November 2020

When You Think Everyone Else is Doing a Better Job of Widowing

On the beach and unconcerned about my widowing skills. (Photo by my boyfriend Randal who’s a great photographer)

Are you feeling judged? 

When I was widowed, I couldn’t stop thinking I was doing it wrong. Sure, I could get the paperwork done, and get recalcitrant bank employees to change the accounts, and even remodel the bathroom.

But deep down, I kept thinking I was missing something. Otherwise I wouldn’t feel so awful, so completely alone. It wasn’t that I didn’t function, it was that I felt so terrible.

I was just so used to being part of a marriage, acting as half of a pair. Almost everything I did, I was used to running by George. And if I messed something up, he was there to tell me I hadn’t really, and in any event it would all turn out okay.

He kept the self-loathing monster at bay. Maybe your spouse did too. But now we have to do that for ourselves.

I was alone the evening of the 2016 election. I went to a yoga class, then then went to a healing service at a local house of worship. But what I really wanted was George. I wandered what he would have thought of it all, what he would have made for dinner, if we would have stayed up late talking about it. I got through that night, but wondered where I’d failed to be so alone.

Acting on my own, from picking new bathroom fixtures to going out alone at night, felt unreal. It was all so much less than my life used to be, even though it took much more effort.

I worried life would always feel this anemic, and for that, I blamed myself.

If only I had more friends, more ideas of what I wanted to do, and more energy to make it happen (whatever that mysterious “it” was). But I stopped practicing law back in 2001. Aside from taking the odd writing class, I didn’t do much after that beyond fitness, and home stuff, and being with George. After he died, none it was good enough any more. 

Where was that dazzling career that needed me, or network of girlfriends taking me out for spa respites? I blamed myself for never having had children though I’d never missed them when George was around.

Getty Images. This widow probably made that wine and makes a fortune selling it online.

Then there were the photos of widows I saw online. The widows who were laughing with girlfriends, and hosting adorable little dinners garnished with large bouquets of lavender from their own gardens. They were all finding sparkly new lives while I was failing to accomplish much of anything. 

That feeling has persisted throughout my almost seven years of widowhood. I still feel it to this day.

I’m Pretty Sure My Kitchen Despises Me.

The kitchen was George’s domain, he was the gourmet cook. When he died, it became the emptiest room in the house, full of the equipment he used, and his fancy olive oils, with no one to use them any more. His over-sized mandoline slicer looked like it wanted to bite off a finger. Not to mention huge cauldrons I would never be filling, a turkey roaster for gatherings I’d never be hosting, and a sukiyaki maker when I never, ever wanted to make sukiyaki for one. 

Over the years, I tried to reconcile with the kitchen, giving it a remodel, cleaning out all that smug professional-grade equipment, even getting a produce boxed delivered so it would know I thought of it. But I myself am not professional-grade.

The kitchen and I have since reached a detente but it took time. I still don’t really cook in it on nights my boyfriend isn’t around, but it’s finally stopped taunting for my culinary inadequacies. (Then again, anyone who thinks they have a talking kitchen probably has problems).

”You never make homemade soup. You could do that if you hadn’t tossed George’s Cuisinart,” it says softly but reproachfully as I heat up another Doordash feast which includes, I confess, a delicious cream of cauliflower soup from my local bistro. 

”Shut the fuck up,” I say under my breath. “I had you remodeled. Can’t you just look pretty and be quiet?”

This is obviously an image I do not relate to.

Ah, but that talented #cookingwidow with her wildly successful blog makes her own soup. Hell, she’d be making it for her six dinner party guests and spooning it into a Meissen terrine #whenlifegivesyoulemons.

I spoon my own cauliflower soup into a black stoneware bowl, a step up from the takeout container, and settle in alone to watch something young adult and escapist on Hulu. Ah, another night of pretending I’m a college student replete with unbridled hormones, a sense of premise, and an inexplicably nice apartment.

That widow I follow on Facebook would be finding comfort in exquisite homemade succulent gardens and lavender balms. #yougottaloveyourself. The lavender plants I planted in my own window boxes are oddly brown and scraggly. And who started the rumor lavender works as some sort of anxiety panacea anyway? Martinis, I get. Chocolate torte, I need. Even ill-chosen sex I comprehend even though it never worked for me. I’ve bought lavender lotions and shower gels, and…yup, still anxious!

