been here for me I feel like a fifth wheel around couples.

Shouldn't they understand and be happy for me after all I've been through?

Keeping Company With Other Widows,

Dear Keeping Company With Other Widows Sue,

Women are so petty. A while back I acccused my mother-in-law Fanny of being petty and luckily she's fairly deaf - so to avoid a confrontation I switched it quickly to "pretty." She didn't buy it, but that's another story.

It's refreshing to hear that you found other widows in your bereavement group who can be your friends outside of the group. While the group was going on your group dynamics must have been incredible since the personal caring was in place, too.

Personally, if I had had to depend on my fellow group members to socialize with I would have become a hermit. I would have had to become my own best friend...but to quote me as Dr. Friendship "If you're your own best friend you need to get out more."

And, now here you are with two jealous friends behaving like Junior High School. Women, no matter what their ages are only a gin and tonic away from being 14 year old girls.

My advice to you is to sit down with your old friends, smile and say, "I love you and I need you in my life, but look how my life has changed." Then, hand them a list titled "This Is What Widows Talk About."

Write back to me when you have a moment and send me the list so I can share it with my readers. Thanks, Sue.

Carol P.S. Just wait until you start dating and you have to explain to the widows
what a man gives you that they can't.
Please send me that list too, a detailed list, spare nothing, thanks in advance.