Saturday, June 23, 2012

What is a Family?

I was told shortly after Bobby died that the boys and I were no longer a family. "A family has two parents" was what I was told. "It's been over a year. You really need to get out there and meet someone and get married again, if not for you, then for your boys. I couldn't imagine my kids not in a two parent family, even if one parent is a step-parent. How do you celebrate holidays without a family?"

So much of our society portrays it that way. In 1992, Dan Quayle blasted fictional TV character Murphy Brown for having a child out of wedlock. Although he was chastised by the media for his comment, eighteen years later in 2010, an article was published called, "Dan Quayle was Right". Just recently, Ann Coulter told Jillian Michaels (the fitness woman from the TV show "The Biggest Loser") that she was a narcissist for adopting her little girl from Haiti and raising her without a father. Lastly, in reading other widows' blogs, I read one where a widow recently got remarried and, as she put it, "I'm so happy to be part of a family again!" - the implication here being that she and her children were no longer a family after her first husband died.

None of this helps me because long before I heard or remembered any of this, one of my first thoughts after Bobby died was that my boys and I were no longer a family. We were now just a "statistic". Single mom, two boys without a dad, what good could possibly come of this? I couldn't get it out of my head that we were no longer a family, and I so feared that I would pass that along to my boys. (I don't think I did....they still refer to dinner time as "family time").

Although I know in my head that families come in all different shapes and sizes, I still struggle in my heart with the concept of whether or not my boys and I are a "real family." Every time I think I'm making progress and start to hesitantly feel like "maybe we ARE a family", I read or hear something that makes me doubt that progress and sends me back to the starting line. Even now, two years later, in 2012.

I know I'm responsible for my own feelings and actions, but I do wish I had as many people (or more) telling me that my boys and I are a real family as I have people telling me that we are not. So far only one has.......

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Extremes - Are They Really Necessary?

I was reading a blog post today on a widower's blog, and the post was really frustrating. In a nutshell, the post was about how widows and widowers need to get over their loss, its not the worse thing that ever happened to anyone, get remarried, and live life. It seemed a little bit too extreme for me.

Then there is the opposite. Widow(er)s who wear their widow status like a badge, hoping everyone will feel sorry for them because they lost their spouse. Every time they screw up or make a mistake, they blame it on the fact that they lost their spouse, whether it was last month, last year or the last decade. They treat others poorly, and blame their grief.

Why does it have to be one way or the other? Why can't there be a middle ground?

Lets address these one by one.

Get over your loss. One thing I've learned from other widows (happy widows) is that you never get over the loss. I know I will never get over the loss of my husband, whether I am happy, sad, sick, healthy, poor, rich, employed, unemployed, fat, skinny, you get the picture. And why should I? I loved him, I still do, and I always will. This world lost a really good person with a big heart who helped people on an almost-daily basis. I lost someone who loved me more than anyone else in the world. Why do I need to get over him? I will always remember him, and feel sad that he is gone.

It's not the worst thing that ever happened to anyone. Really? OK...I will give you this...I know someone who lost a child. So I agree, losing my spouse is not the worst thing to happen, but it's a close second! I know I've said this before, but I've been through some really tough times in my life, (see third paragraph of "Kid Power") and none of those even came close to what I am dealing with.

Get remarried. Kick the deceased spouse to the metaphorical curb, and make sure you never mention them again lest you hurt this poor new spouse's feelings. (Widow(er)'s feelings no longer count here). This is the be-all end-all to make life complete. I am not saying that I will or will not get remarried, and I'm not for or against it, either. Each person has to make their own decision that is right for them. But to tell widow(er)s that they only way to have a full and happy life is to get remarried is ludicrous. There are plenty of people out there who are happily single, who have never been married at all!

Live life. Isn't that what I'm doing? I'm busier now than when Bobby was alive simply because of the fact I am now the only parent. I used to be cooking dinner while he drove the kids to activities. He cleaned the kitchen after dinner while I helped with homework. Now I'm driving the kids, cooking the dinner, cleaning the kitchen AND helping with homework. I literally fall into bed exhausted every night, and I'm asleep in five minutes. If that isn't living life, what is? I'm raising two boys, and damn, it's hard! Rewarding yes, but hard. I wouldn't trade those boys for anything in the world.

Now the opposite...

Widow status. I'm a widow. People know I'm a widow and frankly, I'm much more comfortable when new people I meet know I'm a widow. One reason is because I am uncomfortable when people assume I am divorced or a never-been-married single mom. But it's certainly not because I am looking for people to feel sorry for me or pity me. Another reason I want them to know because I've learned to be proud of my status.  I've been to hell and back and lived to tell about it.  Proud because "widow" means that I lived up to my vows. I loved and honored until death we did part. And whether you get married in a high holy religious ceremony, or by an Elvis look-a-like at the Chapel-O-Love in Vegas, the vows say, "until death do us part". So being a widow should not be a cry for pity, but status to be proud of, one that shows strength and resilience.

Blaming widow-hood. Yes, there are some things I can blame on being a widow, like feeling lonely at times, or being extra-tired from all the things I need to do (see paragraph "Live Life" above). But when I screw up at work, I can't blame that on being a widow. Any mistakes I've ever made at work since Bobby died are mistakes I probably would have made even if he was here. When I lecture the kids because I'm frustrated they aren't helping around the house or because they forgot their book in their locker, I can't blame that on being a widow. They never happily helped around the house before, and Lord knows my younger one leaves stuff in his locker all the time. So no, every time I mess something up, I cannot blame it on my widow-hood.

Treating others poorly. I'll admit...I went through an angry phase about Bobby's death about a year and a half ago. I was not angry at him, I was angry at the world. I was angry because the man who loved me so much was gone, and I was feeling very unloved. So I lashed out at a colleague. I was in the cafeteria with him and another woman, with whom I was talking to about my situation. This man was recently separated and getting a divorce, and knowing this I loudly said to my friend, "All the good men are married or dead." Then I turned to the man and said snarkily, "No offense." He said, "None taken. But just so you know, not all men are jerks." Ouch...he put me in my place. My friend looked at me as if to say, "What are you going to say to him?" and I turned in a huff and walked out of the cafeteria. This was so not me. I was wrong for doing it. Luckily, I've spoken to this man at work since then, and it all seems to be water under the bridge. I had no excuse for making that snide comment to him.

So there you go. My take on why widow(er)s do not need to go to either extreme while grieving. I've been lucky enough to meet several widows who walk the middle-of-the-road line...more about them coming soon in a future post.