Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Comparing Widows and Purging Stuff




Comparing widows is wrong, I know that. But I'm going to do it anyway. From my days of being a caregiver in the stroke community I know several women who were widowed in the same time frame as me. So it’s natural---or maybe I should say it’s an irresistible temptation for me to compare where I’m at compared to where they’re at as we all transition to a life of living alone.

One of them—I’ll call her Exhibit ‘A’---within a couple of months of losing “the love of her life” was signing up for internet dating and she has been swapping out new relationships as often as Mother Nature does the seasons ever since. She says she’s having a good time. Good for her, if she’s telling the truth. She’s in her fifties and she has a long life ahead of her. But here comes the big BUT…I wonder if Exhibit ‘A’ has truly finished grieving not just the loss of her beloved husband but also the years of being his caregiver, the loss of  having a purpose in life. Yes, I know that long-term caregivers often do a lot of their grieving before their spouse dies so dating so soon isn’t all it appears to be on the surface. But it’s a whole different can of worms to grieve part of yourself, the spouse/caregiver without a care recipient. In our own unique ways, Exhibit ‘A’ and I are both running around trying to fill up the time we once lavished on our needy husbands. But the fact that all the men she meets have small flaws that causes her to discard them in short order makes me think she is unfairly comparing them to the spouse on the pedestal and she's really not as ready to move forward as she claims to be.

I compare ‘A’ to a widow I met at the senior hall---Exhibit ‘B’---whose husband made her promise that she’d have fun after he died and she is like a rat on speed, in a maze trying to fulfill his wishes through frequent tears. Both ‘A’ and ‘B’ know what their husbands wanted for them, but do they really know what they want for themselves beyond fulfilling deathbed promises? Can any of us move forward while trying to live someone else’s dream for us without taking the time to dream our own dreams, decide for ourselves what would make us happy again? I don’t have an answer to that question other than I’m glad I don’t have a death bed promise to keep. Life is complicated enough. All I know is that I’ve read too many widows’ stories where they’ve gotten right up to the edge of remarrying again, only to back out or have the guy back out. Unresolved grief? I find it hard to believe that the Exhibit ‘A’s of the world who are searching frantically for love could not be harboring unresolved grief that keeps them from finding the very thing they are looking for.

Two other long-term caregivers-turned-widows that I know are still having a hard time just getting through their days. They are both standing still. Both Exhibit ‘C’ and ‘D’ cry often and don’t know where to begin putting down new roots. They know they have to dig out the old roots to move forward---purge their husband’s stuff from the house---but they can’t seem to make themselves do it. It’s a hard process and I’m only about 90% finished with my own purging so I’m not passing judgment here. I’m just stating facts. And it’s certainly isn’t fair of others who haven’t lost a spouse to judge why a widow just doesn’t call the Salvation Army or Goodwill and send off all her husband’s clothing, tools, hobbies, books, half done-projects, cars, boats, mementos and work related stuff. For one thing, some of that stuff has too much value and many widows can’t afford to just donate it or give it all away when selling it would help build up a nest egg. <See me raise my hand here.> But mostly it’s the memories attached to The Stuff that makes it so hard to let go. Letting go of stuff is a smack-yourself-in-the-face admission that he’s never coming back and if The Stuff is gone are we worried the memories attached to those things will be harder and harder to recall? My answer to that question has been to take photos of The Stuff before purging it.

At some point in the purging process (even thinking about purging) the sheer volume of The Stuff  a person leaves behind when they die gets overwhelming. You might even start getting suspicious of those who offer to help. Do they really care about you or do they just want The Stuff for themselves? Or worse yet, do they see no intrinsic value in the memories attached to The Stuff? And it’s not unusual on occasion to get mad and/or resentful of your spouse that you have to do all that physical and emotional work of disposing of The Stuff. Why did he have to leave so many things behind? Why did he have to die in the first place?  Exhibit ‘A’ did the purging without batting an eye. Gone, done in one week. She had a mission to fulfill. Out with the old, make room for the new. Did she let go of things she’ll later regret in her mission to find a new love of her life? The sentimental soul that I am likes to think she did…or does now and just isn’t admitting she acted too fast.