The Instagram widows put me to shame. Homemade coffee table with husband’s face lovingly depicted in mosaic? Check. Teeny Lycra workout gear showing off abs from workout program named after husband? Check. Taking said program public with large IPO? Yup, and it only took six months to find an angel investor!

Here’s the Problem: You’re Probably Going to Feel Inadequate Some of the Time

Oft-repeated words from a favorite yoga teacher

There are so many reasons why. First, you no longer have your beloved to cheer you on and rebuild you when you feel you’ve failed. You have to be your own cheerleader. Which I don’t think we’re trained to do when we’re younger. We’re used to pushing ourselves, and wanting more, and setting goals. Feeling okay isn’t on that list, even though sometimes it’s the most we can do. 

Second, change comes with pain. My career coach says we change not because we have some amazing epiphany wherein the heavens open up to reveal our chosen path, but because it becomes harder not to change. Yes, I am seeing a career coach to find my own sense of promise again.

But that widow with all the Medium followers would already be a career coach, or be supporting herself selling digital remembrance journals (whatever that is), or marketing her own strain of lavender infused with cannabis (called “Lana-bliss”) for de-stressing that actually works. 

We’re feeling inadequate because we’re on a journey. The old selves aren’t working for us anymore and we’re waiting for the new selves we’re going to become. In the meantime, we’re not too crazy about our lives even though change takes courage, and in that way we are growing, even when we don’t realize it. 

We Make It Even Harder When We Judge Ourselves

When I was newly widowed, I wanted to be an entirely different person. One with a support network in place instead of having spent years isolated in my marriage. One who was better at making friends and who knew what to do with her life. One who had lots of connections on LinkedIn (although I couldn’t figure out exactly what I did to get them).  At the very least, one who took comfort in her kitchen, and wasn’t quibbling with it. 

But we can only be who we are. 

There is no one looking over your shoulder judging you except yourself. I hike with a wonderful, accomplished friend. He does so much every day, hiking, writing a book, caring for his grandkids. But he never thinks he’s done enough. He’ll drive five hours to visit with his granddaughter, then be mad at himself when he comes home too tired to write a new piece.

His scheduler, who coincidentally happens to be the same guy, is always dissatisfied with him. He accomplishes plenty, he just needs to fire his scheduler.

Change will come, but not all at once. Could we accept ourselves with the compassion we’d offer a friend (or acquaintance, or anyone other than ourselves). For me, it would have removed a whole extra layer of pain. Instead of telling myself I wasn’t doing the right things, I would have congratulated myself for trying. And I wouldn’t have been angry at myself when I spent a few days on the couch with a book.

So, let’s not judge ourselves. We are getting through this. Often, particularly in these disturbing times, surviving is all we can do.

When You Think Everyone Else is Doing a Better Job of Widowing2021-01-08T18:40:05+00:00

Accepting Change: This is the Second Adolescence That Is Widowhood

Accepting Change: This is the Second Adolescence That Is Widowhood #adolescence #widowhood #change
Widowed for four months. Not at my best.

Here’s the hard thing about being widowed: you might have to remake your life, from with whom you surround yourself, to where you live and how, to who you love. It’s like going through a second adolescence, remaking ourselves yet again.

The other hard thing: You have to figure it out on your own.

To be a widow is to be a shapeshifter. 

As time passes since our loss, we lose ourselves and become another. It’s exhausting, this changing of selves.

“But I don’t want to become a different person,” you say. You expected your life to be super settled by now. You have your partner, your home, a life that feels like you.

But you have no choice. You don’t want to be lost or tormented or conflicted about all the changes–you just are.

From Marriage Back To Adolescence? How Is This Fair?

When I was married, I was like a middle-aged child. George made all the decisions. I trusted him, he was smarter than I was, and that was that. I didn’t rebel against his uncompleted home improvement projects or undiversified investments or how isolated we were. 

I loved the absence of making decisions, that feeling of being cared for, of knowing I was loved. After a while, my decision-making muscles atrophied. It was easier to go along with what George wanted. 

