I sometimes feel as though those who experience loss (or perhaps any adversity) seem to fall into two main categories – those who meet the challenge head on and those who don’t. Obviously, this is an oversimplification, but I think it’s fairly accurate according to my (very unscientific) observations. Thing is, neither of these is the “right” choice, as I’ve learned that grief is a journey, and each one is unique.
After about six months of grieving “on my own”, I joined a handful of social media groups for widows and other grievers. Group therapy is not for me, mainly because I don’t want the structure. I don’t want to sit with a group of people at a specific time on a specific day and spill my heart and mind on command. But that’s just me.
I’m also not one who makes friends on vacation or can easily strike up conversations with strangers. Sometimes people see me as cold and unfriendly, which definitely isn’t the case. I’m just not very comfortable in such situations, although I’m working on it. I’m trying to get past feeling judged (or misjudged, as the case may be) for every little thing I do. I’m a work in progress.
In any case, I learned quickly that these groups and their members are not all the same, despite my admittedly naive thinking that they would be similar. A widow is a widow is a widow, right? I’ve come to realize just how wrong that statement is.
Firstly, these women (and I’m purposely focusing on the women as they are the majority. While there are some widowers, as well, they are definitely in the minority) range from those who have lost their spouses as recently as within the past month to those who are still actively grieving 6, 8, 10 years later or beyond.
Some, no matter how long they have been on their journeys, remain distraught and are still looking for the answers to the “whys?”. They seem to be stuck, waiting for someone to explain to them how they got so unlucky as to be “chosen” for widowhood. They seem to not have made any progress at all. Others seem to have moved on too quickly, finding a new “soul mate” within a few months of their husband’s passing.
Grief is an extremely intimate thing, and there are no guidelines. Each person grieves individually and the journey is personal. There is no right or wrong way to do it. No one can judge another for what they may view as improperly processing a loss, as we don’t have access to all the information or emotions involved in their decision.
Some of these widows speak often of how they will never love again, while others seem to need companionship right away. Personally, I know older widows who have happily been on their own for 20+ years and others who have outlived three spouses. Some widows speak of how they could never replace the love they had, while others believe their husbands would want them to move on and be happy again. It seems that many of those who “suddenly” find someone new, often had this person in their lives already – an old flame, a friend of the family, even their husband’s best buddy. So while it may seem sudden from the outside, there was groundwork for the relationship that was laid long in advance.
Again, all of these beliefs and opinions and decisions are entirely personal and none of us have the right to judge whether these individuals are doing the right thing or not, although I’ll admit to an initial “what are they thinking?” type reaction myself. But then I remember that I’m putting my own personal filter on it. Perhaps they didn’t have a happy marriage. Perhaps there was already some sort of “connection” between themselves and the other individual, or perhaps it’s something as pragmatic as not being able to pay the bills on their own. The flip side to that is that maybe their marriage was so good or so bad that they simply cannot do it again.
I know I’m rambling about all of this and likely not making much sense. I’m just trying to make the point that no matter who you have in your own lives who has lost someone – anyone – their grief journey is going to be a very personal, individual thing and none of us have the right to judge whether they are doing it right.
That being said, I need my own journey to show progress. I need to feel that even on those days when I might feel I’ve encountered a setback, that it really was simply another necessary milestone to pass. I don’t want to look back months and years from now and realize that I haven’t grown much. My journey needs to be me becoming the best version of myself that I can be, and making the best life possible for myself.
This period in my life is not what I envisioned when that handsome teenage boy asked me on that first date so many years ago. I fell in love, fell hard and quickly, and imagined us growing old together surrounded by kids and grandkids. That life ended when my husband drew his last breath, and I’m certain he wouldn’t expect me to simply stop living because we cannot grow old together. We shared many dreams, and although those particular dreams have definitely been altered or even shriveled and died, there are many that I still intend to journey toward.
Because I plan to face this life head on, even when I have to occasionally close my eyes for a bit to rest. There is a Chinese proverb that states “the gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” Right now, I am being tried and tested and definitely facing what feels like more than my fair share of trials, but I plan to let my gem shine brightly when all is said and done. Polish on, world… polish on.
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