There are so many ways to grieve and move forward and if I knew more people I could fill the alphabet with more exhibit variations of the process. All I know for sure is how deeply sad it makes me feel when I see women from my old caregiver circles struggle so much. We all went through so much together dealing with the repercussions of our spouses’ stroke. You’d think we’d know the drill on how to handle adjusting to drastic changes in our lives, but in the end we are no better or worse off than a million other widows. ©


14 comments:

  1. Every letter of the alphabet times a trillion!

    Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again...

    Maybe Exhibit A and B are trying to get ahead of this change and cut grief off at the pass. Maybe C and D are exhaling their grief, you know, the 'breathe in, breathe out' meditation. Maybe my interpretations are ass backward.

    As for this widow - Getting a satisfactory flow of love is the Holy Grail I'm seeking. And there are as many ways to do this as there as people...

    Humpty Dumpty counted to ten. Humpty Dumpty took out his pen. All the King's horses and all the King's men were happy that Humpty's together again.

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    1. Are you volunteering to be Exhibit 'E', the lover of nursery rhymes and Holy Grail seeking widow? LOL

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  2. Note: Humpty Dumpty took out his pen, and Humpty's together again. Let's hear it for the power of the pen! I never knew that's how the nursery rhyme ended until I looked it up after it popped into my head this morning.

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    1. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
      Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
      All the kings' horses,
      And all the kings' men.
      Had scrambled eggs,
      For breakfast again.

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  3. I just passed the three year mark and finally I can let go of my husband's clothes. He is not coming back.

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    1. That's quite a hard benchmark to reach, isn't it. I'm so sorry for the loss of your husband.

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  4. This is helpful for me, actually. I visited a woman newly widowed after years of caregiving. From what I learned here from you, I just knew that her experience was going to be different than mine, and that prepared me to be open to her own pace of healing. But there's no single caregiver experience, this is clear from this post.

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    1. I'm so glad to hear that, Fichereader. I struggled with whether or not I should even write this comparison and after I did I struggled with whether or not to publish it. In fact shortly after I first published it I removed it off the blog for a day before changing my mind again. Just knowing it could help someone makes me feel better about posting this.

      Thanks for commenting!


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  5. I was the "get rid of the stuff" kind of person, but...I still can't let his sneakers go. They sat by the front door, where he left them, for months and months. Then I took them out to the garbage pail, but I just couldn't dump them--and believe me--they have no value, money wise. So now--they sit in the bedroom closet. It's weird, but, I had lived alone and now again and we were together only seven years--so his stuff didn't mean all that much to me--I needed the room. It's not the stuff that gets to me--it's the emotional attachment. The fact that I can't hear his voice anymore, or his laugh. I can still see him moving around the house...but. Sometimes I get real weepy and feel bad--mostly for myself, but then I remember...and concentrate on the fact that we were so lucky to even meet each other, let alone experience the kind of accepting, loving relationship both of us had been seeking for so many years before. At least we had that!!

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    1. Great comments, Judy! And now that you mention it, Exhibit 'A' whose "love of her life" died and she purged quickly was also a second wife. His stuff was not stuff they acquired while they were together. I can see, now, how that would leave her (and you) with less attachments to The Stuff than other widows who'd been married for decades and where the The Stuff comes with an invisible catalog of when and where it was acquired.

      I still have Don's cowboy boots and hats. I doubt I'll ever get rid of them.

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  6. Jean, This post really helped me understand why, as I get ready to move, I'm having no trouble getting rid of my own stuff but finding it harder to purge stuff that belonged to my mother (including things like old shopping lists that I found in the pockets of her jacket). Suppose I throw them away and later forget what her handwriting looked like? Thanks for the suggestion of photographing stuff like this. Brilliant! -Jean

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    1. Keeping samples of handwriting makes perfect sense to me. It's funny how just seeing it can bring back such strong warmth and memories. When I put together a family history back in the '80s, I got handwriting samples of all my relatives and included them in the book. With computers taking over the world those samples will take on a whole new meaning for future generations of my family. Perhaps you could do a deep picture frame with some full of your mom's stuff including her photo, the shopping list and anything small you kept like a string of pearls, for example. I love collages in frames.

      Photographing things really made purging easier for me. I'm glad you can use the idea.

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