10 Things You Don’t Know About Widows

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You don’t know what you don’t know about widows. That’s what I tell many people when they hear something about my life they find surprising, interesting, or shocking. It’s not your fault, you can’t “know” something you haven’t experienced firsthand, but that doesn’t mean that those of us who do can’t share.

1) We forget a lot.

I’ve had a lot of people become egregiously angry for my forgetfulness. Forgetting to respond to invitations, send gifts, text or call back. Reality check: I set alarms to remember everything for MY OWN kids –drop off, pick up, school events. I’m aware of my deficits, and no offense to anyone but I expend energy where it’s needed. Grief fog is a real thing, and it’s not just sadness that consumes our brains. It’s all the things we have to do daily, muddled in with the arguments we have with ourselves about everything (literally, everything, from breakfast, to therapists, to meds.)

2) We ARE happy for you, but we still are sad for ourselves.

We love you. We are happy for you. We are proud of every one of your victories. It’s still hard for us. Yes we are jealous, not because we don’t think you deserve your blessings, but because we had them, and lost them.

3) It’s hard to date us. We know it. We also can’t change it.

We are a LOADED package, and we know it. We’ve got kids 24/7. Scheduling nights out can be tough. We are not disconnected from our past. I’m still close with my late husband’s family and have photos of him in my home. I’m keeping his memory alive for our kids. No matter how much we like you, these things aren’t negotiable. The flip side? We are loyal, able to love deeply, appreciate more, and the little stuff doesn’t usually get under our skin.

4) It’s hard to be our friends. We know it. We also can’t change it.

See number one. We are low on time and energy, and generally in the mix of our own heads. We try to connect, but as solo parents the weight of our daily lives can sometimes cause us to over commit and under deliver. We hope you love us anyway.

5) Sometimes we need empathy.

We know you mean well, but if one more person tells us everything happens for a reason, we MAY lose it. Don’t say time heals all wounds, or that you don’t know how we do it. (Did we get a choice? Was there an opt-out I missed? Can I still find it?) As one widow put it, “real empathy requires listening with an open heart, and mind.” We know it may be uncomfortable to hear about loss (imagine how we feel), but we appreciate when friends give us their ears (for real), not platitudes.

6) Sometimes we need some honesty.

My kids’ therapist is also a widow. She’s been a sounding board for me over the years. I told her how I felt guilty about an upcoming trip, because it’s like admitting that he isn’t coming back. She said, “He IS gone, and he isn’t coming back.” OUCH, but also, so needed. I’d been holding back on letting myself look forward to the trip, as if being excited about it was making him more dead. I’m grateful she was real with me, because otherwise I’d still be riding that guilt trip.

7) We need more hugs, of the non-child variety.

We used to have all kinds of touch in our lives. Someone used to hug us every day, multiple times. They’d hold our hands, rub our back, put their hands on our knees. We used to cuddle on the couch without getting climbed on, head butted, argued over, or elbowed in the bladder. No one touches us anymore in a way that’s that intimates love, understanding, and appreciation. More hugs, please.

8) We aren’t the only ones grieving, and our kids’ grief comes in waves, and stages.

I have three kids. People often overlook their grief and emotions. Here come those platitudes, “But kids are so resilient!” Sure they are, but this isn’t “Sally didn’t make the soccer team,” or “Bobby didn’t get the part he wanted in the school play.” Their Dad died. They FEEL that. That feeling changes as they get older, and their ability to process grows. We aren’t just handling our emotions and loneliness; we are helping our kids process their loss, and their longing for a father/mother figure.

9) Widowed parenting can drown us.

Widowed parent life is really, REALLY hard. We have great days and we love our babies. We also have times when it’s just SO much. Last week, I had to drag all three kids on a six-hour ER visit, two visits to urgent care (different kids), nebulizer treatments, and no sleep. At the hospital, I watched my daughter get an ultrasound. My knees were weak (cancer widow PTSD right there), the tears welled up, and yet I had to step in the hallway every thirty seconds to pretend I wasn’t even a little scared with my boys. In those moments, the mind wanders. “How can I possibly go on like this? How can I DO this alone forever?” We are grateful for the gift of our kids, but we are also really tired, and scared, and some days we just pray to make it to bedtime.

10) We know we are being judged.

Ideas about how we should behave are archaic. People watch how we parent or move forward, if we’re doing too much in the wake of our loss, or too little. Some widows are shunned when they begin to date, others judged for not dating. We are all different, on our own timelines with varying circumstances. Holding a widow(er) to a blanket set of rules is as ridiculous as holding all parents to a specific parenting style. Our future lives are still as different as our lives were before our one common thread.

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  1. Your headline made me think this was for all widows, and there’s some great widow info I’d like to share, but it’s entirely packaged up for widows that are parents. My husband died 8/25/19, we had two miscarriages and a stillbirth the years before he died. A lot of the time I feel a bit excluded from widows my age because I don’t have kids, just like I did as a wife without kids. I ut wanted to write that, because so much of this applies to me: I’m an aunt living with my sister and two nephews now, and I put them first, in terms of my grief fog. I am super hard to date (or I will be because I already found my soulmate and he’s everywhere, pictures in the house, someone I talk about all the time.

    Maybe it’s just your headline, maybe it’s because I feel a bit extra alone without my a child of my husband’s, but this certainly isn’t an article about why people don’t know about widows when the language reads it’s what people don’t know about widows with children.

  2. Hi Robin – I am so sorry for the loss of your husband. I am a widow with children but we understand that widows come in all shapes and sizes and situations. It’s a horrible loss with children or without. This article is the writer’s story of her own loss but at Living the Second Act we welcome all stories and we would love for you to share yours. I am sure it would help many who share your situation. Please reach out to us at editor@livingthesecondact.com. We hope to hear from you.

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