Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Widow Advice #16 The Biggest Role

Dear Carol, (PWM)

I am besides myself. You always seem to put things in perspective and since you've been there I am willing to listen to what you have to say. You say it funny, too and that raises my spirits.

So, here's my story. I lost my husband, Phil 3 years ago - it will be 3 years this month (May 25Th) and our 35Th wedding anniversary was last month (April 22ND)

I forgot it! I forgot our anniversary! The day passed and it was two days before I realized. I feel just awful. I never would have believed I could forget such a milestone date. Maybe, I could understand it if it was 10 years , but not after only 3 years.

I can't forgive myself. I feel like I'm leaving Phil behind.

Terrible Widow Penny

Dear Terrible Widow Penny,

STOP IT! The only widows who are terrible are those who killed their husbands. Did you kill Phil? (Hey, that rhymes)

Let's look at your letter together, Penny. Your three year anniversary of Phil's death is just weeks after your wedding anniversary. Is it possible that you were so anxious about that date that your mind skipped over your anniversary, a day that frankly you no longer celebrate?

A milestone? You didn't miss it by a nose, Penny. It's three years later. Not for nothing, it's like a finish line you didn't cross.

My gang of old friends were talking recently. I was married in 1972 and the others were married in 1974. My last anniversary was in 2005 - we clocked out at 33 years. If I was still counting we'd be celebrating our 37th anniversary this August.

My friends are now married 35 years - They actually said, "You're married the longest." What? I told them I think we stop counting when death do us part. Same as with our husband's birthday. We pause and remember he would have been... but we don't order a cake.

I know. I know. You are beating yourself up because you didn't pause and remember. So what?
I take this as a sign that you're living your life. The death date interrupts our life far more than a wedding anniversary because we tend to compartmentalize "before" and "after." And, people constantly ask us, "How long has it been?"

A widow's response? (including you) We rattle off the exact number of months, weeks and days like Dustin Hoffman did with the toothpick count when he played an idiot savant in Rain Man.

Let's reverse this. When we do remember something does that mean it's more important than something we've forgotten? I'm a bit of an idiot savant so my head is crammed with dates that I know longer need. I can tell you that my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Fowler's birthday is February 9th. She mentioned it once...more than 45 years ago. Do I love this woman?

Listen, you are leaving Phil behind. As unfathomable as this feels, it's a fact. You can't take him along with you. Your journey isn't complete but your time with him is.

And you say "only" 3 years. Try making a list of all the global changes, example, new president, economic climate that occurred since your husband is gone. Then, your personal choices and changes...did you move to a new place or buy a new TV, couch, car? Have you taken a trip these last few years? Are you dating? The grandchild that was saying "Mama" and "DaDa" now can show you how to work the remote.

All you did was forget a date on the calendar, not your life together. Little by little we leave them behind, Penny. We have to. But, until we're senile and our kids come to visit and we ask, "Who are these people who keep calling me Mom?" he'll remain a part of us.

Memories do fade. Still, in the story of our life, he will be the one who played the biggest role.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Widow Advice #15 Why Do I Blog?

Dear Carol,

I've been following your blog and although I see you seem to help some people I don't understand how you bloggers put so much personal information out there for all the world to see.

I am a private person and I like it that way. I don't need to air my dirty laundry in public.
Why do you?

I am sorry for your loss, but we all lose people and don't have the need to display our feelings
on a billboard.

Fed up with Bloggers,

Dear Fed Up With Bloggers Vicky,

Why do I blog? Why do you read it? My entries are "dirty laundry?" You oughta see the filthy laundry I don't include here.

If you notice I rarely write about my kids. I never breach their confidence. I did enough of that while they were growing up. Read their diary? Sure. How else was I supposed to know where they were hiding their pot?

If you think bloggers in general tell too much you're in the minority. Human beings need to connect to other human beings. This is why Facebook and Twitter is so popular.

In my case, I am a writer and when Jimmy died it was natural for me to write about my feelings. I put it out there on a blog because I knew I was able to express what other widows were feeling and weren't able put words to.

