About a month after John’s death, I went out to dinner with two other couples. Three of us got to the restaurant first, and the maître d’ asked how many of us there would be. I immediately answered, “six”… she replied that the reservation was for five. I insisted, no there would be six of us.
Until, of course, I realized that there would only be five of us, two couples and me. I was so used to counting myself as two I simply didn’t realize we were one short. I can still recall the shockwaves that went through me, kind of a public awakening that I was now a table for one.
I was 45 when John died. I didn’t think I belonged in the elderly category of widows, those over 75 say, who have lost their spouses. On the other hand, I wasn’t young anymore either. I feel pretty well seasoned, especially now.
So in looking for support after John died, I had a little trouble figuring out where to go, what category I fit into. Also, we didn’t have children, which made things different. Most of the younger widows had children to raise, a whole kettle of fish I couldn’t even begin to understand. Now I’m in specialized sub-category:
Old enough to have been entrenched in marriage and all that a long relationship entails. Young enough to have another life ahead of me. Old enough to be enraged at having to start over after all those years of work. Young enough to know starting over is possible. Old enough to know children of my own are out of the picture. Young enough to be resentful of my friends with loving families of their own. Old enough to have experienced over twenty years of a deep loving connection with one man. Young enough to feel cheated at only twenty years.
I still don’t know where I fit in on the scale.
I was supposed to warn you?
Honestly, someone said this to me at a party. For a minute or two, I was speechless. Did they seriously think that I was “prepared”? And that I wasn’t shocked by his death?
This is a personal pet peeve: the idea that you could be “prepared” for death. I heard a radio show on hospice care a few weeks ago, and a social worker said, “There is no dying. There is living. And there is dead.” That very much resonated with me. During a prolonged terminal illness, it’s undeniably miserable and the outcome is sometimes obvious. But in the moment whatever it is, there is life. Perhaps a life that is difficult and struggling, but nonetheless it is life and you’re in it. Death? Well, that’s crossing a line from which there is no return. You are here. Then you are not.
My brother died suddenly—completely out of the blue. Alive one minute and dead the next. That was shocking. John died more slowly, tilting at the windmills of bad health from the time he was sixteen, and battling hard for ten days at the end. That was shocking.
They were both shocking losses. Just in different ways.
So if you must say something along these lines, think about how you’re phrasing it. Saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss, what a terrible shock.” is significantly better than telling the widow how she feels vs. how you feel. Just a matter of shifting around a few words. But it makes a world of difference.
When I’m ready, I promise we’ll both know. Until then, don’t worry about it. I’m learning to be single again and that’s not such a bad thing. Well, okay, sometimes it’s perceived that way. See “Widows and Gays Table” post.
Perhaps some of my resentment is my surprise in finding out how frantic people are to see me coupled. There’s a great deal of generous love behind their question, they’d like to see me happy again and what’s better happiness than being in love? Good point.
When lamenting being asked this question, one friend told me, “Don’t worry about dating for now. But, someday I hope to dance at your wedding again.” Such a lovely way to say there was hope that love would come around once more. The important aspect of saying this, as opposed to asking about what I’m doing on Saturday night, is the abstract quality of saying love will reappear in its own time. It’s letting me be okay with sorting out what I’ve lost so I can find my way to being open to love again. It’s also a reminder that love from friends is all around me, whether I’m coupled up or not. In a gentle way it was reminding me that true love is resilient, sturdy and will reappear again. Perhaps in a different form, but it will reappear. Her sweet words have stuck with me.
Asking if I’m dating is wondering when I’m going to get back on that horse and dang it, I’m not getting any younger so better get after it. Instead of saying, “take your time, love will wait for you” it’s reminding me that tempus is fugiting and I’d better fluff up the cleavage, put on the heels and get back into the game before I get called the loser.
