Awkward: A conversation in year 6 of widowhood

First grade assignment. (She's a much better writer now.)
You might think I'd end up in fewer awkward conversations at almost seven years after my husband died.

Fewer, yes. But still pretty damn awkward.

It was one tangle and took all of three tense minutes. We were talking about my first husband's artwork.

Me: This is a piece by my late husband.
Random lady: Oh! I'm so sorry for your loss!
Me: It's okay. I mean, it's not okay, but it was almost seven years ago.
RL: Well, how are you doing?
Me: I'm doing okay at this point. It is a comfort that he left such a wonderful legacy as an artist. His work is appreciated by so many people. Of course, we have his work hanging in our home, and we look at it every day. One of my favorite pieces is a giant drawing of a bunny sculpture in the National Gallery gardens. My husband wants to hang it in his office.
RL:  (Puzzled look)
Me:  Well… my new husband. I am remarried.
RL: Oh! I'm so glad for you.
The Bunny -- Cernnunos
Me: (Feeling awkward that this other person was just feeling sad for me a minute ago, but also feeling that it's not fair to let her think that remarriage is what "fixed" the loss. But then, wasn't I just trying to avoid a conversation that included any pity for me? Because it's been seven years and I don't need that any more?)
(Pause while I also realize that I don't want to blurt out, "my new husband isn't what fixed my life. Time and perspective is what made it better.")
(Pause while I wonder if in my head I also insulted my new husband by implying that he isn't a big part of my life, or perhaps that he isn't number one in my life, which he is.)
(Realize that clarifying everything would turn this into a non-casual conversation and a teaching moment that might be better suited to a blog post.)
(A lot of over thinking happens during this long moment when I do not actually say anything.)
Me: Um… thank you. It was seven years ago. (Realize I just made her feel a scootch bad for no good reason.)
(Pause while I silently, without moving, hit myself over the head.)
RL: So you have remarried?
Me: Yes, and we are doing well, thank you -- he and I and my daughter.
RL: Oh, you have a daughter?
Me: Yes, but it is his (points to artwork) daughter….
(Pause while I think, "as if that fucking matters?" and find a way to hit myself again).
(In all this pausing, I am so absorbed with over thinking and trying to find my way out of it that I have no idea what thoughts are occupying her pauses, or what she can see on my face.)
RL: Oh! How old was she when he….. ? Does she remember him?

And then we have that whole OTHER semi-awkward conversation, which didn't need to even start, but which is, at least, familiar and which I sort of have a "spiel" for, which is a balance between a tiny bit of education and reassuring the other person that my life is not one giant trauma. At least, because I've had that conversation so many times, I am safe from over thinking or stumbling any further. I accept that people are curious about this, but I think, do I always have to be someone with history? I could have avoided bringing the whole thing up.

My attitude is such a contrast with the first six months or so, when I felt obliged to tell everyone I met. It came out all the time -- even in a grocery store line --  "my husband died" as if I were saying "awful weather, isn't it?" My personal needs came first; I couldn't have cared less about causing social awkwardness -- it was my truth and 100% of my reality then.

Now, at this stage, my husband still really, truly died (well, my FIRST husband). It shouldn't be ignored -- and it's not acceptable or okay for people to die young or leave a young child behind. And it's important to demonstrate that you can live on and it's valuable to share your testimony. But maybe not every day. It has truly been a while -- this is the first notable awkwardness in probably a year. Most of the time, these days, when I discuss my loss, the context is comfortable and appropriate. This is, in a way, a milestone.

(Another major milestone was the first time I forgot to tell someone who needed to know!)

Yes, it's good to "normalize" these things for other people, but how much did my awkward pauses and unnecessary raising of topics "help" this person understand better?

It wasn't her fault, not one bit. And I appreciate that I have developed "spiel" for part of it. Sometimes, I can balance all these different needs: social, advocacy, personal.

But sometimes I am just tired of having a backstory.


Pet Peeve: Boundaries

I'm participating in the Widowed Blog Hop this month. Be sure to check out the other participants and leave them some comment love. For the largest list of blogs by Widowed folks, check my blog roll here. To add yours to the list, use this form.

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I have some pet peeves about the world of grieving people. Some of them are pretty popular misconceptions. Today's topic is the truism "no one understands except another widowed person."