My friend Cathy Seitz lost her husband Howie about eight years before Jimmy. She was adamant that I write it all down. She was sorry that she hadn't.

One of the reasons she was sorry was because she felt she could have helped me more by going back, reading and remembering and letting me know that she related...specifically. How brave is allow yourself to relive your pain for someone else?

I encourage other widows to keep a journal - private or public - which is basically what personal blogs on line diary. (Boy parents have it easy today. No more rummaging through their kids drawers careful not to leave fingerprints)

It's invaluable for widows to be able to gage how different we feel from year to year, as we get closer to what grief counselors call "our new normal." What's that? Our normal life died with our husband and we are constantly trying to get comfortable with our "new normal" life.

My readers have watched me struggle to find my new normal and now three years later, for the most part, I believe I have. Vicky, this has to offer hope and be healing for others.

Funny, just last night I caught an episode of William Shatner's Raw Nerve and his guest was
Fran Drescher (who I met last year at the Friars Club and couldn't have been nicer and more genuine)

Anyway, she mentioned her book "Cancer Schmancer" about her having stage 1 uterine cancer undergoing a radical hysterectomy and her experiences with misdiagnosis. William Shattner asked her why she would put her personal stuff out there. (although, Vicky, he asked her a lot more kindly than you asked me)

Her answer blew me away. She said, "I needed to make sense of the senseless. As human beings we have an obligation to turn pain into purpose."

This is why I blog, Vicky.

That and when people ask me how I'm doing - I can take the lazy way out and just say, "Read my blog."


Friday, May 08, 2009

My Widow Advice #14 Grief Trumping

Dear Carol,

My neighbor, Georgia lost her husband almost a year to the day that my Frank died. It's been a year for her and two years for me. She acts like I don't understand.

We walk our dogs together twice a day and the dogs get along better than we do. You'd think we'd have some common ground here, but she has to be more upset, more lonely, was more in love - I can't stand it.

Please tell me what I can do or say to her to let her know that yes, my grief has subsided more, but I am still not okay or adjusted to this new life.

Poor & Poorer Widow Me,

Dear Poor & Poorer Widow Me,

Some people are just hell-bent on outdoing others in every phase of life. When they suffer a loss they "grief trump."

Unlike the other stages of grief: shock and denial, confusion, emotional release, anger, guilt, depression, isolation and recovery - grief trumping is a stage that may never end. "Ahhhhhhhhh" - you say?

The other stages pass because life steps in and pulls us up and out. Healthy people choose pleasure over pain. Grief trumping is only a pain to others. Georgia is enjoying being #1 at something. Where's her initiative to give it up?

I'm sure that when someone says "I'm cold" she is suddenly "freezing." To "I'm hungry" she replies "I'm starving."

A great philosopher never said but should have:


One cave man chipped away at his cave "I have a cold." The other banged out "I have a bad cold." A very was added and a few very's later: Bam. Pneumonia.


Fred had to have bypass surgery. Not to be out done, his friend Ed had double bypass. Lou had triple and Stu decided to invent quadruple. This is basically
the same idea as pneumonia but with rhyming names.

I remember mentioning my theories to Jimmy and he said, "Could you get me a glass of ice water?" We often had these deep discussions.

And, so Carolyne, it seems that Georgia is just one of those people who has to have it the worst. My advice to you is to ask her for her help. For instance, during one of your walks say,

"You know, Georgia, you've been through so much. This last week I haven't been able to sleep much. (make sure you don't say how many hours or she'll start a number game on you) I know you must have problems sleeping. How do you help yourself?"

This will make her start feeling superior about the solutions and not the problems. And, you may get good advice, too...just like you do from poor widow me.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

My Widow Advice #13 I'm The Devil

Carol -

You're the DEVIL!

You granted Craig forgiveness for hating taking care of his wife? Have you ever heard of "In sickness and in health?" It's okay in your nasty world to smack your husband with his sick bell?

My husband Teddy was ill for 19 months and 6 days and I never complained. I wish he were here in any shape or form - alive.

