The Dismay-dar

Anders Zorn-The Widow

Anders Zorn-The Widow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Widows.  We’re a distinct race. We should have our own category on those local council equal opportunities forms. Just before ‘Other’ on the ethnicity list. Young or old, long-served or new-entrant, we share a language and a tacit understanding of each other that ‘non-bereaveds’ just don’t get.

I met a widow last night. A reader of this blog, in fact. She rushed up to me and wordlessly sobbed into my shoulder. We held each other for a long time, and then we belly- laughed about the inanity of widowhood. It was like a Surprise Surprise reunion, with the woman’s non-bereaved sister playing an uncomfortable Cilla on the side-line. Minus the teeth and wig.

We were immediately on each other’s radar. Or rather, ‘dismay-dar’ – the frequency of which can only be heard by other widows. We connected in a way that I haven’t connected with some of my oldest friends since Mark died.

In widowhood, I am constantly grappling with how I feel. This is as tedious for me as it sounds to you, which is why I offload it onto my counsellor. She is paid to listen, dispense advice, then move onto the next depressive in the waiting room. And for a non-bereaved, she seems to have a reasonable insight into the erratic mind-set of our race.

However, sometimes only another widow can sum up how you feel. And one comment on an online forum this week did just that. I’ve never met her, but this widow knows exactly where I’m ‘at’. She wrote:

I am not unhappy. But I’m not ready to be happy.

I’m willing to bet that others out there tuned into the ‘dismay-dar’ get it too.

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10 thoughts on “The Dismay-dar

  1. Oh, I so, so, so get this. My non-widowed friends have been great and so supportive, but there are some things they just can’t relate to and at times I don’t want to burden them with how I’m feeling. I’m not normally one for joining groups – what’s the Groucho Marx quote, ‘I wouldn’t want to join any club that would accept me as a member’, (apologies for probably badly misquoting). Well that was me, but I’ve joined WAY and find myself sharing things in on-line forums that I wouldn’t normally admit to myself, let alone total strangers. But it does help, as they all ‘get it’. I’ve been out with some fellow widows and have had really fun-filled evenings, while at the same time not having to be embarrassed at having the odd ‘wobble’. I like the idea of dismay-dar – sums it up really well. Love and hugs xx

  2. I am so glad you and your new friend found each other. and you are so right – we widows are a distinct race. I only know one woman who was widowed, but she is now happily re-married; though blissful, she often reaches out to me, but it’s not the same. I feel guilty sometimes, worry that I am making her re-live her worst nightmare. and I worry, too, that I will be others’ worst nightmare, having lost my husband when we both were in remission from cancer, then just two months after his death, being diagnosed with yet another metastatic cancer. today, I was driving and it was twilight, warmish outdoors, and a little spring -like, just enough to make my heart flutter with anticipation, and visions of how hugh and I would revel in it. then I realized he won’t be here in springtime, he won’t ever be here again, and the longing and aching catapulted me to feeling grief just as profoundly as when he died 6 months the ago. I couldn’t stop crying – the miles to the grocer’s, in the store, out, and all the way home.

    it occurred to me that widowhood is it’s own kind of hell on earth (I don’t believe in anything remotely religious, so it wasn’t a long way to go), and only the loss of someone whom we have treasured – a husband, a wife, a child, a mother, father, dear friend, et al) – can understand the difference between “here” and “there”. our poor human existence, fraught with our lives being so fragile, hardships of all sorts really, that none of us escape unscathed. but isn’t it something that this hell on earth can still be wondrous at times, fill our hearts with gratitude for the gift of feeling a kinship with perfect strangers, and for a time, when grief allows us to have a respite, be comforted by simple pleasures; a trusty pet, friends who don’t forget us, slurping an ice cream cone, or still able to be dazzled by random acts of kindness, soft winds rushing and singing through the trees, and a moon that lavishes her light in a dark sky and nudges out some sort of hope. still, I wish, pointlessly, but only humanly, that my beloved was “here”. and it doesn’t seem there will ever be a time when the aching, longing, and crying enough to drown in my own tears will ever stop. my only hope is…hope.

    much love and light to you, my Friend,

    Karen XOXO

    • Whoah! Beautiful post Karen. I ‘get’ that whole feeling associated with the changing of the seasons and the profound sadness that your beloved is never going to experience it again. I love that too – my only hope is hope. I agree, otherwise how would we ever continue? There has to be hope in all this shit otherwise…. Thank you for the thought-provoking post. X

  3. I’m not a widow but I’m definitely on the “dismay-dar”. I felt exactly the same way when I met you at Blog North Awards – “FINALLY SOMEONE THAT GETS IT” – hugging you as if I’ve known you for years.

    Terribly enjoying your blog as always xx

  4. So so glad we finally met up. I was just never expecting the rush of emotion that showered me as soon as I seen you. So pleased you were outside and not in the kitchen. That woulda been too embarrassing for sobbing me. That quote of ‘I’m not unhappy I’m just not ready to be happy’ rings true for me too. Yet I never felt the pangs of guilt at laughing on Saturday with you. It felt like it was ok to do so because I was with a fellow widower. It’s as though I had permission to laugh and I wasn’t being judged. Which I’m sure I’m not judged by anyone. It’s my paranoia My bereavement councillor explained that to me when I told her I felt as though I didn’t have the right to laugh as I’ve lost my husband and it felt wrong. Life does go on and if the roles were reversed I wouldn’t expect Ian not to laugh again. Altho to be honest he wasn’t much of a laugher at the best of times so maybe if he was laughing I would probably come back and haunt him. Anyway I look forward to more belly laughs ahead xxx

    • I do think there’s a guilt associated with enjoying yourself again, or laughing publicly. People think you must be callous, or else ‘over it’. Fact is, life does go on. We have no choice but to be carried along in the tide. But having each other to cling to, life-rafts in this ocean, makes it all a bit easier. Looking forward to the next time we meet. X

  5. is bereavement gendered? perhaps in this instance. after all this blog is called wifeafterdeath which reads better than husbandafterdeath. are women just more emotionally open than men? virginia woolf complained how society “forced” women to allow men to take emotional strength from them. and i would agree that men often displace a broader emotional need exclusively into their relationships with their wives or partners. they are often emotionally dysfunctional outside that relationship so when they loose the one person that allows them that expression they are not just bereft but emotionally at a loss. i have never had the experience of sharing with another man our mutual sense of bereavement. we are cut off by the isolation of our emotional exclusivity. there seems to be no brotherhood equivalent to the sisterhood. or at least a brotherhood raw and open to the kind of sharing found amongst women. who do we talk to, to explain the depth of isolation we feel not only at the loss but at the loss of access to our emotional selves. it is a double catastrophe in that we loose both the person we love and the means of loving. it is the difference between standing on the edge of the cliff and falling off. so be thankful for small mercies; be thankful you’re not a widower.

    • This is an interesting and emotive comment Paul. I guess this blog is necessarily gendered, but I definitely see your point. Actually, I was aware when writing that post that I was using the word ‘widow’ and not ‘widower’. It wasn’t an attempt to exclude male bereavement, but I have mainly had emotional support from other widows, hence could only write from experience. I don’t know if you’re a member of WAY, but even on that online forum it is predominantly women who post. Which I guess adds further weight to your comment. I think men are certainly, on the whole, more emotionally hamstrung than women, but I can’t imagine what this ‘hamstringing’ must be like in a situation such as the one we find ourselves in. Having an outlet to share via the sisterhood has been and is essential to my own grieving ‘process’ (excuse the terminology). And I am extremely thankful for that small mercy. Thanks for taking the time to post. X

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