Which might have a chance of being accurate if you didn't have the "no one" in the sentence. Because, seriously?

No one who's lost a child can feel as wracked with grief?
No one whose home was destroyed in Katrina or the tsunami has had as hard a time adjust as you?
How about someone whose arms were amputated by machete in Rwanda?

Really? NO ONE?

It's hard enough (and it could be true) to say that MOST of the people in our communities have not understood the grief and the tremendous life change that a widow or widower is going through.

People do say a lot of stupid things. A great many of very, very stupid things. Most of them mean well and are simply ignorant.

And yes, some people are scared of your loss or your intensity. We often feel we have leprosy. It's ridiculous. (I agree. I'm on your side.)

But that's not the same as "no one else can understand." (It's also not the same as us asserting that we will never be callous, insensitive, or dumb about what to say again, ourselves. But that's a pet peeve for another day).

Don't put up fences. Your community members may surprise you. Even if they have not been widowed, you may find that someone's empathy can affect you. You may find that a few people "get" it (at least in part). And they may not be the ones you expect.

Widowed people are GREAT company. Social connections with widowed people SAVED MY LIFE and I still cherish the friends I made during that period of rapid change. That support is why I am a creator of this larger global community of widowed people and why I created Widowed Village. It's EASY and NOURISHING to surround yourself with people who have "been there" and are okay with it all. We are TOUGH and wonderful.

But empathy is all around us. Do what you need to protect yourself. Find community and make friends. Don't shut the rest of the world out and for the love of Pete, don't create rationalizations to make it easier to close those doors.

After all, the world needs you, too.


Kevin's salad (recipe)

I'm participating in the Widowed Blog Hop this month. Be sure to check out the other participants and leave them some comment love. For the largest list of blogs by Widowed folks, check my blog roll here. To add yours to the list, use this form.

Thank you to Samantha Light-Gallagher for putting the blog hop together!

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Kevin wooed and won me, at least in part, with this salad. I was amazed he could cook at all; when we were a couple, he was really the one who did the cooking for the entire 14 years. It has taken me 6 and a half years (he died in 2006) to make this salad again and I had forgotten just how delicious it is. I tried to remember the last time he made it… it was a long time ago. At least 2002 or 2003, although I made huge batches for office potlucks a few times.

Kevin's salad is perfect for winter, a little tart and quite sweet, refreshing and green. It looks modest despite its special flavor; you could add some red pepper curls for decoration if you are serving it at a party. Cause your company deserves this salad!

And it's perfect, just for you, on some cold, dark evening, next to some fatty warm comfort food (Mac and cheese? Pot roast?).  Happy New Year!

  • Lettuce, well washed, a soft leaf lettuce like red leaf or bibb, NOT Romaine or Iceberg, not mesclun mix or fancy or anything from a bag. REAL LETTUCE. 
  • Fresh cilantro, washed, stems removed, a handful or less
  • Fresh garlic, at least 5 cloves
  • Scallions, washed, de-slimed (remove outer layer), sliced into thin diagonal slices. Remove the darkest green half or two-thirds of the stalk.
  • Cucumber, preferably burpless, peeled and sliced into thin diagonal slices
  • Rice wine vinegar, regular (sweetened)
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper
Pretty much all the ingredient amounts should be adjusted to your taste, but go light on the dressing.
  1. Chop and crush the garlic and rub it all over the inside of a large prep bowl. Tear the lettuce into bite size pieces. Add the cilantro and lettuce to your garlicky bowl in batches and toss gently.
  2. In a separate cup or bowl, mix the two vinegars and two oils to taste. Add some water if you feel it needs it.
  3. Gently toss the salad with your hands, adding dressing slowly, and salting and peppering lightly as you go. Be careful not to overhandle the salad and do use as little dressing as possible. This whole thing is tricky because you don't want to get dressing all over your pepper grinder. Have paper towels on hand and MAKE IT WORK.
  4. Transfer to a serving bowl as you gently toss in the scallion and cucumber.
  5. Don't make this salad too far in advance... it will wilt, and anyway, you want your guests to say, "my,  you are really fussing over that salad!"


Say his name: the #1 tip, and my reality

A long time ago, I wrote this post in draft. It didn't get very far.