Is it really so bad to be single? I wouldn’t give up my years of love with John for anything. There were good things and bad, as there are in any relationship. There seem to be good things and bad about being single. Isn’t it okay to just try to be happy, with or without a partner? That’s what I did when we were married, it’s what I’m trying to do now. And if I fall in love again, it’s what I will do with the New Dude. I wouldn’t expect less from anyone.
I know you mean well, but try not to say this out loud. I’m not being brave. And I am most certainly not “the Merry Widow”. Brave was making my marriage work despite his many affairs and through the worsening disabilities we both faced. What I’m facing now is merely getting through this terrible event. Do not mix bravery with having to go through what got thrown at me. Do not mistake me enjoying myself in a social situation with my broken heart. Two different things. Believe me, I’d turn tail and run if I could.
My grandmother, who had lost a son (my uncle) when he was only 42, would say, “Some things you just have to live through.” That’s very true. Some things you just have to put your head down, lean into and get through. If you love someone and I presume as a sentient person there’s someone you do love, you’re going to face this loss at some point with someone you love. You’ll get through it too. We all do. Just in different ways.
This comment made me feel pretty bad and I can’t really clarify why. I’m sure the speaker was just trying to tell me they admired me and wanted me to know. But it kind of made me feel invisible, since I felt so crushed and lost. I didn’t feel brave in the least. It takes a huge amount of energy just to get through every day after the death. I’m sure she wanted to be supportive and was admiring me getting out in public at all. It just made me feel like I had no one to lean on.
Some things you just have to live through.
There’s so many new surprises when you’re suddenly single. For instance: There’s a widows and gays table. Did you all know that? I don’t think anyone is conscious of it, but it’s what happens to you when you’re (a) widowed or (b) come out. It also welcomes the chronically single and just plain weird. It’s where you’re put when they don’t know what to do with you.
Let’s say you’re invited to a wedding, formal event, big party, fundraiser, or the like. I can guarantee if you are The Widow or if you are The Gay, you’re going to be stuck at the same table. The Widows and Gays Table (W>). And it’s not going to be the one up front, either.
Honestly, I had no idea this table existed, which is shameful of me because it’s a fairly safe bet I consigned someone I know to depths of the W>. I had no concept this is what I was doing when I was part of the Married Mob. It was quite a shock, the first time I arrived at the W> only to discover, that along with widowhood came banishment from the Other Couples. All those years invested in learning how to deal with couples, only to get tossed out with one lousy death.
Let me hasten to add that I don’t think the hosts are being malicious. I think what flits through their panicked brains (after all, they’ve got a huge party looming and a million details to attend to) is, “What do we do with this person? They’re alone, so how can we ensure they will have fun at the party? Oh, let’s put them with the other alone people: Widow X, Gay Y, and Single Z. They’ll all get along swimmingly.” Sometimes they’re right and the W> is the best table to be at. Instead of having to listen to the same stories you’ve heard for the last twenty years, you get to meet new people and pretend to be someone new and exciting yourself. Sometime you get to make fun of the proceedings with an appreciative audience!
I like hanging out at a party. I like meeting people and I like socializing. And I feel strongly that a good party is all-inclusive and even those who are there with a partner should have a good time. But I don’t need to be reminded of my single status by having to eat with others I don’t know but am assigned to simply by my marital/partner status. Does this stratification of singles happen to divorcees? Surely there someone else who your single guests know at the party? Is there other family? Perhaps other friends? The point is, we all don’t need to force couples to be couples. It’s not a requirement, like being on Noah’s ark.
Here’s some wacky advice to big party planners: I do understand the need for assigning seats, it makes it easier to serve and to know how much food to get out there and when. So if you’re planning one, I suggest you randomly assign seats (put numbers in a hat or something) for everyone. Make it a lottery. Shake things up. I think it would be more fun and those people who just can’t conceive of spending even one second without their significant other* are going to defy you and switch seats anyway, no matter where you put them.
* Something I never quite understood. Aren’t you going home together? Can’t you talk later and compare notes? But that’s a different post.