Then he was gone and my life wasn’t liveable on my own. I should have had all the accounts in both our names, and known how to use the home network, and what to do when the home theater system rebelled. I wished desperately for a few friends to check in on me, to occasionally let me sleep on their floors.

But I didn’t have that. My house had gone from beloved home to enemy.

By the time I’d figured a few things out, changing the accounts, having the home network redone, trying to socialize with car club breakfasts and Rotary Club dinners, I was different. My loneliness had become another appendage. I was so brittle, I became afraid I was going to turn into one of those people hunched over their steering wheels honking all the time because they think everyone is encroaching into their lane.

I’ve Had Some Really Bad Phases

Accepting Change: This is the Second Adolescence That Is Widowhood #adolescence #widowhood #change

The car was taken, but I was looking for Mr. Right.

Like the year after my loss when I was restless and unmoored, a holy terror with black painted fingernails speeding through town in George’s sports car. I couldn’t concentrate or even sit still.

I raged at being left alone when I thought we had the rest of our lives together, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I wanted to keep living. I wasn’t going to kill myself, but if a giant meteor were to wipe out the planet, that would have been okay.

Then I started dating and morphed into a wanna-be prom queen all set to find my prince charming, but I was carrying a deep well of need and an overly developed sense of empathy. I was ready to slot myself into all manner of other lives, but the men I was meeting weren’t the stuff of forever.

Later, I discovered writing and travel, and yoga retreats. For a while, the world looked open with possibilities. I felt about nineteen years old.

I finally saw Rome and Paris and Barcelona, but my loneliness let me slide into an abusive relationship that lasted, on and off, for three years. I became cynical. After that relationship, I’d be triggered if a man I was dating denied me my right to be angry. Lacking anyone else, I relied too heavily on friends who couldn’t be there when I needed them. I became leery of other people. 

I started to think of myself as an embittered island. 

What happens when you’re used to unconditional love and then it’s gone?

Perhaps you start to look like someone who isn’t as sweet or open or trusting as you were when you were cocooned in your relationship, insulated from having to deal with the world on your own. Maybe you’re not as pliable as before.  Perhaps you’ve become wary of men because most of the ones you’ve met haven’t had your best interests at heart.

Can We Admire The People We’ve Become Through This Second Adolescence?

Accepting Change: This is the Second Adolescence That Is Widowhood #adolescence #widowhood #change

Hiking and no longer wanting the world to get hit by a meteor

Our brains start out foggy after our losses. At first, it all feels like fragments. Rip out the dying azaleas, they reek of mortality. Then realize you never liked that whole flower bed anyway and you want a raised tomato box.

And, you never liked your husband’s choice of patio furniture either. Maybe you don’t even want to live in a place with a garden anymore. Or live in the same town your spouse wanted to.

Then it’s whether you really want to keep seeing his relatives. Maybe they didn’t handle his passing the way you wanted or they’re critical of you and God knows, you don’t need that now and why is his sister hinting about that antique chest of drawers that belonged to the family?

So now you’re looking for new people you can love as your chosen family. Your connections change.

Maybe later it’s whether you can stomach the thought of sex with another person. Or realizing that you got married so young that the idea of having some freedom is actually appealing. Or worse, it’s just missing your own person so much you can’t get off the couch.

But you have to, not today or tomorrow, but eventually, you will because you find that you still want things. And you’ll go to a yoga for knitters class or a training session for your new puppy, and smile a bit, and for a few moments, life will seem a bit less dark.

One year we might be bitter and closed down about our loss. Perhaps we’re still living in the homes we lived in with our spouses, but the rooms feel cold and dark. A year later we might be reaching out for new experiences, finding things we didn’t know we liked, moving into a new apartment to see if we like living in a different area. T

hen a few years later, a relationship sours, the apartment doesn’t feel like home, a new job beckons, and we’re on our way to becoming someone else.

But with all these changes, we’re becoming different people. Stand-alone entities. Someone stronger and more interesting, even if it’s happening involuntarily out of necessity. Each year, we’re learning new things, discovering more about ourselves, becoming different from our married selves

Grief and The Grieving 

Grief writer David Kessler talks about finding meaning as the sixth stage of grief, after experiencing the original five stages. Finding meaning can be a way to come to terms with our loss, to see what it’s taught us. We may discover that we’ve become mountain climbers, or professional de-clutterers, or vloggers about obscure British sci-fi.