But the topic is MY NUMBER ONE TIP for how to help a widowed person: SAY THEIR NAME. And it's also why I HATE that everyone ELSE thinks the number one topic on "how to help" is what NOT to say to a widowed person. Everyone publishes the list of what not to say. Because it's good SEO. People WANT advice. Magazine editors think it's "not as depressing" as the actual articles about our lives after loss (WTF?). Even grief counselors and "community leaders" dig into this topic with zeal.

Which SUCKS because it spreads the idea that you should be afraid of saying the wrong thing about a widowed person, when the chief problem of most widowed people after about the first two months is that NO ONE WILL TALK TO THEM.

In general, widowed people feel isolated. Sometimes, they feel they must have leprosy because so many people avoid them. (Don't think we can't tell. For a while we're in a fog, but we can be very perceptive, too, and more than a little paranoid.) I often hear from friends and neighbors who "would like to help" that they are sure the widowed person's close friends and family are in some kind of inner circle and stick around and support the widow. Sometimes, the closest people feel the most threatened or fearful. Widowed people describe their communities "disappearing" around them after the casseroles end. It's not universal, but in the U.S. and Canada, the rearranged rolodex is THE most common complaint by far.

Well, it underlies the most common complaint: people acting awkward and saying stupid things. But the lists of "what not to say" don't help.

I, for one, do not want to encourage people to be frightened of someone who has lost a partner. Many widowed people (not most) know that stupid things are not intended to hurt them, but they feel pretty damn alone when they hear "He's in a better place," or "At least you had a chance to say goodbye." (Let alone, "did he have life insurance?")

So why did I make the "Shit People Say to Widows" video? Because it does unite us as a community, because I thought it was a chance to see the topic through each other's eyes for 3 minutes, and because it was fun as hell and funnier than.

Back to the topic: SAY HIS NAME. I felt I couldn't blog in an honest way about it because I was a pseudonymous blogger.  (Maybe I overthink things a little? RILLY?) Plus, the tips are really part of another project that isn't public yet. :-) Now I have done enough for the widowed community that I have a name, a real name, as myself: not just as Supa. (Though many people call me Supa anyway.)

So I'm "coming out." My name is Robin Moore (for the few of you who don't already know me). My first husband was Kevin MacDonald.

So, SAY HIS NAME, or her name, a lot. Say it a week after they died. Say it a month after they died, and a year, and two years, and ten years. Say it when you think of it. Say it in front of the widowed person, say it in front of their children. It's okay; it won't "remind" them of the loss. No one loses a life partner and just tries to forget it.

When people don't say his (or her) name, it makes the family feel like they are the only one who remembers their loved one. (I'm going to stop saying "or her" but I hope you know I mean widow OR widower and him OR her, and they didn't have to be married or straight to have a similar set of feelings or experiences after losing their partner. Do don't back out on some legality.)

Write his name in a card and you share a memory, whenever you think of it, even if it's years later (it will be less likely to get lost than it would have been right away!).  Write his name in a card for the anniversary of his death, or on his birthday, or on their anniversary, or call and say his name. Most people like to not be the only one remembering these dates, and they can't help but recall the dates because seasons keep changing and other dates keep appearing and you can always smell and feel when it is in the year in some vague way. Remembering is not an act of will, or from the brain. Time and life are all around us everywhere and if we are well, they are in our bodies. 

So, share a photo if you find one while cleaning up. Share a song or a silly story on a holiday. Call, email, or write a real note. Even if you have been out of touch in a while. Even if you USED to be scared of the widowed person.

As time goes by (and when I say "time," I am specifically talking about periods of more than five years), the traumas turn to memories, the sad memories become fond ones, many details get lost, and with enough time, the widowed person might even forget the date of their anniversary. That doesn't mean they will think it never happened; it will not remove the events of their life "before" from their life. And every experience will include the absence of that loved one, even if it not quite the first thing to come to mind. And no -- these memories do not threaten my new husband, any more than his ex-wife's name threatens me.

So, say his name. Show your friend that you remember him, too. He's not just a loss. He was a person and a very big part of your friend's life for a pretty long time. He didn't just disappear when he died (though it can feel like a disappearance for a little surreal while). He changed the people he loved. (This is true in divorces, too. You can't just "un love" someone or "un live" the life you already shared. Let's be human, please!).  

