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Short and Sweet Summary: Lots of myths that exist around widowhood include doing what’s “right” and not acting in a way that’s “wrong.” Here are some harmful widow myths you need to ignore in order to move forward.
Widowhood is hard work. Why do we make it even harder by holding ourselves to ridiculously high standards?
Seriously, what gives?
I’m guilty of it. My standards can be unrealistic and punitive when it comes to grief. I’m sure yours can too.
I sometimes wonder if it’s easier for widows to believe they aren’t capable of moving forward from the death experience because they’re terrified of what others will think of their choices. Or afraid of losing memories. Maybe they feel safer in sadness?
Whatever the case may be, the following widow myths are for the damn birds. A myth is a “widely held but false belief or idea.” See? The ideas below are false. As in untrue. Misrepresentative of the widow experience.
These widow myths have been bandied about long enough. I’ve bandied them. And I’ve been down the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” road long enough to know I’m not going to do it anymore.
You don’t need to believe these lies. It’s not realistic to support these false ideas. If you’ve fallen prey to the idea that you should be doing something a “certain way” for a “specific time period,” according to “experts,” it’s time to change your story.
YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG
The thing that confuses most widows is whether they’re doing it “right.”
So, let’s be clear. Widowhood does not have a “right” way or a “wrong” way. Only your way.
Your feelings of sorrow, numbness, guilt, anger, bitterness, and detachment are all normal. You’ve suffered a great loss and are adjusting to a new reality, which means you’ll also experience roller-coaster emotions that upset and confuse you.
Grief is really, really confusing.
Please be patient with yourself as you figure out how to navigate this new normal. And understand that everyone’s grief journey is different because we all have different ways of dealing with things. You might work longer/harder or stop working altogether. Another might travel extensively or not travel at all. What if you continue to wear your wedding ring indefinitely or stop wearing it after the funeral?
Is one way better than the other?
One way is not better than the other. Your way of dealing with your grief is personal to you. My way is personal to me. Please stop thinking you need to do/act/be like your widow neighbor.
Just give yourself time and an extraordinary amount of self-compassion as you discover your relationship with grief. And check into grief support options near you to surround yourself with people experiencing similar things to confirm you’re not going crazy.
The only caveat to this is if you’re suffering from isolation, depression or self-harm. If that’s the case, please talk to someone right away by:
- Texting HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime, about any type of crisis.
- Calling The Samaritans at 877-870-4673 (HOPE) for non-judgmental support to anyone feeling lonely, depressed, suicidal, or who just needs someone to talk to.
THERE ARE 5 STAGES OF GRIEF
Lots of people are confused about the “stages of grief” that we’re “supposed to” go through after a loss. Many outlets reference the “five” stages of grief first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying.
The only problem is, Kübler-Ross identified these five stages of grief for people coping with their own terminal illness, not people who suffered the loss of a loved one.
Turns out there are no linear, bullet-point stages to grief. If you spend any time researching grief, you’ll find that there are no guidebooks or stages or instructions on the definitive way to deal with the mental suffering and anguish of losing a loved one.
I bet you wish you could sum it up in five easy-to-understand stages. Me too. But we can’t. Grief is a puzzling, complicated, natural part of life that you experience in your own way. Without timelines or phases or conditions.
I’LL BE UNHAPPY FOREVER
Ummm…no. This isn’t true in any way, whatsoever.
(Unless of course, you like being miserable. Then, by all means, go ahead and be miserable forever and ever. No judgment here.)
But seriously, if you think you’ll be unhappy forever, think again. I mean, forever is a long time! I’m sure you’re unhappy right now. And you feel like you’ll never get out of this grief funk. It’ll take nothing short of a miracle to ever feel good about anything ever again.
But you will. It happens.
You wake up one day and realize you heard the birds chirping outside and you’ll feel good. Or you’ll laugh at something and remember how long it’s been since you laughed, and you’ll feel good.
You might wash your hair, buy a new skirt or fix your leaky faucet all by yourself and think, “Damn, I’ve got it going on!”