Remaking our lives becomes a search for meaning, and in that way, we learn from our losses.

So on weekends, I drive someplace I’ve never been before to hike with people I haven’t known very long, grateful for the company on a weekend morning. I come home to a different man, who I love but with whom I have to be more careful than George because we don’t have all those years of figuring each other out. I’m in a different home with another love. We call each other different names than we’ve used with other people.

We careen towards maturity. Trying to welcome the changes. 


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Accepting Change: This is the Second Adolescence That Is Widowhood2021-05-02T19:07:33+00:00

April 2020

On Wanting Someone Invested or I Fell in Love Over an Air Conditioner

Woman looking at a beach with palm trees.
Me in Maui on vacation together.

I fell in love with my current partner over a dead air conditioner. Mine specifically, which had died during a summer heat wave after eight years of never working very well in the first place. Widowed for five years, I knew I wanted someone who cared about me. Which I defined as caring about what I cared about.

And I cared about things not working in my home. My late husband had been a do-it-yourselfer and a perfectionist. He started a lot of projects but stopped working on them while he tried to finish his plans. But why would some new guy care that I wanted working garden lights?

I wanted a gentleman who cared that I got home safe, and picked dates he thought I’d like, and wanted love, not the thrill of being a middle aged Lothario. Remember when the character Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, says to her friend Linda (Phoebe Cates), “I finally figured it out. I don’t want sex. Anyone can have sex. . . I want a relationship. I want romance.” Yup.

By now, my fellow and I had been dating for a few weeks And I mean real dates, where he’d pick me up, we’d go to martinis and dinner, talk a lot, then kiss chastely goodnight. (Part one of my story is in my prior post).

I Wanted Someone Who Cared.

Then my air conditioner broke. I took it badly, attributing it not just to faulty wiring but to the curse of that guy who’d left me in Europe. I was certain he was still exacting his inexplicable revenge from afar.

My new guy took me to dinner by the water in Oakland, freeing me from the heat. That evening he suggested we go to Carmel for an overnight early in the week. Separate rooms. He’d read my blog post on going by myself to recapture the times I’d gone with George, but how I’d left early that evening when I couldn’t bear to be alone in a place where I used to be happy.

I said yes, let me know the price of my room. He said he’d use his points, not to worry. He was investing in our future. We walked on the beach for hours, my favorite thing to do there. He took me to George‘s and my favorite restaurant to make new memories. He said George would always be a part of our lives.

And best of all, he consulted with me on the estimates I was getting for a new air conditioner. “This one is from the principal of the company,” he said, “You can trust that.”

”Well I did appreciate when the owner’s wife called me on Sunday night to tell me they had a cancellation and see if I had questions.”

We had these conversations during walks through the lovely town of Carmel. Apologetically, I took a few calls from contractors. He didn’t mind. He cared about the problem. That night, I got another kiss goodnight and no attempt to come to my room.

He was invested. He cared about my air conditioner because I did. There were no strings attached. I’d found a gentleman.

And I hadn’t met anyone like that since losing George.

I felt like I was on a middle-aged version of The Bachelor. But it was all real. He wanted me to be happy and he cared about what I’d been through, widowhood, dead appliances and all.

I Don’t Know When Dating Became Not Caring

I was unpleasantly surprised when an adult man’s idea of a second date was “come on over to my place and not tub.” I’d never intimated that I wanted casual sex. Or I wound up staying out later than I expected with a guy who planned to drop me off alone at an empty train station in the middle of the night. (I got him to wait with me for an Uber). Or the guy I’d kissed all of once who expected us to share a room on an overnight hike.

I don’t know when dating meant being less invested than any other kind of relationship. I don’t know when things changed to expecting physical intimacy as a given.

After a year of dating online, I realized I was an anachronism, a person who wanted a loving, long term relationship with someone who was invested in our future. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for. And I am so very grateful I found someone who didn’t think so either.

On Wanting Someone Invested or I Fell in Love Over an Air Conditioner2021-01-08T19:07:20+00:00
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