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.


Ferree Bowman Hardy said...

Love this, Supa! As I read I kept thinking, "Stop overthinking it girl!" But you were so kind to not just her out. Especially when the pity look happened, oh I hate that. Life is too precious and rich to be pitied, but it also brings these awkward teeter-totter moments which you handled with overall grace and courtesy. Thanks for sharing so we can all relate.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

And YOU are too kind to ME. Thanks -- I appreciate it!

annie said...

I don't have any reason to even reference the late husband really but even when I could, I don't. However, if it does come out, I don't find that people pity me as much as they just find it surprising b/c they know my husband now and our daughter really only thinks of her dad as the guy who has all but raised her.

I think maybe we read things into other people's reactions that would surprise them if they knew. It's natural for someone to say "I'm sorry" when first learning about a loss just as it is natural for them to express happiness that we've remarried.

And, imo, it's not that people feel that remarriage fixes us as much as it is the equally misguided idea that remarriage is a reward for having gone through the earlier loss. People like to believe that experiencing tragedy is somehow righted by karma later on by some kind of joy.

Karen said...

Everything about this post resonates (well, except for the child part and the remarried part, but, well, you know...). I too spent the early days telling everyone my husband had died (I especially remember a poor salesclerk in a Godiva shop in Nashville, TN having to listen to me, about three months after he'd died). And it's funny (not ha ha funny, but, well, you know...) that I still remember vividly the first time I referred to him as "my husband." Anyway, also the part about being stuck between not wanting people to think I'm suffering terribly every day, but also not wanting them to think everything is fine and dandy, and I've just moved blithely on past the hideous loss that will never go away... but isn't eating me alive every moment of every day... anymore... And the overthinking. Oh, yes, the overthinking.

Tomorrow would have been our 13th wedding anniversary, and June 13, 2013 will be 3 years since he died. Which I write for no particular reason, except that all the 3s are interesting. And also because I want to post that information on Facebook, but I know that'll bring on an onslaught of (((Karen))) and "I'm so sorry for your loss," and all I want is to mark the date in a way that people can see, but without them thinking it's killing me... but... well, you know...

Thanks for your writing, as usual, Ms. Supa. You are beyond wise.

Halina Goldstein said...

Reading your words about the first 6 months and how you'd say "my husband died" as if you were saying "awful weather, isn't it?"... reminded me of something similar a week after my mother died (this is many years ago by the way). On that specific occasion I went to a conference and met a Tibetan Lama there that I used to collaborate with occasionally.

So he asks me, casually: "How are you doing?" and I respond in the only way I could at the time: "My mother just died". But then something happened that I will never forget:

He paused for a moment and then he said: "But you are alive"

Wendy said...

Yes, I too am tired of having a backstory! It is weird trying to balance the appropriateness of sharing, of not sharing, of putting things in their place, etc. It can be exhausting.

sandy13 said...

Wow. Felt as if I could have written these exact same words.I lost my husband om May 9th,2012. He would be 47 tomorrow. I was telling my daughter after he died that I would have these strange urges in the grocery store r public places to yell out , " Is anyone here a widow? " I just so wanted to connect. I still don't know what to say when people ask how I am. I really want to say, " It depends on which minute of today you are referring to.

It just hurts so much. Thank you for your blog.

Anonymous said...

I love this... "but sometimes I am just tired of having a backstory." I became a widow in 2011 at the age of 30 with 2 children ages 2 and 6. I also suffered a severe traumatic brain injury so life is different now and sometimes I need to tell these details and other times I just wish there wasn't a backstory. Here is my most recent post from my blog...http://sandraglen.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/winters-wait/

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Thank you all for your kind responses. Glad to be understood!

Supa Dupa Fresh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HalfKing said...

Ahhh Supa -
Some things though they end never end, right? So loaded our lives.
I appreciate your sharing this experience, we all can still be caught off guard - and it's sure to stir the... pot, the heart, the history... up. What am I saying? I don't know - but thanks ;)I get it. All.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Thanks - nice to see you, too, Sus!

Coveparent said...

Wow, thanks for normalizing the need to tell people, and even complete strangers that I am a new widow. My 46 year old husband passed away 18 months ago and I still feel this need. Recently my 17 year old son commented "I'm not sure you needed to tell him about Dad" after I told him about my husband. Part of me thinks I don't want the world to forget him. But on the other hand, reading your blog stings a bit as I see you are still have those awkward conversations. It truly will be our identity forever. As a nurse, I recall reading charts of elderly women who had been widowed at a young age and felt saddened for their loneliness and struggle they must have faced as young women and mothers. I guess one day that will be some nurse looking at my chart (that is if I live that long). Arrgghhh, the challenges are ever changing in widow world.
thanks for this blog.

kathyj333 said...

I'm so glad I found your blog. I lost my husband in 2005. I'm really glad to find a place where I can share with people who understand.

Jonathan said...

It has been a few years since my father passed away. I don't understand why people unintentionally make things awkward when his passing sometimes come up. Great post.

Anonymous said...

I have just found Martha Hickman's blog. I bought her little book "Healing after loss" in 2001. I had lost my beloved husband in 2000 and at that time and afterwards just felt that really no one knew how I felt. I had found several "grief" books but none seemed to be what I needed. When I ran across hers one day, I bought it and immediately told myself "this woman knows what I am feeling". I read it every day and over these now almost 14 years since I lost my husband, I still pick it up and read. I've given about a dozen or so of them to other widowed friends and relatives in the hope that they too, can find some solace in those words. My daughter just recently lost her husband and I gave her a copy. I wrote Mrs. Hickman a few months after I found her book and she very graciously answered my note. I've since remarried but the experience of losing my husband who I was married to for nearly 48 years changed me profoundly and made me realize that life and our loved ones are so precious and so fragile. This blog will now become my daily read, too. Thank you Mrs. Whitman for your sweet and profound words over so many years.
Carolyn Kennedy Dominy
Macon, Ga


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