I never wanted to be in a bereavement group because those groups are just like you - evil, selfish widows encouraging each other to just trot off into the sunset leaving their poor (yes...the sick one is poor, not the widows) husbands to suffer.

Think before you speak.

Proud Widow

Proud Widow Madeline,

Some human beings are emotionally healthy and others like you, are obviously deranged and have no clue what it means to be honest, self aware and human.

Here's a little story that I know you won't find funny.

A man is in an horrific accident and the doctor calls his wife in to discuss his condition. The doctor says,

"Your husband will be incapable of doing anything for himself for the rest of his life. You will have to wash him and feed him and change him. His heart is strong and it's likely he'll live many many years."

The wife sits in shock.

The doctor says, "Just kidding. He's dead."


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Sunday, May 03, 2009

My Widow Advice #12 Poor Widower Him

Hi Everyone,

Before I enter today's letter let me tell you about a film that's opening at the end of this month. After watching the promo on their website I was taken.

The name of the movie is "You" - about how a young father copes with the loss of his wife, raises their daughter...just take a's presented beautifully.

Today's letter is in this spirit, although not quite as sweet -

Dear Carol,

I'm a widower. It's been two years now and according to statistics I should have remarried by now. Hard to do. I took care of my wife for four long difficult years.

I have a small confession to make and since this is anonymous I feel I can tell it here. I loved my wife, but I hated her sometimes. I hated cleaning her and a couple of times I told her that. She cried and I felt bad, but I still walked away until it blew over.

I felt that she was sucking the life out of me. After work sometimes a bunch of guys and gals would go out and I did sometimes and I felt guilty. I could never enjoy myself. I resented her for it. I wanted a wife, not a patient.

This is what I couldn't say in the bereavement group I was in. I was worried about what the women would think of me. They all made me feel like I did a great job so I acted like I was Marilyn's knight in shining armor.

I was by her side when she died, but I still feel I let her down. It feels good to confess this to someone finally. There is one other man in the group and he acted real loving like me so I'm not sure if it was an act or what.

We were married 11 years total. We had no kids. I'd like to have a family one day. I'm only 41 years old. Thanks for letting me blow off this steam.

Very truly yours,
Poor Widower Me, Craig

Dear Poor Widower Me, Craig,

Honest and real - real and honest. Thank you. Not to put down your group leader, but she should have done or said something to you and the other man in the group to make the enviroment safe enough for you guys to be more open.

A one-on-one bereavement therapist may be a good fit for you now. Two years later, you have some distance and perspective and no one to listen in and judge. Just don't go to my old shrink, Mean Jean. She'll make you cry like you made your wife cry...oops, sorry, Craig.

Anyway, if writing to me made you feel good it made me feel even better. I was in a group with three men who had wives who were sick for years, like Marilyn. They told their story with what I thought was genuine love and compassion and selflessness - the endless doctor appointments,
hospitalizations- well, I don't have to tell you.

What got me was that none of the men tacked on "Poor me." Just having to listen to it I was feeling "Poor me." With pride they'd announce "I was her sole caretaker."

I remember thinking that these men must be from another planet. My husband was a wonderful, generous and loving man, but a nuturer he wasn't. Lucky for the both of us that in
33 years I rarely got sick. The handful of times I did he's say,

"Come on. You can't still be sick." And, that was after a day and a half.

I remember I left that group ready to run home and start a fight with him.

If Jimmy had to take care of me for four years like you took care of Marilyn within the first month he'd be smacking me over the head with the sick bell.

Several years ago I had liposuction and was forced to wear a long tight girdle. He'd complain,
"How are we going to have sex with that thing on?"

In the group, I wondered about the sex. Too weak to walk? Maybe, my husband was a maniac. Is twice a day excessive? (yes, I'm kidding).

I won't ask you. (even though, if you excuse the expression, I'm dying to) It's none of my business. I just hope you're making up for lost time.

Craig, give yourself a break. It had to be hell for you. Jimmy was sick for barely a month. Four years? I probably would have been smacking him in the head with the sick bell, too.

Find yourself a healthy woman with good genes and who looks both ways when she crosses the street. Then go and have yourself the family and the life you deserve.