Saturday, August 22, 2009

On a Widower's Discomfort

In my previous post, I mentioned that my daughter and I recently hosted some friends from my college days. And while my previous post centered on a situation that should have made me uncomfortable, but did not, this one focuses on a situation that should not have made me uncomfortable. But did.

Because of a falling out I had with these friends during my junior year of college, the reconciliation of which happened only a few months before my wife died, we did not spend any time together while I was married. And since the two currently wed friends in the group, Mr. and Mrs. K, were married a year after we were, I did not spend any time with them as a married couple until after I had been widowed.

During our first visit last fall, Mr. and Mrs. K would freely reference their sex life. Not in a way that was inappropriate, especially considering that my then-four-year-old was with us, but it still made me uncomfortable on a number of levels. Now, my wife and I made it a habit to keep our intimate life private, which is why you have not read even the slightest hint of a discussion about it on this blog. So I was a bit taken aback at the fact that they would make so many comments regarding their own. And during those moments, I opted to stay quiet.

But time has passed since then. And while I am still not going to divulge even the remotest piece of information about my own private dealings, I find that I am not as inclined to be quiet when others feel it necessary to remark on their own. Such was the case on the Friday night of Mr. and Mrs. K’s most recent visit. After my daughter had been put to bed, we all sat around my kitchen table to play a card game. Throughout the game, Mr. and Mrs. K made various comments about what goes on behind closed doors. Our single (never married or in a serious relationship) friend, Ms. T, was one part mildly amused, one part moderately repulsed. But I chose to take a different tack. I offered simple one or two word commentary, mostly in agreement or disagreement with the possibilities of whatever comment had just been made. We were all having a good time and no one was too uncomfortable. Or so it seemed.

As we were clearing our dessert plates and drinking cups after the game, Mrs. K made a comment to me in the kitchen to the effect that I shouldn’t be talking about sex since I presumably wasn’t having any now (I’m not). I retorted that while that may be true, I was married for five and a half years and left it at that. After I went to bed that night I thought about her comment, but could not put my finger on why the game-time conversation had bothered her so much.

It suddenly hit me the next day.

I am very sensitive about my house and yard. I go to great lengths to keep them up (weather-permitting with the yard) and maintain a nice home for my daughter and me to live in. And for some reason I am always nervous about what other people will say when they visit our home for the first time. Maybe even more so now that I am maintaining it alone.

Mr. K and Ms. T were very gracious guests and were at times even complimentary about my home (though they all three had something to say about the fact that the bedroom and bathroom accessories match a set of our dishes). Mrs. K had her own set of comments to make. She wondered why my kitchen and dining room (painted four years ago) were a less-than-masculine shade (they’re lavender). She got a lot more mileage out of the dishes/bedroom/bathroom combination than the others (it’s very outdoorsy. My wife picked the most masculine pattern she could find as a courtesy to me). She made comments about my furniture (which was all given to us. She would have really balked if I hadn’t sold the flowered couch and loveseat last fall). Ironically, she made no mention of the plants and flowers that adorn our front steps or the butterflies which can be found throughout the house and lawn, both of which are my own “feminine” touches.

It wasn’t until she made the comment about the place not looking or feeling like a bachelor pad (in a tone that clearly stated that she believed it should), that her comments began to make sense to me. I told her in no uncertain terms that there was no reason for my home to feel like a bachelor pad because it wasn’t one. It was our home, where I continue to raise our daughter. (And even if she had been a son, I would still not have suddenly transformed the house into some kind of bachelor pad just because my wife was no longer here with us. Regardless of gender, kids need to grow up in a loving home, not a bachelor pad, no matter how loving it may be.)

But the reason her comments made sense to me was as disheartening as it is disconcerting. Simply put, she is uncomfortable with my being a widower.

Now, I will probably never be privy to the reason or reasons she feels this way. It could be that she is upset about the way she treated my wife and me in the early days of our relationship. It could be that she sees that at this point there is no chance of me dating Ms. T and thereby closing the circle of friends. It could be that she doesn’t understand how I can live day-to-day in the face of such adversity and still make it all work.

It could be. But I really don’t think it is.

I think what’s going on instead is that she realizes how easily this could happen to her. It’s easy to read books or watch movies where a spouse dies and remove oneself from the situation. But when someone you know, someone you care about, someone who is too young to have already had and lost it all is widowed, it suddenly forces you to think about a lot of very uncomfortable what ifs.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned on this Widower’s Journey, it’s that people don’t want to face their grief or those questions unless they are absolutely forced to.

And even then, the results are generally not very pretty.


  1. not having been there and therefore not really seeing or hearing, i still tend to agree with you. people are very uncomfortable being in the company of someone who has lost their spouse. they are confronted with mortality and may fear it is contagious in some form.

    as for you not turning your home into a bachelor's pad, i have to wonder what was going through her mind. 1. you have a child who doesn't need to see you rush around and change everything that you and your wife put together. you want it left the same. it's better for your child to do anything gradually and with many age appropriate conversations so that she feels comfortable. 2. i wonder how Mrs. K would feel if she should die and her husband went out the next week or so and threw out, repainted, reupholstered everything she'd done to their house.

    i think people want to see that, if it happens, it's gotten over. life goes on. it's not such a bad thing. they want proof that everything will be alright. so naive. so sad that life and their partner mean so little that they are afraid of fully experiencing something as rare as full on, deep grief. that someone can mean so much to you that losing them is so terrible is a wonderful thing. to have had that kind of relationship.

    not that i advocate widower/widowhood because life will hand out what it will. but for Mrs. K to seemingly believe you should rush through grief, deny yourself the full experience of being lost, of stagnating while you get your bearings and deal with each memory, each issue as it comes up, seems very self-serving of her. maybe i'm being harsh but i do get a little tired of people expecting us to be over our grief on their timeframe. as i said. naive. you don't get over the loss of a soul mate. you simply endure, find little joys, but always they are tempered with the sadness that you cannot turn and share with the one person who knew you and loved you best.

