Grief Part Two: Widowing is Lonely WorkBy Emma Pearson
August 5, 2021
24th April 2017
One of my nieces uses the term “Adulting” on her Facebook posts. I like the term. Even at my grand old age of 50 I comment on how grown up some of my friends have become – e.g., “your home is so grown up” (i.e., clean, dangerously light-coloured furniture, belongings that look new, and not a black dog hair to be seen). With friends I have known for decades, there’s a twinge of sadness and admiration as we witness one another becoming our mothers and fathers (not a bad thing, just a sign of time passing).
I think I slipped into Adulting quite effortlessly – or so it felt. I had a whole peer group with me. Slipping into Widowing won’t be quite so easy. I don’t have the peer group to help me for one. Though I do know a fair few widows – too many really – all younger than me even. But none on my doorstep. I have read that young widows are under 50. I was 50 and 12 days when I became widowed. So I shall class myself as a young widow. Not 35 perhaps, but still widowed at a time when there was still too much to be done together, jointly. And future dreams to be lived out.
I have been away, first with my eldest, Ben, in Chamonix, and now alone in Grimentz. It’s hard. I wonder why I have come. Other than it being a way to force me to be with myself, with what’s going on, and not just get busy under a mountain of work or death admin. I know my patterns – or some of them. I know what’s easy vs what’s good for me over the long term. I need space and time away even if it’s viciously painful.
Arriving at the lovely chalet in Grimentz that I have only ever been to with others – often Mike and the kids – and having to do all the “chalet opening” jobs myself – turn heating on, open window shutters, turn on fridge, make up the bed, unpack clothes, unpack food, light the fire, find the wifi switch, make some food, open a bottle of wine, sort out some music… jobs that I would normally do 50% at most of, even when the kids were tiny.
Lonely work. Desperately sad. Signs of Mike everywhere in this place – I think he fixed most of the light fittings and curtain rails, and built much of the furniture some 10 years ago. Bittersweet. It’s really real. It’s hitting home. Like sinking sand. Not like a sledgehammer. Not yet.
Comforted – but often irritated – by myriad messages on text, whatsapp, facebook, linkedin, email. “Condolence overload”. Poor buggers can’t win – mostly what they say would be touching but I can’t be touched right now. Too much armour holding me up. They know there are no words and they say so. Which is a relief. The crappiest notes (for me) are the ones that talk of loving family around me (erm – not a lot of my family around), or remembering sweet memories. I haven’t got to that point yet. Memories are context-dependent. They might be sweet in times to come but I want to flounder in sadness a little longer yet.
And the worst is silence. It’s amazing to note who is silent – people I have known for 30 or more years, just not making contact because … because what? This scares them? This could be them? Yes – it could. And for now it’s me. And I need all the handholding that’s out there. As do my kids.
When Mike got ill, my GP said “you will find that you will become really isolated – firstly, people will not know what to say, so they will desert you; and secondly, you will push people away”. I determined not to fall into the second category. But it’s easy to do so. A message comes from a well-meaning friend just at the time when I haven’t been able to sort something out that “normally” Mike would do; or one of the kids asks about getting a new phone; or why the wifi isn’t working; or why x and y computers are not syncing… And I mentally snap at whoever’s just sent the message, and simply don’t respond. Fifteen minutes later, another friend can write an identical message and I will think it’s touching and heartfelt just because I am in a better space.
There’s no winning here – at least for now. So just keep trying. People who are getting it right are those who persist, who read my moods, who know when I need to cry, or even laugh, and know when I need to talk about French politics or Brexit, rather than Mike; who continue to check in and don’t take temporary silence for a final answer; and those who will continue to ask me if I want to see a film or go for a coffee…. One day I will say yes. I am still not picking up the phone much. I notice you calling. I am not ready for a live call with most people. That too will come.
Bear with me on this one.