They say that one of the strongest bonds between two people is created through grief. This is very true. It’s also a lie.
A couple of years ago, I was hanging out with a good friend of mine who happens to be a black guy. It was awhile ago but I’ll never forget what happened, because it was so absurd. We were in the city, when suddenly an acquaintance of his approached us and they began talking. This was their conversation:
Dumb White Guy: Oh, Im just gettin’ back from a rehearsal for this play Im doin’ in the Bronx with this really cool director. Actually you probably know him. His name’s Tyrone?
Dumb White Guy: (stumbling) Oh, well, you know, cuz you both live in the Bronx and stuff, so I just thought …
Black Friend: You thought that because we both live in the same burough, and because I’m black and he’s black, that we must know each other? He is black, right? I don’t know of any white dudes named Tyrone …
Dumb White Guy: Well yeah, he’s black, but, that’s not why … I just thought … I mean … I gotta go catch a train, so … umm … ok bye …
Black Friend: (yelling out as dumb white guy sprints away in horror) Say hi to my buddy TYRONE for me!
Now that I have the unfortunate title of “widow” since last year at age 39, I have perhaps the tiniest fraction of an idea as to how my friend may have felt that evening. People assume things. People who do not know any better or who don’t take the time to be aware of others around them and the universe – actually think that all black people must know one another, or that all people with kids hang out together, or that all young widowed people enjoy each other’s company, simply because they have both lost their loved one. I lost count of how many times people have said to me over the past 15 months: “Oh, you should really talk to this girl Trish. She is about your age, and she lost her husband too.” Fantastic! Maybe she can come over and we can have a “sister-widows” slumber-party, do each other’s hair, watch Sex and the City, and then talk about our dead husbands and sob on each other’s shoulder. As usual, most people mean well, but if they only knew what it’s really like …
The truth is, it is incredibly difficult and rare to fully connect and bond with another human being. Having something gigantic in common like grief is a wonderful start, but it only provides a jumping off point. Where you go from there could be anywhere, or nowhere at all. Having death and pain in common by no means guarantees that you will bond, or even like one another, for that matter. People are still people. Trish may have lost her husband like me, but that doesn’t mean she’s a wonderful person or somebody that I care to be around. She could be an asshole for all I know. Or a serial killer. Or a Republican. (I’m only kidding. Sort of.) It’s like in my favorite romantic-comedy ever, When Harry Met Sally. There’s a great scene where best friends Harry and Sally set each other up with their individual single friends, and the four of them all go out together. Harry wants his friend Jess to fall for Sally, and Sally wants her friend Marie to fall for Harry, but instead, Jess and Marie fall for each other:
: Restaurants are to people in the 80’s what theatres were to people in the 60’s. I read that in a magazine.
: I wrote that.
: Get out of here.
: I did.
: Where did I read that?
: The New York Times.
: Sally writes for the New York Times …
So, because Sally and Jess are both writers and they both wrote for the same magazine at one point, they should logically bond with one another and instantly connect, right? Wrong. You are drawn to who you are drawn to. You connect with whomever you connect with. I may be in a room filled with other widowed people in a support group environment, and I could still feel as alone as ever. There could be 20 widowed folk at an event, and I may only feel like I could be true friends with one or two of them. Or none of them. Or maybe the general atmosphere just isn’t my thing. It’s either too religion-based, or too structured; to the point where it feels like we are at some sort of weird Grief Summer Camp; making oragami figurines out of our feelings, or expressing survivor’s guilt through interpretive dance. It is very difficult to find a place where you fit in, even amongst the other misfits. It’s just hard.
A few months after my husband died, I decided to attend a “Widow Event.” This was not a support group exactly, but a group of other widowed people who met up once a month or so and held social activities. When you lose your world and everything you know in an instant, you long for comfort and friendship from somebody else who truly understands what you are going through. You will do just about anything to find this kind of support, because widowhood is incredibly lonely. And when it happens to you at age 39, none of your friends are going through it. In fact, most of your friends are just beginning their lives or in the midst of their love-story. There are weddings, new homes, babies, kids, families, holidays, vacations, retirement parties, showers, and just the everyday stuff of marriage and people who are happy and in love. Sometimes you feel like you can’t breathe another second, because you are suffocating and choking on everyone else’s joy and hopeful futures. Meanwhile, your past, present, and future have just disappeared, and you feel like nothing will ever be right ever again. So you end up in the backroom of a Diner, wearing a nametag sticker and sitting next to a bunch of women and one random guy that look like the cast of Cocoon. How the hell did I get here? How did this become my life? And why on earth is this group called “Young Widows”, when I am clearly the youngest one here by 20 years minimum?