I'm sharing, above, the memorial quilt from my church, on which I embroidered his name during support group one night. I thought I was doing a terrible job, and I switched the thread midstream because I thought it came out too lumpy. It looks fine to me now. Every time I'm in church the quilt faces me. His name is among hundreds of other names. Each quilt records decades of love -- fathers, mothers, lovers, grandparents, and children. We have a whole quilt devoted to children who died, and it's comforting to see the range, from newborns to M.D.s.

They can't be forgotten. They won't be forgotten. Don't you act like you forgot.

Say his name.


Kids and the School Shootings: 7 Tips Left Out of EVERY Article I've seen

I couldn't keep silent.
Tell your kids you don't understand, either.

There are some VITAL points being left out of EVERY article I've read about "how to talk to kids about the school shootings in Connecticut." Yes, my heart is heavy; yes, it's terrible, and yes, many of us are having knee jerk reactions about gun control, religion in schools, and so on.

But, as a widow and parent of a sensitive, resilient 8 year old, this is in my wheel house, it affects you TODAY, and it's important. So I'm just going to write about those bits that have NOT shown up in the many articles shared by my more than 2000 FB friends, on my neighborhood, PTA, official school, and church list servs.

In general, these tips will help you with elementary school age kids but they may be useful for your own emotional health or with talking to older kids or even adults. Every child is different -- listen to your instinct and your experiences about your own individual child and do what works with your own parenting style. If you recognize something negative about your parenting style from what I say... well, crises can teach us things, and today is a new day. 

So listen up.
  1. Make your words honest and age appropriate. DO NOT LIE to your kids and do not try to conceal what happened. You WILL learn a lot if you listen well to their questions FIRST and this in some way works best if you talk less, and if you don't start the topic. You do NOT need to give them more details than they ask for. Many articles have been saying, "don't bring it up" and I hear a lot of parental discomfort with this point. Well, this does depend on the context. You may feel the need to control the story -- and at some ages, in some school situations, this may make sense. I find if I keep in mind that phrase -- honest and age appropriate -- it helps A LOT.
  2. Be honest about your own feelings. OK, this is mentioned in SOME of the articles but it's too important for ANYONE to skip -- and it is the one, that, in my experience, parents are most likely to be uncomfortable with. One of our most important tasks as parents is to demonstrate to kids that feelings -- sadness, anger, fear, helplessness -- can be overwhelming. It is not their fault, it's not only them, and it's part of being human. As they grow, they will learn (from you!) how to manage this sense of overwhelm... which is VERY scary, especially at younger ages. DO CRY in front of your kids. If they don't like it... help them understand it's natural and you can't control it (or maybe, you might say, "it's dangerous to cry while driving. Mommy's going to pull over for a minute." It is also up to you to model for them how to handle this intensity. 
  3. Share also HOW YOU DEAL with intense feelings. Do you hit, clam up, try to shove it down? Your kids can tell EXACTLY what you are doing. My daughter notices from tiny movements of my eyes or lips when my thoughts or emotions have shifted. Don't think you'll be successful at hiding your feelings from your child. If you're in a bad mood, you can say so. If you're sorry you reacted a certain way, say so. DON'T apologize for your feelings or for healthy manifestations of those feelings. Play loud music, go for a walk, have a comforting snack. Drink water to remind yourself to take care of yourself. Breathe to calm down. These are sophisticated tools peddled by gurus, but you know them. SHARE your good ways of coping with your child. (If alcohol is part of your coping, you probably want to hide that, okay?)
  4. Depending on your child's age, share your uncertainty. An important part of your message is that you, as parent, are not able to control what happens outside in the world but you will always listen and you will always (poof!) be honest. Caveat: this is less useful for younger age kids who may feel scared. You should reassure them that they are safe and that you and everyone (school staff, police, local and national government) is doing everything they can to keep kids safe -- and that these terrible things do not happen very often. A side effect of providing this reassurance is that it may remind you, too, of a larger perspective and your real safety.
    If your child asks a question you can't answer, say "I don't know" or "I wish I understood, too" or share something from your faith tradition. DO NOT TRY TO CONTROL THE STORY and do NOT force your point of view (religious, political, whatever) on your kids. This makes you look "shut down" to them when you MOST want to be open to their questions.
  5. Give kids time to process. Understand that kids learn things AS THEY GROW. We often explain children's grief -- and many other topics in emotional and cognitive development -- as "like peeling an onion." Children's feelings and thoughts unfold in layers. You may have a concise and terrific talk with your kids and they don't ask questions. You may be disappointed or push them. Let them lead you -- they may just want to go off and play. They will ask more questions later IF you make it clear that you are listening, not terrified of the topic, not reactive, do not have an agenda, and that you are fine with them being "slow to understand." (They're not slow -- but parents are often impatient). Big topics tend to unravel slowly, to be understood over time. New contexts, other developments in their lives, and the cognitive growth that is the main quality of childhood, will mean that they ask you similar questions over time (take each one seriously... they are actually asking something different). It will mean that a question pops up when you least expect it or when some rigid family member is visiting. You can handle it by being....
  6. I'll say it again: HONEST AND AGE APPROPRIATE. Keep this in mind, because every few months, as your kids grow and learn, and the new questions come up, the meaning of "honest" and of "age appropriate" will change, too. 
  7. Respect your own feelings and understand that your experience of this may be completely different from your kids' experience. It's okay for you to take care of yourself, too. Get comfortable with the fact that you can't control the world and that our own feelings can sometimes feel like "too much." Your comfort level will enable your children to "hear" that you are open to questions -- even though we know you don't want to handle this terrible topic AGAIN. Dealing with "shit that happens" (in all forms) is part of parenting and part of our world and you can handle it.
Okay, end of lecture. No, not quite:

