When someone says the word "widowed" to you, what is the first image that enters your mind? If referring to a widowed woman, chances are the image is of someone in her golden years who is perennially dressed in black. Similarly, a widower is also thought of as one who is somewhat older and likely looking for a new wife approximately 20 minutes after his beloved has passed away.
Even though stereotypes exist because on some level they are based in fact, the reality is that the image of the widowed must be broadened and it must be broadened dramatically. How do I know? Because I, along with millions of others in the widowed community have heard the following phrases too many times to count:
**"You're too young to be a widow".
**"How can you be widowed?"
**"You're a widow? REALLY? Stay away from me!" (usually said while making a cross with two fingers)
**"You're widowed? You sure don't look like it".
Phrases like these (and many more like them) made me ask at long last:
What do widowed really look like to the world at large?
In my continuing quest to break the stereotype of how the widowed are viewed, allow me to introduce you to this wonderful community as entirely and as all-inclusively as is possible:
We are not the image of widowed that the world purports us to be.
No widowed look exactly the same.
No widowhood looks exactly the same.
Therefore, no healing journey or healing timeline is exactly the same.
There is no "minimum age requirement" involved with widowhood.
Widowhood does not discriminate and is arbitrary in its attack.
Our beloveds were lost suddenly.
Our beloveds died after the ravages of long-term illness or infirmity.
Yes, we have many older widowed sisters and brothers in our community...
But not all widowed were married for many decades.
Not all widowed see twilight years with their spouses.
We come from both genders, in all age groups and from all walks.
We are opposite-sex spouses and we are same-sex spouses.
We were engaged and death stole our beloved away before we had the opportunity to walk down an aisle.
We were in long-term relationships that people around us easily dismiss; stating that it should be "easier" for us to get over the death of our beloveds because we "weren't really a couple".
We have adult children.
We have young children.
We were left pregnant.
We never had the chance to have children at all.
We are retired from the workplace
We are still in the workplace and must return to work while still in the midst of grieving.
We are faced with returning to the workplace after staying at home with our children and are unsure of our place in a professional world.
We are faced with a life that we aren't sure how to live.
We likely know no one to talk to that really understands.
We have questions about this new life that we have been handed; questions that we want to ask so badly, but are afraid to because of what other people may say or think.
We wear black because it is a fashion statement; not because we are in perpetual mourning.
We celebrate when we accomplish something new; whether it is fixing something in the house or going out for a meal on our own.
We wish you would call.
We wish you would mention their name.
We cry when no one is looking.
We also laugh because it feels good to do so once again - but laughing again does not mean that we have forgotten who and what we have lost.
We take baby steps into a life that we did not sign up for; yet are left behind to live.
We want to live fully again and are not sure how to go about doing so.
We are derided (and worse) by those whom we once trusted and thought would always be a source of support for us and for our children.
We are also loved and supported by incredibly special people in our lives without whom we would be lost and our Healing Journeys would be impossibly empty.
We do not want to be looked at peculiarly.
We do not want to be treated as though we carry a contagious disease called Death.
We do not want pity.
We simply want help without reproach.
We want education without lecture.
We want support without condition or negative opinion.
We need our community of peers who understand without question.
Because...we're still here.
And we matter too.
How does a stereotype fade into oblivion and take its place in the Land of the Obsolete? It starts with those who surround the widowed community; those in a position of providing consolation and comfort. The next time you meet a widowed person, resist the temptation to make remarks about how they don't look like a "typical widow/er" or reminding them how many decades that had with their beloved prior to their death and how "lucky" they should feel. Instead, simply take them by the hand, look into their eyes and say, "I'm so very sorry -- I cannot imagine the pain that you are in right now". It will help more than you will ever know.
Carole's latest book, "Happily Even After..." has won the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award. For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com
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