I recently joined a facebook group for widows with a dark sense of humor. I thought I might enjoy a space where people aren’t weirdly sensitive about widowhood. After all, I literally have the words “Get off my lawn,” written on my late husband’s memorial plaque over his grave. It was funny at the time – and it’s still funny now.
After a month or so in that facebook group, my mouse hovered over the exit link on more than one occasion. I’m so accustomed to existing in highly-curated sex-positive, polyamorous, feminist spaces that some of what passed for “humor” in the group felt slut-shamey and off putting to me – but I stayed. There was something about being in this group that was connecting some dots in my life that I’d never connected before.
Despite being a humor group, it’s also a space where widows seeks emotional support from other widows. Many have conveyed how much deep love and loss they continue to feel over their lost partner – sometimes even after many years. I felt that was to be expected. But what I didn’t realize was how much it made me feel like an outsider when my own journey has taken me in such a different direction.
I shared my thoughts with the group today and was quite surprised by how many people responded that they could relate to my words. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one who looked back at my husband’s passing as something to be….dare I say grateful for?
It feels so horrible to say those words out loud, or put them in writing for the world to see. It feels like I’m saying I’m glad he’s gone.
The reality is more complicated than that. The reality is that if he weren’t gone, the person I am today – a version of myself I love very much being – wouldn’t exist. Am I glad he’s gone? It’s more like I’ve accepted that it took him dying to help me become who I needed to be.
Here’s what I wrote:
I’ve mostly processed my experience on my own through writing and it’s been years since I’ve really hung out in the part of my memory where my late husband exists. But being in that group has dug up some thoughts. The contrast of those who miss their late partners against this weird space I occupy where I don’t miss mine felt…well….weird.
I was 20 when I first met my late husband. He was 37. He died at 52 when I was coming up on my mid-30s. I thought we were soul mates. The age difference was an ongoing joke (ha ha, i was being born the year after you graduated high school) because I thought I was so mature and we were so well matched.
I’m now almost 44 years old and for the first time I’m realizing how messed up that was.
It’s been more than eight years since he passed and I’ve long ago moved forward. The version of me that was in love with him has changed so much that it sometimes feels like I’m carrying her memories rather than my own.
Who I am today would never have fallen in love with him. I’d have seen the many unhealthy aspects of that relationship for what they were instead of signs of soulmate level devotion.
His death was devastating to me. It turned my world completely upside down.
But it also gave me the space to come into my own as an independent woman outside of society’s rules. Did you ever notice how society doesn’t have “rules” for young widows? Nobody to push me into remarrying, nobody to tell me shit about having kids. I was left alone. I did the “til death did us part” bit and they were done giving me orders.
It gave me the space to ask myself what I wanted without taking everybody else’s wants and needs into consideration above my own.
After a year, I realized that I’d completely lost my individual identity in my marriage. My hobbies gave way for his hobbies. My taste in music gave way for his taste in music. My friends gave way for….well, just him. Even my preferences in bed were eventually sacrificed for his preference for …not doing anything in bed.
It took another year after that for me to start figuring out who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live.
I’m 43 now and in the healthiest romantic and sexual relationship of my entire life. I look back on my experiences and am usually grateful that everything I’ve been through has brought me to this point. But when I parent my inner child – that little collection of her memories that I carry – I finally understand at how society, my family, and my beloved late husband had all molded into their version of who they wanted me to be.
Sometimes it’s just an a-ha moment; and sometimes I want to mourn all over again – not for the husband I lost, but instead for her, and for all that she was willing to give up in order to feel loved.