I thought it was just me, that perhaps I was having a such a hard time dealing with the loss of my husband because I am overly sensitive or incapable of doing this alone or for some other reason of inadequacy. Turns out it isn’t just me. It seems that women my age are more likely to struggle with grief than older or younger widows and widowers. Apparently, we are also more likely to die soon after our partners, a sobering thought.
While I’ve gotten some great advice from women who have been there before, some well-intentioned but poor advice from people who really just don’t get it, and a lot of I-can’t-even-imagine-what-you’re-going-through’s, what I haven’t gotten is much feedback from women my own age who have been here, women in the same place in life, caught somewhere between too young to be a widow and too old to start over. Or perhaps too old to want to start over.
So I’ve been putting a great deal of thought into this and decided we middows© (a term I’ve coined to mean middle-aged widows) tend to be overlooked. We are the middle child of widowhood. When a young wife and mother is widowed, her friends and family and society is very concerned about how she is going to cope, especially when young children are in the equation. When an elderly woman loses a spouse, it is more common and expected and she likely has a few (or several) friends who are right there with her.
Women in my stage of life, however, a few decades before retirement with grown (or nearly grown) children, are somehow caught in the middle. Most seem willing to support and encourage, but simply don’t know how. Some people seem to feel that widowhood (is that even a word?) is contagious and don’t want to “catch it” too soon. They tend to avoid me (and I’m assuming other middows) at all costs; it’s disheartening that along with my husband, it seems that I’ve “lost” some friends.
[Note: I’m not intentionally ignoring the widowed husbands and fathers; I am simply speaking to what I know. If there are any “middowers” out there who care to weigh in, I’d love to hear your perspective.]
Last year, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook lost her husband suddenly. The similarities are quite eerie, her husband dying of a cardiac condition while on vacation. I recently read her 30-day “tribute” to her husband and her thoughts on his passing and her grief mirror my own, although she is much more eloquent than I am.
Although while she denotes the subtle difference between “How are you?” and “How are you today?”, I offer a third choice, “How are you right now?” Sometimes a day can start off well, and go downhill quickly. It happens the other way around, as well; I’ve woken up in a dark place, but something – or someone – pulls me out of it. Grief is often a moment by moment process, and I’m trying to come to terms with that.
Sandberg references a short prayer that concisely sums up exactly how I’ve been feeling – “Let me not die while I am still alive.” If I have to go on without my husband, I want it to be a fulfilling life. Right now I feel empty and hollow, as if a part of me is missing… and it is. But to face the remainder of my life as only a shadow of myself is discouraging and this is what I struggle to avoid. Beyond merely getting through each day step by step, that is my long term goal – to live… not simply exist.
So, it isn’t just me. It really is tough to be a middow.
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