When I think of the word ‘widow’ I think ….
Appearance – black, sombre, dowdy, old, grey, haggered, ghostly
Feeling – grieving, miserable, alone, lost, hurting, bereft, a shadow of former self, missing a part
That’s what everybody thinks of, right? Yet I struggle on a daily basis with the fact that I am absolutely none of these things. I suppose I am grieving, but this doesn’t seem to entail the misery that I would expect. Though I feel relaxed about the fact that I have no compunction to wear black and dress like a dowdy old Victorian , I do feel troubled that I am not feeling miserable or depressed or lonely or lost or a ”shadow of my former self’ etc etc. That’s what people expect, it’s what I expect – or did expect until I found I wasn’t conforming with my literary/media-fuelled stereotype a la the brainstorm above. The truth is I’ve been very happy over the last few months since Ben died (there you see – I flinch at the cold, unfeelingness that that sentence seems to betray)…I love my relationship with Saskia; we have an amazing, frequently hilarious time together; I’ve got lots of wonderful friends with whom I can hang out and talk to about things so I never have to feel alone; I’ve got a great home and enough money; I’ve got time and freedom for myself to do the things I enjoy. Those are all reasons to be happy – and my enjoyment of them is not tarnished by depression or sadness or emptiness or any of the other feelings that I would expect at this time. I would have expected anything but happiness!
So this makes me a cold, unloving cow right? Surely if I’d really loved Ben I’d be a mess now, right? Or missing him more? In talking to my counsellor today I came to realise that there is a common assumption that the degree of pain and ‘messed-up-ness’ a person feels over a lost loved one is directly proportional to how much they loved that person.
Degree of pain felt after loss = Degree of love felt before loss
Is this true? Or is it just an easy assumption, and in fact the degree of pain has absolutely nothing to do with the degree of love and more to do with how the person deals with that loss? I prefer to believe the latter – it sounds more likely, plus it gives me permission to stop beating myself up about being happy (not that it’ll stop that little guilt gremlin bugging me altogether – maybe one day it’ll leave me in peace).
So, back to widowhood. If I think of myself as the widow, rather than my imaginary storybook/Hollywood widow, the brainstorm would go more like this…
Appearance – a bit more wrinkled and pale lately but nothing a bit of summer sun won’t cheer up, same old jeans and predominance of blue/green/turquoise that there’s always been
Feelings – happy, thankful, passionate, sad, thoughtful, confused, free, excited, anxious, peaceful, guilty
Wow – quite a mix! Which I guess goes to show what rubbish stereotypes are. My counsellor gave me today a diagram based on something called the ‘Dual Process Model’ – it divides coping with bereavement into two processes ‘Emotional Pain/Loss & Grief’ and ‘Adjusting/Adapting’ and shows an arrow zig-zagging back and forth between the two – so I guess I fit right in with this model with this collection of feelings. I just seem to be doing quite well at moving towards the Adjusting/Adapting and am not too stuck on the Emotional Pain side. And that’s OK!