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!"


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