I learned this stuff from being a widow and parenting my grieving child. BUT, the more I learned... the more it was really about my own spectrum of emotions and accepting responsibility for parenting in an uncertain world. Parenting a child through this kind of crisis is not all about "grief" -- a topic that too many people find intimidating or frightening. Most of these tips are really about life. When you really think about it, there is very little in our kids' lives we can control. But we CAN help them through it, and we can learn from them.

I know these tips are not concise. I know there is a lot of intermingling and melding and overlap between them. I wrote this quickly and when have I ever done that?

And it's not complete. I'm assuming you've already read at least 6 articles. I still hope it is helpful.

Please, share. 


Everything Possible: video and thoughts on marriage and death

In our state, we will be voting a referendum on whether same sex couples will have the right to marry. My church's denomination has been a big advocate for marriage equality, and yesterday we sang this song in hopes of the referendum's success tomorrow.

What struck me this time, again, was how intrinsically linked are the right to marry and the legacy we leave after we die. As the song goes:
... The only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're done 
(The rest of the lyrics and the credit are at the bottom of this post)

After all, Gavin and I married in the shadow of death, nine years before he died. After complications from a heart valve replacement, he had several dangerous cardiac incidents and we thought he might die... it was in that light that I felt it was important to bind my life to his in that public and peculiar way we call marriage. (I had never, I don't think, figured I'd marry.) But leaving a record was important.

Eight years later as we endured multiple hospitalizations fighting kidney cancer, I found another reason the marriage certificate matters -- without it, I would not be allowed to visit ICUs. I saw five ICUs in those 22 months and he could easily have died in one (we moved to hospice at the last minute -- four days).

How much more unbearable would that time have been -- and afterward -- if we'd not had the right to marry?

So I learned first, that marriage does matter, and second, marriage is an essential right.  I hope if you live in a state where similar initiatives are up, that you'll consider supporting marriage equality. You know how I like to say that "we widows 'get it!' "


Two more videos that also tell this tale, if you are not convinced:

1. A young man loses his partner AND SO MUCH MORE because his rights aren't protected by law:

2. Republican Maureen Walsh, a widow, testifies why marriage matters:



* Here are the rest of the lyrics with credit: 

Everything Possible
Words and Music by Fred Small Copyright 1983 Pine Barrens Music (BMI)

We have cleared off the table, the leftovers saved
Washed the dishes and put them away
I have told you a story and tucked you in tight
At the end of your knockabout day
As the moon sets its sails to carry you to sleep
Over the midnight sea
I will sing you a song no one sang to me
May it keep you good company

You can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still

You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're done

There are girls who grow up strong and bold
There are boys quiet and kind
Some race on ahead, some follow behind
Some go in their own way and time
Some women love women, some men love men
Some raise children, some never do
You can dream all the day never reaching the end
Of everything possible for you

Don't be rattled by names, by taunts, by games
But seek out spirits true
If you give your friends the best part of yourself
They will give the same back to you

You can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're done.