Cast of “Cocoon”, or what the Widow Groups look like …
It took me 19 seconds to realize that this was not the place where I would feel at home. But I was there, so I remained. Sitting down next to a woman who had to be at least 70, I tried to smile and say hello. She looked at me, bitter and old and pissed at life, and asked: “How long has it been for you, dear?” “He died 3 months ago,” I said to her softly. “Three months? Three months?”, she barked madly. “Oh honey! I hate to burst your bubble, but things are going to get so much worse!” Burst my bubble? My bubble? Who said I had a bubble? And who says that to someone?
But she was right. Things did get worse. Well, at least, that evening, in that horrible room, they did. Next up, a man who had written a book came in and gave all the widowed people a condescending presentation about life and stress and how difficult it was for him and his family to pack up and move across the country when he got a new job. He stood there and acted as if he could possibly understand our level of pain, because he had experienced moving. Did I mention that when he moved, he did so with his wife and kids, who are all still alive and well, and not dead??? After the “author” was finished with his drivel, we sat and ate and talked. Well, everyone else talked. I sort of observed the weirdness that was taking place around me. It was like a contest to decide who has more pain. Everyone had to “one up” the person next to them. Like a death competition. “My Jimmy was the most wonderful man in the world. He suffered for 2 long years with the cancer before he died.” Then someone else would chime in: “Well my Arthur made me tea every morning for 45 years. He was bed-ridden for 3 years, 9 months, and 2 days.” I sat there in silence. How is this helpful? What is the point of this? It was goddamn depressing. Then, to top off this wonderful evening, some woman had a table where she was selling handmade jewelry. What on earth that had to do with anything, I will never know. Seriously? Did I come to a Widow Event Night or a Sales Pitch Party? Now again, because we are all different, I am sure this type of social gathering must be helpful for some people out there, but I am not one of them. When I got in my car a couple hours later, I sat in it and just cried. Cried because I saw those sad people in there, and I saw my possible future. Cried because no matter what, one thing was certain. I did not want to grow up to be them. I drove away as fast as possible and never turned back.
My next attempt at bonding with other widowed people didn’t go much smoother. This one was a support group, and the people were very nice. Once again, though, most of them were a lot older than me, and although everyone’s pain and loss is equally valid, the issues and emotions you deal with after losing your spouse at age 25 or 39, are very different from the ones you deal with at age 60 0r 75. They just are. It’s very hard for them to relate to me, and me to relate to them. So there I sat once again with people who could be my grandmother, and listened. The conversation turned spiritual. Then it just turned weird. A woman was describing, in graphic detail, how her dead husband “came to her” at night and wanted to have sex with her. She then went on to instruct everyone else how they, too, could have sex with their own dead partners. Nobody except me seemed disturbed by this topic, so I didn’t move or breathe. As she began to use hand movements as part of this description, I cringed in my seat and pretended I was somewhere less awful, like hell. I began singing songs to myself inside my head in a feeble attempt to drown out the horrific images she was forcing onto me. When she started using phrases such as: “I could feel his very essence inside me”, it was all I could do to stop myself from busting out laughing right in her face. This was hilarious and insane to me on so many levels. Why on earth would I want to discuss the sex life my husband and I had with a room full of people I just met? Actually, I dont want to discuss it with anyone at all. I share a lot of personal information with the world through my writing. But that? That is between us. Me and him. Especially now. Plus, I could literally hear my husband’s voice in my ear; laughing as he warned: “Run for your life, Boo! Get the hell outta there! These people are NUTS!” Nuts, or just not my thing. Either way, It’s safe to say I did not go back there either.
Right now, I am in a group that feels like a good fit for me. Most of the people there are around my age, and I can relate to a lot of them. They also seem very supportive and kind. I also belong to 5 or 6 different private online Widowed Groups on Facebook. These are where people who have lost partners/spouses from all over the country and the world, can post their thoughts, fears, emotions, anytime – day or night, and there is always someone who is wide awake and willing to listen. I have exchanged cell numbers with quite a few of these new friends that Ive connected with, and we all help each other through this muddy hell that is now our life. These relationships with other widowed people are very unique. It is not lost on me the irony that I wouldnt even know these people, if my husband were not dead. You lose the love of your life, and you gain this bizarre, amazing, dysfunctional new family. And every one of them understands that we would all much rather have our loved one back, than to have each other. It’s the family nobody wants to be a part of. And to say it’s complicated in these group environments would be the understatement of life.