You get to be happy and experience joy and wonder and elation. No one said you’ll stop experiencing sadness, though. So don’t miss the happiness happening around you by convincing yourself that sadness deserves all your attention.
YOU’RE BROKEN OR DAMAGED
This is one of the more important widow myths you need to ignore.
You feel broken, for sure. But feeling broken or damaged and being broken or damaged are two different things. Your feelings aren’t you. We simply assign meaning and significance to them based on emotional and societal expectations.
So you can feel unlucky, flawed, crippled, crushed and fractured and no one would blame you. But that just means you’re human. Not damaged.
The meaning you assign to your feelings is what counts. Instead of telling yourself that you’re broken, how about saying, “I’m growing.” We allow growing pains to hurt because we know growth takes us in the right direction. We assign growth a positive value.
So, let’s allow grief to hurt, too without assigning it a negative value. Both growth and grief provide an opportunity to learn. What is your grief trying to teach you?
It’s easier to recognize negative things about ourselves than it is to offer up a heaping scoop of self-compassion. But be compassionate with yourself anyway. You’re doing the best you can under some pretty shitty circumstances.
That’s not broken, my widow friend.
I’M ONLY ALLOWED ONE SOULMATE
You met and married your soulmate, he died, and now that you’ve reached your one-and-only soulmate quota you’re screwed, right?
The idea that there are limits to anything in this life is baloney. No such thing as “one” or “only” or “singular” exists in our lifetimes. We are capable of experiencing repeated bliss in all areas of our lives. Including love.
Love has no boundaries. We’re capable of limitless love in our lifetime whether it be love for friends, family members or our children.
You wouldn’t deny the capacity for loving your children with equal depth and enthusiasm, would you? After you have your first baby you wonder how you could possibly love another baby as much. But you do. Because your love is limitless. Why restrict yourself unnecessarily to believing you only have one chance at romantic love?
The key to allowing more than one true love into your life is to believe you’re worthy.
I know you’re worthy.
But you need to know it. And believe it.
IF I DATE AGAIN IT MEANS I DIDN’T LOVE MY HUSBAND ENOUGH
I hear it all the time from widows. It goes something like this:
- “I won’t ever date again. I can’t imagine anyone taking my husband’s place.”
- “I’d never consider another relationship.”
- “I can’t love anyone else the way I loved my husband.”
Eek. That’s a lot of can’t, won’t and nevers.
One of the biggest widow myths you need to ignore is that you’re somehow a better widow for staying sadder longer. That if you dare consider dating or starting a new relationship you somehow loved your husband less than those who stay single.
Dating again doesn’t mean replacing your dead spouse. It doesn’t mean you’re all done loving him and ready to “move on.” We all loved our spouses with every fiber of our being. But he died. We didn’t.
You’re alive so you get to keep on living. And possibly love again. Or just thinking about loving someone again. You know, toying with the idea of dating.
Wherever you are in the realm of dating again is OK because you’re allowed to think about it or do it even though you still love someone who died.
THE FIRST YEAR IS THE HARDEST
Getting through the year of “firsts” is excruciating.
But sometimes year two is harder than year one because you recognize all the secondary losses you didn’t see coming.
Read more here: The Grueling Second Year of Grief – Realizing Secondary Losses
Or maybe year three is harder still because you moved or changed jobs or your kids left for college or you started dating or you…(insert life change here).
Don’t be surprised if grief still sucker-punches you at inopportune times and odd moments years after the death. Because grief has no rhyme or reason one year might be harder for you than another.
The first year is torture. Sometimes year two and year three (or more) are, too.
WIDOW WRAP UP
Lots of myths that exist around widowhood include doing what’s “right” and not acting in a way that’s “wrong.”
Id’ like to take all the “right” and “wrong” and throw them right out the window. No such thing exists. No guidebooks, stages, or rules.
It’s not realistic to support these false ideas. If you’ve fallen prey to the idea that you should be doing something a “certain way” for a “specific time period,” according to “experts,” it’s time to change your story.