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.

DID THEY EXPECT THEIR HUSBANDS WOULD LIVE FOREVER?
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,
Barbara

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.

PWM,
Carol