You have these online rooms or real life rooms, filled with people who are all in pain, hurting, lost, and searching for answers. In each other and by hearing each others stories, we find that we are not alone. And yet … we are. Each of us wants so badly to find help, to find that connection, that other person who truly gets it and understands us, yet that person, for all of us, is gone. The one person that we would each turn to and say: “Oh My God! You would not believe what happened! You died, and now I’m sitting in the basement of a church telling my life story to all these random people that I just met 10 minutes ago!” – is no longer there for us to tell these things to, to share the tiny snippets of life that seem insignificant to everyone else. So instead, we tell anyone who will hear us. We tell those that are also going through it and living it, and it’s not the same as talking to our soulmate, but it’s something. And something is better than nothing.
I could have never predicted whats happening right now in my life. Spending my time with counselors, support groups, and typing til all hours of the night in private Group Rooms about the pain. Trying to find a light in all this darkness. Looking for a way out, yet knowing there is no such thing. Sending texts and making phone calls at 3am to others who feel the same way I do – wide awake, alone, and missing their love. Developing friendships with men and women I’ve never even met, who are miles and states away. Creating something new out of something lost. Honoring our loved ones together. It helps to talk about them, to keep them alive. It hurts too. Everything hurts, but some things help while they hurt.
I will go back to what I said at the beginning. It is difficult to find that connection, that bond, with another person. Everything hurts, but some things help while they hurt. Like being with other widowed people. There are so many emotions. Sometimes we get jealous of each other. We don’t speak about it, but it’s there and it’s real. I’m jealous of anyone who got to be with their spouse for longer than I did. I’m jealous of the ones who have children. I’m jealous of the ones who got to say goodbye. Good Morning. I love you. Something. Someone out there is jealous or envious of me for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s too much, too painful to listen to other people’s stories of death and grief. Other times, it helps. Sometimes I want to ask another widowed friend all about their late husband or wife, and other times I need to focus on me. I love these people, and I hate that I need to love them. I depend on them, and I don’t want to. I form bonds with them, and I fear they, too, will go away in a flash, just like my husband did. I fear getting too close, and I fear being alone. I am afraid of always being afraid.
So, to my new Widowed brothers and sisters, I say this – I love you. And I hate that I have to love you. I hate that we have crossed paths. I hate that any other person on earth is going through this, and I’m thankful that so many other people are going through this. In my story, is your story. In your story, is my story. Everyone just wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be validated. What we want more than anything when we lose the one we love, is for someone to listen, and really hear us. For someone to look at us and say: I understand your pain. Your individual, unique pain. And yet, because it is YOUR pain, I have no idea what you are going through, I have no idea how you feel, and I can never truly understand it at all.
Nobody can ever know another’s pain. Not completely. But we connect with those who come the closest. Since my husband’s death, I have become more aware. More awake. I feel pain and hurt on a bigger level. When a friend or a stranger loses someone they love, I feel it. I cry for them, because I know what they are about to go through, the hell they are about to face. Death is the one thing we all have in common. We will all die, and we will all lose the people we love. We will all grieve. Together, yet always alone.
So to everyone out there who has lost something: a husband or a wife, a best friend, your dad, your brother, your baby, a grandmother, a boyfriend, your pet, your ability to have a child, the dreams you had for your future, a career, your mother, your sister, your will to live, your coach or mentor, your marriage, a teacher, your son or your daughter, your niece, your nephew, your uncle, your aunt, your purpose, your favorite cousin, your first love, your hero, your youth, your legs, your health, your heart ….
Please know this: I hear you. I hear your hurt and I hear your pain and I hear your heart, and it’s valid and it’s real and it’s terrifying.
Please know that I understand. And that I could never truly understand.
Please know that I know exactly how you feel. And that I don’t have a clue how you feel. Nobody does.
I hope that some of these things can help you, and give you just a little bit of comfort while you hurt. Because everything hurts. But some things help while they hurt.