Blog hop master post: Widowed people review "Go On," new NBC Matthew Perry sitcom about grieving people

About a week ago I posted a call for entries for a blog carnival of reviews by widowed people of the new Matthew Perry sitcom "Go On," on NBC.

Here are the folks who have written about the show so far! (I've also included posts written before I announced the blog hop). I'd love to include YOUR post, either on Widowed Village or on your own blog (it's not a very hard deadline!), but please email me so I know to add it to this list!

I will be hosting an hour-long Chat Event on Widowed Village next week about the show where everyone can share their thoughts and feelings, not just those who wrote posts about it. All widowed people are welcome to this Chat but you must join the site first (approval takes about a day). You can sign up here
  1. Abel Keogh, first review, and second review
  2. Kim Go, Alive and Mortal
  3. Julia (a childlost Mommy) from Glow in the Woods
  4. Fresh Widow (me)
  5. Widdared from Widowed Village
  6. JoanneF from Widowed Village 
  7. Marsha from Widowed Village
  8. Jacuser from Widowed Village.
  9. Honeyspuddin from Widowed Village.
  10. Sandy, FlyingWG
  11. Janine, One Breath at a Time
  12. EverydayMorning (Sam) from Widowed Village
  13. Choosing Grace Today
  14. Missing Bobby
  15. You? ... or leave your thoughts in the comments, below!
This has been pretty fun, actually, and I'd like to do it again... how about the movie "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?"


Review: “Go On,” new NBC/Matthew Perry sitcom about a young widower, is not crazy

Earlier this fall, NBC premiered “Go On,” a new sitcom featuring Matthew Perry (of “Friends” megafame) as a young widowed man. There’s been a low buzz in my communities about our being “represented” in prime time, but I don’t watch much TV and never liked “Friends.” I tried to sit out “doing something” to engage widowed people on the show. But the din grew too loud, and much of it was from outside: “What do widowed people think of Go On? Is this a realistic look into what your life is like? And are community-run grief groups really full of nuts?”

I had to get involved. My weekly peer-led support group saved my life, after all. Reviewing the show would at least be a great opportunity to discharge more of the myths about grief and grieving people in the world. And I could engage my communities to review it and discuss it (in Chat) and you know what… it would be fun.

So I announced a blog hop a few days ago. That post, with the list of participants and links, will be published tomorrow, Thursday 10/4. I’m sure there will be people posting reviews after the deadline, too, so please check back.

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Review: “Go On,” new NBC/Matthew Perry sitcom about a young widower, is not crazy

We’re a small minority, we people who lose a partner to death during our productive years. For the most part, young widowed people don’t “belong.” Our world doesn’t have room for us: our friends and family wish to rush us along into happiness, often out of genuine concern and love; our old friends are often frightened by us; most of us don’t belong to churches or communities that are cohesive or do belong to ones that respond inappropriately; and our cohorts in loss are overwhelmingly people who’ve been through divorce.

So the news that a major network was debuting a prime time show about “one of us” caught our attention. That the show is a sitcom added provocation… could “our” humor be funny? (We know death can be funny…. “Civilians” must have found the announcement of a “funny show about a grief group” even stranger than we did). And the fact that the show starred popular favorite Matthew Perry of Friends said that the network felt (likely) that the show was a worthwhile investment.

Very, very curious. I think a lot of us expect to be disappointed and alienated yet again. After all, it’s TV.

I have watched the five episodes of the show so far, and there’s no question that the show is “TV-like.” When I saw that Ryan King, the young widower (an abrasive radio sports personality), attends a general grief group (one for all kinds of losses, including pets and abilities!) I figured things would go false right away. The cast of characters is a “bomber crew” of lovable oddballs: one latina, one lesbian, one old guy, one blind guy, one nut. Yeah, there are stereotypes, and I think, “Wow, how awesome to have two black guys in a group. I wish I could do that.” (Not my topic today.) As I watched, I kept wanting the two with spousal losses — Ryan and Ann (the lesbian) — to go off and talk on their own. I felt, those two would hit it off. (Sure enough, a later episode has them attending a wedding on a “friend date” and providing real support to each other in that “peer but not best friend” way I know so well.) In “Go On,” of course, the group’s diversity becomes a strength and they each learn to support each other in their own ways. Maybe that’s a “TV” part. Loss does unify people and I suppose somewhere in the world there’s a grief group where the widower didn’t quit right after hearing that one member is there because her cat died. But I’m not going to complain that a TV comedy is too much like a TV comedy. Did they look like my grief group? No. Did they work like my grief group? Absolutely.