    Mrs. K needs to watch a few more movies or television shows like Monk, or Gibbs on NCIS. men who have grieved for a long time, continued to live, but still, with grief embroidering their daily lives.

    stay your course as i know you'll do. you and your daughter will have a beautiful life, one of your choosing that is comfortable for the both of you.

  2. Great post!! And so right. People are very uncomfortable about grief. I know it definitely has caused inappropriate from acquaintances of mine because they can't handle the reality of it. I guess I probably couldn't have either about 8 years ago... I think now I would be more sensitive to another person in my situation because of it. And I'm only too aware of how quickly things can crumble so I think if I ever got married again, I'd appreciate the little moments a lot more than I did when my husband was alive.

  3. WNS - I could not agree more, on all counts.

    I just read your post on the Widower Howe. I think I will keep that tucked in my back pocket for the next "Mrs. K" I encounter. Thanks for sharing, both there and here.

    Mars Girl - In some ways I think I have been rather fortunate in the number of inappropriate comments I've had to endure. I think people in general (men and women alike) are more inclined to tell a woman what to do/how to live (i.e. "get over it") than they are a man. But then again, maybe it's the "I don't want to be hugged" look I tend to give people (check near the end of this post for more on that reference) when they tread dangerously close to getting into my personal business.

    My hope is that through blogs such as ours and the ever growing list to the right of the screen, we will help others to be a bit more sensitive to the widow/ers they encounter.

  4. Scratch that reference Mars Girl - it's past my bedtime. Here's the correct one:

  5. Split-Second, I too hope that the presence of these blogs helps other people understand what widows are going through. I'm more happy when non-widows/ers read my entries than widows. Widows/ers understand mostly (though we all experience things different) and are less judgmental about our thoughts. Widows/ers need these blogs for support, a validation from others about how they are feeling, to know that it's okay to feel what they are feeling. But the people who need our blogs the most are those who have no idea what we are going through, can't even imagine it. Because I feel that we help them to understand. It means more to me when someone I know who is not widowed says to me, "Wow... this entry really made me understand what you are going through and think of life in a different way." I've actually been told something to that effect before... It's a great feeling because you know you are breaking through.

    We didnt have this technology so much when I was first widowed, so the only people who heard my cries were other widows/ers on a yahoo group. Which was great and helpful. But the people around me who loved me the most--who weren't going through what I was going through--really needed to hear what was going on in my head and I really had no means to communicate it to them. I wish I had had the ability to be blogging earlier on in my grief. I could have said so much more. As it is, I started blogging when I'd finally snapped out of probably the last phase of grief and was "reborn" in a sense. Of course, I still go through things now and then but I'm not at the same tender point a lot of you bloggers are still at. I like to read what you've written because it reminds me of those days when my heart was openly bleeding and I feel good to know, still, that I'm not alone in my grief.

    I sometimes feel bad that a few of you have my blog linked and I'm not talking about widowhood as much any more... It's more about my adventures out in the world. Though I like to think that I see the world through new post-widow eyes and maybe some of that leaks over into all my writing. I've got some of the latent widow/er issues, though, that I should share more of... I've dated 4 guys since my husband died and I have lots of insights about how hard that is when still a part of your heart compares--even when you dont want to--the current person to the lost spouse... So I'm probably not completely out of the woods yet as far as my "moving on" goes... And I still have a lot of issues with intimacy--fears of getting that close to someone again. I probably should blog a little about that more... It's just hard when you're actually dating someone and they're reading the blog and they know you're writing about them...

  6. To all of the "great inspiring" widowers;
    I am so glad to see that you recognize the people that are "not" widowers. And actually take their opinions into consideration. I am not a widower, but my heart bleeds for you all. I cannot even begin to imagine losing my husband or one of my children. I am so sympathetic to each and every one of you. I can relate in a small way, for I have lost my sister to Cancer last Jan. It has been very difficult for me and my family and I have founf great comfort in these website's. I feel like everone understands me completely. You are probably THE most strongest people I have ever met. Not sure if I could find the strength to move on, but you all proven that you can pull inner strenth from within and keep on going. Kudos you all, Eventually, life will work itself out and become normal again. Time does heal all wounds. Some wounds take longer than others, and life continues on. One day at a time, slowly and at YOUR own pace. To hell with the negativity that anyone throws your are doing a great job keeping house, in and out...raising your daughter, being both dad and mom, and friend! Sorry this is so long; just thought I would put my two cents in! Shannon

  7. There's a great strength and a rare wisdom in what we learn along this road, and I think you're beginning to see that. We look at life differently from how we did before, and we can see things which were previously hidden.

    Sometimes, that strength can seem threatening to others. The fact that we are coping, despite everything, is almost scary to some.

    As you say, this situation is beyond the imagination of many people, and when they think about it too much, it's simply terrifying for them to even contemplate.

  8. Mars Girl - I think that being widowed is something that stays with you, in some form, throughout your lifetime, especially if you loved as deeply as many of us bloggers appear to have. I started blogging to help non-widow/ers understand what I was going through, but never imagined the degree of comfort I would find in reading blogs and hearing comments from those of you who truly "get it".

    Shannon - You'd be amazed at the strength one can find in the face of adversity. Thanks for reading and commenting. And all comments are welcome, long, short, or somewhere in-between.

    Roads - In the weeks since I posted this, I have found myself having to tell new co-workers that I am a widower. The look of utter shock that crosses their faces upon hearing the news is further confirmation of what you have written above.