I recall as a young girl reading fairy tales, and they always ended with "... and they lived happily ever after." But what happens when a spouse’s life is cut short from illness, accident or suicide? Typically, a grieving widow is left to pick up the pieces and make sense of the tragedy. This heartbreaking loss can be even further compounded by family and friends, who despite having the young widow’s best interest at heart make missteps, creating an added emotional burden.
After speaking with members of the Young, Widowed & Dating support group, these actions, though well intended, did more harm than good:
1. Telling Me I’m “Young Enough To Find A New Husband”
Would you tell a mother who has suffered a miscarriage not to grieve because she’s young enough to have another child? The same rule of thumb applies to widows. Our husbands are irreplaceable. Even if we are fortunate enough to remarry, it doesn’t diminish the pain of having lost a partner. We lose a part of ourselves when a spouse dies. The pain may dull over the years, but when it flares up -- six months or six years later -- it’s like “Day 1” all over again.
2. Implying Your Divorce Is “Kinda The Same Thing”
I cringe every time a divorcee says, “You can understand, since divorce is like a death without a funeral." There is finality in a relationship that ends with a death. There is no hope for reconciliation here on Earth. There is no random possibility that the other person will “come around” and give the relationship a second chance. Our children don’t get weekend visits to heaven. We don’t get to hear our husband’s voice on the other end of a phone call, even it’s just to iron out a child’s upcoming summer schedule. It’s not “kinda the same.” It’s not the same at all; not by any stretch of the imagination.
“At times I’m questioned for 'wasting my life' and not following some unknown 'Widow 101' guide that dictates that it’s time for me to 'move on' with my life.”
3. Asking Why I’m Not Over It Yet
Losing a spouse is life-altering, especially when he dies unexpectedly. While family and friends can often be counted on to lend a listening ear and show support, there are inevitably those who don’t get how traumatizing the experience can be for us. For some reason, the six-month marks seems to be the “magic number” where people expect widows to go back to being who we once were. Please realize that we’re forever changed; there is no “going back.”
4. Judging Me For Dating… Or Not
When a young widow of 33 from Arkansas seemed to have moved on too quickly following the loss of her spouse, she felt judged by family and friends. Prior to her husband’s death, she had an incredibly supportive person in her life and started dating this gentleman once she was widowed. She wanted to have as normal a life as possible, and dating gave her some semblance of normalcy.
Another widow, 39, from Florida, said her wanting to date again seemed to signal to others that she was “over” her husband and perhaps didn’t love him as much as they’d assumed she did.
It’s been over four years since I lost my own husband, and at times I’m questioned for “wasting my life” and not following some unknown “Widow 101” guide that dictates that it’s time for me to “move on” with my life. There’s never a right or wrong time to date. It’s a widow’s choice and, frankly, no one else’s business.
5. Suggesting I Stop Wearing My Wedding Ring
A few months ago, when the thought of dating crossed my mind, I inquired about “wedding ring protocol” (I’m still wearing mine). I was taken aback when someone said, “The ring you carry after [your husband’s] death is just a decoration because the ring does not exist the moment he died. Remove the ring and move on with your life."
It’s MY ring, placed on MY finger by MY husband, and I have the right to wear it for as long as I see fit. I’ve met several widows who started dating while wearing their wedding bands. I know it undoubtedly takes a special kind of guy to be “okay” with this.
Recently, while having a telephone conversation with a potential suitor, I mentioned my ring. His reply was unexpected but fair:
Are you wearing it because you still feel married? In that case, a relationship between us wouldn’t work. If you’re wearing it simply because you’re not ready, then I’m okay with that, because I’ve never lost a spouse, so I won’t pretend to understand.
And, while I certainly don’t feel married, the decision to remove my ring will be mine alone.
6. Thinking I’m “Okay”
Yes, we admit it’s no fun to be around someone in the throes of depression and mourning the loss of a life partner. We definitely appreciate the outpouring of support we received from family, friends, coworkers and our church family in the months following the death, but now it’s been 10 months or even two years and no one seems to remember that we’re still hurting… still grieving. Though we may look like we’re “better,” we’re often one memory or song on the radio away from reliving the pain all over again. Please continue to check on us. Ask how we’re holding up… if we need a listening ear. You never know the type of day we may be having.
“It’s MY ring, placed on MY finger by MY husband, and I have the right to wear it for as long as I see fit.”
7. Forgetting I Exist
Many widows were once the life of the party. The one their girlfriends called to check out the new trendy restaurant or attend the concert in a nearby city. Now, the calls have all but stopped. We want you to keep calling us, even if we decline your invitations.
As one young widow pointed out: I was so appreciative of friends who just kept inviting me to do things, even if I only attended 1 out of 10 events. It meant a lot to have loved ones who kept reaching out and who were so very patient until I was ready or had a good enough day to participate.
And a special note to in-laws: While I’ve been fortunate to have been blessed with the most incredible in-laws who still consider me a part of the family, I understand that’s not always the case. For parents who lost their son and ultimately a relationship with their daughter-in-law and/or grandchildren, I encourage you to try to mend the fences. You’re in pain. She’s in pain. The children are in pain. Allow the love for the decedent to pull you closer. There is strength in numbers. Heal together.
8. Avoiding Saying My Husband’s Name
We miss our spouses. There will forever be a dull pain that takes our breath away every time his name is mentioned. Please know, however, that we do not want him to ever be forgotten. It’s okay to share your favorite story of him. It’s all right to say his name.
A Young, Widowed & Dating group member from Morrisville, N.C., was 46 with a 5-year-old when she lost her spouse. They relish in the stories and memories her family and friends share with them. It helps keep her husband’s memory alive.
After my hubby died, his Facebook friends reached out to me. Many of them I had never met but they all seemed to have the same story: I remember having a problem and he did everything possible to help me resolve the issue.
It made my heart full knowing there were so many other people whose lives were touched by him. It helped me celebrate his life and the way he lived it. Stories of him helping others continue to remind me to be kinder, more empathetic… to understand everyone has a story.
Nothing takes away the pain of losing a spouse. We only ask that you give thought to your words and actions as it relates to our loss. Often, we're grieving in the only way we may know how and are taking things day by day.