The oddest things about Go On are what it doesn’t get wrong. * In “Go On,” the light is in the details. A sequence in the first show shows each of our grief group “characters” coping, alone: facing an empty bed, swinging an idle cat toy, flinging flowers at a headstone in rage. This sequence is touching and real without being maudlin. It can’t be easy, in a 24 minute show, to tell the small quiet stories that are so important in life, but “Go On” manages to include them without too much disrupting the overall sitcom tone and goal.

“Go On” manages to illustrate some real ways that grieving people ask and work through real questions in their life. An entire show revolves around Ryan giving away his wife’s sewing machine. Is this a way of making his space more his own, or is he refusing to cope? When is one “ready” to date? Does having sex again “fix” your loss? What is the “new me” like and can it compete with the “old me,” when my life’s plan is blown? These are typical and non-trivial questions and it’s sweet to see the characters coping with them in their own unique ways. Maybe being a “character” is not so constraining after all.

The show generates a certain humor and satisfaction from Ryan’s “manly” way of coping: he focuses on action. Yet he also admits he has feelings, and “plays along” with the grief orthodoxy of “share it and face it to get better.” Perry’s face, its paroxysms in focus, shows the kind of elasticity you expect from a sitcom player, but he’s also capable of displaying some understated moments like admitting that “a baby bird alone, a hat flying off an old man’s head” are among the many things that made him cry. It’s not a cartoon, and it could be.

One thing I absolutely admire about the show is that they have been willing to make jokes about some of the more unacceptable behaviors of grieving people. For example, the “grief olympics.” It’s not acceptable to “compare” losses, but it’s also not possible (being real here) to avoid comparisons. Ryan notes this at this first session and brings it to a loud and real competition, tracking semifinals on a whiteboard. In this game of “March Sadness” (verrry clever), because each player gets just 5 seconds to make their case, the lady who lost her cat wins over the lesbian widow. It’s the show’s best line: “On a technicality… feline death beats human one,” and it’s pathetic, but damn, it’s fair.

Other real tendencies the show captures include our desire to showcase our special status without actually wearing Victorian weeds (the show's version is DED WYF vanity license plates... and variations... another very funny touch) and our navigating new worlds (Ryan's first attempt to negotiate a grocery store as part of "taking care of himself"). Not to mention, that general sense of being different, out of place, and half in a another world (signs and visitations, anyone?) that most widowed people live with.

I’m not sure the show is really that funny. It can’t possibly be as funny as the humor widowed people engage in with each other. I would argue that it’s hard to actually be more funny than real life, lived fully and in a very particular context. Should it even be a “black humor” show? Does death have to only be the subject of black humor and maudlin sentimentality? Maybe life is really a cast of oddball characters and quick lessons. As long as Go On keeps including quiet moments, real questions, and signs of growth, I'll keep watching.

Should I extrapolate a larger meaning? (Would I be me if I didn’t?) If humor is really a way of deflecting pain, as the show’s facilitator character insists, the show should not succeed. But I don’t think that’s true — we, the widowed, are hilarious. “Go On” manages to be both funny and — a little — illuminating.

What do I think overall? I wonder if people earlier in their grief will find the show “validating.” (Part of the reason I’m encouraging others to review it). I think it’s interesting and more than a little brave to tackle death with humor in prime time. TV comedy is not known for being insightful. I think the creation of “Go On” indicates that death and loss are gaining in consciousness in our culture today… they’re emerging as necessary, acceptable topics. “Go On” is a sign of the times.

Whether it will be popular, or result in any greater understanding of what our experience is like, will depend on the quality of the writers and on what non-widowed people think of the show. Will “Go On” scare people away from grief groups? (I’d do anything to avoid Mr. K, the nutty one). It seems at this point like the in-person support groups are dying out while sites like my WidowedVillage.org and scores of Facebook groups are growing every day (but that’s for another post). It’s probably not in the power of a TV show to change where, when, or how we find each other.

Because while we may be a small group, we learn when we “discuss among ourselves.”

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